So it was our last day in Chile before taking off for Boston. Ian wanted to go to Santa Lucia market and I still needed to buy a wallet for Dr. Wamai, so Dan, Ian, and I took the train to Santa Lucia. First, we climbed the stairs of the old military fort that was across the street from the market. The view from the top was incredible. We could see all of Santiago. I still think that the coolest part about the city is how beautiful the mountains surrounding it are. We walked back down the hill and went across the street to the market. We walked around for about an hour. Dan and Ian bought a few things and I bought a wallet for Dr. Wamai.
At night we all went out to celebrate the entire trip. Even though I did not want to spend any money I got coaxed into going out to dinner with about half of the crew. I’m glad I did because we went to an awesome restaurant. I got steak with some veggies I can’t remember exactly what it was but it was delicious. The girls ordered a ton of food and we all shared it with them. I remember I had the best tuna tartar I’ve ever eaten. It was on some type of shortbread and it was so good.
After we ate we went to Maestra Vida on more time and danced salsa until 3 in the morning. It was a great way to end an unforgettable trip.
It was our last Thursday in Chile, and even though we had a full schedule we were not going to be denied the chance to see the education protests once again. During the day when we were walking near Plaza Italia we saw about 100 young students march down a street and form circle at the intersection of Peonono Street. They grasped hands in a circle and started dancing, blocking all traffic in the process. They danced and chanted until the riot police came in their big armored trucks and chased them away. I have some pretty awesome video of this.
We heard that at 6:30 both students and teachers were going to start marching from Plaza Italia, so we decided to go back to the hotel until then and we would all come back out for the protests at night.
We took the train to Baquedano at about 6 o’clock and walked around for about fifteen minutes, weaving our way through police, students, and street vendors selling lemons for the tear gas. At around 6 20 the students started gathering together and before they did much, the police threw tear gas and brought out the water cannons to force them to disperse. There were a lot more people at this protest than last Thursday at Universidad de Chile and it was a lot tighter quarters. We were on a big main street but the tear gas forced us to run to a smaller, narrow street. The gas was overwhelming; I couldn’t escape it and tears we pouring down my face. I could barely keep my eyes open to see where I was going. Once we got on this narrow street I took some video of the students and professors walking together chanting and then I decided to get out of there before things got too crazy. I started to walk away from the crowd with Lauren and Courtney in an attempt to find a cab or an open train station. As the three of us were looking for a way to get home we were stopped by a student who asked if he could interview us for a foreign perspective on the protests. He asked us what we thought and I explained how foreign the whole situation is to us, that I had never experienced anything like it at home and I also expressed my skepticism over how the students are going about getting what they want, and also how the police are responding. He was wearing a shirt that referred to an article in the constitution that says Chileans can gather anywhere any time and peacefully demonstrate without permission. He explained that it is perfectly legal. He gave us directions on how to get to the nearest open train station. We did so and I went up to my room to watch live coverage of the protests. Once again, a once in a lifetime experience in Chile.
One afternoon we went to Anny’s sister’s dance studio and gym in Santiago. We first got traditional dance lessons from Anny’s sister and then the legendary Hector Pavez came to teach us quechua, the oldest, most famous type of Chilean dance. Supposedly some tribes dance quechua for three days straight without food or water during celebrations. We learned some really strange dances from Anny’s sister and then when Hector Pavez came we got down to business. He is the son of one of Chile’s most famous musicians and is a great musician himself. We all got in a circle around him and without saying anything he just started dancing, drifting from side to side and sliding his feet on the ground. We all realized tat we were supposed to follow so we did our best to keep up. Whenever someone screwed up he would look at them, wag his finger and without saying anything just start doing it the right way himself. Hahaha he was a cool guy. After we got the basics down out came the handkerchiefs. In quechua, both the man and woman wave handkerchiefs around while they’re dancing. We all thought it was kind of funny but Hector did not at all. I don’t think he smiled once. He was so into dancing! After our lesson he played us some songs on his guitar and some of the other students bought his cd.
To nights later we went out to a quechua restaurant with Anny. She made a reservation for ten thirty and about ten of us went to check it out. We got some appetizers and drinks and watched people dance quechua. It was two goofy and complicated for me to try to do it but Ian was pretty drunk and he went for it. It was hysterical, he and Anny dancing together waving handkerchiefs around. It was a cool experience to see this kind of traditional Chilean dancing and I’m definitely glad I went to the restaurant and was lucky enough to meet Hector Pavez.
