Long overdue update!

Sorry for the delay in updating, I’ve had a very busy last month!!

For Chile’s Independence Day is September 18th so Mejillones got into the festivities that week. All of the schools performed folk dances i.e. La Cueca and some others from Isle de Pascua (Easter Island) one night in the Cultural Center so we were able to watch our coworkers and students dance in the traditional dress too. Wednesday was the parade, which also included some Cueca dancing, and then students and teachers from all of the schooled marched through.

Then for the long weekend, a group of my friends – other volunteers and one friend we’ve made here in Mejillones – went to San Pedro de Atacama. San Pedro de Atacama is THE tourist spot to go in Chile… where the desert meets the mountains, there are many gorgeous natural sites to see. My first real traveling since arriving in Mejillones, and now I am addicted and can’t wait for our next weekend trips.

To start off with the bad news, my wallet was stolen from my purse while we were in the bus station waiting for our bus to start the amazing trip. So unfortunately, I lost a decent amount of the money that I was finally paid (our stipend for teaching English), as well as student IDs, credit cards, and my license. BUT LUCKILY, I didn’t lose everything. It could have been much worse. I still had my passport, Chilean carnet (ID), and some more money in my pocket and my backpack. We went to the police station to report the incident (a little bit of good news in being able to communicate in spanish that well) but they couldn’t do much since we didn’t see the person who stole the wallet. But they let me use the internet so that I could email my mom to cancel the bank cards so that was good. Still working on getting everything else except the money replaced but it is possible, just a pain.

Second bit of unfortunate events on the trip – my digital camera broke on one of the tours from sand getting in the lens so now the camera can’t zoom or focus for any pictures. We tried to take it to a repair stole but haven’t been able to find one, so it looks like it may just be done for. For the trip and the rest of the time here, I’ve just been making sure to be with others that take pictures for me and share.

HOWEVER, the rest of the trip was absolutely amazing. So now for all the good parts. We went on three different guided tours and one of our own. We arrived the first night late around midnight after taking a later bus, got a few hours of sleep, then woke up to start our first tour at 4am. We got on a tiny but apparently sturdy bus that took us on pitch black dirt roads, if they can be called roads, in the desert and then up into the mountains. After a few hours of driving, we made it up to the top of El Tatio where we were going to see geysers! We were able to walk around and see some little pools and the steam coming out, learned about why geyers exist and how they are trying to tap into the geysers as an energy source, and then for the finale we watched one of the larger geyers go off. The reason we have to go so early in the morning is so you can see the contrast of the cold air with the hot water. It was pretty cool. On the way back down, we stopped to see different animals that would be near our path now that it was light out – llamas, some kind of cousin of llamas – and giant cacti and best of all, hot springs! This was really just a little stream, but we did get to hop in and swim/sit for a while in the warm water. Plus the air was finally starting to warm up so it wasn’t so bad when we had to get out of the water again.

Then in the afternoon we double booked our day since we arrived so late, and we took a tour of Valle del Muerte and Valle de la Luna (Death Valley and Moon Valley), and these were by far my favorite tours. More active than with the geysers, we could hike around the top and see the incredible views, jumped down giant sand dunes (hence the broken camera), walked through the valley to see the salty stone up close, and did some more climbing. There was a point in Valle del Muerte where we stopped and silently sat in front of a large wall of stone. When silent, you can hear the hot air escaping the stone as the air was cooling off at the end of the day. Pretty neat. Then in Valle de la Luna, we climbed up along a long skinny path through the middle and watched the sunset. As the sun sets, the shadows in the valley are beautiful, but even better, once the sun goes down, you can watch the Andes mountains on the other side change color! They become red, orange, blue, purple…. it’s gorgeous. This would definitely be somewhere I would love to come again someday.

Saturday we went on an all day tour of lagoons, Salar de Atacama, and some desert towns. This was pretty fun, less informative but still interesting and beautiful. We saw flamigos living in small lagoons completely surrounded by salt, volcanoes in the distance, lakes that were the most brilliant blues I’ve ever seen, and in some valleys you can actually find GREEN trees and plants when the altitude is low enough. What I loved about this day and the other tours, is how well preserved everywhere we went was. Yes there are small paths for the tours but that’s it. You’re not surrounded by concessions trying to sell you things, you don’t have paved trailed, it’s all preserved as natural as possible despite the number of tourists that make it there. It’s really incredible.

The last day, we were supposed to head back in the afternoon but there were no bus tickets available, so we bought tickets for the next morning and spent the afternoon renting bikes for our own trip around the little town San Pedro. We biked about 16 kilometers (sorry I have no idea how that translates to miles), and saw another valley – Garganta del Diablo (Devil’s Throat), and some ruins at Plaza Quitor. You climb up into the rocks and reach a point where there is an opening in the top and you can see the sky again. We ended up going even further into a cave since we happened to have headlamps and a flashlight! So fun. Also should mention that while biking, there was a stream going through the path, so we had to walk our bikes through a steam. Like I said, everything is seriously NATURAL. The paths we biked on were barely paths, dirt roads that were pretty rough on the bikes and body!!

Pictures from the trip are all up on Facebook. There should be more eventually that I will add from other people’s cameras, but I have a lot up already.

Since San Pedro, I’ve just been trying to catch up and get back into the swing of teaching, but now we have Mejillones’ Anniversary coming up next week too which means even more festivities. I will just make an Anniversary post after everything has happened since this is so packed with San Pedro stories. Everything else has been going well, teaching has it’s good and bad days but usually I like most of my students, I think we have a good time, they just aren’t used to more strict discipline so that is still difficult at times… i.e. answering cell phones in class, playing with make up, talking when I’m talking… I ended up telling one group that they are my worst class and they were surprised that I don’t like it when they don’t listen to me! I don’t really know how that is surprising, but maybe they will behave better next class now. Life in Mejillones overall has been good, my friends who are volunteering are amazing and our Chilean friends are too… We’ve really made this a home for ourselves.

Things are great with my family, and my spanish is improving but as always, I still have a long way to go. For example, yesterday I was at an event in Antofagasta where students performed English skits and songs, and a few TV and radio people were there to interview English Opens Doors staff, volunteers and students. My friend Levi and I wanted to be interviewed but who are we interviewed by, CNN Chile. Yet we forget how poor our spanish comprehension and speaking abilities really still are… And are probably the dumbest people they could have chosen to interview. Not even sure if we answered the questions he was asking, nor can I be sure that we were really saying what we THOUGHT we were saying as our answers either… but oh well. WHEN IN CHILE!

I have a few wishlist items to be mailed, so if you are interested in sending a care package, let me know!

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