It had been over two and half months since I last got out of the Santiago city limits, so I was extremely happy to take a long weekend vacation to see the Region de Los Lagos, or the lakes region of Chile. Luckily, two of my fellow Fulbright friends live down in the area, one in Temuco and one in Valdivia, and they were willing to hang out for a few days while I visited! My vacation started by flying south from Santiago to Temuco on the afternoon of May 19th. Getting the birds-eye view of Santiago makes me realize again that I’m living in a city of over 6 million. I could also see exactly where the smog sat in the sky, with the beautiful Andes Mountains as the backdrop. The further south we flew, the greener it became. It rains a ton in south, especially in the winter, and the region is covered in forests. After landing in Temuco my friend Randy and I took a bus to the city of Valdivia. Temuco is located in between the mountains and the ocean, while Valdivia is located at the mouth of a river on the coast. The following day Randy & I visited the small coastal town of Niebla, which means fog. We were extremely lucky with the weather, however, and had nothing but beautiful blue skies! We ate some very tasty crab and cheese empanadas there, walked along the beach, and toured an old Chilean Navy Fort.
Valdivia is a great city in itself, & my favorite feature is the amazing sidewalk that follows the river, called La Costanera. It was also awesome that we were able to stay at our friend Sarah’s house that just happens to be perfectly located on the river. We went to the local mercado, or market, on the river to pick up some fish and vegetables for the asado later that night. The picture to the left is of a typical Chilean mercado, with merchants lining both sides selling all kinds of fruits, vegetables, spices, meats, and nuts. Sea lions also like to hang out close by as they get to eat the scraps of the fish that get cut up for customers. Sarah and Randy are both social scientists, so it’s very cool to talk with them about the similarities and differences between the social and hard sciences. I’m used to being around scientists who study things like rocks, chemistry, and animals so getting new perspectives and ideas from the other side of science is very interesting.
We walked around downtown and later that evening visited my favorite chocolatier in Chile: Entrelagos. I had purchased a box in Santiago a while back & it was the best chocolate I’d ever eaten so when we passed by the store I made sure we stopped in. We also tried the delicacy of Valdivia: Berliner. It is similar to a doughnut but also slightly resembles a hamburger because the cream is simply piped between the bread part, like the way a burger sits between the buns. Valdivia has a huge German influence and also is Chile’s beer capital for the same reason. The asado that night was really great, and a very thick blanket of fog covered the city at night.
For the next part of the trip, Randy & I took another bus to the small town of Pucon. The bus system really is amazing in Chile, you can get on a cheap bus and get anywhere. Pucon is an absolutely picturesque tourist town located on Lago Villarrica (Lake Villarrica) in the shadow of the Villarrica volcano surrounded by forests, rivers, lakes, hot springs, and national parks. You almost forget you’re in a Spanish speaking country because there are so many signs in English and so many European tourists. Randy & I kayaked on the lake that afternoon and had a great time exploring a few beaches and taking pictures of the stunning volcano. Volcan Villarrica is one of Chile’s most active
volcanoes, and was smoking a little. It was so beautiful there and I was especially
grateful to be in nature after being in a city for a little while. The next day we rode a bus about half an hour to get to Parque Nacional Huerquehue, a national park with hiking trails that are perfect for day hikes. We hiked the three lake circuit, which took us up two mountains through dense green forests to an area with three small lakes nestled in the trees. The hike up the second mountain was very strenuous, and the views were spectacular. The three lakes were very beautiful, and so were the forests. Chile has an extremely unique species of tree called the Araucania, or Monkey puzzle tree. As they get older, they lose their lower branches until all that remains are long trunks with very distinct branches only at the tops. All in all, it was a great trip and an escape from city life in Santiago for a weekend.
A short reflection
Living in a foreign country and learning a new language is not an easy thing to do. I completely understand why exchange students tend to hang out with other exchange students. I’m really lucky that the people I share an office with are so open and friendly, but it makes me think about how we in the US aren’t always so open to exchange students. I also have it pretty easy with learning Spanish, as well, because most of my friends speak English fairly well so translations generally aren’t too difficult. Patience is a great attribute to have when learning a language, as well as humility, because sometimes it’s very difficult to get your point across or understand someone else. My Spanish is improving each week, but there are still ups and downs. Being away from all of your friends and family is also pretty hard, and I sometimes just wish I could be back in Fargo with everyone I know. But each week gets better and my friends here are so great, which makes working during the day and weekend/evening get-togethers fun. I took the picture to the right at an asado a couple weeks ago, and it has most of the people who I share an office with in it (missing a few).