A Travellerspoint blog

A Conocer Argentina

a weekend trip across the mountains and the border

90 °F
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Chile is having a hard time deciding what season it would like to be in. We jumped from "How nice, I don't have to wear a thick winter jacket in my house," to "Is it inappropriate to wear a swimsuit to school?" overnight, only to be followed by two days of downpours and flooded streets. Now the weather's getting really tricky because it's about 85 degrees outside but about 50 inside. That's right, Chileans don't have central heating but they do have--and love--air conditioning and feel the need to prove just how cold they can make it. Dressing myself has become a daily challenge; the Chilean solution is to simply continue wearing their winter clothes and avoid stepping into the sun, but I'm not sure I like that idea. It's strange, considering how much everyone complained during winter.

My big adventure in the past two weeks was a few days in Mendoza, Argentina. It's a pretty popular trip for people studying in Chile for multiple reasons. I mainly wanted to go to have the experience of taking a bus over the Andes (which form the border between the two countries), but wine tours and paragliding are other main attractions. We took the overnight bus on Thursday, which was uneventful except for when I woke up to the most beautiful and dreamy starry sky I have ever seen. We got through customs quickly thanks to the generosity of my fellow passengers. The bus driver was collecting tips in a cup and I pitched in without even paying attention to what it was for because I am a sucker for anyone asking for money; when the customs agent lightly tapped the top of my bag instead of actually inspecting its contents, I understood where the money was going. Forty cents well spent.

We rolled into Mendoza at about five in the morning and had luckily booked the hostel for the night before so we could go get a little more sleep before starting the day. If you're ever in Mendoza, I highly recommend Hostel Internaciónal. For eleven dollars a night, we got private rooms and bathrooms, breakfast daily, and a homemade pizza dinner one of the nights. It's also close to the bus station and the center of town.

Friday was dedicated to Mr. Hugo's Bike-and-Wine. Also for ridiculously cheap, Mr. Hugo himself sends a taxi to take you about 20 minutes outside of Mendoza and loans you a bike for the day to explore the many vineyards in the area. We started at the wine museum, which probably would have been more interesting had we coughed up the money for a guide. Next came the all-in-one alcohol, jam, chocolate, and olive oil store, complete with delicious samples of each. They had a pretty wide variety of weird drinks, but everyone in our group went for the absinth; as the store owner lit sugar on fire and mixed it into the famous green liquid, he noted "Absinth is illegal but...it doesn't matter."

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Wandering a little further from the busy part of wherever we were, we found a beer garden that was the perfect spot for lunch. Homemade beer, pizza, and empanadas with an outdoor hodgepodge of things that serve as chairs and tables that would rival any Oregon hippie's backyard. The combination of food, sun, greenery, and sitting down could easily have kept us in that place all day, but some college boys that were clearly taking advantage of all the available wine showed up and drove us out.

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No bother, because the next part of the bike tour was by far my favorite. Riding down a tree-lined road with vineyards on either side and the Andes in the distance to a beautiful house from the 1860s, all to reach a phenomenal glass of lemonade. We never ended up actually taking a tour of a winery (which was fine with me since they cost extra and I don't drink) because riding around the country lanes and relaxing in the sun was far too appealing.

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Then came my most embarrassing moment in Chile. We had to take a bus back to Mendoza, and while I had a good-enough idea of what streets I should look for to know when to get off, the bus was completely packed and I couldn't see much of anything besides Argentineans confused to see nine gringos riding with them. Thinking we had reached the spot, three other girls and I made a huge show about pushing our way through the masses to get to the door, only to break free to the sound of the rest of our group banging on the bus windows and yelling that we weren't in Mendoza. So we quickly had to catch up with the bus (that was slowly but surely trying to leave us behind) and climb back on, red-faced with the shame of fulfilling the typical confused-and-incapable American stereotype.

