In June, Chile experiences winter of course, being in the southern hemisphere. It seemed somewhat surreal to know that our friends and family in North America were involved in summer vacations and long warm days, whereas, in Chile we found the daylight short, the nights long and cold, and snow-capped Andes peaks common in the distance. Similar to Argentina, there were very few tourists evident, particularly American, so we were able to practice our Spanish in most encounters. Unfortunately, Chileans speak very rapidly and commonly use many slang terms that just didn’t make any sense translated from our Spanish dictionaries. As an example if a Chilean would like to know where you are from they would ask “Que pais?” that translates literally to “What place?” The area we stayed for a week in Santiago, Barrio Yungay, was a very interesting neighborhood near the city center that was populated by a mixture of recent European and South American immigrants. This provided for a very eclectic atmosphere and there was even a quasi-underground labor union/socialist newspaper center near our rented apartment. Our second week in Chile was divided between Limache, a small agricultural town near coastal Valparaiso, and Talca, a city south of Santiago in the middle of the wine producing district. Interestingly, our rented apartment was in the home of Natasha Scott-Stokes, who in 1989 when she was the ripe old age of 27, undertook and completed a very arduous solo trek from the source of the Amazon River in the Peruvian Andes to the Atlantic discharge of the Amazon. I didn't read her entire book describing the trek, "An Amazon and A Donkey" but it appeared to be quite an undertaking especially considering that she was dodging the Shining Path guerrilla group intent on killing any foreigners they came in contact with. My understanding of Chilean history is very shallow, but visiting with the many Chileans and expatriates during our stay, they painted a picture of frustrated lower/middle class citizens impatient for social equality and economic opportunity. I was not very proud of my American citizenship after learning of the CIA role in the overthrow of the previous Chilean president, Salvador Allende, and installation of the military dictatorship of Augusto Pinochet. There is a very sobering museum in Santiago, “Museo de la Memoria y los Derechos Humanos”, that provides a chronicle of the human right abuses against opponents of Pinochet’s regime including widespread detention, torture, imprisonment, and execution of thousands of people. A very dark period in Chile’s history. Now, after the reinstallation of a democratic government, there still is some unrest in the population waiting for more even distribution of wealth from the less than 1% of the population representing the “old family money”, who own most large Chilean corporations, heavily influence politicians, and enjoy a very affluent, privileged life style. That may be a bit of a Marxist viewpoint, but it does represent the opinion of the majority we visited with. The Andes mountains in Chile are stunning and in addition to the scenic beauty, provide Chile with their main source of economic clout - mining. There is a tension however between pro-development of more mining projects and the citizens that want to protect the mountain environment. Again, similar problems to what we face in the United States.
Santiago has some districts filled with modern glass/steel high-rise office buildings, Starbuck's coffee shops, and high end shopping indistinguishable from Los Angeles, but in the city center area of Barrio Yungay where we stayed many of the Spanish colonial buildings were in various stages of repair or renovation. This building was a good example of one not quite entering the renovation phase, but it provided a nice exposure to the adobe brick construction of the walls, essentially consisting of mud brick filling the wall space. This is great for holding heat in the winter and cool in the summer, but if there is ever a water leak the bricks can be reduced to mud and a molten mass of problems within the walls.
Chile has a long history of political activism and inequality of financial rewards, as evidenced most recently by the nationwide strike of all public school teachers. This situation is depicted by this banner placed in the school windows by occupying teachers stating, "Professors Escuela Panama en Paro" or "Panama Teachers on Strike". When we were in Santiago, all public schools were shuttered and in some cases occupied by teachers striking for higher wages and a more fair retirement system. Apparently $750/month, the average teachers salary, provides an unsustainable wage considering Chile's inflating cost of living.
Not the most interesting photo of the entrance to the Museum of the Memory and Human Rights, but no photographs were allowed inside. We left this museum after a couple hours filled with the same disappointment in humanity as felt after viewing the Holocaust Museum in Washington, D.C. It is very disappointing and frightening to see how inhuman and cruel people can be to other humans when driven by fear and sense of justice. There were thousands of Chileans that "disappeared" during the reign of Augusto Pinochet from 1974 - 1990, some politically active but other guilty only of being a teacher or an intellectual. This period has placed a scar on the Chilean psychic that is still healing. I was a little ashamed to think that when all these atrocities were being committed I was quite comfortable as a young college student or raising a family, oblivious to the sufferings of this population.
