We Tripantu Festival

Last Saturday we had another IFSA field trip, this time to the far south of the city to Cerro Chena. Cerro Chena was and remains an extremely important site in many of the indigenous cultures both as a meeting place as well as a sacred place. We were there to celebrate We Tripantu, which is the indigenous people’s New Year and is marked by the winter solstice or the longest night of the year.

It was an overcast day and the sky threatened rain but the people who began to gather at the foot of the steep hill were excited and happy to see one another. Children were running and playing together, and a group of kids our age were dancing and laughing in a circle. Before the ceremony started we took a hike along the winding trail up to the top of the hill, where we could look out over the farmlands and nearby mountains. The view from the top was breathtaking and we stayed for a while just looking out over the countryside.

We wound our way back down the mountain and took our seats in the folding chairs that had been set up to watch the ceremonies. The facilitator of the event thanked us all for coming, and invited us to stand in a half circle to watch the purification rituals. In the middle of the circle of onlookers was a sacred tree, which was blessed by a mapuche elder who sprinkled it with water from a hollow gourd as he prayed under his breath in mapudungun (ancient Mapuche language). The facilitator prayed aloud in Spanish, thanking the spirits for the past year and asking for their blessing and support in the coming year. An offering of beer, grain, and bread was sprinkled over the sacred tree and also some was burned in a small bowl. Finally we were all asked to hold hands in a symbol of unity and alliance and acceptance of diversity.

After the Mapuche ceremony had concluded, the Rapa Nui delegation from Easter Island also held a ceremony in which they offered water and salt as symbols of the old year and the new. We were invited to think about the elements we will carry with us over to the next year and the things that we should let go and leave in the old year.

Next representatives from the three tribes that were present preformed some of their traditional dances and music, which I enjoyed very much. Here are some short clips of the dances:


After the dancing was a great cookout, all free of charge, with such awesome food. I had grilled chicken and bread, a sopaipilla, a chicken soup with vegetables, another sopaipilla, some barbequed pork, and a teeny sample of some traditional wine made from fruit. It was all delicious! Full to bursting and happily sleepy, we crawled back into the van and slept all the way home.



A Cheeseburger in a Happy Little Box

I’m not normally one for fast food but since I walk by a McDonald’s every Friday on the way to class I thought I would give Chilean Micky D’s a try. I got a cheeseburger Cajita Feliz (a Happy Meal, in Spanish it translates to “happy little box” which I think is adorable). It’s very interesting to see the mix of American and Chilean influences, even in a company that has become the face of globalization and hegemony, or at least that was my justification for ordering up some fresh McGrease!

The inside of the McDonald’s restaurant looked exactly like the ones in the US, with plastic tables and the thick smell of french fries. As I waited in line among the crowd of chatting hungry university students, I looked up at the menu. I saw lots of the stables we are used to in the US, like the Quarter Pounder with Cheese and Chicken McNuggets. I noticed the addition of several menu options featuring avocado, a staple here that gets smeared on or sliced into almost everything. For example, beside the regular McWraps was the Avocado Snack Wrap featuring crispy chicken, lettuce, tomato, onion, mayonnaise and avocado. A very Chile-influenced option was the McPollo Italiano. An Italiano is a very popular hot dog here that has tomato, mayonnaise, and avocado; the McPollo Italiano is a McChicken with these ingredients. On the breakfast menu, there was a lack of those artificial egg and cheese sandwiches. Instead, a ham and avocado sandwich was featured, plus a ham and cheese sandwich.

McPollo Italiano with tomato, mayonnaise, and avocado

So, as I mentioned before I ordered a Cheeseburger Cajita Feliz. It came with a kid size soda, a cheeseburger, a serving of french fries and of course a toy, which in this case was a little book about sea creatures. Right now McDonald’s Chile is doing a pro-literacy promotion so every happy meal comes with one of four little books on science topics. Straight to my hoard of authentic materials! As a future Spanish teacher I hoard any and all spanish-language “realia” with magpie like enthusiasm.