Magaly had packed me a hearty lunch, so I passed on both making dinner in the hostel and going out to eat. Wandering around trying to find some new friends to speak Spanish with, I passed a boy that called out hermosa (beautiful). When I didn't respond, he turned to his friend and said "¿Oye, como se dice 'linda' en ingles?" ("Hey, how do you say 'pretty' in English?). I couldn't help but laugh and say "Te entendí en español" (I understood you in Spanish). Having found no one else to talk with, I stopped the second time I passed by the two guys; it turns out that they were on a rugby team from Buenos Aires, and within minutes about twelve other teammates appeared from all sides to join the conversation. I was holding my own with the Spanish, but the boys were speaking incredibly fast and all at once, so I was relieved when my friends showed up and joined the group. At some point in the conversation, I found out that the boys were still in high school, but we ended up hanging out with them for the rest of the night because the other option was a party in the hostel filled with creepy forty-five-year-old men; don't worry, we kept it appropriate by convincing the whole rowdy team that playing wholesome card games would be much more fun than going out. Luckily, we discovered that Argentine boys are not nearly as immature as Chilean boys, although they did insist on calling me "Amalia" because I apparently look like a South American porn star (or as they describe her, a dancer who occasionally poses for semi-nude photos). This was my first (and only) time being out of Chile, and it was a lot of fun to hear the differences in the way people speak; I figured out the accent that makes quite a few words sound Chinese, learned some new terms that are useless now that I'm back in Santiago, got the ego boost of teaching some Chilean Spanish, and got yelled at more than once for saying ya instead of .

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Saturday the majority of the group headed off for paragliding over the mountains, but my friends Emily, Ashley, and I decided to bum around Mendoza. We took a tour of the five major plazas, one of which was really impressive. The biggest one wasn't that pretty, but it had a lane of artisan tents with some pretty interesting things for sale and some very friendly vendors. After a nice lunch on a pedestrian street that reminded me of 16th Street Mall in Denver and incredible gelato served by a beautiful Argentine boy (men are significantly much more attractive this side of the Andes), we headed to Mendoza's huge park. We tried to rent bikes from our hostel but some big group had taken all of them, so we didn't have time to see most of the park, but it was still a great walk. Mendoza didn't strike me as a very large city, but the park was completely swarmed with athletic people like Wash Park on a weekend; this was also strange to see because back in Santiago there is very little outdoor activity.

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That night was pizza night in the hostel, and while the pizza was only mediocre, the conversation was extraordinary. We were sitting with a woman from Uruguay, a man from Venezuela, and a couple from Spain; I've never felt quite so cosmopolitan. I had an early night because my bus left the next morning at 8:45 and I wanted to run beforehand.

The bus ride was just as unbelievable as I had imagined for the past four months; for about three hours, I felt like a little kid in a toy store, with every new sight causing a surge of excitement and awe. The Andes are noticeably different from the Rockies, with a weird mix of formations and a slightly more intimidating appearance. Right before the international tunnel (which took seven breaths to get through, to give you a sense of how long it is) and customs, the scenery suddenly changed drastically as the air frosted over, the road became wet, and the mountains turned white. Following customs was a long and slow series of switchbacks that would be terrifying in winter. Based on my second customs experience, I'm going to guess that a lot more drugs come into Chile than go out. There was no getting around bag checks, drug dogs were hard at work, and there were signs with pictures showing all the unsuccessful smuggling attempts.

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After arriving to rain and swimming my way back home (Santiago's streets were not constructed with large amounts of water in mind), I came home to my whole extended family finishing up lunch and got to receive a chastisement from each and every one of them for wearing shorts in the rain (it had been really hot just a few hours before and I hadn't checked the weather back in Chile). Unfortunately, my lovely and relaxing weekend came to an abrupt end as I found out the other members of my group had failed to do anything for our twenty-page paper due the next day. I don't have many complaints about Chile, but I have been generally unsatisfied with the academic experience. Classes are trivial and unchallenging and while group projects are a great way to make friends they have been awful for my stress and frustration levels. Somehow all of my projects have come together, but usually about five minutes before they are due and after way more effort than was necessary. I'm hoping that being back in Trinity classes will be so exciting and stimulating that I won't notice the huge change in workload size I know is coming.

Last Wednesday (before Mendoza) I met up with Clare and Beppo (family friends, if you don't know) for a delicious steak dinner. Beppo's old company had a lot of business in South America, so he decided to stop by to see old friends as he and Clare made their way to Antarctica for a twenty-three day boat trip. I had never actually been to a steak restaurant before, so I felt a little silly because I had no idea how to choose. It was great to have friends in Santiago, but a little strange since my world here is so separate from my normal life in the US. The best part of the night was that, before I could order dessert, the waiter placed a massive plate of pink cotton candy on the table. Carnival food and fancy steak don't really go together in my head; the restaurant was catered to gringos, so I guess South America has somehow received a distorted image of the importance of spun sugar in the US diet.

The rest of my days have been pretty mundane. I don't have very much homework anymore, but I'm still a little worn out from all the work and travel I was doing, so I've been spending most afternoons relaxing around the house or hanging out with friends. I saw a movie for the first time in Santiago and luckily got home even though I had failed to refill the minutes on my phone, take any money out of the ATM, or check what buses would get me home in the middle of the night. Don't worry, I took care of those problems before leaving the next night to go dancing.

