¿Como estai? as the Chileans will ask you. well, the weather is beginning to change down here in South America. The Hot summer days are winding down and the days of Fall are making its presence known. However, Santiago doesn´t have much of a Fall season, much like southern California. All the young people are back in school, starting the semester with high hopes and anguish. I say anguish because the first month of the semester, March, there is this ritual that upper class college students do towards the incoming freshmen, the newbies. The intiation is called El Mechón. The upper class seek out the freshmen, according to the name tags the newbies wear with the big and obvious "FRESHMEN" across the top, and they will perform a number of different things to them. They will tear the clothes apart, leaving them in shreds, take away the shoes and/or backpack (or shirt for the guys), paint various drawings and signs all over their bodies, and then pour egg yolks, mustard, ketchup, tuna, mayo, etc over their heads and finish it off with a shower of flour
. After the freshmen have gone through all this, they are then forced, after classes are over, to wonder the streets begging for amounts of pesos reaching $5,000 to $10,000 pesos per item that was taken away from them, such as backpacks, shirts, shoes, and purses. Every college in Chile, apparently, does this ritual and has been going on since my host mother was a college student. This ritual is all over the news and is something that has become part of history, part of tradition. Once the month is over and the upper class has collected all the money, they throw a big party for everyone and I guess they make it up to the freshmen this way. This is a very interesting thing to see, as I´ve been approached already by students who have are chonado" by students who "Mechonar" Freshmen.
Well, I wanted to share that with you, a bit of a culture education for ya. Well, this pass week, from March 10 to March 19, was my "Spring Break" and the students of the program spursted out to different places. The sudents went to the Inca Trail to Machu Picchu of Peru, go shopping in Buenos Aires of Argentina, explore San Pedro de Atacama of Northern Chile, trek in "the End of the World" of the extreme South of Chile. As for myself and my friend Mark, we went to the Aruacanía Region of Chile, the South Central Area of the Famous and Beautiful Sur of Chile. Our stops were Pucón, Puerto Montt and Quellón
. Pucón and Puerto Montt are cities that are in the Lake District, making up the southern part of the Aruacanía Region. As for Quellón, it is the southern most city in the enormous island of Chiloé, just across the strait from Puerto Montt. Here, the Lake District is covered by a blanket of peaking mountains and rolling hills of deep lush green with varying sunken valleys of crystal-blue lakes. A world that has been said to be quite different from the world that of Santiago, once you cross the River Bio Bio just north of the Mapuche captial of Temuco. The raining season had just begun, but it took more than rain to dampen our spirits. We bought tickets for a 9 hour bus ride to Pucon, the "Adventure Capital of Chile." It was here that we first became intimate with the "precious south." Upon arrival, my impression of Pucon was a smaller, however very touristy, verison of Lake Tahoe. The low buildings of Pucon were all made of wood, a very warm welcoming for us foreigners, you look all around you towards the outside city limits and could see the arms of the mountains enclosed this pueblo into it´s bosom. To the south, you could see the mighty snow-capped Villarica Volcano over-towering all competors. The low-hanging clouds stuck close to the mountains, as if they were left over smoke from ancient dragons who once fought in battle an ara long ago. A strong impression, I agree.
