Student Blogs & Vlogs | College Study Abroad Programs, IFSA-Butler

A Quite Action-Packed Two Weeks

¡Hola todos!

Heads up folks, this post is going to be massive. A lot of interesting things have happened in the past two weeks, and I can’t help sharing them with you! I have helpfully divided it into sections.

Part 1, where the ground shakes:

Thursday the 11th, I experienced my first “temblor,” as the locals call it. I was sitting in my Spanish class, and we were sharing and discussing news pieces we had brought, as we do every Thursday, when all of a sudden it began to rumble. At first, I thought it had to be plane or something, but then the ground really began to shake. I jumped up, I have to admit, as did practically all of the rest of our class (except for one of us, she got under her desk; she’s from California, so she knew what she was doing). The rest of us didn’t really know what to do, because even though IFSA-Butler had given us a detailed presentation of the subject of earthquakes during orientation, it’s the kind of thing you think will never happen and so forget about quickly. Half of us stayed where we were, the other half sort of made for the door, which either sprang open on its own or our professor opened it, before he got a judge for how strong it would be, I can’t quite remember (I do remember that outside there was a Chilean student peacefully microwaving his lunch, as if nothing was happening). Luckily for us, a) we were in a really solidly built lecture hall and b) our professor is Chilean, so he realized pretty quickly that it wasn’t going to be that strong. And after 10 or 20 seconds it was all over, and we got back to work.
My professor judged it at a 5.2, and the two women from our program who came around to check on us said it had to be around 5.5, but I learned later that it was actually a 5.7 on the Richter scale.

I talked about the temblor at lunch that Sunday with the Cuca (who the family had brought back from Talca on Sunday, having gone there to attend a wedding), who told me how in the earthquake of 2010, which was an 8.8, they had to hold funeral services in the very cemeteries where the victims were to be interred, because the majority of the churches had been destroyed. It’s interesting, because everyone seems to remember exactly what they were doing that day in February. On the day of the temblor, when I came home, Seba asked me how I had reacted, and then we talked about earthquakes in general a bit. I asked him where he had been in 2010, and he proceeded to tell me what had happened, to the exact detail. Later that evening, my other host brother Benja also came to ask me how the temblor had gone, and I asked him too, and he also remembered, telling me how afterwards there was no electricity and so they all huddled together in the living room with a flashlight or two, while their father went to look for batteries for their radio (and “actually a radio,” he added, after thinking for a bit, “we didn’t actually have a radio”), even though he was only 8 at the time.

The earthquake has come up quite a lot recently, actually, including during our trip to Isla Negra and Pomaire this past weekend. But more about that later. Let’s go in chronological order, else I’ll lose all semblance of order to my thoughts and will be more likely to go eat some grilled chicken (my family is having an asado, or grilling get-together-thing, currently) than finish this blog post.

Part 2, where the air is thick with Hope and Chanting:

This past Tuesday, the 16th, I and four other students from the IFSA-Butler program went to the World Cup 2014 qualifier between Argentina and Chile. The decision was made on somewhat of a whim really. Three of us were in Isa’s (our program director) office the Thursday prior talking about our Spanish class and looking at examples of magazines that would be our final project in the class, when we somehow got to talking about the game. After a little bit of deliberation and after looking at what tickets were still available and at what price, we decided that we couldn’t pass up the opportunity. Our tickets ended up costing 24,200 pesos, or around $50, but, living in the United States, you don’t often get the chance to see two of the world’s best national soccer teams play. The cheapest tickets, at 13,200 pesos, had already been sold out, but Isa told us that those seats could be slightly more dangerous than the ones we eventually chose, because of their cheap price and location in the stadium. The stadium, by the way, was the Estadio Nacional, or National Stadium, which is actually home to the Universidad de Chile soccer team and can seat 59,980. Interesting fact: after the coup d’etat, it was used as a detention facility by forces of the military junta.

In the end, however, security wasn’t an issue at all. Rodrigo, our Spanish professor (we had class before the game) warned us to be very careful and to leave valuables (like my camera) at home. I wanted to take pictures, so I didn’t exactly follow his advice, but I encountered no problems at all, whatsoever. There was obviously quite a strong police presence at the entrance to clamp down on any possible trouble, but they seemed rather superfluous, based on my experience.

Three of us got there about an hour and a half before the game was to start. Rodrigo had told us that in order to get the best seats, you had to get there at least two hours early, but we all experienced some delays. In the end, however, it didn’t end up affecting our experience very drastically. Obviously, the best seats closest to the field were taken, but we found some higher up that in fact allowed us to see the game better as a whole. The fact that one did have to arrive relatively early, however, was reinforced by the fact that when the remaining two members of our party arrived, around 15 minutes before the game was due to start, there were no seats left at all. Only because we had been saving them seats for the past hour did they have a place to sit.

