...except for me and my monkey! "Everything we see hides another thing. We always want to see what is hidden by what we see." -Rene Magritte

Wednesday, November 16, 2005

Show me round your snow-peaked mountains way down south, take me to your daddy´s farm

Our trip last weekend to Pucón, eleven hours south of Valparaíso, was pretty much la raja (the shit). It was our last group trip and the last significant amount of time we could all be together, since our required CIEE class ended last week. The fact that the program´s wrapping up lent the trip a certain sense of nostalgia and closeness, even though everyone will be here for at least another month.

We arrived in Pucón Friday mornig after spending Thursday night on the south-bound bus. Everyone was pretty tired and run-down feeling, but we perked up when we saw our accomodation: luxerious cabins in a gorgeous park-like landscape, with a perfect view of the smoking, snow-covered Volcán Villarica, the most active volcano in South America. Julia, Kristin, Mariah, and Carla and I had our own cabin, with two bathrooms (one with a jacuzzi), a kitchen, a fireplace (which we probably wouldn´t even have been allowed to use, but whatever), a dining area, a master bedroom, two bedrooms, and a living room with huge picture windows through which we could see the volcano. Really, I could have lived there.

After breakfast in the clubhouse we all got back on the bus and headed to Currerehue, a Mapuche community about half an hour away. The Mapuche are Chile´s largest indigenous population, and most of them live in the south of Chile, particularly in the Lake District (the IX Region, I think, from about Temuco to Puerto Montt). We talked for awhile with a young Mapuche woman who was weaving tapestries in a shop, then toured the small museum/cultural center. Later a group of Mapuche women, children, and youth talked to us and showed us some traditional dances. They said that after dancing around the circle, they were going to start plucking us from the audience to dance with them--being put on the spot like that is exactly the kind of thing I hate, and the whole while I was thinking, ´´Don´t pick me don´t pick me don´t pick me.´´ Unfortunately, Kristin was the first person they pulled out to dance with them, but she gave a valient performance.

The highlight was lunch. We ate some delicious bread that one of the older Mapuche women had cooked under the ashes of the central fire in the cultural center, a greens and quinoa soup, sopaipillas (sweet, fried squash dough), and nut bread...it was wonderful! I sat next to two of the Mapuche boys, who were about second-grade age, and we talked a little bit.

After returning to the cabins, we had the rest of the evening free. We all walked to the center of town to the tourism agency that was running the excursions we could choose from the next day, then split up. Carla and I decided that we didn´t really want to cook dinner that night in our kitchen, so we ended up going out with Jessie, Katherine, Jennie, and Sarah to a Mexican fusion restaurant called El Bosque. I had a wonderful, fresh burrito and a surprisingly strong pisco sour, then a disappointingly tiny, dry, and expensive slice of cheesecake. In any case, we had some great conversation and laughed a lot, and it was fun hanging out with the four girls, since we don´t really spend that much time with them.

The next day, Saturday, we had free, and most people decided to hike up Volcán Villarica, an all-day excursion leaving at 7 in the morning. While it sounded like an adventure, I didn´t want to do anything very strenuous, since by the time we left for Pucón I had just finished the antibiotic treatment for my tonsilitis and I didn´t want to push myself. Plus, call me lazy, but I didn´t want to get up that early on our little vacation. Carla and I decided to go whitewater rafting down the lower Trancura river, which turned out to be an adventure in and of itself. The rafting trip didn´t leave until 3 in the afternoon, so we slept in (I got up around 11:30), then spent the late morning and early afternoon eating breakfast, talking, and watching a deliciously trashy Canadian teen TV series called Instant Star, about this fifteen-year-old girl Jude who´s a rockstar. I´ll probably never get the stupid song she sings out of my head, but it was a very agreeable way to spend the morning. Around 1:30 we headed back to the center of Pucón to do a little shopping (or window-shopping, at least) and to meet our group.

Getting ready for the rafting trip, we were so naive. We were like, ´´Well, let´s wear our swimsuits under our clothes, just in case we get splashed.´´ When we arrived at the river, were we in for a surprise: we had to change into wetsuits. And, proving that Sometimes I Am Heinously Awkward, I put on my wetsuit inside-out and backwards. Then I put the special shoes we had to wear on the wrong feet. It was not my finest 30 minutes, and I think the guide thought I was something of an idiot: as he was describing the safety protocol, he looked right at me and said, ´´If you...or if anyone else...falls into the river, here´s what you do...´´I was able to redeem myself, though, by translating what he said into English for these two non-Spanish speaking German students who went with us. The rafting itself was great fun, with huge waves that completely soaked us and gorgeous scenery, which I could still sort of enjoy even without my glasses.

After getting back to the cabins and swapping stories with the triumphant volcano-summiters, we headed over to the swimming pool for a few minutes. More fun, though, was what we did when we got back to the cabin: we couldn´t let the availability of a jacuzzi go to waste, so we all five crammed into it at once! It wasn´t the most relaxing bath ever but was such a funny situation that we couldn´t stop laughing. The best part was that after we all got out, we realized that the water level--full to the top when we were all in the tub--was only about seven inches.

That night, after a delicious, program-covered dinner, Mariah and Kristin and I talked for awhile, then I headed over to Jake, Jon, and David´s cabin to join Carla and Julia at their impromptu little s´mores-roasting party. After the s´mores ran out we ended up playing a drinking game with several other people from the program. It was fun, but I drank too much (or rather, I mixed too many different kinds of alcohol, I think: beer, wine, pisco, rum, scotch, and Jager) and ended up throwing up several times. That part was not so fun. A million thanks to Julia and Carla for being such good friends and taking care of me!

The next morning, while I didn´t have a hangover (I had pretty much gotten everything out of my stomach the night before), I still felt a little queazy. The queazyness diminished pretty quickly, so I was still able to enjoy the beatiful scenery as we toured the area around Pucón. We hiked a little in some beautiful temperate rainforests, visited multiple waterfalls and lakes, and passed by cow-speckled fields...it was all beautiful, and reminded me so much of the Willamette Valley of Oregon. As we rode around, I thought about when Carla and I went to San Pedro de Atacama, in the far north of Chile. Comparing the two regions, I could hardly believe that they were in the same country: San Pedro is right at the heart of the driest desert in the world, and looks like it belongs on Tatooine, the sand planet from Star Wars. Meanwhile, Pucón was lush, green, sparkling, with waterfalls and rushing rivers. The amount of biodiversity in Chile is really remarkable. I was reading in my Rough Guide the other day that the length of Chile is equivalent to the distance between Scotland and Nigeria.

Anyways, at the end of the tour we stopped at the Termas de Pozones, some natural hot springs. The hot water felt sooo good, especially after ducking into the freezing cold river right alongside the Termas. We finished the day with an asado (barbeque or cook-out) back at the cabins, then boarded the bus to head back to Valparaíso and Viña.

The trip was a lot of fun. It´s sad to think that it was our last CIEE trip, and that, as Carla wrote on her blog, we won´t really have another chance to be with everyone again. A week from tomorrow we´re all going to be together for the cena de despedida (good-bye dinner), which will also be our Thanksgiving dinner, and the ramifications of the fact that it´s time to say good-bye are just mindboggling.