In comparison with McDonald’s food I’ve had in the US it was pretty much the same. The soda tasted better, but it always does in  South America. I’ve heard that they use real sugar here instead of high fructose corn syrup and that’s why, but I’ve never confirmed that. The cheeseburger and fries were exactly the same as I remember in the states, fatty and salty and oh so good but oh so unhealthy. Just like in the states, the cheeseburger consisted of a burger patty, cheese, onions, and ketchup on a bun. The other Happy Meal options were the same, McNuggets/Cheeseburger/Hamburger with Soda/Juice and French Fries.

If you’re curious and/or want to learn some Spanish food words, the McDonald’s Chile website is linked here! Or if you want to see other Spanish-speaking country McDonalds, I’ve put together a Delicious.com link list here (Plus a very good online Spanish-English dictionary).

Campamentos: The Other Face of Chile

Today I did some volunteer work with an organization called Desafío (Challange). I like to give back and help whenever I can so I decided I would present myself as an able body. I was assigned to a team of about 12 people to help out in Peñaflor.

Peñaflor is a campamento, a small slum or shanty town. The residents of these small communities do not own the land they are living on, and they lack one or more basic services such as electricity, drinking water, and sewage treatment. All the same, the people in this terrible situation tend to bond together to form a community to make decisions and share resources.

A campamento much like Piñaflor

I was amazed as we pulled off the highway and into Peñaflor. Until now I had not seen this level of poverty in Chile, it was like we had suddenly turned into a third world country. The houses were constructed from found materials: I saw houses with walls and roofs made of pallets, leftover plywood, sheets of corrugated metal, tarps lashed to chain link fences. None of the windows had panes of glass, they were open to the breezes or covered with makeshift curtains. There was one paved road that ran along the border of the collection of homes, the rest of the ground was bare earth still muddy from the rains. Trash was everywhere, litter and debris heaped against houses or else flattened into the earth from passing feet. Some old railroad tracks cut the campamento in half, with more trash in little piled between the rails.

Upon arrival we split into groups; some people began to help prepare a hot lunch for the community members, others began to fold and sort donated clothes and supplies for distribution. I went with a group to hand out bags of charcoal to the families and sweets to the children. We went door to door with one of the full time volunteers from Desafío, not only offering charcoal but also a listening ear to the problems and needs of the community. I talked to one single mother as her little girl peeked shyly around the hem of her skirt as she told me with pride how much she had sacrificed to make the best of the situation and to give her daughter as many opportunities as possible for a better life. An elderly señora expressed her frustration that the community was not polled for the recent census. Her adult son told us about his constant and fruitless search for work in the city and in the surrounding towns.

I had an excellent conversation with a six year old little girl, who was sharp as a tack and full of optimism about her future. “You have to study first,” she told me seriously, her hands on her hips, “Study and study and study and study so you can get a good job and make money. Then you can have a house and maybe a car. And then if you want to you can get married and have kids. But before any of that stuff you have to study hard.” She wants to be some kind of doctor, maybe a veterinarian or pediatrician if her horse riding and fashion careers don’t work out. She also wants to learn another language, maybe English or French. Lack of education has always been an issue in the campamentos, 30% of heads of households in campamentos never completed elementary school. This little girl has the fortune of a good nearby public school, but I can’t help but worry about her trying to do her homework in a house where electricity is unstable at best and the wind whistles through the walls.

We invited everyone to share a hot lunch of hot dogs and rice with us, and a great deal of community members attended. This was for me the most powerful part of the experience. As we talked and listened to one another, the more it became clear to me that these people were just that: people making the best of a terrible situation, not statistics or numbers. Too many times people fall into the false idea that poor people are in some way intellectually deficient or lazy. But as I got to know the community members of Piñaflor I could see quite clearly quite the opposite.  They were very smart, smart enough to survive on next to nothing and find ways to solve their problems with very little support. They were hardworking, constantly searching for work or else working at whatever employment they could find while trying to raise their children in order to enable them to leave this cycle of poverty.

One of my university professors once made the following analogy: imagine a race with two runners with the same physical prowess, speed and pace. Now imagine if you started one runner twenty meters further back  with no shoes and placed hurdles in his path. Which runner is going to win the race? Imagine if the spectators all shook their heads and muttered among themselves about how the disadvantaged runner clearly didn’t train enough, or didn’t try hard enough, or shouldn’t have been allowed to compete at all. ¿Cachaí? (Get it?)