But I’m getting ahead of myself again. Because they didn’t allow us to bring water bottles into the stadium, the first thing we did when we entered the stadium proper was look for a place to buy water. Much to our shock, we quickly found out that they weren’t actually selling any at any of the snack stands in our section of the stadium. Coke, at 1000 pesos (about $2) for a regular cup, was actually pretty cheap for a stadium, but water was nowhere to be found. Our two friends that came later were able to successfully bring in one bottle of water, which served to placate some parched throats.

The atmosphere in the stadium was incredible. Even in the hour before the game started, the Chilean fans were chanting and cheering. There was a small section of Argentinean fans, separated from the Chileans to avoid any potential conflict, but you could barely hear them above the roar of the home crowd. This changed, as it often does in soccer, when the Argentineans scored their second goal and the home fans became much quieter, but up to that point that amount of noise in the stadium was simply tremendous. My two favorite chants were the classic Chile chant, which goes: “C-H-I! L-E! Chi, chi ,chi! Le, le, le! Vamos Chile!”, and another one which I heard for the first time there: “Vamos, vamos chilenos, esta noche tenemos que ganar.” I really liked the melody of the last one. Besides chants, people were yelling curse words at the top of their lungs. At opposing players, simply because they were opposing players, at their own players, for missing a pass or making any mistake at all, and at the referees, for what they perceived to be their general awfulness (so nothing new, really). I even saw a man who was sitting with his two very young sons scream some (some? Who am I kidding, it was a constant stream of them) obscenities. But such is fútbol.

Chile ended up losing the match 2 to 1. Even though they played very well and put the Argentinean players under constant pressure in the first twenty minutes or so, two pieces of individual skill in rapid succession, first by Lionel Messi and then Gonzalo Higuain, put Chile into a hole it couldn’t climb out of. They eventually scored a goal in stoppage time at the end of the game, but it unfortunately proved to be nothing more than a consolation. Although the crowd tried to get behind the team, the atmosphere was severely muted after Argentina went 2-0 up. But the cheering upon Chile’s goal was something to behold. It wasn’t enough though, and all it did was make Chile’s third loss in a row a little easier to bear.

Getting home afterward was also rather uneventful. Like I said above, I never felt unsafe during my whole time there. It was a simply awesome experience, one which could have only been improved by a Chilean victory.

Part 3, where we visit the house of the Poet and the village of Clay:

This weekend, the other students from IFSA-Butler here in Santiago and I went on an IFSA-Butler organized trip to Casa de la Isla Negra, Neruda’s third house, and his personal favorite, and Pomaire, a village about 45 minutes outside of Santiago known for its pottery and, more recently, its empanadas.

We left from Baquedano around 10 am. I wasn’t able to take as many pictures of the journey as I usually do because I, like practically everyone else on our bus, decided that it was a prime opportunity to take a nap (the past few weeks have been exhausting, what with all the going out at night and sporting events and all, and a bit of schoolwork on the side, obviously …).

Our first stop was Isla Negra, which, besides inspiring the name of Pablo Neruda’s house, is actually the name of the town where the house is located (which in turn is part of the greater El Quisco area). Before we all fell asleep on the ride there, Isa told us a bit about it, and why it is so important. Contrary to what the name suggests (Black Island), it’s not actually an island. Rather, it is a series of beaches a little to the south of Valparaíso. Over time the area of El Quisco (and Isla Negra in particular) has come to be a prime vacation spot for middle and lower class Chileans, especially due to its proximity to Santiago and the fact that it is general cheaper to vacation there than in Valpo or Viña. Isa told us that it’s almost impossible to drive on the main road (on which we drove and of which I included a picture) in the summer; it’s easier to walk because there are so many cars. The vacationers stay in cabañas, which can go from being quite luxurious to basically just four walls. These cabañas are often owned by companies and corporations, who rent them, or award them, to their own employees as vacation spots. This has helped lead the popularity of the area, because lower class residents of Santiago usually aren’t able to afford going to other places. Also, although Chile has a very, very long coastline, it doesn’t actually have all that many good beaches. Atlantic type beaches, with wide and broad expanses of sand are rather rare, and the beaches that do exist, while sandy, are often quite rocky as well. Because of this, beaches are often jam-packed during the summer, with hardly any room to move. An interesting thing I learned was that Chilean beaches are, as best I understood, perhaps because of the limited space available, public property, meaning that you can’t limit access to them. Even beach resorts can’t mark off areas of the beach, and in fact, people have gotten in trouble with the state for trying to extend beach front property onto the beach proper.

