Thursday, November 12, 2009

The desert is ALIVE!

I apologize for the month long hiatus! I have been teaching a lot, and as of today I only have one more week left at the Colegio. Although some of my students have been complete hellions and have absolutely no desire to learn english, there are many others who are so so so sweet and so eager to learn that I really am so sad to leave them. Sometimes I will just sit in the main campus area of my school and wait for students to come up to me and try so hard to form english sentences, and some of them blow me away with how much they have learned. It's amazing some of the life goals that my little middle schoolers are already working towards! Last week one of my students came in 4th place in the Antofagasta English Spelling Bee.... I was so proud! :)

One of my 8th grade classes on a field trip to the Airport:
Most of the volunteers stopped teaching about 2 weeks ago because all public school teachers are on strike since the chilean government hasn't paid them a promised a raise, but since my school is semi-private I am still teaching.

Besides teaching the young kids, I have also started going to another English course with my host-english teacher to talk to her classmates and help them with pronunciation. They are all older and mostly english teachers themselves, and the cool thing with them is that they have all pretty much taught themselves english. Only one of them has traveled to an english speaking country for experience. Its been very nice getting to know them, and this weekend we will all be having an asado (chilean BBQ) together.

As for my spanish, it has progressed amazingly in the past month. I have been working in some spanish textbooks that mom shipped to me (thank you thank you!!) and talking more with my host family and other chilean friends, special attention to Liz's host mom who is seriously a professional talker. She can go on for hours about nearly anything! haha. The other day I had a pretty long conversation with my host mom in spanish without even realizing, and she told me how much better my spanish had gotten. Yay me! I still feel like I am terrible at it, the dialect here being so fast, but we will see how I do on the Spanish proficiency test in a couple of weeks.

ALSO, update on my recovery!
I feel awesome. All of my energy is back and I am back to never taking the bus and walking all over this city. I have done some yoga and swam a few 500s in the local olympic pool, and I've also done some hiking! Sometimes my back will bother me if I've been stuck in a weird position for too long, or if I am waking up with a caña (hangover)... but thankfully that's only happened a few times. I think the day after Halloween was the worst. By the way, according to my students, halloween is 'fome' (lame). Not many celebrate it, but all of the gringos did! Volunteers from all surrounding cities all met up in Antofagasta for the weekend and had a lot of fun. I dressed up in a crazy Michael Jackson-esque outfit and added a sparkly left hand glove, and Liz went as a troll (we got her hair to stick right up and sprayed blue in it, she was awesome.) I was going to put ketchup on my outfit and go as a dead MJ but I figured that would be too much, too soon...

Anyway. On to the adventures that I'm sure you all REALLY want to hear about!

Atacama Desert Adventure weekend numero uno:
Tito and I went out to Calama for a day, which is the big mining city in the desert. The Calama Mine is close to the Chuquicamata Mine, which is the world's largest open cut mine. That day we went out to Chui Chui, which is the oldest town in Chile and the home of the oldest church in all of Chile. The town was teeny tiny and located in a small oasis in the middle of the desert. There is one school (that concludes with the 8th grade) and a few restaurants, a small church, and a center square in, well, the center of it all. Just one block away, sheep were grazing. It was extremely quiet and secluded out there, and Chui Chui isn't really a tourist spot. No shops or anything. I went wandering in the church and climbed the bell tower.

After Chui Chui, we went out to Inca Coya, which is a perfectly circular salt-water lagoon in the absolute middle of nowhere. From the Lagoon you see nothing but desert and mountain. No technology to date has been able to determine the depth of the lagoon, and scuba divers have discovered no bottom. There is a legend to the lagoon that if you swim in it, you add 100 years to your life. Upon hearing that, I jumped right in!!! The water was frigid so I lasted maybe a second. I better live a long time!

After Inca Coya, we drove along an ancient river, which is now about a foot and a half wide but enough to provide for some greenery and farm land. It was definitely beautiful scenery, and I got to see my first llama in the wild!

Desert Adventure Numero dos:
This adventure was a camping trip in Mejillones on the beach, among cliffs and mountains. A bunch of volunteers and chilean friends took a boat out to a faroff beach and we pitched tents and got a fire going and enjoyed a night camping. We had a traditional chilean asado, consisting primarily of cebolla (onion) and carne (meat). The gringos brought ingredients for s'mores, which, like always, was a huge hit! Tasted like home. The next day, we were picked up by the boat again and we went around the coast for some sightseeing. We found some sea lions and took a lot of pictures on a giant buoy/marker that we found.