There are 657 campamientos like Piñaflor that have been identified throughout the country, with 83, 862 Chilean people living in third world conditions and extreme poverty. Besides the obvious discomfort and unsanitary nature of these living conditions, 70% of families live in imminent physical danger from floods or landslides. Many organizations like Desafío are working to build relationships with these communities, to discover what they need to raise them out of their impoverished situation. I hope that through outreach and education, we can not only better the situation of the community members, but also better the attitude of the general public towards those living in poverty so we can all move forward and improve as a society and a species.

I didn’t take a ton of pictures, I didn’t want to invade these people’s private lives and make them feel uncomfortable but here are the ones I did take.

Wine and Dine

Hola todos! Those of you following me from the East Coast of the United States (you know, all you wicked awesome New Englandahs, enjoying some clam chowda with Autocrat coffee milk while weathering another nor’easter) Chile has finally set their clocks back so our clocks have synchronized.

I had a very fun weekend considering I have an 8 page literary analysis due May 6th hanging over my head.  Well, Friday was spent holed up in the library of the Universidad Diego Portales researching for said analysis so that wasn’t very fun. But Saturday and Sunday were pretty great!

On Saturday we had a trip to Viña Viu Manent in Colchagua, about two and a half hours from Santiago. As a vocabulary refresher, a viña is a vineyard. Yes, I know I’ve already posted about visiting a viña but I’m in Chile, therefore there is lots of excellent wine to be sampled!

Our visit included a tour in a horse drawn carriage of the grape fields and a tour of the distillery, where we got to try a red wine directly from the tap of an enormous steel tank. We were shown the machinery used to harvest, separate, and juice the grapes and our guide explained the new eco-friendly procedures the vineyard employs such as recycling the skins and stems of the grapes to use as fertilizer.

Next we were told we would have a chance to make our own wine! We broke into two teams and were given measuring cups, art supplies to make our brand label, and four wines to mix: Malbec, Cabernet Sauvignon, Carmenere, and Chardonnay (also plenty of crackers and water!). Hilarity ensued while we pretended to know what we were talking about as we tasted and mixed the wines. My group invented the label Las 3 Montañas, and I will upload a picture after my friend sends it to me. Sadly we lost to the opposing team’s label Vio Austin. The prize for each winning team member was a bottle of regular Viu Manent wine as well as a bottle of Viu Austin; the vineyard people reproduced their mixture and also reprinted their label design which was really fun!


You can buy Viu Manent wine in Massachusetts from Bayside Wine and Spirits in Avon, Massachusetts! ¡Cómpralo y disfrutalo! (Buy it and enjoy!)

On Sunday, I enjoyed the extra hour of sleep from moving the clocks back an hour and at noon met up with a group from CAUC (Student organization of the Universidad Cátolica that helps foreign students socialize with chilean students). The event was a cooking workshop, where we had an excellent time eating sopaipillas and learning to make empanadas.

Sopaipillas are a kind of fried dough with pumpkin or squash in the dough. We had it with pebre, which is a kind of salsa made with tomato, onion, garlic, and herbs. They are traditionally made and eaten on rainy days, and are delicious!

Next we learned how to make empanadas, a sort of large dumpling wrapped in a pastry-like dough and fried or baked. Empanadas are a staple in the Chilean diet, and can be purchased on every street corner with a wide variety of fillings. We learned to make the most traditional empanada, pino, which is filled with beef, onions, raisins, black olives, and a hard boiled egg and baked.

If you want to make your own pino empanadas, they’re super fun and easy to make and I’ve linked to a recipe here.

Besides making and eating the food, I had an excellent time socializing and talking with the group. There were three Chilean students from CAUC, a woman from Spain studying for her doctorate in Chile, four students from France, and my gringüita friend and I. We talked about everything from the political systems in our various countries of origin, favorite foods, our living arrangements in Chile, and more. It was lots of fun and great multicultural experience!

