Excursión Sur

After a week back in Valparaíso following our trip to northern Chile, my program had another trip, this time to the south, where we stayed in a rural Mapuche (the largest indigenous group in Chile) community. This trip was in many ways a thematic continuation of our previous trip to Arica and Putre, once again with a focus on the oppression of indigenous groups. We arrived in the community of Chapod, where we were divided into pairs and introduced to our host families. I really liked my host family; my host mom was really caring and friendly, as was my host dad, despite me only understanding about 10% of what he said. I also had two fun and outgoing host brothers, three dogs, three cats, and a bunch of chickens that woke me up far too early every morning and just wandered around freely, somehow unbothered by the other animals, helping me gain a new understanding of the term “free-range.” Chapod had an incredible sense of community. Everyone knew everyone, and though I was part of a specific family, I spent a lot of time with other students’ host families as well. I spent my free time playing soccer and cards with my host brothers and their friends, who were the host brothers of my friends on my program. The other frisbee player on my program and I even taught and played ultimate with them. I also loved the way animals would just wander around freely. My family’s dogs loved to follow me and the other student with my host family around, and I got to know the pets of other nearby families as well. We had gatherings in the nearby ruka (a type of building made of wood and grasses with a ventilated roof so that you can build a fire in it) where we got together as a community to hang out and make and eat sopapillas.

Just being part of the community and living with the families was maybe the best part of our time in Chapod. It was really nice to be in a different setting, in the southern woodlands away from the city. Nothing against Valpo, but I’d almost forgotten how much I love trees and just being in more rural areas in general. We also had some cool activities throughout the week. One day we went to the home of another family a little ways out from Chapod. There we had a class on Mapuche philosophy, which focuses a lot on the wholeness and interconnectedness of life and energy in the universe. One of the large contrasts I noticed between this philosophy and a lot of Western thinking is the role that humans play in the world. Rather than the domination and exploitation that underlies Western thought, Mapuche philosophy treats humans as a part of the larger natural world or cosmos and focuses on connection and respect between humans and nature. Later on, we planted native trees as a group and I even got the chance to feed a baby sheep.

Another day, we worked with some of the hosts from Chapod to gather materials to patch the roof of the Chapod ruka. We cut down these tall, hay-like grasses and then bundled them together using long, sturdy plant fronds, which we then loaded onto a truck to bring back to Chapod. I really liked that we got to work with the families that we stayed with during our time there. In general, I felt much more involved in and connected with the community there than I did during our time in northern Chile. To be fair, this trip lent itself to community engagement a lot more, partially due to the size of the community relative to the much large town of Putre, and partially because our stay in Chapod was a lot longer. Regardless, I felt like our time in Chapod was better overall.

A few days after we arrived in southern Chile, there were massive protests in Santiago over poor living conditions and systematic inequality. They were sparked by an increase in metro fares, but it quickly became apparent that a lot more was going on. The protests have continued ever since and don’t seem like they’re going to stop anytime soon. I’m going to focus a later blog post completely on the protests, but for now I’ll talk about them in the context of our time in the South. It was hard to gauge the reaction of my host family to the protests. My parents didn’t really seem to express opinions on the demonstrations at all, even though we started watching the news together every night around halfway through our time in Chapod. Both of my host brothers attended protests in the nearby city of Temuco after the protests spread to every major city in Chile. They clearly cared about the issues at hand and making real social progress, but to me they still seemed somewhat nonchalant and oddly insulated from the whole ordeal. This could certainly be more a result of a cultural difference where I just misread their reactions, but we were in rural southern Chile where the protests seemed distant, only real through the screen of the TV. It was hard to know exactly how they felt, but I know I certainly felt insulated from everything that was going on. SIT (the organization that runs my program), for one, seemed pretty stoked on the fact that the protests started right at the beginning of our longest trip away from Valpo. It gave them more time to figure out what to do, because of course they wouldn’t want to do anything that would put their poor innocent Americans in danger. For a while, our future was up in the air as they discussed moving our program to Peru or Argentina or keeping us in Chapod for an indefinite amount of time. In the end, we stayed in Pucón, the town where we were originally scheduled to just spend our last two nights of our trip, a total of four nights before returning to Valpo. The mandatory state-enforced curfews and state of emergency status were removed, so they decided it was safe enough for us to return.

So now I’m back in Viña del Mar (the neighboring city to Valpo where I live), with my ability to leave and go about my life freely severely restricted. But at least I’m home. All in all though, it’s an exciting time to be in Chile, and the trip to the south was a good experience.