Magaly has pointed out three things that I do that automatically give me away as a gringa (assuming you have yet to notice my blonde hair, light eyes, and más o menos accent). I use accent marks when I write, I type with all of my fingers, and I use a razor. So if I really want to immerse myself, I'm going to have to start disrespecting punctuation, typing with only my pointer (or, oddly enough, middle) fingers, and getting my legs waxed every three weeks.

My host parents left me an orphan this week; they're off to Easter Island. While I'm sure I will be a little lonely, I can always appreciate some alone time and I have two finals to study for this week. Magaly spent all day Friday worrying about how I was possibly going to survive without her for five days; leaving me money for groceries or just ingredients was completely out of the question, so she had her daughter's maid come over to help cook way more food than I am going to be able to eat by Wednesday. I'm pretty sure the daughter is coming over tomorrow to make more food, too. I guess I'll spend my free time and full fridge feeding all the stray dogs.

Posted by marykate.morr 05:52 Archived in Chile Tagged living_abroad Comments (0)

La Vida Sencilla

relaxing weekends in the Chilean countryside

85 °F
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First of all, because I'm sure you've all been dying to know, I figured out the lemon mystery. Supposedly it brings good luck to the house. The problem is that you're supposed to change the water and Magaly says she never has, so it's really just as pointless as it seemed before I asked.

I remember being told in my cultural crash course on the first day here that Chileans are superstitious because of a fatalism that has developed over years of isolation, natural disasters, and political instability. Linked to all of that is their general disregard for time; I can sense the sentiment that life can't be controlled so there is no point trying. It's been interesting to see the contrast with the US, where we believe that we can manipulate everything just to our liking, and I spend a lot of time attempting to come up with explanations. What was it about the founding of the US that worked out so well? I know we've taken advantage of a lot of poorer countries as we've developed, but there had to have been something at the very beginning to put us in the position to manipulate. I know agriculture has a lot to do with it, but I think our political system has also been really influential and I have yet to come up with how those colonists just kind of had it figured out. I like having these conversations in my head because it makes me feel like my semester abroad is having that effect on my intellectual and cultural development that everyone talks about.

I learned firsthand this weekend another reason why Chileans think they are victims of fate: farming here is really hard. To get a better idea of life outside of Santiago and to recuperate from four weeks of way-too-much-work-for-a-girl-in-Chile, I signed up to volunteer on a farm for three days. I went through the program WWOOF, which sets volunteers up with organic farms around the world; the volunteers help with whatever is needed on the farm and in exchange receive free room and board. All of the farms I wanted originally had telephone numbers that were no longer in service, but I eventually got through to a family in Olmué, a town two hours north of Santiago. I didn't actually end up doing any farm work; when I say farming here is tough I am referring to the very obvious challenges anyone wanting to start a granja faces. The southern part of Chile is too rainy and cold, with too dense of forests, to make for good agriculture; the north, with the driest desert in the world, also has little to offer. So that leaves the central valley, but a good half of this part is either Andes or Andean foothills. People have set up farms in the foothills, but as I saw this weekend that requires trying to find whatever space there is between all the trees, which isn't much. The farm I was on was about 10% crops, 90% trees; it's all very pretty, but I can see how their may have been some challenges trying to develop the country.

This weekend was nothing like I expected. I was nervous heading into it because the woman on the phone gave me an address and said to show up Friday, but hung up before I could confirm a time or that I was going to receive food and a bed. I took the bus to the family's pizzeria in Olmué after an absolutely gorgeous drive through the foothills. Not helping my uncertainty, my conversation in the pizza shop went like this:

Is Mario here?
Nope.
Is he going to be here today?"
No, he's up in the hills.
Oh, well I'm supposed to work for him this weekend.
Well, I don't know how that's going to happen. He's up and the wife is out with her daughter.
Hmm...

Turns out the worker was just being difficult. The wife showed up in about two hours to take me up to the farm. In the meantime, I helped out in the pizzeria preparing dough, assembling boxes, and washing dishes. I had forgotten how much I love working, and even when I was just folding cardboard it felt really great. The employee, Carlo, was a short old man with glasses that shuffled around the kitchen complaining about how much work he had to do. Apparently the family has had a lot of WWOOFers in the past so my presence wasn't as weird as it seemed at first. When the wife showed up, we ate a lunch that didn't taste very good but at least confirmed that I would be given nutrition the next few days.