Valparaíso and Vina del Mar

<importexcuses>Sorry for the delay in posting about my adventures on Saturday but I had an obnoxious number of photos to edit and upload, plus homework and such.</importexcuses> On Saturday we met up at the IFSA office and piled into a bus at about 9 am for the hour and a half or so ride north to Valparaíso, a bustling and historic port city on the Pacific ocean.

Valparaíso, affectionately called “Valpo” , has a unique and interesting history. It was never formally founded, it just pretty much happened informally as sailors made settlements. While it no longer holds the title as Chile’s most important port it maintains its old traditions and fascinating culture and in 2003 was named a UNESCO World Heritage site. Affectionately referred to as “Little San Francisco” by international sailors, the city sprawls over about 42 hills, making walking around an excellent workout for the calves and thighs! You can pretty much see the sea from anywhere in the city, and the salty sea breeze was a welcome change from the smog of Santiago. Residents actually often refer to the capital city as Santi-Asco (asco=gross).

We started our day by picking up a guide, a friend of our program coordinator, and taking a bus tour through some major streets to the house of Pablo Neruda. Wait, I thought she said that Neruda’s house was in Santiago? I’m glad you’ve been paying attention, reader! Pablo Neruda owned several houses in Chile and abroad. His house in Valparaíso is called La Sebastiana, and he didn’t really use it much except to watch the annual New Year’s Eve fireworks. The house’s architecture was inspired by a conch shell, and the house winds up a center staircase to a tower study. Photography is prohibited inside of Pablo Neruda’s houses, so I only have exterior shots and pictures of his view, which is stunning. I’ve linked here to the website for the house which has some pictures if you’re interested. We enjoyed an audio tour of the house, which was moderately interesting, before piling back into the bus.

We drove to Valpo’s historical district, where the bus dropped us off so we could take a walking tour. The streets are all made of cobblestone that was used as ballast in the many ships that visited the port. Houses in the historical district have to be built or restored in the iconic style of the golden era of the city. They are built with wood or plaster and then faced with sheets of metal to insulate them from the cruel sea wind, winter cold, and summer heat. This metal was also ship ballast, so it was a plentiful raw material. Right away the bright and diverse colors of the houses catches the eye; traditionally ship captains that built houses here would paint them to match their vessels. This area is also full of hostels, restaurants, antique shops, and swanky hotels.

Besides the brightness of the houses, the entire city seems to be a canvas for street artists. Any unclaimed wall seems to have been taken over with gorgeous murals, carefully transcribed poetry, and funny doodles. Walking through the city is like walking through a free open air modern art museum.

Once upon a time, funiculars were the main mode for residents to get up and down the city’s steepest slopes. Now only 15 or 16 remain in operation, and we took one down to the seaside to meet up with the bus and have lunch. Funiculars are hard to explain, here’s the Wikipedia page on them if you don’t know what they are (I’m like 99% sure the picture on the Wikipedia page is the one we rode!). We ate lunch while gazing out at the mighty Pacific and listening to the chatter of tourists from the cruise ship that was docked nearby.

After lunch, we heading down to a dock and were treated to a boat tour of some of the waters off Valpo on a motorboat I’m pretty sure was called the S.S. RinkyDinky but was perfect for our little group. After being away from the sea for so long it felt so nice to be back on the water again. We got to see wild sea lions from about 6 feet away (in Spanish they are called Marine Wolves) as well as a few penguins and pelicans! We scooted by some huge navy battleships (which we were not allowed to photograph) and I saw a diver scrubbing barnacles off the hull, much to the delight of the sea lions that were eagerly splashing about and gobbling them up. We were waved at by people relaxing on a cruise ship that towered several stories above us and workers on a freight ship enjoying lunch.

Back on terra firma and back in the bus, we endured a 10 minute drive to Vina del Mar. We visited the city’s iconic Reloj de Flores (Clock of Flowers) and had a photo op, and then went to a little cafe right on the beach where we could sip coffee and tea and watch the massive Pacific waves crashing down on the sand. Some of us were a little too entranced by the majesty of the waves, and my shoes and socks were baptized in the aquamarine waters of the world’s largest ocean. Now I’ve been in two of the world’s oceans! (SPOILER ALERT: The Pacific is just as wet and cold as the Atlantic, and equally as unpleasant to have in one’s shoes).

