Saturday, September 28, 2013

My Independence Week Adventures

Hi all! As promised, here's my post about my travels during Chile's Independence Week.

Chile’s real Independence Day is in February, but the country celebrates on September 18th and continues the celebration for the entire week in which the 18th falls. Since classes were cancelled for this week, I wanted to travel and see more of this beautiful country. Since my Chilean family wasn't planning on doing any traveling for the week of vacations, my fellow GV study abroad student Hayley and her family kindly invited me to join them on their trip to a southern portion of Chile, and I gladly accepted. James also came with, and he rode with me on the bus to Valdivia, where we spent the first three days of our trip. We arrived late at night in Valdivia, a German-esque town on el Río Calle-Calle. Since we had been sitting all day in vehicles, Hayley, James, and I took a midnight stroll along the river, and while we meandered along, we came upon a sea lion just hanging out in the middle of the sidewalk under a street lamp. Yay more sea lions! I’m not quite sure why I get so excited about them, but I do. 

Empanadas and pisco sour... yum!

The next day, September 18th, was Chile's Independence Day, and we went to Hayley's Chilean "grandparents'" beach house to celebrate. A good amount of her family's family, neighbors, and friends came, too, making it a pretty full house. We listened to traditional Chilean music, shared stories, laughed a lot, and ate soooooooooo much food I was afraid my stomach would burst! 
The view from the backyard

While it was great to spend time with a Chilean family and experience their culture during this important week, this day really made me miss my family a lot because so much of this celebration felt like a Thanksgiving gathering with my family. Later we went down to the beach until rain snuck up on us and drove us back to the house. In the evening we went to a type of
More view from the backyard
fair where we watched a little bit of a show featuring professional dancers performing la cueca (Chile's national dance) with members of the audience (who all knew how to dance la cueca as well --- Chileans are all such great dancers and I’m jealous), wandered through the vendors hawking homemade items and sweets, and played foos-ball and the balloon dart game. So much fun packed into one day!

La cueca

On Thursday we had the opportunity to visit Valdivia and a little of the surrounding area. I went with James, Hayley, and Hayley's Chilean sister Antonia around the city and we explored the towns on both sides of the river. We visited a local history and anthropology museum, took a boat tour on the river to the pre-Hispanic hamlet of Punucapa to see Valdivia's oldest church, and basically acted like the tourists we were all day. I really loved standing on the bridge and looking out over the city --- Valdivia is just so beautiful and I couldn’t get enough of the view.
The church at Punucapa

One of the things that really surprised me about the city was the fact that it didn't feel like Chile to me; since the city was founded by a Germanic colony, the names, architecture and house structure, and general flavor of the city are essentially German. The city also attracts a lot of tourists, so I didn't stand out nearly as much as I do in Chillán --- yay for blending in! 

Puerto Varas

We all traveled even farther south on Friday to the lakeside city of Puerto Varas. We GV students took a bus early in the morning to the city, and we decided to spend the day exploring the town. This city is also rather touristy and German, and actually reminded me a lot of Sault Ste. Marie, MI --- except that nearly everyone spoke Spanish and from the beach one can view Volcán Osorno, a volcano which is located across the lake. 

El Parroquía Sagrado Corazón de Jesús

After a delicious lunch (the first time I'd eaten pizza while in Chile!) we all trekked through the rain to see El Parroquía Sagrado Corazón de Jesús, a church that is also a Chilean national monument and one of the most famous attractions of the town. We then walked the rocky beach (which is becoming a tradition whenever we’re next to any body of water) and just admired the view. After this, we found a café drank hot chocolate (also becoming a tradition) while waiting for Hayley’s family to arrive in Puerto Varas.
Hayley and I with El Volcán Osorno in the background

Saturday was a really great day, too. James went off on his own to tour el Volcán Osorno and the surrounding park, and Hayley and I spent the day with her family at her Chilean aunt’s house. We played tag with her Chilean sister and cousins (oh, how I’d missed being around little kids), had another asado, or backyard barbeque, and ate even more delicious food with her entire family. Someone told me that on average Chileans gain about five pounds just during the Independence Week alone, and I believe it wholeheartedly with the amount of food that is available during all of the celebrations! 
El Teatro del Lago

In the evening, we went to a concert in Frutillar, another little town sharing the same lake as Puerto Varas. The concert hall, called Teatro del Lago, is built out over the lake so that three out of the four side are above the water, and it was absolutely beautiful. The group playing in the concert was Los Jaivas, a traditional Chilean band of five men who have been playing for fifty years! It was really cool to listen to their songs and experience traditional Chilean music made by so many instruments that I’d never known existed; some of the instruments were those used by the indigenous groups in Chile, and are very difficult to play. I’ll link a couple of videos of Los Jaivas to the blog so that you can take a look/listen (: Here is a link to my favorite song by them.
Los Jaivas!
Me with a piano sculpture next to the lake
Last day in Valdivia!

