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Wednesday, March 29, 2006

The Lake District

This past weekend me and my friend Laura went to the Lake District which is south of Santiago for four days. The Lake District is huge and so we chose one area to be in. We left Wednesday night and took an overnight 10 hour bus to Pucón which is a small town which is apparently really busy in the summer but this time of year was pretty empty.

Day 1
We found a place to stay, dropped off our stuff and got on another bus and took it to a tiny little “town” about half an hour away called Caburgua. Basically there is a lake. It had started to rain and so was pretty cloudy and so you couldn’t see much of the lake or the surrounding hills. The road into town literally ends at the lake, and with the clouds, everything just disappeared. Here is Laura walking out to the end of the road.

From there we decided to walk about 4 km down the road to Ojos de Caburgua which are small waterfalls. It was raining a little but we both had raincoats and so decided just to walk in the rain. All along the road were tons of blackberry bushes and so the walk took us slightly longer because we stopped about every 30 seconds to eat lots and lots of yummy blackberries. At some point we ran into a dog that decided to stay with us. This is very common that you will just find a dog when walking and it will follow you as far as you are going. At some point the dog climbed off the road into the woods. We decided to follow it and there was a path in the woods that continued parallel to the road. We then realized that all of a sudden there was a fence between us and the road because we had walked onto private property. We ended up having to hop over 3 different gates before finally getting back onto the road. At this point it was really raining and we were getting wetter. As we turned off the road to find the waterfall, some other tourists going there who saw we were very wet offered us a ride for the last part. By the time we got there we were completely soaked and decided that we couldn’t get any wetter and so we should just enjoy ourselves. We walked through the pouring rain and finally came upon this…

The picture doesn’t do it justice but we were in the middle of the woods, in the pouring rain, surrounded by crystal clear water and amazing waterfalls, it was definitely worth the trip in the rain. After getting lost finding the road, finding the right path, and then riding in the back of a pick-up for the last bit, we made it back to the road to catch the bus. We were so wet that we had to stand the whole ride back so that we didn’t get the seats wet and when we got off there were two giant puddles where we had been standing. I was wearing 5 layers of shirts and jackets and every single layer was soaked through. It took the next two days for our jeans and shoes to dry. Even with the rain, it was a lot of fun.

Day 2
We woke up the next day and the rain had cleared. With the sky clear, we realized that right there in the town you could see the giant active volcano that is nearby.

We got an early start and took a bus to Parque Nacional Huerquehue to do a 19 km (about 12 miles) lake trail. What the guide book didn’t specify was that the first 8 km or so zigzag up a really really steep hill. To give you an idea of how high we climbed… the trail started at the same level as this lake. Here is a view we had of the lake after going up hill, and we kept going up after that.

The trail takes you past two waterfalls and about 5 different lakes. The whole trail was gorgeous, taking us through dense forests with really cool trees and then came out on these lakes that were really blue and clear, right there in the middle of the mountains. Some pictures of the lakes, trees and forests.

The whole way down the hill we were at that point where your legs are so tired they feel like jello. We had to keep walking because every time we stopped we felt like we might fall over. The whole hike took us six or seven hours. We got back to Pucón, got some dinner and got into bed around 9:30, we were so exhausted. A beautiful hike, well worth the effort.

Day 3
We took a bus into another small town, Coñaripe. It turns out this is a very small town, and in the off season it is a really really small town. There were no other tourists there at all, and we couldn’t even find an open place to stay. After walking around with all our stuff for a while and getting tired of carrying it, we decided to settle down on the completely deserted lake beach. It was a beautiful day and we ended up spending the whole day on the beach in this tiny little town in the middle of nowhere. The water was warm enough to swim, so of course I got in which was so nice. Floating in the middle of a giant lake surrounded by mountains. Also, from the middle of the lake I could see that same snow covered volcano…beautiful.

We ended up finding the one place open to stay the night which was just a family that rented out rooms and served breakfast.

