Are we there yet? Ya llegamos?… After six hours on a bus, we had finally reached our destination: La Serena.
It was a Wednesday afternoon, and I was just waking up from a nap on the bus. To be honest, I was quite tired because my mom, brother-in-law, sister, and her friend came to visit me the previous week. I was very excited to see them, and they had a great time sightseeing, sampling the local cuisine, and exploring the nightlife of Chile. Among other things, I took them to Los Dominicos Handicraft Village, Bellavista, Cerro San Cristobal, and La Moneda. La Moneda is essentially the White House of Chile. The only difference is that no one lives there, not even the President, Michelle Bachelet (yes, Chile elected a female president before the United States). Actually, Chilean history is quite interesting, but if you’re not in the mood for a brief history lesson at the moment, please skip the following paragraphs:
The Chilean economy developed much more rapidly than any other country in Latin America because after the War of the Pacific (around 1880), Chile gained control of a region that had nitrate. The war was against Bolivia and Peru, and there is still bad blood between these countries over this (as well as whose national drink is pisco….). Chile was the only producer of nitrate, until the Germans became producing it artificially during WWI, killing the economy. That is until copper came to the rescue! Phew!
Salvador Allende was the president of Chile in the early 1970s but then he started pushing an extremely socialist agenda, so with U.S. support, Pinochet led a coup on September 11 (how ironic), 1973 against Allende, even bombing part of La Moneda. This essentially put Chile on the political map for the rest of the world. Pinochet ruled for the next 17 years. He started his rule by setting curfew, but he ultimately took away human rights like no one could have ever imagined. He arrested and killed thousands, resulting in the disappearance of countless people. And yet, Chileans today are still 50/50 over whether they approve of Allende or Pinochet.
Back to the story…. this was our main trip through our study abroad program, IFSA. With its sandy beaches and rolling hills, La Serena has become a popular tourist destination, especially during the summer months. But it was not summer anymore, and I would often feel that when we would walk around as a large group of gringos, we were a spectacle for the local residents. We did a little sightseeing on our own in this city, as well as in Vicuna. But the main points of interest that we visited were two observatories, Cerro Mamalluca Observatory and Cerro Tololo Inter-American Observatory, as well as la pisquera Capel.
The view from the observatories was incredible. In the same shot, I could see the barren desert, with clusters of cacti interspersed between the sand, and the snow-capped mountains. And using the telescopes at the observatory, I was able to take see (and take pictures of!) the moon and Saturn, including its rings!!
Vicuña, a city in the north of Chile and the birthplace of the famous Chilean poet Gabriela Mistral, is known as a major producer of pisco. CAPEL has a distillery in this zone, and we toured the facility, seeing all the different types of pisco products.
In the end, I had a wonderful time on this trip, but as usual, I couldn’t wait to return to Santiago. This is my home away from home.
Tags: chile, College Study Abroad, IFSA-Butler