Friday, October 25, 2013

Homework? Ain't nobody got time for that

You know what's really awesome about Chile? That even though I have a ton of homework right now, I can still have adventures. Holla to the 620 pages of reading, 2 presentations, group project, and essay, all in Spanish, that I have to do in less than two weeks. With more down time this would be manageable, but I have an exchange program excursion tomorrow, Vito's National Rugby Championship game in Santiago on Sunday, and a week-long vacation to Lake Region in the South starting next Monday (blog posts to come on these adventures!). How will the homework get done? Your guess is better than I mine. But it will.

As you can probably tell it has been a bit of a hectic month, which is why it's been a while since my last post.  Let's work backwards through October, shall we? This week was the week of birthdays in my house- my host sister Camila turned 20 on Sunday and my host mom turned 38 (again) on Tuesday. We celebrated my host mom's birthday with an early breakfast, about which I had no complaints because there is no better way to start a day than with cake and cookies. Camila celebrated with a masivo, or big party, last Saturday on my host family's countryside land parcel about 40 minutes away. She is pretty popular, so there were quite a few people there, as well as a bonfire and dance music. It was really fun! I also got to watch Vito's semi-final rugby game last Saturday, which was great because it wasn't even close- they destroyed the other team. Let me just say that my host brother is the coolest. I tried to wish him good luck on his way out the door, but he just said, "No! Luck is for the weak! Victory is for the strong!"

The week before included an asado, or BBQ, on my family's land parcel that lasted all afternoon and was wonderfully relaxing. I must be a Colorado girl because my soul just feels at peace when I'm back in the open horse pastures near the mountains.

I also watched some fútbol games, in one of which Chile officially qualified for the World Cup. Let's just say that even if you hadn't watched the game, you would know we had won by the large quantity of people driving around, honking their horns, yelling, and flying the Chilean flag out their car windows.

And now we have arrived to the beginning of October and my trip to Norte Chico, or the Mid-North region of Chile. Chile is a massively long country- if you were to drive it from top to bottom, it would be as far as driving from New York to Los Angeles- so I like to conceptualize it in 5 basic regions: the Great North, the Mid-North, the Central region (where I live), the South, and the Far South. Before I leave Chile I will actually get to travel to all 5 of these regions, which is really cool! Of all the regions, Norte Chico/the Mid-North is the most under-appreciated and least touristy, so I am glad I got the opportunity to see a part of the country that not many people get to see.

We spent our first day in Combárbala, home to Combarbalita, a beautiful type of stone unique to the area. Of course we went to see some artisan stone carvers do their thang.

We also visited a goat herder's ranch. The ranchers in this arid region still continue the centuries-old tradition of herding all their animals to the base of the Andes mountains every summer when the streams dry up. I had a pretty profound connection with this baby goat, although it would appear that it tried to attack my finger at first:

While on the ranch we saw petroglyphs that have been around for a few thousand years:

I said this one below was a man dancing. Turns out it's a woman giving birth. Oops.

This one is really interesting because it demonstrates the astrological awareness of the indigenous peoples of the region. Our guide is holding a picture demonstrating what the mountain behind him looks like at full moon, and if you look carefully, there is a perfect illustration of this on the left edge of the rock.

Speaking of astrology, the skies in Norte Chico are the clearest in the whole world. The atmosphere has extremely low humidity and there is practically no light pollution in many areas, so there is nothing blocking the view. We went to an observatory, and it was such an incredible experience. Walking outside and seeing the sky literally brought tears to my eyes. There were so many stars, and they were so brilliant. Obviously the constellations are different in the Southern Hemisphere, so you can actually see an arm of the Milky Way! I loved getting to look through the telescope too. My favorite thing to observe was "una estrella chispada," or a star so far away that its light gets distorted in its journey and it ends up looking like a sparkler, scintillating and shooting off glittering particles.

Watching the stars was one of my favorite parts, and the other was the next day when we did a bike tour through Valle del Elqui, a scenic valley filled with wine and pisco vineyards.

We stopped off at the Guayacan cervecería, or craft brewery. It was definitely one of those "you know you're in college when..." moments because the boys in our groups rode their bikes back with one or no hands so that they could hold the 12-packs of beer they had just bought.

For day three we hopped over to the town of Andacollo. It is recognized as one of the most contaminated areas of Chile because of the sketchy practices of the copper mine right outside the town limits, which we went to go see.

We then saw a presentation from an environmental coalition started by the concerned citizens of the town. Many of them are miners themselves, so they understand the economic importance of mining in Chile. Rather than protesting mining completely, they sit down with the mine management and the government and talk though issues until they can come up with solutions that allow mining to continue while protecting the environment and people's health. It was an amazing example of community organizing- my inner Leadership student was so proud and inspired.

We also observed a perquinero's workshop. Perquineros are the traditional miners who mine for precious metals such as gold completely by hand. I can't even begin to describe how hard they work for the little amount of yield they get (both referring to the quantity of metal extracted and their personal income).

Finally, we saw a religious festival for the Virgin of Andacollo. Back in the 1500s a statue of the Virgin Mary somehow got buried in the hills of the region, and a few natives unearthed it right in the middle of the Conquest of Latin America. It became a symbol of the Catholic quest in Chile. The original statue was destroyed in a fire, but a replica still serves as a sacred object for people from all over the region. They come to ask her for favors, or mandas, and bring valuable objects to increase their persuasiveness. They might also show their devotion by traveling the distance to the chapel walking on their knees. They will return the next year with more gifts to thank the Virgin for answering their prayers.

To be honest this entire process is a little uncomfortable for me, as it runs very contrary to the grace- and relationship-based Christian faith I hold. I can say their fervor certainly made an impression on me, as did the Cathedral of Andacollo, the second-largest cathedral devoted to the Virgin in all of Latin America.

That night, we watched the procession as the Virgin was transported from the museum in which she resides for most of the year to her cathedral. The procession was led by Chino dancers, who mix traditional indigenous instruments, dances, and costumes with their Catholic faith. The music was a little bit less than pleasant at points (lots of shrill flutes), but the dances were pretty legit.

And then came the Virgin herself, blazing in glory:

Finally, we returned to La Serena, the coastal city where we were staying. We spent a late night on the beach, playing card games and listening to the guys have a jam sesh with their guitars. In the morning we had just enough time to see a Japanese garden before we headed back to Viña del Mar.

So, there is a condensed version of my October! I will try to be a little more punctual in writing my blog posts, not because I think you as a reader care per se, but more for the sake of my own recollection. Peace out homies!

1 comment :

  1. Your adventures continue! My favorite of this blog was the ancient petroglyphs. Thanks for sharing! Love, Mom