Sadly we could not linger for long on the sun-kissed shores, by now the Reloj de Flores read 5:30 so we piled back into the bus and most of us slept all the way back to Santiago. If you are ever in that neck of the woods I highly recommend spending at least an afternoon in the beautiful cobblestone streets of Valpo.  I leave you with a slideshow of my photos and a lovely poem by the very same Pablo Neruda, titled Ode to Valparaiso.

Ode to Valparaiso
By: Pablo Neruda
Translated by: Laney SullivanWhat nonsense
You are
What a crazy
Insane Port.
Your mounded head
You never finish combing your hair
Life has always surprised you
Death woke you
In your undershirt and long underwear
Fringed with color
With a name tattooed on the stomach
And with a cap
The earthquake grabbed you
You ran
Broke your fingernails
It moved
The waters and the stones
And seas
The night,
You would sleep
In the ground
From your sailing
And the furious earth
Lifted its waves
More stormy
Than a tempest
The dust
Covered you
The eyes
The flames
Burned your shoes
The solid
Houses of bankers
Like wounded whales
While above
The houses of the poor
Into nothingness
Like captive birds
Testing their wings

You forget
the tears
and you return
to hanging your dwellings
to paint doors
You transform into a boat
Your are
The patched bow
Of a small
The crowns nest
With foam
Your rope lines that sing
And the light of the ocean
That shakes the masts
And flags
In your indestructible swaying

Dark star
You are
From far away
In the height of the coast
And soon
You surrender
Your hidden fire
The rocking
Of your deaf alleys
The naturalness
Of your movement
The clarity
Of your seamanship
Here ends this ode

So small
Like a cloth
Ragged in a Window
In the Wind
of the ocean
With all the pain
Of your ground
The dew
Of the sea, the kiss
Of the wild angry sea
That with all of its power
Beat the rocks
It could not
Knock you down
Because on your southern chest
Is tattooed
The struggle
The hope
The solidarity
And the joy
As anchors
The waves of the earth.

After our lovely little cruise

Ghost Tour of the Cementerio General

So on Friday night I went on a nocturnal tour of the Cementerio General with CAUC, which is a student organization through the Universidad Católica to help exchange students make friends and have cultural experiences. You may remember my post about the Cementerio General, the second largest cemetery of South America (Click on the blue text above for a refresher).

The tour started at 9:30 pm, well after the sun had set. The group was fairly large, besides our group there were many Chileans and other tourists so all together we were about fifty people. Our tour guide was an excellent actor who wore a hunchback costume and walked with a wooden plank as a staff. His character was an orphan who grew up and grew old in the cemetery, and he was hilarious, as much a comedian as an educator. I learned much about the cemetery that I would never have known about from visiting on my own.

For example, he told us the tale of the undertaker who was working late one night to seal a fresh tomb when he heard a strong thumping from within. He quickly got out his chisel and cut away the newly spread cement, and when he opened the casket the newly interred “dead man” jumped out, bruised from banging on the walls of his casket but otherwise fine. The guide raised his finger and sternly reminded us that when we lay our friends and family to rest, we should therefore always make sure their cell phone is bien cargado (fully charged).

He also told us about the man who was in a coma when his beloved wife passed away. When he awoke, he was told she was buried in the general mausoleum. He ran up and down the halls, searching desperately for her final resting place. Overcome with grief and despair, the threw himself off the fourth floor to his death. Our guide tells us that to this day his ghost walks the halls, a black shadow who often fills visitors with sadness, panic, and anguish. Our guide then told us we would be embarking on a ghost hunt to try to find this wandering spirit, and so we were asked to turn off all of our lights and we walked through the near pitch-black halls of the huge mausoleum. Cemetery staff members were lurking to jump out, touch our hair, and generally be terrifying. I hated this part, having a phobia of haunted houses, but if you are someone who likes to be scared in the dark it is right up your ally.