Then we were off to the farm, which is actually 30 minutes away from Olmué in La Vega, a tiny town further up into the hills. The road to the farm had the smallest lanes I have ever seen and had about nine times more curves than it did straight stretches; luckily it was still light out and everything was dry. Gloria, the wife, dropped me off and then turned around. Her and Mario used to live in Santiago, but Mario had always dreamt of owning a farm, so they compromised and now the wife lives in Olmué and runs the pizza shop and he stays at the farm. It sounds like a pretty lonely marriage to me, but Mario seems to think it's working out. Mario showed me around the farm, which consists of a small patch of potatoes, a trail that he made through his mini forest, two huge palm trees, a patch that was going to be used to make beer but now is grazing land for the two horses, and an awesome cabin-style house built around an old mud hut. There were also eight adult dogs and three newborn pups. The momma is a basset hound but the puppies look nothing like Adam and Sheena's little guys.

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Mario claimed to have built the house and to have dug at least two fairly deep caverns to change the course of the water that comes down from the mountains, but I'm not sure I believe him. He's only been here three years and he seems to move pretty slowly (he made lots of jokes about how his wife works much harder than him), so I can't imagine him completing so many major jobs. Plus he was a little off, so I wouldn't be surprised if he were the story-telling type.

I went to bed early Friday and got a full ten hours of sleep (I was really tired from a test on Thursday over a book I didn't start until the Monday before). I woke up to a delicious oatmeal breakfast, and then we set out to horseback ride. Preparations took about an hour because Mario usually has a neighbor come do the saddles for him, but by eleven we were off. My horse was not terribly happy to be carrying me and it took a while to get her under control, but it was definitely worth the effort. We spent three hours winding our way through the hills, passing lots of friendly neighbors, some horses tilling the land, the Chilean version of Jehovah's Witnesses handing out pamphlets (I left my literature for Mario), and a cute little fox. The views were gorgeous, full of lots of green trees and yellow and purple flowers. We stopped briefly at a church dedicated to the Child God; I'm not sure what that means but every religious thing I saw throughout the region was dedicated to the Niño Díos instead of the adult Díos.

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I took a nap on the patio while Mario cooked a great dinner of meat and potatoes, and returned to read in the sun after eating. Mario had mentioned a birthday party, which I assumed was with one of our campesino neighbors. Turns out it was actually back in Santiago. This was where the weekend took a really weird turn. I found myself in the midst of a huge family I didn't know; they were all friendly, but it was just odd to be there with people I had just met. At 10:30, I started to get fidgety because the meat was still on the grill and we still had an hour and a half ride back to the farm. At 11, I left with the daughter to go to her aunt's house; she was only 15 and we didn't have too much in common, but I thought it might be less uncomfortable than staying with all the adults as they gradually got drunker. The aunt and uncle were a little taken aback by me, and the grandma spent about fifteen minutes asking questions about me before asking if I spoke Spanish and finally directing the questions to me. At 1:45, I could no longer resist the offers to sleep on the couch, no matter how weird the idea seemed. At 3, Mario and Gloria finally show up and I threw myself on the makeshift bed in the trailer to try and sleep on the cold ride home. I stayed awake for most of it because I couldn't stop thinking about what a strange situation I had gotten myself into.

Since I didn't get to bed until 5, I made no attempt to wake up early on Sunday. I finally pulled myself out of bed at noon and found Mario washing the horses. After that was done, I helped him give the dogs baths, which ended up taking almost two hours because 1) there were ten of them, 2) some of them put up quite the fight, and 3) we had to pull parasites from their fur. After a lunch of empanadas, lentils, and salad, I rested in my room (it was too hot on the patio) until about 7. We had to head into Olmué to make sure I had a spot on the bus (Monday was a national holiday and everyone travels so buses fill up), and since I was leaving early Monday morning we stayed in the apartment above the pizzeria that night. So I spent Sunday evening helping out in the pizzeria again. Without stores promoting the holiday, I had completely forgotten it was Halloween. We got some trick or treaters, which annoyed Gloria because they apparently don't understand the significance of the US holiday and are just trying to get candy. I was happy she didn't ask me about what the day means because I also have no idea and just want candy. I slept in the fourth new place for the weekend that night and slipped out quietly Monday morning while everyone else was still asleep. I made it home in time to shower for the first time in four days and head to my friend Allison's house for a great birthday barbeque.

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I did enjoy my weekend, and it was great to have some quiet relaxation time in a beautiful part of the country. But, I had kind of wanted to learn about farming or raising animals from someone who was a little more authentically campesino, so I have mixed feelings about the experience.