Today we were supposed to go to Valparaiso but Valentina could not get a bus big enough for all of us to come pick us up so we ended up cancelling our trip and Anny gave us a free day. I was excited because I was tired and I was planning on finishing the book I was reading and starting my first paper. When I was about to crawl back into my bed and start reading, Dan came knocking on my door and asked if I wanted to go hiking. I was so set on staying in the room and chilling all day but I thought when would I get the chance to hike in Chile again? Probably not for a long, long time. So Dan, Ian and I set out on an adventure. We took two trains in order to get to a bus station were we planned to take a bus to this huge camping and hiking complex that was supposedly very well known. When we got to the bus station, the bus that we expected to get on wasn’t there and we were directed towards a “colectiva” something we haven’t yet heard of. It is like a taxi but it’s cheaper because they stop and pick up people on the way and go all over the place. We paid only 5000 pesos (about ten dollars) for him to drive us thirty kilometers. That ride would have been well over 20000 pesos in a normal cab. So we got in with one older lady and drove for about 40 minutes. He did not understand where we wanted to go but he knew we wanted to go walking in the mountains (our way of saying hiking in Spanish). He though it was very weird. Anyways, after driving us for so long, he stopped across the street from this very dark tunnel and told us that if we walked through the tunnel we could hike anywhere on the other side. He asked us if we had a lantern and Dan said yes even though we didn’t. We thanked him and headed for the tunnel.
We wished we had a lantern when we got there. The tunnel was so long we couldn’t see light on the other side. We decided we would try to make it through even though we had no idea what we were getting ourselves into. There could’ve been bats, snakes, or even homeless people living in the tunnel. But, we went for it. I put the light on my video camera on and we all slowly made our way down, grasping onto each other’s arms with white knuckles. It was probably the scariest thing I’ve done in my life. We made it to the other side and realized we could have easily just walked on the road and that the colectiva driver was messing with us. It didn’t matter though now we started searching for a hill that was unfenced so that we could hike to the top of it. We walked along the road for probably a mile and our search was fruitless. We finally made it to a shop where two people were closing up and about to drive home. They told us that they could drive us five kilometers down the road to the police station and the cops would be able to tell us where we could hike. How nice of them to offer to drive us! We hopped in and when we got to the station the cops just pointed us further down the road. We kept walking ad found nothing that wasn’t fenced off. So, we just stayed on the road and walked for miles. It was beautiful though, snowcapped mountains on either side of us and two converging rivers next to the street that we were walking on. As we trekked, a pack of dog started to follow us, one in particular never left our side. We named him Jim. Then a duck started to follow us to. It was like Noah’s Ark we had six animal hiking with us at one point. We had a great day enjoying the scenery and the beautiful weather in whatever town we ended up in.
We started to walk back around 4:30 so that we could get home before dark and we didn’t really have a plan. If we could get a bus or a colectiva great, if not, we were hitch hiking. We ended up getting empenadas and thumbing. We walked for probably 25 minutes and I’d say 40 cars passed us without stopping. Then one white truck stopped and we hopped in grinning ear to ear. It was two guys, two mechanics, who were heading to Santiago! Which we learned was 70 kilometers away. They drove us 70 kilometers home asking us about American music and teaching us Spanish swears. It was incredible. How did we get hooked up with such nice guys. All we did was buy them a pack of cigarettes (800 pesos, or two dollars) and they drove us all the way to Santiago. It was an unforgettable day. Good thing I didn’t stay in to read!
This weekend we took a trip to Vicuna. We drove about 6 hours to get there but it was totally worth it. The ride was beautiful. We drove along the coast with bright blue water on our left and mountains on our tight. It was then that I thought that Chile might be more beautiful than Kenya. The combination, of snowy mountains, breathtaking sunsets, the beautiful blue Pacific Ocean, and rocky, red, cactus-covered mountains is remarkable. When I was in Kenya, I was convinced that it was the most beautiful country in the world, but Chile may have topped it. When we got to the city of La Serena, about a half hour away from our final destination, we stopped for lunch. Lunch in Chile is always something to look forward to. First the bread and salsa is to die for and then the main course is always delicious. Dessert is to be expected as well. I ordered steak and mashed potatoes and it was so good! I had half of Ian’s steak as well and most of his fries. Then I ate 3 tres leches for dessert and was stuffed. It was one of the best meals I had had in a while.
We arrived in Vicuna and got out at our hostel. In the back of my mind I expected that the hostel might not have any heat but I hoped it would. My desire wasn’t realized, and we spent the night in the crisp, cold air underneath the warmth of a few blankets. When we woke up on Saturday we went on a short hike up a hill to a statue of the Virgin Mary. I was fun to climb the hill and from the top we could see the most of the Elqui Valley. The whole reason we went to Vicuna was because it is known to have one of the clearest skies in the whole world. It only rains five days every year. It rained both days that we were there. We could not have come on any worse days but even still it was a wonderful place. Life was so simple and quiet.