We visited the animitas of La Novia and La Carmencita, as well as the graves of some well known singers and writers. We also visited the graves of the unknown dead, assassinated as political enemies during the first days  of Pinochet’s dictatorship and to this day buried without names, two or three to a grave, under a sea of crosses.

At the end of our tour, our guide showed us the most humble section of the cemetery, where the poor lay their dead to rest under crumbling stones, but with flowers and makeshift canopies. He reminded us that the necropolis reflects the metropolis; the dead are laid to rest as they lived, with means and grandeur, or without.

I don’t have any pictures since my camera’s flash is about as useful as a glowstick on a foggy moonless night in a dark cave with a blindfold on, but you can click here to see my flickr album of daytime pictures.

Tomorrow I will post about my adventures in Valparaiso and Vina del Mar, I have SO MANY pictures that I have to upload and edit first. Until then, thanks for reading and ¡Hast Luego!

Wine Festival in Curicó

I tried to post this yesterday but for some reason WordPress was hungry and ate it, so here´s my second attempt.

On Saturday we got up at the crack of 6am to catch a train that would take us from Santiago to Curicó, a small city about 120 miles south of the capital. It has about 120,000 inhabitants and was founded in 1743. desde santiago a curicó

We had breakfast in a cute little restaurant and then walked over to the Plaza de Armas of Curicó for the opening ceremonies of the Fiesta de la Vendimia, or Festival of the Grape Harvest. This annual event celebrates Curicó as one of the leading producers in Chile of fine wines. If I remember correctly, Curicó produces almost half of the nation´s wine.

First we checked out the market, where local artists were selling everything from jewelery to sculptures, leatherworks to paintings, artisan soaps to cacti, trees to homemade jams. Everything was locally produced but very reasonably priced. It definitely wasn´t a touristy thing, there were lots of local people there.

We went back to the stage to watch the opening ceremonies. After the mayor of the town talked for a while, the Queen of the Festival was introduced and weighed. Every year the Queen is selected in a beauty pageant to represent Curicó for a full year. At the festival, she sits on one end of a giant scale and bottles of wine are added to the other end to determine her weight in wine. Afterward she gets to keep all the wine. If I were the Queen I would wear lead underpants that day. She weighed in at about 43 bottles of wine.

After the weighing there were some performances by local musicians and then there was a grape stomping competition, which was hilarious! Each team consisted of a captain, two assistants who added grapes and carried the juice to a giant clear container, and two stompers. The stompers could only support themselves with each other, no outside help. The 8 teams had 5 minutes to mash the most juice out of the grapes. Within 30 seconds everyone was covered in grape juice and chunks of grapes were flying everywhere! In the end the time from the Las Torres vineyard won, having smushed 106 liters of grape juice! Naturally everyone wanted to buy samples of their wine.

We all bought keepsake wine glasses and each got a sample of a different kind of wine so we could pass them around and try them all. I can´t remember the name of mine since I don´t know much about wine but it was tasty! There were tons of food stands so I got myself an anticucho, a typical Chilean and Peruvian food that is basically a kebab with pork (or heart meat in Peru) and a chunk of bread at the end. Cucho means depressed in Spanish, and I was definitely anti depressed!

I was extremely happy with this decision: the meat was juicy, tender, and flavorful and eating anything on a stick is just fun! For dessert I got an ice cream cone, and for a while I walked around with a half empty glass of wine in one hand and an ice cream cone in the other and was the happiest person in the world.

Next we all piled into a bus to head to the San Miguel Vineyard. We had a lovely tour of the fields by bus so we got to rest our feet while being told by the guide about how wine is made in Chile. We got to see a giant refrigerated warehouse of kegs of wine, and the underground wine cellar where they age wine for up to two years. They have a room underground where they have bottles of every variety of wine from every harvest back to 2001, all coated in dust and stacked in shelves up to the ceiling. Back above ground, we were treated to a wine tasting. They taught us how to properly sample wine, what to look for in the color and smell and then taste. Everyone else was like “Mmm, yes, I do detect an aroma of chocolate with overtones of cherry” but I was like “Yum, this tastes like white wine!”

Everyone else with their wine

Me with my wine

Finally we got on a bus to head back to Santiago. All in all it was a fantastic day! Here are the pictures: