Monday, March 8, 2010

Harto Ha Pasado...

Other than the update on the earthquake, it's been almost 3 months since I actually went through and described what's been happening in my life. I'm halfway considering just letting it stay in the past and turning a bit more away from a daily narrative and a bit more toward an observation journal, but I think I'd like to sum up what's happened, even if it ends up being extremely long, condensed, or both.

I wrote my last blog right before I went off to a lakehouse on Lago Villarrica (between Villarrica and Pucón). I was there for 2 weeks and it was fairly fun. It was a bit of a shock going from a few weeks travelling without and away from my family to being exclusively with them for two weeks, but it's gorgeous there and I had a good time, mostly just lying out on the beach.
Some highlights:
A wee-hours-of-the-morning outing on the lake with my brothers friend in a little rowboat;
Seeing Chancho en Piedra, a Chilean band with a really good bassist;
Playing cacho (a game with dice) and hanging with the cousins;
Winning $20 in my first and only jaunt into a Casino;
Conversing with Hube, the nana (maid, more or less);
Driving down the main street of Villarrica with a Piñera flag sticking out the sunroof, honking the horn, as we came to town just as that day's presidential election results were announced (the Donoso-Azocar family likes Piñera very much).Actually Piñera deserves a lot more mention, so I'll throw in at least a tidbit more. Piñera is from the right. Chile hasn't had a president from the right since democracy was restored after General Pinochet. Among other things, that means that anyone who didn't vote before 1955 and who has always voted for the right has never voted for a winning presidential candidate. Both of my last host-parents were in that catergory.

When I got back from Pucón, I expected to change families right away. However, because of various confusions and complications, I didn't end up changing for another week and a half. It was a bit surreal leaving the other house behind and really turning the page to another chapter, but I'm really happy with my new house/family. They're very very warm and friendly.

After just a couple of days with them, I headed up to Santiago to meet my mom at the airport. The first day, we hung out with some of my friends and relaxed so she could recuperate from the flight. The next day, we saw a whole bunch of Santiago, including Cerro San Cristobal, La Moneda, La Plaza de Armas, and Pablo Neruda's Santiago House, La Chascona. Day 3 consisted of a trip to the nearby mountains, more specifically to Cascada de Animas in Cajon de Maipo, which my mom fell in love with.

Day 4 we headed out to Isla Negra, a pretty little ocean town which is known for being the site of Pablo Neruda's main house. We went there and looked around, and it was cool and had gorgeous scenery, but I have to say I liked the one in Santiago better. From Isla Negra, we headed up to Valparaiso, where we spent the next 3 nights. My mom agrees with me that Valparaiso is a cool place. We did a whole lot of walking there, and got to know the nearest arbitrarilly named and divided hills(they say there are 45 but it just seems like one big thing). Most of our last couple of days in the Valparaiso area was spent in Viña del Mar, the very vacationy foil to the industrial-yet-chic Valparaiso. We went to the synagogue in Viña for shabbas (my first in Chile) and met some nice Jewish folk (the first non-Israeli Jews I'd met in Chile). It was cool to see and the people we met were nice-- they even invited me to come up to Santiago for a good ol' Jewish weekend. Viña was quite happening while we were there because just after we left, the Viña Song Festival started, which is kind of a really big deal. Among the things that were there as part of the excitement were huge hoards of people, an airshow, and an orchestra playing in the street for tips.

After Valparaiso and Viña, we headed south to Chiloé-- a beautiful green island that has retained a distinct flavor, culture, and mystical ambience. After an overnight busride, we came to Ancud, where 10 minutes after arriving in our hostel, we jumped in a van and took advantage of some last minute cancellations to go on a penguin tour boat ride. Our other touristy adventure was a kayak trip across the Bay of Ancud (it has another name, but that's what everyone called it) and back through a really cool American ex-pat run tourist agency, but we also did a good bit of exploring of the town on our own. I think our coolest find was a restaurant called "El Mundo de la Papa" which translates to "The World of the Potato". Every single dish on the menu used potato as its main ingredient, in celebration of the fact that there are more than 300 species of potato native to Chiloé. It actually all tasted quite good, even the chocolate potato cake.
From Ancud, we headed south to Castro, where we stayed in a palafitos-- a house on stilts. I chatted a lot with deskclerk there-- he's a sculptor and a really cool guy. Check out his blog if you're interested in seeing his art. From Castro, we took a guided bike trip to the National Park on the intensely-green west coast of Chiloé. Like just about everyone else we met who worked in the tourist industry in Chiloé, our guide was really nice and genuinely interesting. He biked with us while his 6 month pregnant wife followed the route in a truck with food and water and such. She was actually even cooler than he was.

The next day we took a bus out to Dalcahue and the Quinchao Island, where you can find little villages and what are probably the most genuine crafts in Chile. Lots of cool stuff made from wool, including some sweet slippers with a sheep skin sole (fur on the inside) and a woven top.
From Castro, we headed to the Chepú Valley, in the Northwestern corner of Chiloé. It is known for it's sunken forests-- rivers full of dead trees, killed by salt water that came with the tsunami of the Earthquake of Valdivia in 1960 (strongest earthquake ever recorded). We stayed in a cabin in an ecocampsite run by two genuine characters. The owners, a married couple, had fled to nature from Santiago and started all kinds of conservation projects in the area. They came off as a bit passive aggressive, which I think is a result of what their campsite was going through. They'd put up the campsite just to be for backpackers so that they could experience the pristine beauty of the area, but just last year they were featured in Lonely Planet, which is making them figure out how they're going to deal with a larger amount of customers, and more than that, a clientèle that's less into roughing it than the backpackers that they're used to. It's a bit of a predicament for them considering that they're extremely hardcore environmentalists and also half-way retired and not wanting to work too much. That was a long tangent.

Anyway, we were staying there at Chepu when the earthquake hit. You should read my last entry for the details on that. In the morning, we went kayaking in the sunken forest, before realizing how serious things were and making our way immediately to Ancud and then to Puerto Varas.

We stayed in Puerto Varas for a few days, as a way to pass the time before we could catch a bus north. The view from Puerto Varas's lakefront is truly absoultely breathtaking. A gorgeous lake with several volcanoes peaking out behind it. We mostly just explored the town and lazed about, but we did have one day of big adventure-- in the morning we hiked around the foothills of a volcano( a gorgeous trail) to some absolutely stunning waterfalls. The waterfalls weren't so much cascades as overgrown rapids, but the power and the color of the water made it a site to see. Just after the hike, we went white water rafting. We put in just a bit below the falls, and the rafting was great. My mom was terrified and pretty pessimistic before we started, but we both ended up having a really good time.

After another overnight bus ride, we arrived Santiago, where we found that all the things we were planning on doing were closed. We did go to a nice market/cultural center for the afternoon, then dilly-dallied around the centro for a while until my mom had to catch her bus to the airport. We said our goodbyes, she went to the just-reopened-for-international-flights airport and I jumped on a bus back to Curicó.

Arriving in Curicó at 11:00 was quite a shock. I didn't realize it, but Curicó was under a midnight curfew, so there were already lots of cops, military police, firemen, and other types of sirened vehicles patrolling the streets. I got home, glad to see my family safe and sound, and slept like a baby. I spent the next couple of weeks pretty much just helping out (details on the first days in the last entry), mostly at the red cross, and then occasionally grabbing a meal with friends afterwards. Several truckloads of aid came from the North, which meant there were several truckloads to unload, sort, and assemble into packages that we could distribute.

I also went on a few outings with the red cross. The first one was a trip to Iloca, the closest beach town which was hit really hard. We went around interviewing people to see what was needed. The damage and the sadness that we found there were tremendous.

Our second trip was to a rural town just outside of Curicó where we went to distribute supplies, just for an afternoon.

Our third Red Cross outing was much bigger. Liz (an exchange student in Curicó from Michigan) and I went with some other Red Cross youth volunteers to help out in a field hospital in Hualañé for a week. Half of the hospital there had collapsed, so the Red Cross brought in a team of Spaniards to set up a clinic. Most of our time there was spent taking down tents and putting up sturdier, bigger, and more weatherproof tents so that the hospital would better be able to function during Chile's upcoming rainy winter. I also spent some time helping out the doctors. The concept of the hospital was actually pretty cool. About 25 Spaniards came with all the supplies and know-how to run and set up a hospital.With the help of about the same number of Chilean volunteers, they set things up and got the hospital running. After a month, the team of Spaniards left and 12 new Spaniards arrived, also to stay for a month. The idea is that the hospital gradually loses its dependence on the Spaniards, and after a month more, it should be running but with only Chilean labor. Helping out there was a really good experience because on top of being able to help out in a meaningful way, I met some really cool people, both Chilean and Spanish (I'm definitely going to take advantage of my open invitation to stay in Barcelona).

There's still a lot to go for me to catch up to today (a Rotary trip to the North, starting at my new school, etc.) but I'm gonna go ahead and post here so that A. this post isn't too absurdly long, and B. I can finally get something posted.

three things that are different here
1. Pretty much everyone has a couple of round scars on their bicep from immunizations. What kind, I don't know.

2. Racial sensitivities are different. Look at this shoe store's name and image.
3. Everyone brushes their teeth after every meal. When people eat lunch at school, there's a nice social group brushing afterward.

Keep tuned!

Saturday, March 6, 2010


I've been without a functional computer since mid-January, so there's a whole whole whole lot to catch up on. However, that extensive recap has to wait a little bit longer. This entry is a quick jump out of my narrative to address in a timely fashion the thing that most people are concerned about--the earthquake.