Now back to a week ago. Sorry, I didn't get a chance to blog last week so this is another long one. Thursday night I left with my whole study abroad program to Temuco, in the souther Araucanía region, to spend the weekend learning about the culture of Chile's largest indigenous group, the Mapuche. After a quick introduction, we headed to dinner which ended up being very entertaining. Allison, Abby, Erica, and I sat with out two guides, who found us quite funny, even in Spanish. Due to my poor pronunciation, I accidentally made a very inappropriate but humorous comment, and at one point we had every Chilean in the restaurant on their phones trying to figure out the word for the verb "to snort" (we were comparing the noises animals make in English and in Spanish, which somehow are different). The dinner ended with a surprise mini-celebration for all of the October birthdays; CIEE is so cute.

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Friday morning we made our way to the Escuela Bicultural Mapuche San Juan de Makewe, stopping first at the local market, Feria Pinto, where we bought some cheese and 6.6 pounds of strawberries (that would sadly go to waste after fermenting in my backpack). Our purpose at the school was to help paint some buildings and to have a cultural exchange with the students. After some ice breaker games, we split up to either sand and paint or dance and play with the kids. Abby, Erica, and I did some gymnastics demonstrations; Abby and Erica impressed the kids, I made them laugh. Allison and I danced some cueca, which turned into a little too much cueca because the dance is pretty simple and not very fun after the first time. I then made my way to the smores hut, with a real fire but wine cookies instead of graham crackers. We also played Capture the Flag with the kids, but I missed out because it was my turn to paint again. After a delicious charquican lunch, Abby and I took advantage of the fact that the school was located in the middle of farmland and went on a pig hunt. It turned out the search was unnecessary, as after the kids went home the pigs came and played in the school yard, but Abby and I did find the furriest, cutest pig of the day.

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Back in Temuco, we stopped by the Museo Regional de la Araucanía, which was just one room full of Mapuche artifacts; I didn't pay very much attention to what our guide was saying. We had a great dinner in which I tried to avoid eating because I was still full but failed because the lasagna was too delicious. Then we called it an early night so Abby, Erica, Madeline and I would have the energy to go on a run in the morning. We tried running to the river but ran out of path, so then we turned back and followed a bike path that led behind patches of houses. Temuco is a decent-sized city, but still rural enough that we passed cows towing crops to the market and a man getting his horse some exercise. Santiago is really the only place in this country that is 100 percent urban.

After breakfast, we piled into the bus to head to the coast. Along the way, we stopped in Carahué, a town with gorgeous farms along the river that is known for its display of old locomotives. I was more excited than most in the group because my natural resources professor had used a picture of the "open air museum" in a slideshow and talked about it for about fifteen minutes.

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Our main destination for the day was a very isolated Mapuche farming community on Lago Budi, close to the Pacific, called Kom Che Ñi Ruka. The area was absolutely stunning, and since it's springtime here the beautiful landscape was enhanced with adorable baby animals. We were greeted by a large crowd from the community, who gave us an introduction in both Spanish and Mapudungun, the Mapuche language, so that we could hear the sounds. There was then a demonstration of palín, a traditional game that is like hockey slowed down. The game can only be played barefoot so that the men (only men are allowed to play) can connect with the earth.

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Our lunch took place in a ruka, a traditional Mapuche hut, which was only fun for the half of the room facing away from the fire because those huts don't have very good ventilation and fill up with smoke from cooking pretty quickly. Since we were in the Lake District, most of our meals were fish, but I had given advance notice that I don't eat fish. In the Mapuche community, my vegetarian option was purple potatoes and something made from spinach. It tasted really good, but the picture makes it look really unappetizing; Aimee commented that "she saw a pile of muddy leaves at school and thought of the photo."

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After lunch we got some demonstrations of two key parts of the Mapuche community. We walked through a medicinal herb garden learning the effects of the various plants and then watched women spin, dye, and weave wool for clothing. Spinning was very tricky because you have to pull the wool thin, but I was so afraid of breaking it I didn't ever pull hard enough to have any effect. I was much better at dying. In order to get the color to really sink in, you have to sing to the wool while you're stirring it in the boiling pot of colored water, so I made up a song on the spot that, if not my best poetic work, at least seemed to entertain the crowd.

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We were supposed to take boat and horse rides, but we somehow ended up being a couple of hours behind, so we unfortunately had to move on to the day's closing events. After listening to the Mapuche cosmo-vision, the adult males played music while the children did three traditional dances meant to encourage a good harvest. At the end, our group was invited to join in the closing of the dance, which was mainly just bouncing in place but still fun.