Desert Weekend Adventure Numero 3:
This past weekend, Liz and I embarked on the ultimate desert exploration trip. Tito is the best for the inside scoop on where to go in the limitless desert. He took us out to San Pedro, and first we stopped to see 'The Hole' that he found one time when he was out mapping the area for a thesis project he had in university. He stopped the car on the side of the road and walked us toward the nearby mountains, walked us up a little bit, and right before I was going to say that there is no 'hole' out here, there it was. All of a sudden we were on the edge of a HUGE... hole! It was like one of the caverns that I've scuba dived in Gainesville but on a mountainside in the desert. When it was silent, you could hear the gypsum minerals in the rocks cracking. The desert is frigid cold at night, so all of the minerals shrink, and during the daytime its insanely hot so the minerals expand again, and its with this change in chemisty that we can hear all of these cracks, and with the cavern you can hear it echoing all the way down.

After the hole, we drove out to a small town for lunch and then visited Toconao, a small oasis, once again, in the middle of the desert. We were driving out through nothingness for so long until suddenly, there was a small stretch of trees! People had set up little areas for agriculture around the tiny 1 foot wide river. There were some beautiful flowers and greenery there, a huge contrast from its surroundings.

After Toconao, we continued out into the desert and started to get a lot higher in altitude. We finally made it to a gorgeous scene. 2 crystal clear and perfectly still freshwater lagoons laid out before us in between two giant volcanos. There were FLAMINGOs wading in one of the lagoons. The sight was enough to take your breath away. Amazing the things that you can find in the desert...

The next day, we packed a bunch of fruit and water and headed out to a ghost town that Tito knew about. On the way, we passed a few big mines and a bunch of sand twisters, one that came really close to the truck and one that actually came out of nowhere and went right over us!! Thankfully we were able to roll up our windows in time. On our way out there we marked our way by putting heavy rocks in plastic bags on the roadside so that we wouldn't get lost on the way back, and we had google earth up on his laptop inside the car. After a lot of driving, we finally made it to an area littered with abandoned mines. We got out to find a small cave hollowed out with 2 coffins inside and tons of gifts in it still... old shoes, cigarettes, dolls, pictures, anything and everything. The coffins were so old and broken that you could see the skeletons. The grave was of a woman and her baby son who used to bring food out to the miners who at one time worked these mines (from sometime in the 1800s). We then spelunked through a really deep mine that we found... it was so cold and dark in there!!

We then continued into the desert a bit further until we found the ghost town, or pueblo de fantasmas. There we found a still standing mining factory, and tons of broken down stone homes built into the mountain folds, with still recognizeable dirt roads outlining the town. We wandered the town for quite some time, discovering ridiculously old shoes made out of animal hyde and nails, TONS of animal bones, old fabric and china... and other things that we didn't even know what they were. A lot of the animal bones still had some skin, tendons and muscle attached, because the desert is so dry it takes things a LOT longer to decompose than normal. Remember that this town was bustling back in the 1800s and has been deserted for an extremely long time. We then found the eery graveyard... most of the graves were above ground and only haphazardly covered with stones, and a lot of the wooden coffins were broken, once again. Here we found skeletons of babies with hair on their heads still, and we found one coffin broken at the bottom to reveal a lower leg with skin and muscle on it still, even toe nails. We were totally freaking out!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!

Desert Adventure Numero cuatro:
On Tuesday Liz and I didn't have school, so we set out to explore the mountains of Antofagasta. We went to the south where there is rumored to be an abandoned mine somewhere in the mountains. We hiked one mountain and found a bunch of old small mines, hiked another mountain and found some more substantial ones. The cool thing about Antofagasta is that it is on the coast, so at the top of the mountain we found ourselves overlooking the ocean from way up high, as well as the city. From the top of the one mountain, we saw the old mine we were told about at the top of the OTHER mountain we had half climbed. We did a significant amount of butt sliding to get down, I now am in dire need of a new pair of jeans. Since it never rains here, the mountains are extremely sandy and require shoes with really good grip... good thing I have my crazy toe shoes for that :)

and think of you SIEMPRE!
we wish you could be here with us.