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

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