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

Valdivia, part 1 (of 4?) and the end of the school year is really here

¡Hola todos!

November 1st and 2nd, All Saint’s Day and National Day of the Protestant and Evangelical Churches, respectively, are public holidays here in Chile. IFSA-Butler used this opportunity to take us on a 4 day trip to the south of the country, to the capital of the Region of the Rivers, Valdvia.

I took 1272 pictures. It was awesome. From the 12 hour bus ride there to the 15 hour bus ride back to Santiago via a short stop to visit a Mapuche school, the trip was packed to the brim with amazing experiences and breath-taking views. Because the trip was so long and because these next few weeks will be insane, school work wise (we are approaching the end of the semester after all; all of my classes except my Spanish one end by November 23rd), I definitely won’t be able to fit everything into one blog post. I will try, instead, to write it all out piecemeal, to make it more manageable for me and you, my dear reader. But I also realize that, as my mind is fickle thing and my memory no longer what it used to be only a few short years ago, I will forget things, will forget probably critical information, will forget details. Some of the events are already fading into the mists of obscurity that cloud my memory, and I just came back yesterday (obviously this part was written a while ago! It’s even worse now, two weeks later). I hope you will forgive me and hope you will be able to make do with what I do, in fact, remember.

We left Santiago on Wednesday the 31st, around 11 pm. I had done basically all of my packing in the few hours before. I just stuffed a lot of clothes into a duffle bag, packed some toiletries and filled my backpack with a lot of homework that I didn’t look at until the last two hours of the drive back to Santiago. Two quick points. First, I stupidly did not take IFSA-Butler’s advice to take a backpacking backpack to Chile. Bad idea. Traveling is much, much easier that way. My duffle bag was probably one of the more unwieldy pieces of luggage anyone took on the trip. Second, I packed way too many clothes. I had looked up the weather beforehand, which was a step in the right direction (Although I was a Boy Scout, I’m usually known more for my lack of planning rather than for being prepared), but I overestimated how much I would actually need, which in reality wasn’t that much. The trip was only four days, after all. Anyways, I digress.

I had planned on doing homework on the 10 to 12 hour (depending on traffic coming out of Santiago, it was a holiday after all) ride, but I sharply underestimated my ability to fall asleep when it is dark out, which I promptly did, and remained that way for almost the whole ride. We arrived in Valdivia, which is located on the spit of land between two rather wide rivers, the Río Calle-Calle and the Río Cau-Cau, which unite to form the Río Valdivia, around 11 am the next day. We ate a buffet breakfast at a restaurant before taking a walking tour around the city (our guide, a friend of Isa’s and director of the Mapuche school we visited later on our journey had actually already joined up with us in Santiago). Valdivia really is not that large, and there were definitely not as many people walking around the streets as there would be Santiago, although this could have been because the 1st was a holiday. We went to the Anwandter house and – oh my mind has already slipped. I forgot to explain that Validivia is a town with a rich German heritage (it is known for its German style kuchen deserts and also beers, but more about that later) due to campaigns by the Chilean government at the end of the 19th century to bring German immigrants to the area, offering them land and Chilean citizenship as an incentive for coming to Chile (as I learned in my Chilean Foreign Policy class, Germans were considered particularly good  immigrants due to their reputation as well organized, hard workers willing to assimilate to their host culture). The Anwandters opened up a famous brewery in Validivia, but their business was unfortunately destroyed by the great tsunami and earthquake of 1960 (which really had a huge impact on the area and the city in particular, completely destroying several coastal villages and severely damaging Valdivia. The earthquake which caused it is, at 9.5, the largest ever recorded).

Afterwards we went to the market by the river, which boasted almost every type of vegetable or fruit imaginable, a lot of fish, clams and mussels, and even some seaweed on sale. We had earlier decided to cook and eat together that night, as it would be cheaper, and so bought lots of the vegetables we would need.
After leaving the market, we were finally able to drop off our things at our hotel, which turned out to be made up of small apartments that could sleep four each (they had two floors! On the first floor was the kitchen and living room, and on the second room there were two bedrooms and the bathroom). Because there are only three boys in the program, we got an apartment (this type of hotel is usually called a cabaña here) to ourselves.