Day 4
Our last day was the least exciting. We planned to spend the day in Villarica, another small touristy town. Again, this time of year there is not much to do and it was slightly rainy so we just ended up wandering around, walking down to the lake and then catching a bus back to Pucón where we wandered around some more and walked down to that beach too. We hung out on the lake beach (it had stopped raining by then) until it was time to catch our bus back to Santiago. Another 10 hour overnight bus arriving Monday morning. I went back to sleep for a couple hours before rushing off to Monday afternoon class.

It was an amazing trip and so much fun. It was so nice to just be traveling with one other person. The first tripI took here, traveling with five other people was a little much for me, and it is so much easier to travel with just one or two other people, especially after having spent a month traveling by myself. I am going to try and travel in small groups from now on.

Monday, March 20, 2006

Valparaiso and Viña del Mar

Saturday and Sunday last week I went to Valparaiso and Viña del Mar which are two adjacent cities on the coast about two hours from Santiago. I went with my friend Kate who has a friend who is studying on the COPA program there. We got there Saturday afternoon and met up with Lee, who is Sonja's friend from Whitman who I had never met but I contacted her because she is also studying in Valparaiso. Lee showed us around for a while. The way Valparaiso is layed out is that the city is all on the water and there are lots of ports. Then a lot of the residential area is up in the hills. The touristy way to get up into the hills is to take an ascensor up. The acensores are elevators that go up the side of the hills at a slant. So we rode one of these up. This is a picture looking up at the tracks from inside the acensor, and then a picture of the asensor coming up the hill.

The area we went to was amazing. There are all these houses that are painted bright colors and everyone is different so it is just a really colorful neighborhood. Some were residential houses and some art galleries. Almost all the buildings are painted with all different kinds of murals and graffiti. Here are some pictures to give you some sense of what it was like.

We rode a different ascensor back down and Lee took us to the port which has comericial boats, private boats, and navy ships.

We also met up with Kate's friend Sammy, and after checking out a couple of full hostels for me to stay in, Sammy said I could just stay with her and Kate at her host family's house. She is living in Viña and so we took a bus over there. Although they are two separate cities, they function like one and are only a ten minute bus ride away. While Valparaiso has ports, Viña is where the beaches are. We walked down to the rocks near the beach and watched the sunset over the ocean.

The next day, Kate and I went to a museam that is inside of a mansion that was an old estate, and the land around it was a nice park where we walked around. Here is me and Kate in front of the very fancy museum building.

After that, we met up with Sammy and we all caught a bus to the National Botanical Gardens which is just a big park with trails and plants from different parts of the world. It was interesting because some parts were very manicured like your typical botanical garden, and other parts were just more like woods, with lots of trees and bushes. A lot of parts looked, smelt, and felt exactly like I was in Tilden Park in Berkeley because there were Eucaliptice trees all over and paths leading through the woods, I could have been anywhere in Tilden, but I was in Chile, very wierd. Doesn't this look like tilden?

A picture of my favorite flower we saw.
Very fun weekend, and a very easy trip. I will probebly go back a couple of times this semester because it is so close and there is so much to see.

This past weekend was an exciting eventful trip to the lake district. A post on that is coming very soon.

Friday, March 17, 2006

Classes and Mechoneo

I just finished the 2nd/1st week of classes and so I decided it was time for a post. I still have one class that doesn’t start until next week and so I will tell you about that in a later post. Through COPA we have the option of taking classes at three different universities in Santiago, La Universidad de Chile (La Chile) which is the big public school and the oldest university in the country, La Universidad Católica (La Católica), which is the main Catholic university in the city, and Universidad Diego Portales which is a slightly smaller private school that is rated as one of the top private schools in the country. I chose to take classes at La Chile and Diego Portales. I wanted to take classes at La Chile for the experience, it is supposed to be full of activity, protest, cultural events, etc. I chose Diego Portales because whereas La Chile is much more disorganized, Diego Portales is more organized and has smaller classes. As it turns out, there has been some kind of internal problems within the social science department at La Chile and because of this classes are starting a few weeks late, which means they end a few weeks late, after my program ends, and so we are not allowed to take classes in the social science department. Since I am a Sociology major and take mostly social sciences, this limited my choices and I ended up not finding very many classes I wanted to take there. After visiting a couple classes I didn’t like, I am now taking only one class at La Chile which doesn’t start until next week and the rest of my classes are at Diego Portales. We are also required to take a Spanish class through the program with the other students from COPA. Oh, and all the classes are in Spanish. Ok, so here are my classes that have started already…