Sunday was the last day of my trip. Since there were no buses going straight from Puerto Varas to Chillán, James and I took a bus back to Valdivia in the early morning and wandered around the city waiting for our evening bus back to Chillán. We had the chance to explore Valdivia in more depth and with a little more freedom than what we’d had before, since we’d been with the family, and that was really nice to feel like adults and make our own “plans”, if that makes any sense. 
I was able to "walk" all of Chile in Valdivia!
One last look

Now, of course, I’m back in Chillán, and I have to get back into the school groove after a week of pure relaxation. I will admit that this short vacation made me so excited to travel more after the semester’s over without having homework and projects looming over my head. 

Thanks for reading! I promise I’ll post again soon! Love and thoughts from Chile!


Wednesday, September 25, 2013

My First Trip to Concepción

Hello everyone! Sorry that I've been terrible about keeping this whole blog thing updated... two months here and only five posts! Some math-y person from my family is bound to come up with the average number of days between posts, I predict :P Anyway, now I have lots to write about and post pictures of! I'm going to split up my posts about my two separate trips that I've taken in the past couple of weeks so that my readers don't get overwhelmed.

The GV "crew"

Where to begin? Well, two weeks ago classes ended for the week-and-a-half break to celebrate Chile's independence day. This week is essentially a week of partying, eating, drinking, and spending time with family and friends. I took full advantage of this break by traveling with some of my GV friends. James, Hayley, and I all took a day trip to Concepción (otherwise known as Conce by locals), Chile's second-largest city that is only about an hour from Chillán. We wandered a little around the city, then met up with our friend Chilean friend who lives near Conce, Karen. She acted as a guide for us and helped us manage the bus system to go to Talcahuano, a seaside town about a half hour from Conce. From there, we took a short boat tour around the harbor. During the tour we got to see a some of the ships up close and personal, a docked military ship and submarine, and, my personal favorite... SEA LIONS!

Pretty excited

This was my first time seeing sea lions, or lobos marinos ("sea wolves") in the wild. From this first encounter, I learned that they are extremely lazy and very smelly. I don't know exactly why they entertain me so much, but I really love to watch them... perhaps because their antics and sounds are honestly quite hilarious. They were by far my favorite part of the tour (:

Talcahuano harbor

After the tour, we took another bus over Talcahuano's hill to another fishing town, Tumbes.

This little town was ravaged by the tsunami caused by Chile's massive 2010 earthquake, but is now on the mend. We decided to explore the beach in both directions, and walked the length as far as we could go either way (although James, a.k.a. "Bear Grylls", would likely argue that we could have gone further if we had just gotten our feet a little wet). It was an absolutely gorgeous day, as you can see from the pictures. I really enjoyed wandering along the beach, finding seashells, and just admiring the scenery... and I got to touch the Pacific Ocean for the first time ever!
Touching the Pacific Ocean!

That was pretty exciting for me, as silly as it may sound. One more lifetime goal completed!

Hayley and me in Tumbes

After exploring the beach and having lunch in a local restaurant, we returned to Conce and went to El Parque Jurásico de los Dinosaurios (the real Jurassic Park!), a children's park with four life-size statues of dinosaurs and other various dinosaur-themed play areas. I will admit --- the T-Rex was actually kind of scary. I now understand why they are known as the "kings" of the dinosaurs. After this very full day, we had a light dinner and took the bus back to Chillán.

So scared

Well, that's what I've got for right now. Stay tuned for my next blog post about what I did during my Independence week trip! Teaser: there are a lot of pretty pictures ;)

Thanks for reading everyone! Sending lots of love from south of the Equator!

Chau for now!


Wednesday, September 11, 2013

A Saturday in Lota

A dress made completely
of napkins!
Hello all! It's been a bit since I posted last, because nothing super exciting has occurred since my visit to Pucón; just a lot of classes and studying and getting into the school rhythm. I recently had my first exams here in Chile, so hopefully those went well! I've also recently joined a Bible study and church in Chillán, and I'm really excited to have found a supportive body of believers here!