We arrived at the Casa de la Isla Negra around 12:00, but our tour didn’t start until 12:30 so we hung out on the patio outside of the visitor center. It had been a rather ugly day on Friday, and the forecast had said that it would be cloudy, but fortunately for us it was really nice. The sun shone just enough so that the breeze coming the sea was cool and relaxing and not cold and bothersome.

Like his other two houses, la Casa de la Isla Negra is built to mimic the feeling of being on a boat. The rooms are generally rather narrow, the doors are small and there are lots of windows. Also like his other two houses, it houses many of the items that he collected, for he was an avid collector. Unique to this house, however, are the numerous ships’ figureheads, as well as his insect and butterfly collection (he loved scarab beetles, as they reminded him of his childhood) and his ship in a bottle collection. There are a lot of items in the house, in fact, that hark back to his childhood and especially his father, whom he held in high regard, however much he set himself against his son’s literary career. The house is very long and, if viewed from above, rather thin, often only a room wide, which led Neruda to say that it was like Chile. It contains a breathtaking mural of stones and minerals executed by a friend of his, for whom he wrote a poem (she actually did mural work in all three of his houses). The view of the sea from the house is quite amazing as well, especially from his bedroom and the smallest room of the house, at the very end, in which he loved to write on a table made from a piece of driftwood the ocean brought him as a present one day.

It was in this house that Neruda became ill, under the double shock of being diagnosed with prostate cancer and the coup d’etat. He died in a medical facility in Santiago on September 23rd, 1973. Casa de la Isla Negra was his favorite house, in which he lived with Matilde Urrutia (his third wife) longer than in any of his other houses. In his autobiography Confieso que he vivido (I Confess I Have Lived) he asks to be buried there, facing the sea. The authorities, however, prohibited this; it was not until 1992 that he and Matilde could be laid to rest together, so close to the sea that he loved so much.

After taking an audio-guided tour of the house, we went down to the beach below the house to eat lunch and enjoy the sea air. I also bought an alfajor (I included a picture of it in the gallery, it’s the chocolatey thing) at a stand just outside the museum. Alfajors are traditional Chilean cookies, consisting of two biscuits with a layer of manjar (Chilean dulce de leche) between them, covered in chocolate. They are delicious.

The sound of the waves crashing on the rocks was very soothing. Isa found some mussels and showed them to us (saying empanadas with them are delicious. Will have to try that some day), and we just sat on the rocks, watching the waves come in. We had to go back to the bus too soon, really. I could have stayed there forever.

It was about a half hour ride to Pomaire, the village of potters and clay, as it is known. Indeed, almost every Chilean knows about Pomaire and its famous greda (clay). What they probably do not know, however, is that Pomaire is dying. Isa explained that the artisans are facing stiff competition from mass produced goods that come from all over the world. The potters were protected relatively well, in the economic sense, under the ISI (import-substitution industrialization, which is where a country tries to replace foreign imports through domestic products via tariffs and the subsidizing and nationalizing of domestic industries) policies of the 1960s and 70s. But after the collapse of such economic policies (Chile, the pioneer of ISI, was actually also the first to discontinue it for more the more liberal idea of opening markets) and the implementation of general economic openness (the aperture) under the government of Pinochet, this changed. Now it’s actually cheaper to import from places such as China, where pottery goods are mass produced, than to buy them in Chile.

Also, the idea of working together, to collude (although that word has a negative connotation, it can serve to keep prices at a sustainable level for the workshops), isn’t there. The idea of a fair price and staying faithful to that price to protect the rest sounds nice on paper, but all of the small enterprises are feeling the pressure, and so they underbid one another, not realizing that sometimes selling more pieces does not mean more profit in the long run.

Among the Chilean upper class, there is heightened interest lately in so called “ethnic” goods, and they will often pay exorbitant prices for pottery from Pomaire but will generally only buy from certain already well-established workshops, so the money doesn’t filter down to the majority of the pottery makers in Pomaire. This reality is complicated by the fact that stores that cater to the rich often buy pottery for very cheap and then sell it at much higher prices. The difference almost never makes it back to the pomairiños.

Complicating this sobering reality even further is the fact that the corporation that owns the highway (almost everything is privately owned in Chile) that provides access to Pomaire has put tolls in place on either side of the town. You only have to pay once going in one direction, but it still means that you have to pay a toll coming from Santiago to Pomaire and then again coming from the sea to Pomaire. For a town that absolutely depends on the tourism industry, this has had crippling consequences.