This is the reservoir comprising the headwaters of the Alto Maipo Hydroelectric Project high in the Chilean Andes mountains. Anticipating a nice place to hike in the mountains, our taxi driver guide led us to this "dead end road" constructed for the sole purpose of enabling dam and tunnel construction to enhance hydroelectric power potential. There will eventually be a 70 kilometer runner (up to 8 meters in diameter) cut through this mountain to funnel water in attempts to generate power and assist in mining operations. Obviously development is necessary unless we all turn off our electricity, but there was considerable controversy about this project as citizens decried destruction of dinosaur fossil sites by the reservoir and excessive tunneling operations through the mountains.
More free range horses moving down the mountain valley to feed and shelter. Not sure what they eat up here, as there was very little forage available, but our guide, Fabien assured us that in the summer rainy season this entire valley can be filled with luxurious green carpets of grass. Chile was in a severe drought when we visited - good for sightseeing but tough on the livestock and ski industries.
These Tonka Toy-like trucks were actually quite massive and were building a mountain of newly excavated gypsum near our hike. Even though it is difficult to witness the defacement of the mountains with this kind of mining activity, I am as guilty as anyone of wanting to use gypsum board (alias "sheet rock") in building my home. It was pretty sobering though seeing the extending of the mining operations farther up the valley that was necessary to obtain this amount of gypsum.
Finally reached the lagoon formed from the melt waters of the El Morado glacier with a nice view of the rapidly receding glacier much higher up the mountain. Similar to what we saw in New Zealand, these glaciers are a trifle of what they used to be, as they reached far down into the valleys. Hmmm, so there isn't global warming? I'm having a hard time finding any scientific basis to the arguments that our world is not warming up and at a much more rapid rate than ever seen in geological history. Perhaps there could be some arguments as to the cause of the rapid warming, but difficult to ignore these glacial testimonials unless of course one has his head in the sand!
As we wound up the mountain path ever closer to the glacier, Fabien our guide would provide little morsels of information about the mountain fauna and flora, like the use of crushed rose hips to make "itching powder". To think that I had easy access to a great practical joke all these years and never had the knowledge to execute! Can you imagine a handful of these crushed rose hips tossed into your unsuspecting friend's sleeping bag after a long, arduous day of hiking? Probably not a good way to maintain a friendship.
At the Limache, Chile local market on Sunday morning, specifically at the fish market. That impressive slab of fish in the front bin is swordfish from off the Chilean coast. An amazing panorama of seafood included mollusks, clams, and all types of fish. We selected a couple of fish (can't remember the specific name in Spanish), watched the vendor deftly fillet them in a matter of seconds, and enjoyed fresh fish that evening pan-fried in olive oil. Muy delicioso! It seems that every town in South American, regardless of the country, sports a local market once, twice, or daily where most of the local people do their shopping of produce, meat, fish, and even some clothes and household goods. Low overhead and not much sales tax collected!
Considering it was winter in Chile, the daytime temperatures were quite comfortable reaching into the 60's and 70's F, however, evening was a little different story. Most of the homes in Chile, including our rented apartments had no central heat and in most cases no heat at all for the simple reason that people can more easily afford an extra sweater rather than heating bills. During this "hot breakfast" Cindy is basking in the 36 degree F ambient temperature waiting for the sun to rise and provide some solar heat. In the photo, Cindy must have been holding her breath because on this morning there was very evident vapor trails from all of us. We had to stop watching the California summer forecasts and imaging the warm beach scene in Cardiff - just too depressing.
Throughout Chilean cities, particularly Santiago and Valparaiso, graffiti artists appear to have free rein in providing decorations on any available concrete surface. This includes doors, government buildings, residences, and retaining walls. Most of the art is very well done and quite beautiful, but I'm not sure I would be so appreciative if I woke up one morning to see the side of my house or outer wall adorned with a painting that I didn't condone. It is definitely part of the Chilean culture, so most Chileans just shrug their shoulders and try to enjoy the art along with the tourists.
This display was from the Santiago Pre-Columbian Museum, a wonderful collection of ancient South American cultural artifacts such as this mummified child. Apparently over 7,000 years ago a group of northern Chile people, the Chinchorro, developed a complex and effective method of mummification using surgical techniques to replace the body's soft parts and organs with branches, plants, and mud. This is even older than the ancient Egyptian mummification process, and unlike Egyptian mummification that was reserved for only royalty, the Chilean Chinchorro culture provided mummification for all individuals regardless of societal rank. Apparently in this culture there was active worship and consultation with dead ancestors, so the mummification provided a method of retaining the presence of the deceased person. Perhaps not so unlike our Memorial Day visits to cemeteries to convene with our deceased loved ones, but with more portability.