October 22nd, 2015 in 2015 Fall, Chile, College Study Abroad | No Comments by
The Atacama desert is dry. It is a dry that makes the mucus in one’s nose evaporate upon arrival, the towel a redundant part of the bathroom routine. Here, they film movie scenes that are supposed to take place on Mars. There are huge swaths of land with no life whatsoever—only sand. Though there is a common misconception that deserts are all sandy, rather empty places, plenty of deserts are full of life. Consider the one that contains Las Vegas, for instance. This is not that type of desert.
In Atacama, the areas that do have life have a sort of life that appears to be inspired by Dr. Seuss illustrations—yellow grass growing in small cartoonish clumps beside bright blue lagoons where herds of vicuñas (cousins of the llama) congregate. Flamingos roam cracked salt flats.
The town of San Pedro consists of four types of establishments. There are restaurants, mini marts that sell alcohol and basic foodstuffs, shops and tourism agencies. Save for restaurants, there is minimal variation within each category. Those wanting to cook for themselves should skip the mini marts and hit the produce market on the edge on town.
To experience Atacama, one must leave San Pedro. Bikes are the most inexpensive way to see the area but they can only go so far—especially considering that thin rubber tires are no match for thorny bushes. The most famous attractions (lagoons, geysers, the country of Bolivia) require a vehicle, but the ones within bike range (ruins, rocky red canyons, Valle de la Luna) are also stunning.
If feeling particularly adventurous, schedule the return flight on a day when domestic airlines may or may not strike. (“Sorry we unable to disclose that information at this time.”) Return to Valparaiso via bus. Stop in La Serena to break up what would otherwise be a 24-hour journey into small 18- and 6-hour ones. Every journey to come will feel remarkably short!
*All photos in this post by the lovely Laura Gumpert, another IFSA participant!
August 31st, 2015 in 2015 Fall, Chile, College Study Abroad | No Comments by
The storm starts on a Wednesday. When my classes let out it is only sprinkling so I decide to walk home. Twenty-five minutes later, it was still only sprinkling but my pants are now skintight. On a narrow stretch of sidewalk, a man runs toward me, yelling. I am scared but he passes without incident. A bus passes moments later, showering me with gutter water. When I get home, the power is out. Class is canceled for the rest of the week. Pauli takes me to the grocery store with the best view in the country. The streets are empty, save for pairs of blonde-haired tourists. After we buy candles, a friend who owns a car picks us up and takes us to Playa Ancha to see the waves. On the way home, we drive through the cerros to see how much of the city is without electricity. A police officer in a green trench coat diverts traffic away from the beach. We eat once by candlelight: toasted pan with butter and honey, a gas-station variety pack of manjar-filled wafer cookies, black tea steeped with orange peel and cinnamon. Outside, it rains lightly. The next day I wake up early, shower and then walk to a café to use the Internet. The cashier looks at my wet hair with wide eyes. I look at photos of the storm on my phone. A wave crashes up onto the highway and over a micro; water rushes into a carpeted hallway at the Sheraton Hotel in Viña, then recedes; a section of tiled ground plummets down and out of site as construction workers make repairs nearby. The upstairs neighbors tweet at the power company until our lights come back on.
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August 14th, 2015 in Chile, College Study Abroad | 1 Comment by
On the road between Santiago and Valparaiso, there are eucalyptus windbreaks and tired dogs. I drift in and out of sleep, sometimes waking up in Chile, sometimes in California. The landscapes are identical. As we near the coast, dusty foothills give way to tall apartment buildings. A dirt path separates us from opposing traffic. Along it, sweaty men and elderly women in grey flare sweatpants use exercise machines. They are painted in primary colors, like playground equipment. Someone sells empanadas and sopapillas from a white cart. We meet our host families in a Mormon church.
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