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Thursday, June 22, 2006

Skiing in the Andes

I added pictures to this post

Ok, the last post now has most of the pictures up, so look at those. I am still working on getting photos up on this one.

Last Saturday I went skiing. Skiing in Chile is skiing in the Andes mountains. Me and a couple friends planned to go and there is a place in Santiago where they will take you up there in a bus. It turned out tons of people from my program all had the same idea because it was the first weekend the slopes were open and so there ended up being 13 of us and so we got our own minibus to ourselves. It is only about and hour and a half from Santiago to the slopes because we are so close to the mountains.

I think that the last time I went skiing was in 8th grade, so 6 or 7 years ago. There were so many of us that went that it worked out that there were people at all levels so we all had someone to ski with. I picked it up again right away...meaning I could ski and stay up but had no form, but that doesn´t really matter does it?

Because it is winter here and summer in the northern hemisphere, there are lots of Americans that come to ski. So the place was filled with Americans speaking English and all the staff speaks English, and some of them are even American. That was very wierd because you never knew whether to speak to someone in English or Spanish.

This was definitly the most beautiful place I have ever skied. When you are on the lift or at the top of a mountain you can see all the snow covered mountains.
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I mostly stayed on the easier slopes because although I tried a few harder ones and could do it, it was fun to do the easy ones because I could just go really fast and have fun without being scared or worrying so much about falling. I did take a couple good spills, although surprisingly not really any on the mountain as I was going down, most were from hitting a bump at the bottom of the mountain as I was coming to a stop. But what is skiing without some good falls?
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Me and Catherine who is also from Bard

There was one lift that instead of sitting on the bench and riding over the mountain, you have a pole with a disk at the end and you sit on the disk and essentially ski up the mountain while it pulls you. I did that lift twice and it was so scary, I didn´t like it. Getting on is hard and so the first time I tried I fell off right as I got on and had to try it again. Once I got on I was terrified that I would fall off when I was actually going up the hill. I was also worried about dropping my poles so I put the straps back around my wrists...bad idea. When it was time to get off I let go of the lift, but my ski poles were wrapped around it, so i let go of my poles, but they were on my wrist so i wasn´t sitting anymore but my arms were still attached. I managed to get the pole off just in time to not hit some sign and get dragged back around hanging from my arm. I did brave that lift one more time and did fine though.

The whole drive home we watched the sunset over the snowy mountains which was beautiful and nice to enjoy before entering smoggy Santiago again.
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Monday, June 12, 2006

Strikes, Mines, Snow, Horses, Futbol...

I figured out a different way to get photos up but they are all funny sizes, sorry. There is also one picture missing.

I haven’t been good lately about updating mainly because I haven’t really been traveling, but there are still things going on, so here is another post with lots of random things from the last few weeks.

First of all, and update on the student strikes. After three weeks of the high schools being on strike, and two weeks of most universities being on strike, the strike is finally over. The past week I barely had any classes because everyone was on strike. Last weekend, Michelle Bachelet made the students an offer that was pretty extensive. Because the offer didn’t include everything they were asking for, they rejected the offer and decided to keep striking. Bachelet said that either way she would make those changes she had offered (which included free PSU tests for low income students, along with various other things) and that she wasn’t going to offer any more. As the week went on the protests lost steam. Finally, on Friday they called off the strike because of the diminishing lack of public support. In the end the students won a fair amount of things they were asking for. Under the military dictatorship of Pinochet, the school system was decentralized so that funding was allocated by individual municipalities rather than the state. This has caused some municipalities to have much more funding for schools while others get hardly anything. One of the demands that the students made was to centralize the system again. As far as I understand, this is what happened with that. Bachelet’s original proposal didn’t address that issue, but in the end, Bachelet has promised to form a committee to reform many of the changes that were made under Pinochet’s government. This committee will have 75 representatives and 15 of them will be student representatives. That is what I understand of it, though I’m sure there is a lot more that I don’t know. I wish I had pictures of the downtown area where there are giant banners hanging off of buildings and where the protests were but I don’t so here is just some pictures of some of the high schools and universities.
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When they took over the high schools, they literally took them over and kids camped out there for two weeks and they took desks and chairs and stuck them in the fences, here is a picture of that.

As I mentioned before, the smog here has been awful. Because we are surrounded by mountains the smog is worse, and it means you can’t see the mountains even though they are really really close. It has been a dry season and the lack of rain has made the smog worse. But, it started raining this past week and the rain breaks the layer of smog and it clears up a little. The most amazing thing is when there is a clear day without rain the day after a lot or rain. For one, the rain clears the smog so you can see the mountains, and if it was raining here it means it was snowing in the mountains so all of a sudden we are surrounded by beautiful snow covered mountains that you can actually see. Here is a picture I attempted to get, though my goal is to try and get a picture sometime at sunset on a nice day because they are so beautiful then.

Some other quick things about what I have been up to.