When the earthquake hit, at 3:34 AM on Saturday the 27th of February, I was fast asleep in my bed. I stayed fast asleep. I was with my mom(dear Roz Becker was visiting from the USA) in a cabin in the rural river valley of Chepu on Chiloe Island, about 430 miles (700 kilometers) south of the epicenter. I woke up the next mornging around 7:30 when a friend from Curicó, Francisco, called me. He asked me where I was and how I was. In my very gravelly I-just-woke-up voice, I told him I was fine in Chiloe, and asked him the same. He told me he was in Curicó, and that there had been an earthquake. I thought little of it-- he didn't tell me any details and the power was out so I couldn't get any news. Carefree, I went kayaking with my mom. When I came back, the power had returned and from the minute of TV I managed to snag, I realized what a catastrophe it was. I was worried. My new host family was in Concepcion, 71 miles (115 kilometers) south of the epicenter, and Curicó where I have been living for 6 months and have many friends, is less than 100 miles (160 kilometers) from the epicenter. Both were all over the news. Internet was down and cell phone service and signal were both extremely patchy. My mom was scheduled to fly out the next night, and we had bus tickets to Santiago for that night (we actually almost booked the bus for the night before, which would have left us incredibly close to the epicenter at the moment the earthquake struck). We managed to talk to the airline, found out that the airport was closed for at least the next couple of days, and managed to reschedule her to the next available flight-- Thursday.

We decided that the best course of action was to head into Ancud, the nearby town, to talk to the bus company and try to be able to get connected. When we got there, the bus company told us that becuase of all of the bridges that were down and other road obstacles, there weren't any buses heading to Santiago yet, but if we came back the next evening, they'd know what's going on. After that, we went back to our hostel and checked the internet. When I checked my email and my facebook, I realized that many people back home were extremely worried. My mom and I were both a little taken aback-- we hadn't really seen anything on TV, hadn't gotten news from anywhere else, and hadn't been affected by the earthquake in anyway other than being without power, internet, and sure travel plans. It was very comforting that so many people cared (thanks!), but it really made a lot of the seriousness of what had happen sink in. We reassured everyone that we were okay, then waited to figure out what the best course of action was.

When we went back to the bus station, they told us that the first available bus was to leave Wednesday night (this was on Sunday), so, we decided to pass the days in Puerto Varas (great city, but that's for the next blog) until we could get north. In Puerto Varas, it was surreal knowing what had happened because the only evidence of the terremoto there was the absurdly long line at the one gas station that had gas(it goes well past what you can see in the photo). Other than that it was life as usual there, although with a cloud of worry always hovering nearby. The bus was overnight, so we saw little damage en route. When we got to Santiago, there was also little to see, but we were affected. Several places we intended to go were closed, though I believe it was all for the havoc wreaked within the building and not for structural damage. At the end of the day, after my mom had headed of to the airport (3 hours early because the terminal had been torn up by the quake), I took the last bus home to Curicó.

I arrived at about 11:30 to something quite different than I was used to. As we entered the centro, I saw many houses with crumbling facades, crumbling roofs, was expecting to take a colectivo home (they generally run till midnight) but none came. Therand a few that had collapsed quite entirely. There were also very few people out, and a ton of government/emergency/police vehicles with their lights flashing. I didn't know, but there was a midnight curfew imposed on the area to prevent the looting that was prevalent in many affected regions. That night, after I got back to my house, I heard some of what had happened to my family in Concepción, and felt my first earthquake/tremor/aftershock ever. Actually, my first three within 35 minutes, measurinng 5.7, 5.2, and 4.9, respectively. Replicas (Aftershocks) are still quite frequent here. Although I don't think any of them have been strong enough to be destructive--none have been over 7 and very few have been over 6.

The next day, when I went into the centro, I brought my camera as I went around taking in all of the damage.
I've spent the last couple of days helping out-- one day I helped put together a house's foundation using the rubble from a house that had collapsed with a side-trip to see the damage around the little town that we went toand yesterday and today I helped unload, sort, and package donated food that came through Chilean Red Cross.
There are a lot of people helping, and while there remains a lot of disorganization, some things are pretty incredible given that only a week has passed. For instance, a star-studded, entertaining, and heart-felt, 24 hour telethon was put together, broadcast on every channel, and raised over 60 million US dollar, doubling its goal. Money and manpower are the things that the various organizations helping out need most, and as I figure most of you reading aren't close enough to offer your time, below are a few ways that you can help out monetarilly. Also, keep your eyes and ears open because I'm working with some other exchange students here and Rotary to start our own relief fund.

By Text Message
For anyone in the US, send a message to 90999 to donate $10 US to the Red Cross (I believe it will be charged to your cell phone bill)

Click here to easily donate to Un Techo para Chile (A Roof for Chile), the organization that's already very active and evident on the ground building houses for those who have lost their own, and distributing the necessities to those in need.

Bank Transfer (I feel like this is the option that will be less used, but just in case)
Here is the bank information for donations to Un Techo para Chile (described above) from the US:

Cuenta 0-051-000-8500-5
Banco Santander Chile
RUT: 65.533.130-1
Dirección: Bandera 140
Santiago, Chile

Información Banco Intermediario
Cuenta: 2000192290409
ABA: 026005092

And to wrap things up, here's the photo that all of Chile has been rallying around