Our next stop was a park on the grounds of the Universidad Austral de Chile, the largest university in Validiva, which is actually known as being one of the larger student centers in Chile, which isn’t really saying all that much because of how Santiago really sucks in the majority of Chile’s higher education. We walked around for a while and just enjoyed the nice weather (we were lucky; it usually rains constantly in Valdivia, but it only rained once during our four days there, and then not even that much. It’s also much cooler in the south, so we were able to escape the heat wave that enveloped Santiago while we were gone).
After leaving the park, we went to the Castillo de la Pura y Limpia Concepción de Monfort de Lemus, also simply known as Fuerte, or Castillo Niebla (much easier to say). It was part of the Spanish fortification system constructed in the 1700s to protect Corral bay (and thereby Valdivia, as it was the only way to access the city, which was, and still is, surrounded by Mapuche land) from pirates and English and Dutch privateers. Because of its fearsome reputation (the cross fire from the various forts and castillos would have been murderous) it was never actually attacked until the Chilean war of independence. Because the south of Chile was a Royalist stronghold, O’Higgins, leader of the Chilean army, wanted Valdivia out of the way. He hired Admiral Thomas Cochrane, a former British Admiral, to form the new Chilean navy. Knowing that a frontal assault would be suicidal, he managed to take the fort system through a very ingenious, non-confrontational manner, disguising his three ships as Spanish vessels (by flying the Spanish flag and making advantage of the heavy fog the area is known for [Niebla means fog in Spanish]). By the time the Spanish had realized that these were not, in fact, their ships, it was too late and 350 Chilean troops had already landed. They proceeded to roll up the fort line on the opposite side of the bay from Fuerte Niebla, taking the principal fortress, Castillo de San Sebastián de la Cruz Fort late on the fourth of February, 1820. Although they expected to have to fight hard the next day to take the forts on the other side of the bay, they discovered, upon waking, that the Spanish troops had abandoned the fortifications and retreated to Valdivia, which fell soon afterward.
Anywho, the fort was awesome. I love history, and especially military history, and this definitely ticked all the right boxes. Unfortunately we did not have a lot of time in the small, but quite excellent museum located in a reconstructed building (most of what was left consisted of ruins more than anything else, though seven of the original cannons did remain. The other seven were taken by Lord Cochrane as loot and payment for his services).

After leaving the fort, we went to the Cervecería Kunstmann, which is the virtual, if not direct, successor of the Anwandter family’s brewing business. They have a restaurant and a very, very small museum, which is quite interesting despite its tininess and even has some rather random pictures of Validiva before and after the terremote (earthquake) and maremoto (means shaking water, I assume).

After coming home, we all worked together to cook dinner, which consisted of huge amounts of vegetable stir-fry with chicken. It was delicious.

Last Sunday, the 11th of November, I went to my host brother’s first communion. Because it was at his colegio, I got to see his school, which is rather nice actually, as much as an enclosed compound can be (it has to be though, it’s in the center of a city after all). Also, from the fact that the first communion was celebrated there (in the gymnasium, by the way. The chapel would have been too small for all the people), you can probably tell that it’s a religious school (equivalent of a so-called Catholic school in the United States, probably), with its own priest, Padre Jaime. Who, incidentally, used the homily to admonish the parents of the celebrants of the first communion for never or only rarely going to church themselves, which actually is quite a problem in Chile (for the Catholic Church at least). The vast majority of Chileans identify as Catholic, but only a small part of that group actually attends church regularly. Padre Jaime talked about the need for parents to be a good role model and educate them in the ways of the Catholic faith, which was quite interesting because that was literally what we had spent the last week talking about in my Matrimonio, Familia y Sexualidad class.

Oh I forgot to talk about the Tour de los Derechos Humanos that we did on the 9th! Shoot. That will have to wait till next time; I really wanted to put something up today.
Also, I told you all I was busy: I started writing this blog on the 5th, almost immediately upon coming back to Santiago, but I didn’t have time to finish it until now. And it’s only one day! I may try to combine days two, three and four into one post, which would be easier for me and probably for you all too. It would mean trimming some things down, but what’s necessary is necessary! Also, quick note on being busy. It’s actually a lot like the US, where things really heat up at the end of the semester, but I would say it’s even more of a shock to the system than it is there, because you do so little here besides simply listen to lectures during the greater part of the semester (but then again, that’s based on my experience at a very small college, everyone’s experiences are different!). It’s also interesting that there seem to be no final exams, at least in the classes I am taking. I mean, the final test is really the “final exam,” but although there is an official exam period at la Católica that extends until the first week of December, nobody I know actually has an exam during this time.

¡Chao for now!

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