We stayed at a "hospedaje" that belonged to these two older couples who owned a small mom and pop resturant serving the traditional Chilean food like Casuela de Ave or de Vacuno, Humitas, Pastel de Choclo, Empanadas or the more comtemporary dish Pollo Asado con Papas Fritas
. The "hospedajes" were in the backyard of the resturant, where we had to walk through lines of wet clothes, piles of fire wood. The room appeared to have been made as small as one could make it, but still fit two beds and a small round table. The room also included a small bathroom, with everything except a warm shower--only cold water came out despite the fact that the owners claimed that they had hot water. The cost was $5,000 pesos, about $10 USD, a good price for this part of the country. Once we were settled, we walked across the street to the Trancura Building, an agency that booked any adventure trip you wanted. It was through them that we booked everything, the "termas of huife," the climb up el volcan, Rafting, and Canopying. The first night we did the hotsprings of Huife up in the hills, an experience very relaxing and enjoyable. The cost: $6,000 pesos, $12 USD. The following day, we woke up at 6am to met at the Trancura Office to gear up for the climb up the volcan. We met 13 other adventurers. The guide there automatically knew we had never done this before because we showed up with nothing but the sweater on our backs, no food, no water, no backpacks, nothing. Jeff, I´m pretty sure you´re disappointed in me, I know, I´ve should´ve known better. So, after we geared up, the bus stopped at a local store, on the way, so that we could buy some provisions. We were very fortunate, however, I felt that this costed us because the guide was a little more harsh on my friend and I than the others, in my opinion
. We rode in a minivan into the Villarica Park Reserve and arrived at the bottom of the volcano. It was there that the once distant volcano now looked much bigger than ever before. You know, this story is one that is very long and one that I am very tempted to tell, but it's simply too long, so I will just simply say that our team of 19 trakked through valcanic rock, earth, and snow. We climbed 1700 meters in four hours. Once at the top, it was absolutely a breath-taking view of the entire lake district. It was a view that one could say that it was only meant for the eyes of God. The experience was difficult towards the end, one of the most painful experiences I've ever had. Particularly because I am diffinitely out of shape and was getting over being sick from the previous week. The trek back down was the fun part, where we had suits that were slippery enough to slide down on our behinds through a series of snow tunnels that the company had created. There some tunnels that were 6 feet deep into the snow and others that were only a foot deep, much like a slide in a playground. The entire trip was about 11 hours, from 6am to 5pm. That night, I slept like I had no tomorrow. The cost of this adventure, $25,000 pesos, $50 USD. The following day, we did rafting in the Trancura Río with rapids of class IV in an international scale for rafting of class VI. The cost was $18,000 pesos, $36 USD. Afterwards, we did canopying which consists of strapping yourself to a device with small metal wheels connected to a cable that stretched from one montain to another
. You just fly high right over the lush green valleys. An amazing experience, one that at first chilled your spine because the first time, which was the longest stretch, you're just looking and focusing on the tiny cable that is the only thing keeping you from falling meters to the ground. I soon learned that if I wanted to enjoy this experience I had to focus not on that tiny cable but at the beauty of my surroundings. Ths cost, $10,000, $20 USD. There were plenty of more adventures offered in this beauty place of Pucón such as tours of the volcanic caves, horseback riding, skiing, snowboarding, etc, but time and money was short so we headed to another city, Puerto Montt.
This port city was a very interesting place, it is said that Puerto Montt would be San Fran's penniless brother. The whole place was rustic and somewhat old, but with a charm and beauty that belonged to certain eyes of beholders. My friend did not like the city and didn't explore much of it. However, I found some form of beauty in what I saw. I believe that I can describe the city by describing a women that took us into her home for the night. Once we had arrived late at night, after several hours of travel by bus, we were greeted by a few of the locals, mainly elderly women, some with their grandchild. The group of locals individually shouted out their prices for Hospedajes and how well they'll treat us. we went with one lady who went ahead and took my friend by the hand and lead him out of the group of elderly women
. She then told us her offer and her story. we decided to go with her and we walked a few blocks from the bus station, up hill, and through a dark alley that you see all of the city, and we finally arrived at here beautiful home at the top of the hill. It turned out that she was actually the maid of a family who had four individual rooms on the second floor for travelers. This city is a hub for cruises to Antartica or to the extreme south of Chile, aka "the end of the world" so they are very acostumed to many foreigners. During the walk to the house, the lady did appear a bit emotionless, without feeling and expression. But, once we entered the house we were immediately received a warm welcome from the family and the maid had suddenly changed as if to blend in with the warm and kind atosphere of the home. I feel that the city is, in some ways, very much like this woman. It can appear somewhat cold and emotionless, but if you give it a chance, it will open up to you and there lies the beauty inside the blossoming bud. The following day we booked a trip to the island of Chiloé, about as well-known as Long Island in the States. We traveled by bus and ferry and saw that the island didn't have much tourist atomsphere, something that we enjoyed. The island is consisted of rolling hills, lush green vegetation and the scent of the Pacific Ocean. After six hours of traveling to arrive at the port town of Quellón, about half way down the island, we explored around and learned a little about the lifestyle of fishermen in Chiloé.
Well, I don't think I should drag on much more, I see that I have already written quite a but. To be honest, I just have the strongest temptation to tell the whole story of everyone I have, but that would leave me with nothing to tell once I come home, and I don't think all og you would like to sit on the chair and stare at this screen for that long. I hope that my photos and videos can tell a but more about the adventures I had during my "Spring Break." I wish the best for all of you. I can't believe that I only have five weeks left here in Chile. Certainly a time that has gone by very fast, a time well spent. Chao