being outdoors, or a least watching movies about it
09.27.2010 - 10.03.2010 75 °F
Today has been a very lazy day, but I spent five hours on a bike yesterday so I think I've earned it. My exchange program hosted a biking tour of Santiago, which equated to a gringo parade for the Chilean onlookers; I noticed four different people counting us as we went by, but I'm sure many more were doing so more subtly. We didn't actually visit any of the "stops" on the tour, or really talk about them at all, and a lot of the places I had been before, but it was still a lot of fun and very refreshing to see everything from outside of a metro or bus. And we did head through some great areas I would have never noticed otherwise. In the whole afternoon, we only ended up doing about 15 miles, but that's because Santiago is not a very bike-friendly city and we spent the majority of the time trying to maneuver a pack of thirty through traffic and crowds.
The week overall was a pretty good one. Monday afternoon I had a field trip with my natural resources class to Maipu, a neighboring town that is home to mostly public housing and remnants of the area's rural past. It felt a little intrusive at first because a group of 50 or so obviously wealthy students (our buses said Universidad Católica de Chile on them, and it's a well-known fact that the majority of students there are pretty well-off) poured into a struggling neighborhood to "study" it. But the neighbors were friendly, and we moved out quickly. The second stop was the Parque Municipal de Maipu. It's a pretty weird place because when you first enter there are overly-tidy rows of picnic tables and playground equipment, but if you keep walking it turns into just an expanse of open land with horses, cows, and ponies running around freely. My favorite part was that "playground equipment" included ponies just scattered about the swings and slides for anyone to ride at will. This must happen in other parks because all the Chileans didn't understand why that surprised me, so I'm not sure how I've been missing free horse time for the last three months. The park is trying to set an example in conservation with it's own water treatment facility that is supposed to be very efficient in terms of recycling. I say "supposed" to be because my natural resources vocabulary is still pretty weak and I wasn't actually able to follow most of what our guide was saying, so I really don't know how well the park is doing. That's pretty typical; I haven't really learned much in this class overall. It's really just a discontinuous mix of lectures on anything and everything that relates in any way to nature. Sometimes I have a really interesting class on the collapse of Easter Island, sometimes I have to sit through the technicalities of classifying land types, sometimes (actually three times so far) I watch slide shows on all the different birds in Chile, and sometimes I "contemplate" random photos set to music. It can feel like a waste of a class, but it is how I met the two Chilean girls that take care of me so I try to see the positive.
Wednesday night in my microbusiness course we had a raffle to raise money. The adults were getting pretty feisty, but in the end most of the prizes (the food ones) were shared and everyone was happy. I won the last box of chocolate, which was only mediocre but we all know I love winning regardless. My human rights class on Thursday was a little crazy and uncomfortable. Three men that were detained and tortured during Pinochet's dictatorship came to speak to the class about a book they wrote, and at the end one student used his question to passively imply that their torture was worth it because Chile's economy improved under Pinochet. I know that this is still a commonly-held view in Chile, but it shocked me to watch someone argue it in front of actual victims. The men handled the question well, and now that I think about it they've probably had to answer it many many times before, as sad as that is.
Friday night some friends and I tried to go to an all-you-can-eat-for-eight-bucks pizza place (appropriately named Pure Gluttony), but we got there too early and dinner hadn't started yet. And by too early, I mean we got there at 6; what were we thinking? So instead we went back to the delicious Mexican food place and got more nachos. The reason we couldn't just wait an hour for pizza was that we had tickets to the BANFF Mountain Film Festival. My friend Abby usually goes to it every year with her family; it's basically a weekend of outdoorsy classes, exhibitions, and films. We watched six short films on people doing things that would give most of us heart attacks: kayaking down huge waterfalls, climbing half dome with no equipment, those sorts of things. It was pretty incredible stuff to see, although one film really just annoyed me. Andrew McAuley decided that he wanted to be the first man to kayak from Australia to New Zealand even though everyone told him he was going to die and leave his toddler fatherless. Some younger boys threatened to do it first so Andrew ignored the advice and set off in his death vessel. He actually made it through the extreme storms that everyone thought would kill him, but then after 30 days and just 60 km from land his damaged kayak filled up with water and he couldn't get it upright. I was crying during the movie because I felt so bad for his wife and little boy, but then I was just angry that 1) he did the trip pretty much knowing it was a suicide mission, 2) he didn't tie himself to his kayak so his family would at least have his body, 3) he didn't send off his emergency signal, 4) the New Zealand coast guard didn't send out a helicopter soon enough because they were having trouble telling what the distress call said, and 5) the wife didn't make the New Zealand coast guard send out a helicopter even though Andrew had broken his daily check-in routine. Anyway, the movie is called Solo if you're interested (even though I've given it all away). Luckily the next set of films had happy endings and we got gelato after (toasted flour is apparently a flavor, and a delicious one), so my mood was lifted. Since it was only midnight (in the Chilean notion of time), we headed to a house party for the rest of the night.
I'm not sure how much coverage the troubles in Ecuador got in the US, but here on Wednesday I came home to my host mother saying (all-too-calmly, I think) that a coup was in progress. It turns out that Magaly and the media were misinformed about the striking police officers' intentions, but before I found that out I was really scared, and not in the I'm-watching-a-horror-movie-and-there's-a-monster-in-my-closet kind of way. Ecuador's not that close to Chile and this country is politically stable, but the thought of even being on the same continent as a country where a coup d'etat was happening really got to me. That type of insecurity has seemed so far from me all my life, so removed through the filters of newspapers and history classes, and while I obviously still can't say that I lived it or understand it, the situation gave some perspective about the comfort we are privileged with in the US.
There have apparently been a couple of small "shakes" (I don't know the actual term for not-quite-an-earthquake) in the past couple of weeks, but I've missed them all. Although I know it shouldn't, that disappoints me.