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At some point, a drunk man wandered into the crowd and started trying to steal the show by dancing and shouting something. He was quickly (and very forcefully) removed, but he later came back after having found a horn. Everyone laughed it off, but I felt really bad because the kids were trying to perform and because the Mapuche, similar to Native Americans, are stereotyped by the rest of Chile as all alcoholics, so I'm sure that was the last image the community wanted to leave us with. All ended well though, with a big "Ya Ya Ya Ya Yo!" to close the day (they don't clap).

We spent the night in Puerto Saavedra, a small town further north between the Pacific and Lago Budi. I had a fabulous run there in the morning, starting with a beautiful sunrise and rainbow. I ran along the beach for a while, laughing at two cows enjoying the sand, and then while going to take a picture of a random grassy area realized I had been running along a hidden forest the whole time. I ran back through the trees, which was beautiful and a lot of fun because the ground was really soft and full of little hills that made running feel like a ride. I did take a pretty hard crash when I slipped on some mud on a curve, but only a few fisherman saw me so it was fine.

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Before heading out, we took a short walk up to a lookout of the town. Then we headed back to Temuco, got lunch and dessert (alfajores and ice cream) in the market, and headed to our last stop of the weekend, Cerro Ñielol. The hill is a national reserve completely covered in trees where the government is working to reintroduce native species into the Chilean wildlife. The hike was beautiful, with a great view over Temuco at the end. We also passed some Mapuche wood carvings, with two children to represent fertility and two elders to represent wisdom. Their arms are crossed to show their resistance to Christianity. We watched a presentation on nature in Chile, took a break in the sun, and then all headed back to the airport.

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I absolutely loved the Temuco trip! In earlier years, CIEE has taken the group to Valparaiso, but I am really glad they decided to change. Our weekend was the opposite of touristy, and we got to do things that I never would have been able to work out without the help of the program. I got to learn about some culture, interact with some people I don't usually run into on the metro, help out a little bit, and relax back in the most beautiful part of Chile. Plus, it's always fun when the whole group is together because there are quite a few people I see very rarely in Santiago.

The weeks in between these trips were filled with little more than homework, but I have now made it through the hardest part of my semester and I have a pretty easy last three weeks of classes. My host mom has a bike, so I'm hoping to use it to go exploring in the city in the afternoons, and I have a couple more short travel plans before my mom gets here. It's the perfect time to not have any work, because it just got really warm and the days are wonderfully long.

Posted by marykate.morr 14:51 Archived in Chile Tagged living_abroad Comments (0)

¡El Rescate!

a very un-boring development in an otherwise boring week

60 °F
View Semester in Chile on marykate.morr's travel map.

As most of you probably know, I can be a pretty emotional person. Sometimes that means I cry too easily when my older siblings (mainly that jerk Alison) torment me. In the last couple of years, it's been more of a happy emotional; to describe myself on Facebook, I say "The Olympics make me cry." The idea of the Games is just something really beautiful and when I think about it the feeling is too much for my body and has to escape through my tear ducts. Point being, I'm sure you can all imagine my reaction to the rescue of the Chilean miners on Wednesday. A combination of national pride, family reunions, and the whole world thinking about and hoping for the same thing is my Achilles heel. On top of all of that, they reshowed coverage of when one of the miners interrupted the minister, who was trying to establish that everyone was alright, to ask about the fate of the other men who had been around during the collapse. The cheers of the miners came screaming through the phone when they heard there had been no casualties, and that was a pretty overwhelming scene to watch. I am so overjoyed that everything worked the way it was supposed to and that those men got out of there earlier than had been expected, and it was an incredible experience to be here while it was happening. It's really astonishing to me how much of a link I now feel to this country; it makes me think that maybe if we all just lived in a different country every five months everyone would care about everyone and there would be world peace. If I'm going to make it in the public policy realm, I might need to come up with some cheaper solutions, eh? It sounds like there was pretty good coverage of the rescue across the world, but here in Santiago we also had lots of horn honking and a siren that went off every time another miner came up. I thought President Piñera gave a great speech (I laughed pretty hard when he described Chile as "this country SO far away from the rest of the world."), and it was cute that he repeated it in English for what was probably his first international audience. Another really cool thing that they did here (and maybe showed in the US) was to highlight each of the miners, talking about their families and giving their life stories. All the violence we have in the world nowadays has somewhat sensitized me to what should be startling facts, but watching those stories helped remind me of how significant even just one death would be. I can remember two months ago when the other gringo and I were trying to convince my Chilean family that there was no possibility of the miners still being alive...woops.

I was pretty surprised by how healthy the men looked coming up. I knew they were receiving supplies, but there's only so much you can send through a tube. I suppose their adrenaline was probably off the charts, though, and you gotta look good for TV. The news was making a big deal about the fact that the rescue occurred on October 13, or 10/13/10, because the date adds up to 33. I'm a little suspicious that Piñera had them delay the rescue until after midnight to play up the dramatics, but it all worked out so I guess there's no problem with that. I've also been thinking a lot about what a rescue would have looked like in the US. I don't think that it would have been linked so heavily to national pride; I can't imagine we would have had the miners put up a huge US flag, I'm not sure Obama would start up the national anthem after the last miner came up, and we don't even have a USA chant that we could've used to celebrate each man rescued. I don't think it's that we're not patriotic in the US, but maybe we just show it in a different way. Or maybe I'm just wrong. The topic actually came up in my human rights class Thursday. Apparently foreigners always describe Chileans as being really patriotic, but Chileans themselves disagree and think that the only time they show any patriotism is under extreme circumstances. I think the discrepancy is proof of the fact that Chile suffers far too many extreme circumstances. More proof: the national slogan is "Viva Chile, Mierda," or "Long Live Chile, Damn It!"

The sad news is that another four miners are trapped in Colombia, and although they are not nearly as far down, officials there have declared that the chances of finding the men alive are very small. Two other miners died already there this week in different accidents. Hopefully now that the focus is off of the rescue, these countries can start figuring out better ways of protecting their miners (who create all the national wealth, by the way).

This was a great week for the rescue to happen because the rest of it was uneventful, boring, and/or stressful. Lots of homework, not a lot of anything else, including sleep. It was only a three-day week but it felt a whole lot longer. Wednesday I was so exhausted that I had to take a nap in the computer lab. It's always fun to give Chileans more reasons to stare at the gringa. I did get tickets booked for my mom's visit; she'll be flying down on Thanksgiving and we will have two weeks together exploring the middle of the Atacama Desert, the island of Chiloé, the Patagonian fjords on a four-day ferry trip, and the famous Torres del Paine in Patagonia!

Wednesday night actually was fun for a reason other than the miners. At my volunteer meeting, two of the women we work with brought me gifts. They're just little Chile souvenirs, but it was really sweet. This was followed by everyone wanting to get pictures with me during the snack break. Now, I should explain that I really don't say or do anything while volunteering because Chileans are naturally very quiet and the room is usually so noisy that I can't hear anything anyone says. So the fact that all of these adults like me enough to give me gifts and take pictures with me is really mind-boggling. I guess I'm lucky that the novelty of my blonde hair overpowers the fact that I am a generally uninteresting person in Spanish.

Actually, I have felt huge improvements in my Spanish recently. I even came up with a handy metaphor to describe it. It's like I started at the Atlantic coast of the US with the goal of reaching the Pacific. In the past week or so, I think I made it to the top of the Rocky Mountains. I've still got a long way to go, but the biggest challenge is now over and now it's more a matter of patience. That's at least what it feels like, but we'll see if I just got tricked and am really still in the foothills.

I think it's only appropriate to close with a little Chilean spirit (especially in case you haven't had the chance to hear this great chant): ¡Chi Chi Chi! ¡Le Le Le! ¡Viva Chile!

Posted by marykate.morr 07:57 Archived in Chile Tagged living_abroad Comments (0)

Valparaíso

day trips and developments in Chile

75 °F
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Four-day weekend here in Chile thanks to dear old Christopher Columbus (or Cristobal Colón as they say down south). They actually celebrate Día de la Raza (Day of the Race) here, which has a broader connotation about mixed heritage and harmony between ethnicities. Unfortunately I have to spend tomorrow writing a paper (nine pages in Spanish, five more than I've ever written in this language before), but I did take advantage of the break by getting lots of sleep and taking a day trip to Valparaíso. Valpo, as those who are hip and with it say, is a major Chilean port and the country's second largest city. It was more important during Spanish rule for trade reasons, but near the time of independence the Chileans started developing Santiago to counter the Spanish-controlled port. When the Panama Canal was opened, Valparaíso went into a depression that led to its reputation as a crime-ridden city. The central market was pretty chaotic and we had to suffer more cat-calls then usual as the newest thing in automobiles is to have your horn make whistling noises, but overall it felt safer than everyone had warned.

What it's really known for, though, is its graffiti. It's actually more appropriately called street art; although there is some that looks like what you'd see in the US, most of the paintings are beautiful and give the city a really vibrant feel. Once again, my friend Erica and I got to take advantage of the hospitality of Chileans. We started the day wandering along the railroad not really knowing what to do, but when we asked a group of three college-aged students how to get to the city center, they decided that what we needed wasn't directions, but a tour. From the downtown area along the water, every street leads up (at about a 70 degree incline!) into the hills where the houses are bundled. For about two hours, we meandered through streets and down alleys, hopping from one hill to the next, admiring the old mansions, paintings, and views of the port. A lot of the alleys were nothing more than abandoned buildings and crumbling stone, but it strangely added to the charm and romanticism of the city; the order-within-disorder and beauty-from-chaos feel is what struck me most about Valparaíso. That, and the fact that all of the wealthy residents built their mansions further into the hills so that they could keep an eye out for pirates.

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After our guides had had enough of us, Erica and I headed to La Sebastiana, Pablo Neruda's third house. Strange that I've made it a point to see all three houses of a poet whose work I've never read. Similar to the other two, La Sebastiana is full of a random collection of gifts and trinkets, but it felt a loss less cluttered. Turns out the clutter is key, though, as I didn't like this house nearly as much as La Chascona or Isla Negra.

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Unfortunately, we didn't get to ride the Ascensores (trolleys that run up and down the hills) that Valparaíso is famous for because apparently only one of them was in working condition. After a hard-on-the-knees walk down the hill, we wandered through the center of town, passing some plazas, an art show, and an outdoors mass/concert, on our way to dinner. Our waiter was a little rude, but that was my only complaint for the day.

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Today we celebrated the fourth birthday of my host niece with a very large asado (barbeque). I didn't realize the party was going to be such a production, and now I'm feeling a little guilty for not having brought a gift. But it was a beautiful day with good food and great music, and Sundays always feel nice when the week doesn't start until Tuesday.

I also had a great week of classes, and finally felt like I learned something. In case you're interested, here are a few of the issues and debates developing in Chile right now:

1. Teachers face such bad conditions and are so undervalued by society that there is a major shortage. So few people enter the career that President Piñera has started a program that gives anyone who commits to study in education a free education, a free semester abroad, and more spending money on top of that.

2. The policy's not having the intended results because the education departments of most skills are of very poor quality and certification systems are weak. Teachers' unions are also basically powerless.

3. The mines in the North (Chile's wealth) require a huge amount of energy, but instead of using all that sun up there in the desert they are destroying vegetation in Patagonia in the South for biofuel.

4. (related to--probably causing--number three) The mines, the energy company, and the intermediaries are all owned by foreigners.

5. Patagonia has been largely ignored by the State in the past, but they are now trying to build a road to connect it with the rest of the country. Problem is, Douglas Tompkins (founder of The North Face from the US) owns a whole lot of that part of the world. In the 80s, he started buying up property from individual farmers and piecing it together to create his own national park for conservation purposes. He's blocked the building of the road for a while, which conservationists like but Chile does not; they resent the gringo for interfering in Chile's development and preventing the unification their country. Not to mention all the companies he pissed off. All sorts of conspiracy theories sprung up about Tompkins and he reported receiving death threats.

6. Tompkins started turning over some land and it looks like the road is going to happen, but he was successful in pushing the plan for the road to the coast instead of cutting through the center, which will limit the environmental damage.

7. Easter Island is trying to gain independence from Chile. The original inhabitants were Polynesian, so there have always been questions about cultural ties to the mainland, and the Rapa Nui are complaining that they are facing cultural and linguistic oppression and a lack of representation. There is a big issue with Chile having a very centralized government even though the different regions are like separate worlds (from desert to mountains to icebergs), but I think independence is a pretty silly idea. Easter Island only has like 3,000 inhabitants, and its earliest populations completely destroyed the ecosystem building their statues (they cut down all the trees for the wood needed to transport the carved stones), so there isn't much of a possibility of them thriving on their own.

8. So with very few people and no resources, why would Chile care about Easter Island anyway? It does bring in some tourism money, but the main reason is that it gives Chile control over an expanse of ocean almost the size of the US, and since the marines are a pretty powerful entity here it's not likely that they'll let the island slip away.

9. On a less serious note, energy is so expensive that people don't decorate their houses for Christmas. I don't know how Chileans expect to appreciate the true meaning of Christmas without lights and snow. Good thing I'm getting out of here before that!

I also thought I'd show you a picture of the lemon. This lemon has been sitting in that glass of water since the day I arrived. It can't be for decoration purposes because Magaly has never taken it out of the cupboard, but I just can't think of what its doing there. I keep meaning to ask.

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Posted by marykate.morr 14:18 Archived in Chile Tagged living_abroad Comments (1)

La Naturaleza, en Muchas Formas

being outdoors, or a least watching movies about it

75 °F
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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.

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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.

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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.

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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.

Posted by marykate.morr 10:17 Archived in Chile Tagged living_abroad Comments (0)

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