Once in Pomaire, we stopped at the house of a friend of Isa’s, Marisol, who has her own taller (workshop). They got to know each other in the aftermath of the 2010 earthquake, when students from IFSA-Butler worked hard to help the many pomairiños in need; the earthquake had struck the town hard. Before she showed us her workshop and how she worked, we drank mote con huesillos (traditional Chilean drink. It’s very sweet, usually from peaches, and mixed with fresh cooked husked wheat. It’s quite delicious) while she told us a bit more about Pomaire and her own business.

Pomaire means “place of thieves” in one of the indigenous languages because of the natural protection the hills give the area. The art of pottery making goes back a long, long time. Marisol told us about her mentor, who taught her, who had died only a few weeks ago, at more than a 100 years of age (officially she was 96, but that age only goes back to the day she was registered and she wasn’t registered until she was 7 or 8), and who had told her about going to get clay with her own father when she was small. She runs her business from the internet, sending her product all over Chile and even starting to send it abroad. It’s not cost effective to have an actual store, she told us, especially because of the for her infuriating tendency of tourists to just browse and not buy anything, which means she wouldn’t be able to guess how much money she could bring in, and if she had made too much or too little. She also explained that another aspect of her line of work that makes it so precarious is that customers pay after receiving the goods, and while they may promise to pay as soon as possible, payments sometimes arrive weeks late. Marisol also told us about the one time she saw one of her plates that she would sell straight from her workshop for 4,000 pesos in a store for around 20,000 pesos (which only served to reinforce how little of what some stores sell pottery goods for actually makes it back to the maker). In addition, the owner of the store told her that her work was extremely good quality but that the problem was that her name was not prestigious enough, and not “masterful” enough, and that it would be difficult for her to become known under her real name (her full name is Marisol Labarca Guzmán; he told her to either go with just Marisol Guzmán or to say her name was Marisol de Labarca, as both sounded more Spanish).

Her workshop, which was in a large shed-type building behind the house, housed an amazing number of pieces of pottery. They were simply all over the place. She showed us where she was storing an order from a restaurant that she was still working on, telling us that most of her orders nowadays come from restaurants. Most of her work is finished in black, a color she achieves by burning dry cow manure in the kiln after the pottery pieces are almost done. She told us that if you used cow manure that was still wet, you run the risk of your pottery still smelling and tasting like cow manure! After showing us first how she polished the pieces, she allowed us to make our own attempts at making a small bowl. I failed miserably, as my piece became unstuck from the turning table (which we had to operate with our feet!) But it was a lot of fun. It’s amazing first how difficult something that seems so simple can actually be, and second, how pottery makers like Marisol can work so long and so precisely. She often works all day she said. Obviously she cannot do everything herself and so hires assistants, but they are not always reliable (Isa told us that they are paid by day, and some therefore often drink so much over the weekend that they are too drunk to work Mondays) or sometimes just do the work a bit differently. Marisol has a polisher working for her, but the restaurant for whose order she is currently working on told her that while the polisher’s work was good, they could tell the difference and wanted her to complete the rest, which instantly increased her workload.

After that, we walked across town to the workshop of Marisol’s father-in-law, who produces huge vases and jars. He was working on a medium sized one (its height would be 80 centimeters he said) when we came over. After showing us his kiln and the place where he mixes his clay (the clay they use is a mixture of two types of clay from different parts of the town), she led us back through the more touristy part of town, where there were lots of people selling clay goods, along with lots of people selling empanadas too. I forgot to mention this earlier, but Pomaire is also known for its empanadas, and especially for their humongous size (it is the hometown of the one kilo empanada). During the trip through town, we saw some signs of the earthquake that had so devastated the area two years ago. Because so many houses were made of adobe, many of them collapsed completely. Warehouse full of pots and jars were lost that day.

After coming back to Marisol’s house, we ate empanadas that she had made. And while they weren’t enormous in size, they were gigantic in flavor. We praised them to no end while we scarfed them down; the secret was in not washing your hands before preparing the dough, she joked. I ate four and probably could have eaten more, not necessarily because I was hungry, but because they simply tasted so good. We ate them with pebre, a sort of Chilean pico de gallo salsa made from herbs and very finely diced tomatoes, which made it the first time I’d eaten empanadas with any type of sauce at all, but it just seemed to fit. After letting the food settle for a bit, we bid our farewells and piled back onto the bus (which had some difficulty getting back out of the village due to the narrow streets).

We got back to Santiago around 8:40 pm, full, satisfied and content. The trip, like the previous trips with IFSA-Butler, had been a rich and fulfilling experience.

Enjoy the pictures!

That’s all for now, chao, ¡hasta luego!


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