This past Saturday I took a break from studying and went on a trip to Lota with the other Grand Valley students from Chillán, as well as some other study abroad students and international visitors to Chile. After traveling to Concepción to meet up with the others going on the trip, I rode with the group in a bus to El Parque Educativo Jorge Alessandri. We took a tour of the park and learned about the flora and fauna in the park. There was an exhibit of deer in the park, as well as an exhibit of exotic birds. We also got to watch a presentation on the process of making new paper from recycled paper, and each got a piece of the "new" paper to keep as souvenirs.

One of the trees in El Parque
Educativo Jorge Alessandri 
One of the parrots in the park
After the park, we traveled to Lota, a mining town along the coast of Chile about forty-five minutes outside of Concepción by bus. When we got to Lota, we took a tour of El Chiflón del Diablo (The Devil's Blast), a coal mine that supported the city for over a hundred years until its closure in the 1990s. We got all suited up in our hard hats, headlamps, and battery packs, and descended into the depths of the earth. I was excited to see the differences between this mine and the last one that I toured in Michigan, which was a former copper mine. And the differences abounded!
The tunnel on the way down

We walked down a slope to a pair of tiny elevators that wouldn't hold more than four people at a time... and, trust me, you got verrrrrrry close (literally) to everyone in your ride down. Once down in the mine, we made our way to one of the tunnels carefully, because the ceiling was low, even for me --- and I'm not that tall. One thing that I noticed and thought was really interesting about the mine was what was underfoot. In mines that I've visited in the US, gravel is used to cover the floor; in this mine, however, crushed sea shells were used for traction. This made a lot of sense, because we were right next to the ocean --- use the resources that you've got!

With Deborah! She's from Mexico
Our guide explained that the reason that the tunnels were super low was because the rock more than 90 cm above the floor was all useless, and the workers didn't dig out more space than necessary. He also explained the lamentable conditions of the miners: men, surrounded by rats and constantly breathing coal dust, would work long hours every day for only a few dollars per hour, digging coal out of the narrow tunnels while kneeling because the ceiling wasn't high enough for any other position. The coal was then transported in wheelbarrows and carts to larger carts pulled by miniature horses. These horses were tended by children as young as eight years old, and these children also kept an eye on the toxic gas warning system: a little bird in a cage. If the bird died, the child knew that the gas level was potentially fatal, and would yell down in the mine so that the workers would know to get out of the mine as fast as possible.

See how low the ceiling is? And this was one
of the tallest parts that we visited
Without a doubt, working in the mine was insanely difficult and dangerous for all parties involved. Our tour group got a tiny taste of the pains a miner went through every day as we crouched in the low passages and shuffled through three-foot tunnels. After the hour-long tour, I can't express how relieved I was to see daylight at the top of the stairs; I truly can't imagine how the miners must have felt when they saw the sunbeams streaming through that exit after an entire day underground.

The typical garb of a miner

In the Parque de Isidora Cousiño
After a refreshing lunch, we briefly visited a local museum about the mines and local families, then walked to El Parque Isidora Cousiño, a famous park in Lota founded by the owners of mining companies. We got to go on a guided tour through the park and explored the various sculpture and garden displays scattered throughout the area. From a portion of the park we could see the rest of Lota and the harbor down below; it was so beautiful, with all of the bright boats bobbing on the waves, the fog clinging to the coastline, and the seemingly-endless sea stretching out before us. Being so close to the ocean made me miss Michigan's lakes a little, I won't lie. After we'd walked through all of the park, we took the bus back to Concepción, and then changed buses to return to Chillán.
Lota and the harbor

This little day trip also managed to get me thinking about my future. We were joined in our tour group by Allison, a former Grand Valley Laker. She graduated last semester with a degree in Secondary English Education, which is what I'm studying. Allison just arrived in Chile two weeks ago and started working with the staff at Univerisdad del Bío-Bío to revise the curriculum for teaching English to college students, and she's also developing a test specifically to measure the English levels of UBB students. This impressed me because I've never seriously considered doing anything with my degree other than teach English to high school students in Michigan --- until now. It would be really cool to go to another country and teach English in a college or high school, or develop curriculum to help with
teaching English... the possibilities seem endless! I guess I'll
just have to wait and see what God has in store for my future (:

With Emily!
Anyway, that's what I have for now! Thanks again for reading, thinking of me, and praying for me! Sending lots of love from South America!


Gail (:

Pre-mine shot courtesy of Hayley
Outside of the Parque de Isidora Cousiño