Every morning we woke up to a delicious breakfast of Avocado, bananas, fresh bread, yogurt, ham, cheese and some more fruit. We would sit in the dining room by the fire and we met a really interesting guy from France. He had lived in Hong Kong, the Phillipines, France, Algeria, Morroco, and the United States and was now in Chile. He was riding his motorcycle around South America and when he stopped in Vicuna he loved it so much that he decided to go back and make it his next home. He bought a part of the hostel and was now running it during his time in Vicuna. He got me thinking that doing a road trip through South America would be a doable trip. If I got a decent jeep or something I would only really have to worry about gas and food and we could sleep in the car or couch surf when we wanted to sleep for free. Maybe someday I’ll be able to do that.
During our time in Chile we visited two elementary schools to help out with the students. At both we helped in classrooms with about 30 kids. There were only a few teachers and the kids were really rowdy. The teachers definitely had a tough job. I did pretty much the same thing at both schools: first helped the students color and after played with the kids outside. The first school was nicer than the second with an open campus and pretty modern buildings. We met all the kids and they got to ask us questions about where we were from and what we were doing in Chile and things like that. One kid raised his hand pointed at me and in Spanish asked, “Why are you so tall?” I laughed and I said I don’t know I just am. It is odd though, rarely did I see anybody taller than me wherever I went. Whenever we took the train I could always see both ends because my head was above everybody else’s. We each sat down at a table with the kids and started to help them color. For the most part they were pretty shy, especially to me, the only guy helping out at this particular school that day. After we helped them color, it was recess time. The girls jumped rope and the guys played soccer. The ball was a little soda bottle and the goals were two fences on either side of a dirt patch about 75 feet long. I played soccer with the little kids and some of them were really good! It was amazing how they had learned to control a soda bottle as if it was a round soccer ball. I was pretty useless to my team.
The second school we went to was a lot more crowded and it wasn’t nearly as nice as the first one. There were two floors of classrooms in an L shape that surrounded a open area where the kids went to play. We all went into one of the classrooms and it was full of loud, unruly students. The teachers tried to calm them down but their efforts were fruitless. The students watched a short video about Pinocchio and had to answer questions about it. Then tey were all given a picture of Pinocchio to color in. Me Karl, and Karl’s friend helped them color and joked around them. Karl is ridiculous so he had them laughing but they thought he was really weird. One of the girls thought that one of the boysin the class was cute and told me but freaked out at me when I joked that I was going to tell him.
After everyone finished coloring, we went outside and played with the kids before we left. I threw a paper airplane back and forth for a while with one kid, played soccer for a few minutes and then talked with two of the older kids and taught them some English words.
Today Desmond, Karl and I woke up late and we hustled to get to class. We took the train to Republica and started speed walking to class. We were about ten minutes late and when we showed up at the school we were met by an empty classroom. We asked if anybody had showed up and nobody had. We were lost, but luckily today was Thursday, the day of the education protests. Karl and I knew exactly what we wanted to do once we realized we went to the wrong place for class. We hopped on the train and went back two stations to La Moneda. We got off outside the presidential building and walked down towards the University of Chile. It was only 10 and the protests weren’t supposed to start until 11 so we went into a café and hung out until then. Karl got a coffee and smoked a few cigarettes and I got a peach juice.
About an hour later we came out of the alley way that the café was on and found ourselves in the midst of riot police and masked students. Across the street from us was the University of Chile draped in a huge black sign protesting against the education system, dozens of other signs and graffiti. We walked across the street to get closer to the action. Students had started cheering at the police and the tear gas had come out. The cops threw tear gas to disperse the crowd, only making the students more angry. Students with bandanas covering their faces threw anything they could get their ands on at the police. Then the water cannons came out. The police fired the hose at the students and even at the dogs that had formed a wall in front of the students, taking them right off of their feet. As the fighting between the students and the police continued on one side of the university, a group of dancers marched down the sidewalk beating drums, waving signs, and dancing until they were directly in front of one of the huge armored trucks the police were using. They were about two feet away from me and I was able to get some really cool video. When one of the students saw my video camera he offered my a lemon (to suck on to combat the tear gas) and encouraged me to go deeper down the side street where most of the violence was. I walked down with some reporters from CNN Chile and a few cameramen. The students had started a fire in the middle of the street and the riot police were trying to put it out. They would throw tear gas at the students and they would try to kick it away before they became engulfed in the burning gas. The fight went on for probably two and half hours back and forth, the students using rocks, debris, and paint bombs as their weapons and the police using water cannons and tear gas. I probably saw 5 students get arrested; they were handcuffed and dragged into the big green truck. Karl and I met a kid named Gonzalo who took us to the high school next door where most of the students were. It seemed like they were using it as a sort of base. There was one student out front who was letting people in and out and Gonzalo had to convince him to let us in. We hung out in there for a little while and met a few of Gonzalo’s friends. Then, Gonzalo walked us back to the train station and we headed home. It was amazing! Exactly what I had been dying to see the past two Thursdays. The students were so passionate and the danger was very real. The water cannons could seriously hurt people and the police were in danger of getting hurt by the rocks and debris being thrown at them by the students.