Valdivia, part 3 (and part 4, I guess); also, the end is nigh, seriously
Our third day in Valdivia we went to Parque Oncol, which is about an hour or two (I can’t quite remember, all I remember is that it was very bumpy, as the majority of the time we were driving on a dusty gravel road) away from the city. Parque Oncol is a park like many others, really. There are lots of trees and places to hike and camp. About half of the group (me included) decided to go zip lining (which, at 7.000 pesos, or about 14 dollars, wasn’t that expensive), which was really cool, especially because the view there (like basically in all of Chile really, I shouldn’t even have to mention this by now, really) is simply awe-inspiring. Some of the group went hiking for about two hours, but I had twisted my ankle quite badly in my soccer class the Wednesday before we left so I didn’t want to risk it. And it gave me the chance to work on my reading for my Política Exterior essay. Which is to say, take a nap in the blazing sun (don’t worry, I only waited to put my jacket over my face until after I felt my nose start to blister). When they returned from their short trek, we left Parque Oncol the same way we had come (although it took forever for our bus to make it out of the parking lot, which was decidedly tiny). But this time, instead of driving straight back to Valdivia, we stopped at a farm that we had passed on our way to the parque, which belonged to a Mapuche family. I’m not sure if I have written much about the Mapuche, but I will try to give you all a bit of an introduction. The Mapuche are the indigenous people of Chile. They lived there long before the Spaniards came, and even before the Incas. The Incan empire managed to subjugate the very northern parts of Mapuche territory, which is now the north of Chile, coming so far as the valley of the River Mapocho, where Santiago now lies, but only in the few decades immediately prior to the arrival of the Spaniards, and were repulsed in their attempts to penetrate deeper into Mapuche territory. Suffice to say that the Mapuche were a people that had always been free, and although Pedro de Valdivia (who founded Santiago and started the conquest of Chile, and after whom Valdivia is named) managed to push them to below the River Biobio, once he tried to go even forever he was stopped in his tracks (and died at the Battle of Tucapel in 1553, in fact). For almost the entirety of the Colonial period, the Spanish and the Mapuche were involved in a terrible war, whose result was quasi-independence and autonomy for the Mapuche people. After the Chilean independence, things didn’t really improve for the Mapuche however, and in 1861, Chilean military forces invaded the Auracanía, as the Mapuche’s territory was called by the Spanish. The so-called “Pacification of the Auracanía” lasted until 1883 and ended with Chilean control (but not complete, as areas of insecurity still remained long into the 20th century) of the Mapuche territory. The Mapuche, like Native Americans in the United States, are, nowadays, predominantly poor. Their land has been taken from them, their traditions and ways of life destroyed (especially under the Pinochet regime). The Chilean government and the Mapuche are still involved in an on-going conflict regarding their rights, as Chilean citizens and as members of an indigenous people still trying to recapture their heritage (particularly their native language, Mapudungun)
So, back to the farm. It was really cool to talk to the owner and his wife, both of whom were definitely getting on in years (their daughter and granddaughter were there as well). We ate dinner, which consisted of tortillas made in a real hearth (but these weren’t what you would think of as tortillas, they were very thick, more like bread really), traditional Mapuche bread made out of wheat (which grows abundantly in Chile and was once it’s prime export), empanadas with seaweed filling and delicious fried sopaipillas. I definitely ate my fill (and took some leftovers with me for the bus ride back to Santiago). The owner told us about the time when you had to ride on horseback to Valdivia, when everything was so much more rural and took so much longer (it still is very rural, but at least now a micro goes to Valdivia once a week). He told us about the Mapuche shamans, about how they worked, so mysteriously effective (probably because they only took cases that it seemed like they could fix, someone pointed out). He told us that he grew up speaking Spanish because Mapudungun was forbidden in schools (recently efforts have been made to resurrect the dying language, together with the efforts to try to keep alive other traditions of the Mapuche people). His daughter and granddaughter told us about the Mapudungun lessons they take, and about how it is to be Mapuche in current Chilean society (the daughter is an elementary school teacher). They are all proud to be Mapuche.
It was an interesting experience. Definitely eye-opening.
For most of the fourth day we drove back to Santiago. But because we had several short stops planned on the way, we had to leave super early (we had to be in the bus by 7:10 am! Which was something we didn’t actually manage – it was funny, you’d think it would be the girls that would have difficulty getting ready in time, but no, it was definitely us boys that held the whole thing up). Around noon we stopped at the school of which our guide (I’ve forgotten her name, and it’s really bothering me) was the director, together with her husband, who met us there (in fact, they live in a house on school property). While he showed us around, letting us into some of the classrooms and the computer lab and telling us about the history of the school and what they are trying to accomplish there, Isa explained to me that before they came (one has to apply for the directorship in a competitive process, and then one stays in the position for a period of 5 years) the school was very run down and dirty, as the directors of the time had gotten fed up with all the bureaucratic hoops one has to jump through (you can’t even buy toilet paper without consulting the government first), and pretty much gave up. But it looks really nice now, as you can see from the pictures, even with some improvement projects going on. And as it is a Mapuche school, there is a traditional Mapuche house on the school grounds, where they hold all manners of ceremonies so that the children can learn about their heritage. After taking a group picture by the entrance, and dropping off some things we had collected in Santiago for the children there, we got back on the bus. Our only other stop on the way to Santiago was right by the road, near some type of playground. It was really more just a break to stretch our legs and enjoy the views the place offered of the sea, which were of course, ah but you already know what I am going to say. You can see so yourself in the pictures. Although originally scheduled to get back around 11 pm, our little side excursions and some traffic coming into Santiago meant that we didn’t actually get back until well after midnight. But it was well worth it in the end.
And I’m really sorry that report is so short. My memory and all. I mean, what did I eat for breakfast today? No clue.
In other news, I’m done with school. I had my last Spanish class this past Thursday and this coming Tuesday is the Cena de Despedida or Goodbye Dinner. It’s scary really. I have two more weeks in Chile. I don’t think I’m quite ready yet to reflect on my time here; that will probably have to wait until I am back home. All I know is that I wish I had more time here. I don’t fly back until the 16th of December, so I still have some time before I have to return. I’m planning a trip to the city of La Serena and its surroundings in the Norte Chico and then a short excursion to the southern Patagonia, which I’m really, really excited for. I’ve been stuck in a sort of limbo in Santiago since my classes ended, and it’s nice to have something to do again.
Until next time, hopefully with lots of pretty pictures!