A couple of weeks ago I went with some friends to the horse races in Santiago. When you are at the track you feel like you are in the 1920’s or something because it looks like the horse races you see in movies, unfortunately the people there were not dressed like 1920’s horse race goers. It is very anti-climatic. There is a race about every half hour, it lasts for about a minute and then it is over. We wanted to try betting a little bit just for fun but the process of betting seemed too complicated, especially in Spanish.

My program arranged a trip for us to El Teniente, which is the largest open-pit copper mine in the world, and Sewell which is the now abandoned mining town. We had to get completely dressed up in mining gear (jacket, head light helmet, boots, belt, glasses, gas mask…) I think most of it was for show, not so much for safety, it was kind of ridiculous but fun. Here is me looking ridiculous in all my gear.
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We got a tour of the mine though we didn’t get to see much, only the parts that are meant for tour groups, we even walked into what was kind of a museum underground inside the mine. We drove in the mine on a bus, walked around, saw some mixer thing, drove out. I wasn’t that impressed, I think it was just the fact that it was so geared towards tourists and we weren’t actually seeing what really goes on, also, our tour guide wasn’t very interesting. We then went to the mining town which now just has some cafeterias for the miners and a museum. It used to be a town where the miners and their families lived. The housing was divided by class and also by status (single men, married couples, children, etc.) There was a bowling alley in the town which was the first bowling alley in Chile. It is now basically a ghost town where miners come to eat and tour groups walk around. All in all, not my favorite trip but still interesting. Some pictures.
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I have been watching the World Cup. I previously knew nothing about it but I am in Latin America (although Chile did not qualify) and some of my friends are soccer fanatics so I have been watching a bunch of the games and learning about how the World Cup functions and who might beat who, etc. Monday we went to an Irish pub to watch the US game and it was filled with Americans speaking English which was very weird.

Thursday, June 01, 2006

La Educación en Paro

So this week there has been lots of huge national protests going on in Chile. You have probably not heard about them because they have not been covered in the mainstream US media, though the BBC and other sources have some articles if you are interested in reading more. These protests have been organized and lead by high school students. It is pretty amazing because they have coordinated at a national level and the past couple days protests have happened everywhere in Chile but the center of the protests are here in Santiago.

The issues: I still do not have a really good understanding of the issues but let me explain what I know. There has been some smaller protests lately relating to the student passes (passes that let you ride the buses for a discounted student price) and the PSU exams (the university entrance exam – Chile’s SAT equivalent). The students wanted the buses to be free rather than just discounted and they wanted the PSU exams to be free (they are about $40 now). These were the starting issues and then it escalated into being about broader issues. They are now also protesting for these things, but also a change in the way the money for education is spent and how the system is organized, along with various other issues that I still am not completely clear on.

En Paro and En Tomas: Tuesday (which also was my birthday) was a national day of “paro.” En paro, essentially means on strike but it is different than “en huelga.” I guess strike refers more to a workplace whereas this was high school students. I have been trying to figure out what the equivalent word in English is and the closest thing I can come up with is a walk out, although there was no actual walking out of school, schools were just cancelled and student just didn’t go to school. So thousands of high school students had protests in the downtown area. Throughout the day, many universities declared support for the high school students and so also were “en paro.” Each department decides to individually whether or not to join and so some of my classes were cancelled and some weren’t. There were also lots of buildings that were “en tomas” which is a take over of a building, I guess kind of like a sit-in, but without the sitting in.

The protests: So protests here, especially with young people can get pretty out of hand. We were warned to stay away from the area right downtown where everything was happening and all the buses were detoured around the area and the metro skipped the two stops near all the protests. The protests get very violent from both the side of the protesters and the police. Protesters throw rocks, bottles that explode, things like that. The police however throw tear gas bombs into the crowds of protesters, have trucks that spray a hard stream of dirty water, trucks that spray tear gas, and they beat the protesters with their clubs. So it gets pretty out of control and violent. I stayed away from the protesting area but even about a mile down from the protests and on the metro I could feel faint traces of tear gas. There have also been hundreds of arrests and lots of students have been hospitalized in the last few days.

Most of the signs and banners that the protesters have and that are hung across buildings are targeting Michelle Bachelet, the president, rather than the Minister of Education who is the one who has the power to make the changes. I guess this is kind of a test for the new president to see how she will respond to the demand of the students. She has come out against how the police have been treating the protesters but I don’t know any more than that. The big day of protest was Tuesday but nothing was promised to students by the end of the day and so many of the protests have continued and school is still out in many places for the rest of the week. It is possible that if the students don’t get a response from the government by the end of the week, the Paro will continue into next week.

It is a pretty amazing movement of students, and very impressive how organized they are across the country. This has been the hot topic of conversation here for the past couple of days and probably will continue to be. As much as I want to just see the protests to see what is going on and experience it, I have been trying to avoid being near them, besides being dangerous, even just being near them you will feel the tear gas which is pretty painful. If you are interested in reading more and maybe reading a better description of the issues, try googling it or look on the BBC, Democracy Now, or Pacifica websites.