Rachel Wrona is studying in Chile from July to December 2009.
My Semester in Chile
I recently spent close to six months in the South American country of Chile, and it was one of the best experiences of my life. I was taking three classes at La Universidad Catolica de Valparaiso, in which I studied Spanish writing, grammar, and Chilean communications and culture. Although my school was in Valpo, I lived in Viña del Mar. The cities are completely different and beautiful in their own way, full of culture and night life, while still each having their own personalities. I was able to get to know both cities very well, that was actually one of my favorite parts of being there, just being able to walk through the hills of Valpo and seeing some of the most beautiful and creative displays of art.
I was also able to do some traveling while I was in the country. The first five days there I spent in the capital, Santiago, exploring museums, visiting the presidential palace, and touring the home of Chile’s greatest and most known poet, Pablo Neruda. Later on in the semester I was able to explore Santiago a little more since it was only an hour away from Viña, and I was able to see El Cemetario General where Salvador Allende and many other past presidents were buried, and Villa Grimaldi, a park that was used as a concentration camp during Pinochet’s regime where thousands were tortured and killed. It was amazing to see so much history of a country that I have grown to love, and one that not many people in the world actually know about.
My favorite trip that I took was to the Atacama Desert where I stayed for a week during the Chilean Independence Holiday. We got to see flamingos in their natural habitats, the geysers at Tatio, Valle de la Luna, the salt flats, even llamas walking through their natural habitat of the Andes. But my favorite was when I was able to bike just three miles outside the city of San Pedro where there were ancient Incan ruins. It truly was an experience of a lifetime.
I really did love the time I spent in Chile. I reconnected with old friends, and made some amazing news ones from all over the world. I got to kayak on the Pacific Ocean and go sand boarding in Con Con while looking out at the ocean. I went horseback riding on the beach and ate llama in the Andes. There were so many experiences that I had that I wouldn’t trade for the world. As much as I missed Thiel, I wouldn’t trade last semester for anything.
Cerro San Critobal Reloj de Flor
Villa Grimaldi The Andes
So Friday I went to Santiago with ISA (my program) and we visited a number of places with so much history, many of them starting during the coup or under Pinochet's regime. We visited an archives that was started by a cardenal in Santiago after the coup for the families of victims. He would help search for their loved ones, or their remains, and then keep record. And even when Pinochet shit him down in '74, he reopened the place in a different form as to not break any laws.
We also visited the Cemetario General. There is over 2 million people buried there, from presidents to many victims of the '73 coup. We saw Allende's tomb, Pedro Montt, Eduardo Frei, Violeta Parra, and so many others. They also had a memorial to those who lost their lives under Pinochet. They had the names of all those whose bodies had been found, then of the other side had the list of names of those who are still missing. I was able to find the names of the two americans who lost their lives, and of Victor Jara, the Chilean folksinger.
The most difficult place we visited though was Villa Grimaldi. It was a concentration camp during the 70s used for torturing and killing those who were supporters of Allende or members of the Socialist or Communist parties in Chile. It has now been turned into a park so that what happened there will never be forgotten. They even had some of the torture devices there, they were rails that were discarded into the ocean to get rid of evidence but were eventually found. Because they were found many of the soldiers and guards that maintained the camp were prosecuted and the judge then donated the rails to the park. One piece of the rails still has a button on it from 30 years ago.
We were able to see so much history on Friday that it made me fall even more in love with this country. They have had their darks days but they are making sure that the acts that have occurred in their past never happen again.
Memorial for those who died under Pinochet Pictures of those who died
Everything is good! Classes are good, these past couple weeks in my Chilean culture class we have been focusing a lot on the history and this week and next week we will be covering Allende's government and then the coup which I am excited to hear about from the point of a middle class chilean. I have heard so many different things from so many different people about what actually happened that its almost humorous at how divided the country still is about the subject. But next friday I will be going to Santiago again for a tour of the National Stadium and a cemetary that was used to bury victims of the coup. So I can not wait to see that.
Something else that I love about the people here is how much they love Obama, and how much faith they have in him to help Latin American relations. And my culture professor actually called Bush the devil the other day. Its humorous to me.
Here is something interesting though. My culture professor said that since they found out that Gabriel Mistral was a lesbian, they are changing the 5000 peso bill since she is on it. Now I do not know if that is the real reason, but that is what he told us, but Chile has gone back to the conservative side a bit so you never know.
Right now though I am having a hard time with how much I miss Thiel, you know how I consider it my home.
But I realized that you do not have any pictures of Vina and Valpo on the page so I have included some in the email! Hope you like them! I am living in Vina but going to school in Valpo so I am lucky enough to get the best of both cities, each is so much different from the other. Valpo is a cultural hub, with so much history and culture that you could spend days just wandering through the hills enjoying all the beautiful sites. While Vina is more of a modern city with a huge mall spanning two city blocks and is the center of Chile's fashion industry. This past weekend there was a drum festival in Valpo, and this coming weekend there is a Daddy Yankee concert in Vina, it just shows how different the two cities are yet there is only 5 minute drive between them.
Ascensor in Valpo View of Valpo from Port
I went to San Pedro de Atacama for a week instead of Easter Island, plane tickets were too expensive so instead I rode a bus for 25 hours each way. I saw such amazing things in San Pedro. The Church there was built in the 1500's, I saw the Geysers at Tatio (at an elevation of 10,000 feet), one of only six places in the world to see geysers, and swam in natural hot springs! I also went to the National Flamingo Reserve, Lagunas Miscanti y Miniques (which are at an elevation of 9,000 ft), Valle de la Luna (Moon Valley), and Quitor, which are ancient Incan ruins! The Atacama desert is such a beautiful place, it is the dryest desert in the world, yet just take a two hour drive in the Andes mountains and you are in snow. I also got to participate in the Chilean Independence Day celebrations! There was a parade, Cueca dancing (the national dance of Chile), Chicha (Chilean wine), and llama meat on the grill! It was a great experience with oppurtunities to see things that many people do not get to see in their lifetime.
Rachel and Geyser at Tatio Chilean Army on Parade for Independence Day
San Pedro Church National Flamingo Reserve
Rachel at Valle de la Luna (Moon Valley) Sunset at Valle de la Luna (Moon Valley)
So I have been in Chile for a little over a month now, the first week we spent in Santiago, touring some historical sites like La Moneda (the Presidential Palace), La Chascona (one of the homes of Pablo Neruda), and Cerro San Cristobal, the hill were the City was founded that now has a giant statue of the virgin mary on top of it that can be seen from any point in the city. Now that I am in Viña, I have started my classes in Catolica in Valparaiso, just three spanish classes, but believe me they are very hard, and trying to get accostomed to daily Chilean life. We have gone on tours of Viña and Valpo, seeing historical parks, and La Sebastiana (another home of Pablo Neruda), the Sky Museum, Museo Funck, and explored the historic Port of Valparaiso.
In September I will be getting a Spring break and with that time, which is over their Independence Holiday, I am hoping to travel to Easter Island!
Rachel with a Guard at La Moneda
La Monda The doors to the office where Allende died
La Chascona Racehl at La Sebastiana
I have been in Santiago since wednseday afternoon, but will be heading to Viña tonight. I got to tour La Moneda, Pablo Neruda`s house, La Chascona, and the oldest vineyard in the western hemisphere. I will be sending you some pictures as soon as I get settled in Viña! Rachel