COPA Spanish
- This is a class with the other American students that is half grammar and half composition. We are split into three classes so there is only nine people in my class. It is annoying to have to take grammar again and do stupid exercises but it is helpful and a good opportunity to just be able to ask the professor anything we want about language, Chilean culture, Chilean words etc.

Sociología de los Medios de Comunicación (Sociology of Media)
- At Bard I have done a lot of projects for classes relating to media but never taken a media specific class so this seemed perfect. It is hard to get a sense yet of what the class will be like yet, but it focuses on different forms of media. Although we do have a section on Chile, it is much more general which is good because I can apply the class to US media as well. I am the only American in this class which is good, and will hopefully be a good opportunity for meeting Chilean students.

Familia, Género y Sociedad (Family, Gender and Society)
- This is another Sociology class that is about what it sounds like it is about. It seems like it will be a good class, focusing on structure of family, family relations, gender division of labor within the family, and alternative family structures. The second class was a background on theory. The lecture was on theorists who have studied the family and different schools of thought that relate to the family. Having just taken two different Sociology theory classes at Bard a lot of the information was familiar to me and so was easier to follow in Spanish. There is one other COPA student in this class, otherwise all Chileans.

Historia y Fotografia Chilena (Chilean History and Photography)
- This class just started last week. It is not in a specific department, it is an interdisciplinary class that is offered to students in any department. It is a class looking at Chilean history through history of photography. We are looking at a wide range of genres including art photography, travel, portrait, and journalism. There is also a “creative” element to the class. We have two photography projects where we have to take photographs on a specific subject and turn them in, in any format we want with a short paper justifying out photographs. So that should be fun. The professor is very funny and passionate about the subject matter. There are 6 or so other COPA students in this class but also lots of Chilean students. The professor loves that there are so many Americans in the class and keeps asking us questions. For example, in the last class he somehow started talking about hippies in Berkeley and then randomly turned to me and asked me if Berkeley or Stanford was a better school. So just the professor should keep us entertained throughout the semester.

My last class which is at La Chile is called Dinamicas Sociales y Transformaciones en la Ciudad Latinoamerica (Social Dynamics and Transformations in the Latin American City). More to come when that starts.

It seems like the classes will not have a lot of work. Each lecture and reading is obviously more challenging because it is in Spanish but I think my work load will be less than I am used to at Bard. Also, they are very into group and pair papers here which I don’t really understand how that works, but I guess I will find out.

For those of you that though Berkeley High Freshman Fridays were bad, that is nothing compared to the hazing that happens here with first year university students at almost all the universities in the city. It is called mechoneo and this is more or less what happens (or some variation of this)… Older students come into first year classes in the middle of class. They line everyone up and string a rope through their belt loops so they can’t get away. Then they take their backpacks and shoes. Then they cut there clothes to shreds. They cut off the legs of pants and cut up the sides of the pants, with guys they completely take their shirts, with girls the cut off the stomach and arms. Then they cover everyone in paint on their clothes, their stomachs, faces, everywhere, sometimes just paint, sometimes writing. Then they smear ketchup, mustard and flour in their hair. In the most extreme cases, they cut peoples hair off. Then they parade you through the streets and metro and send everyone out on the street in pairs to beg for money. You have to collect a certain amount of money by the end of the day in order to get your backpacks and shoes back. So everyday you see these kids on the street who are a mess, their clothes are cut up, they have no shoes, they are covered in paint and they smell disgusting from the ketchup and mustard in their hair, and they are begging for coins. It is so sad and seems horrible but I guess it is part of the university culture and some kind of initiation type thing and so people don’t mind going through it.

On another note, my weekend last week ended with another concert, a huge post-inauguration concert on the street right in front of the presidential palace. There was a giant stage and probably over ten thousand people with lots of big name Latin American artists and at the end, Bachelet spoke again. It was a lot of fun and a good way to end such an exciting weekend.

Sorry for such a long post, congratulations for making it to the end.

Saturday, March 11, 2006

Evo Morales

Yesterday I saw Evo Morales, Bolivia’s new president, speak at the Estadio Nacional in Santiago. Morales is number three on my list of Latin American presidents I have seen in the last seven weeks (Hugo Chavez, Michelle Bachelet, Evo Morales). Today is the inauguration of Michelle Bachelet and so presidents and important figures from around the world have come for the inauguration, including Morales. The event was very exciting. It was both a talk by Morales as well as a big concert before and after his speech with popular leftist Chilean singers. The feeling of the crowd was similar to that of the crowd when I saw Chavez but at the same time was very different. It was a small stadium, with the stage decorated with Chilean and Bolivian flags, banners depicting indigenous symbols and banners in the background from various sponsoring leftist organizations. In the crowd were various organizations and political parties who sat together waving flags and banners and with their own chants. There was a large section of the Communist Party of Chile, the Humanist Party and many others (many of which I don’t know what they are). The music was really fun, and the groups were obviously very popular because everyone was singing along, dancing, and there was even a section in the front that became a huge mosh pit.

To back track a little bit as to who Evo Morales is. Morales was just elected president of Bolivia in January. He is Latin America’s first indigenous president. Bolivia is a country full of indigenous people (I think over 50%) and has the biggest indigenous population in South America and so it was a huge victory that a president who represents the majority of people was elected. Morales ran on the platform of indigenous rights and the issue of the coca plant. I wrote some about the coca plant in one of my earlier posts and I don’t know all the details but it is a huge crop in Bolivia and its production and exportation is restricted by the US and other countries. I don’t know the details on his background but he was previously a labor leader and doesn’t have the traditional high level of education you would expect of a president.

Morales came out in full traditional outfit, which is how I think he often appears in public to emphasize the indigenous thing. He spoke about the importance of indigenous rights and having an indigenous leader. He addressed the issue of coca, and criticized the US and calling it an imperialist nation. Yet again, there was a language barrier and so I didn’t fully understand everything in his speech and missed a lot of what he said. He also spoke about an issue that I didn’t know anything about, the issue of access to the sea. Bolivia is a landlocked country which means that the transportation of goods is a huge economic burden in an already poor country because they have to cross Peru or Chile’s borders to access sea ports. Slightly over a hundred years ago, a section of Chile’s coast belonged to Bolivia, but Chile won it in a war. There is currently a movement for Bolivia to again have access to the sea either by reclaiming the land, or by just giving Bolivia a passage to the sea. Because this is a sensitive issue in Chile, Morales only hinted at it and didn’t directly address it until the crowd started chanting “Mar para Bolivia” (Sea for Boliva) and once he had the crowds support he addressed the issue. Overall the event was very exciting to be at.

Although I went with some friends from COPA, it turned out that my host family went too and ended up sitting right behind me. It ended up being a great conversation starter with my host family to talk about politics which until now was a subject we had not really talked about very much. So this week has been very exciting here in Chile and is not over yet. Right now I am watching on TV the inauguration of Bachelet which is in Valparaiso and tomorrow I will hopefully go to the post inauguration celebration in Santiago where there will be a big concert with many of the same groups playing.

Friday, March 10, 2006

¡Día Internacional de la Mujer!

Wednesday was International Women’s Day. You may or may not know that in January, Chile elected a woman president. Michelle Bachelet is a socialist, a divorced single mother (a divorce law was only passed in 2004), a pediatrician, agnostic (in a very catholic country), and her family was tortured and exiled during the Pinochet dictatorship. She is part of the socialist party which is the same party that the current president, Lagos is part of. Her politics are more or less center-left, more socially liberal and economically conservative. The truth is that her politics are not that different from the current president and so people’s opinion here is just that she is just a continuation of the previous government. Although the fact that she is a woman obviously makes a difference in both Chilean and world politics. She is the first elected female president in South America (other women have succeeded their husbands). In Chile, women won the right to vote in 1935 and were not able to vote in presidential elections until 1949. When you think about it, it is pretty impressive that only 57 years later a woman was elected president. Bachelet will appoint new people to the government positions and has committed to appointing half women and half men. So although her politics may not be any more radical or left than the previous government, I think that the fact that she is a woman will be an important factor in politics. On Saturday Bachelet will be inaugurated.

Seeing as Chile is about to inaugurate a woman president (which in Spanish you can just say Presidenta and the word says it all), there was a big International Women’s Day celebration on Wednesday. I only heard about it that morning, after I had left my house so I didn’t have my camera which I am very upset about but hopefully I can get some pictures from some of my friends. One block was blocked off with a big stage set up on the sidewalk. The backdrop of the stage was photos of important Chilean women and bluntly said, “Chile Tiene Presidenta.” Female musicians from all around Latin America performed and then, Bachelet spoke! The craziest thing was that there was so little security. There was no space between the stage and the crowd and there were maybe 2 security guards on the stage, standing off to the side, and another 4 or so next to the stage in the crowd. When I heard that she was speaking I didn’t believe it because there was so little security that I assumed it must just be a rumor. I was fairly close to the stage and so I must have been not more than 50 yards away from Bachelet. Because it was International Women’s Day, she focused on the issue of women rather than strictly politics. She spoke about the importance of women having more representation in politics, about women achieving equal rights, and honoring some of the important women in Chile’s history. It was a very exciting event and great to be there experiencing an important part of Chile’s history. Tomorrow is the inauguration and on Sunday there is some kind of event open to the public that I am going to try and go to. If I get any pictures from friends I will add them to this post but I don’t know if that will actually happen.

Some other stuff…
My mom has a Chilean friend who lives in New York who I had never met before. He is in Santiago visiting family and so I went to meet him the other day for lunch. He was meeting some of his college friends for lunch and so I ended up eating lunch with nine slightly drunk Chilean men in their late 50’s which was quite the experience but really fun.

Last week me and my friend from COPA were supposed to meet and she got lost so I went to go find her where she was. As a result of her getting lost we ran across an English bookstore which was perfect because I had been looking for something to read. It turns out that every Tuesday and Thursday night the bookstore has a Spanish-English language exchange where people come, they serve coffee and tea, and you just have informal conversations in whichever language you want to practice. So last night I went and it was really fun. I was talking with some Chileans and some Americans and so we switched between Spanish and English, or sometimes the Chileans would talk to me in English and I would respond in Spanish. So I think I would like to try going to that once a week or so, they also have an open mic on Wednesdays which might be fun to go watch too.

I have now been gone for seven weeks which is the longest period of time I have been out of the country for (previously six weeks). Classes started this past week but some of my classes have not started yet so I am waiting to put up a post about them, but the ones I have gone to seem good so far. There will be more information about my classes in a later post.

Thursday, March 09, 2006

Cajon de Maipo

Last weekend me and five other girls from my program when to the Maipo Canyon which is about a 2 hour bus ride outside of Santiago. We left Friday evening and tood a bus to a campsite. We had borrowed a tent from one of the girl's host family which was a crazy, giant 3 room tent which was not meant for carrying around but I ended up bringing my big backpack just to carry it because it was so big. The process of trying to figure out how to set up the enormous tent was quite amusing, but we eventually figured it out.

We were in the middle of nowhere with no cities close by and so the stars were amazing. We could see so many stars and the milky way was so clear. After the whole tent ordeal, me and two other girls ended up sleeping outside anyway, under the stars which was so beautiful.

Some pictures from walking around near the river the next day...

Then we went white water rafting which was so fun. The actual rafting was amazing but the highlights were 1. when we got to jump out of the boat and just float down the river with lifejackets, and 2. when me and the two other girls on my side of the boat fell out. yup, we fell out. We hit a big rapid, the boat started to tip and next thing i knew i was in the water and as the water rushed past my face I managed to grab the boat and someone pulled me back in. It wasn't unil I was settled in the boat that I realized other people had fell out too. Anyway, it was exciting to fall out. If you want to see pictures of me all geared up in a wetsuit, water shoes, shorts, jacket, life vest, and helmet, check back, check back because I am just waiting for someone else to give me the pictures.

Also, there were grape vines growing everywhere around the rafting place with really good grapes and so we ate a ton and then took some bunches back with us to eat on the bus.

Sunday, March 05, 2006

Santiago: City, Fashion, and Language

It has been about a week since I moved in with my host family. Things are going great and classes start tomorrow although I still don’t really know what I am taking but hopefully I will know by the end of the week.

For the past week I have been having orientation in the morning and then exploring Santiago in the afternoons. So here are some of my first week impressions of Santiago and Chile. First of all, many Chileans keep telling me that in Chile they don’t speak Castellano, (which is what they call Spanish in most of South America because Spanish is associated with Spain) in Chile they speak Chileno. Basically this means that they speak very fast with lots of words and phrases that you will only hear in Chile and you will not learn in a Spanish class. During orientation they taught us a lot of this slang and phrases which I thought was kind of silly but it turns out that those phrases are about 50% of the average person’s vocabulary. I am starting to get used to the phrases and the accent hasn’t been too difficult to understand yet.

The City. Santiago as I learned today is split up into 53 different neighborhoods. It is a huge city with so much variety. There is a mix of architecture here. There is everything from super modern buildings, to beautiful old European looking buildings. Hear is a picture from the plaza downtown that is of a very modern building reflecting the old church across the street.

There are super turisty neighborhoods, cute areas with lots of cafes, streets lined with murals, fancy shopping areas, slums, parks, museums, everything you can think of. I still don’t feel like I have seen much of the city so my mission is to keep exploring. The city is a surprisingly clean city (at least the streets, the air is pretty polluted.) The city is surrounded on all sides by a circle of mountains. There are two different small mountains in the middle of the city that you can go to the top of and see the whole city and the mountains. I have only been to the top of Santa Lucia so far. Here is a picture from the top with some girls from my program and you can see the city and mountains in the background.

Some random observations on some of the styles here. I have seen a lot of fanny packs here. Many people wear them on the front but it is very common to see people wearing fanny packs over their shoulder like a purse. Everywhere I go I see variations on the rat tail, it seems to be very popular. There are people with a single dreadlock coming off the back of their head while the rest is short. Or people with short hair with a braid coming off the side. I also see a lot of hair wraps, sometimes as long as someone’s hair, other times more in the rat tail style. Then there are these awful pants that everyone wears that are the length of peddle pushers but are all scrunched up.

Also, whereas in Venezuela, Peru, and Bolivia I stood out as a foreigner, in Santiago it is actually possible to blend in. I can more or less pass for a Chilean unless I open my mouth to speak, hang out with a large group of gringos, take out my camera, or consult my map. Seeing as I do all those things very often I guess I usually stand out as a gringa. But, the other day I was walking down the street and a woman tried to hand me a flier and said, ¨¿Quieres aprender inglès?¨ So I guess I can blend in occasionally.

This weekend I went to Cajon de Maipo right outside the city and went camping and white water rafting which was amazing. I’ll try to put up a post about it and pictures soon.