After an unintentional break from blogging, during which I graduated from college, I embarked on a six week trip to Chile. My mom and her family are Chilean, and since I´ve only been here once, I decided that now was the right time to rediscover my roots and explore the country for a few weeks. I´m now one week in, and wanted to share some of the things I´ve done and my overall impressions of this beautiful place so far.
Almost immediately after getting off the plane, I joined a huge family lunch of 15 people in total. We had a beautiful meal with food from Chiloe, cooked by my amazing aunt. It was such a gift to be surrounded by family who welcomed me to Chile, and to reunite with people I hadn´t seen since I was six years old! We spent the afternoon in typical Sunday style, eating, talking, and relaxing together.
I spent the rest of the week hanging out with family and getting to know Santiago, which is home to 7 million people, or 40% of the total population of Chile. Chile is the longest country in the world, and is very space constrained, since you can drive across the width of the country in 4 hours. Therefore, a large portion of the people have settled in the central Aconcagua Valley, where there is a mild climate and the biggest cities have developed. However, one problem of this huge population center is the pollution. There are tons of cars here, and since Santiago is in a valley, the pollution gets trapped and there is usually a thick layer of smog covering the city.
Santiago is a very modern and European style city, and I really enjoyed walking the streets of the center district and visiting sites like the Plaza de Armas, La Moneda, and the Mercado Central. One of my favorite moments was taking the funicular up the Cerro San Cristobal, a hill in the middle of the city, and seeing a magnificent view. I went up just after it rained, so I managed to catch a view without any smog!
Something I´ve really enjoyed doing here is going to museums. It´s winter here, and even though it´s not that cold, there have definitely been a few chillier and rainier days that have been perfect for indoor activities. Since this trip is also about learning about the history and culture of Chile, the museums have helped me learn a lot about both the ancient and recent history of the country. For instance, at the Museo de Arte Precolombino, I saw beautiful exhibits featuring ancient indigenous art and learning about the wide variety of indigenous histories throughout the length of the country. Then at the Museo Nacional, I learned about colonial history, and the idea of a space constrained country came up again because much colonialism took place through land grabs by Europeans. It makes sense that a different history developed on this side of the Andes Mountains, and that Chile and Argentina are two different countries, but the geography has had a huge influence on Chile´s development. For instance, Chile did not win its independence all together. Instead, it won it in different chunks, and then it negotiated various land claims with Argentina, Bolivia, and Peru to create the borders that exist today.
Lastly, I visited the Museo de la Memoria y Derechos Humanos to learn about what it was like to live under the Pinochet regime, which was a terrible dictatorship in Chile in the ´70s and ´80s. It was tough for me to see, but very important to learn, because I have many family members here that lived through the Pinochet regime. It didn´t happen very long ago, and a lot has changed since then, but you can still see remnants of what it was like back then. For instance, an old detention center in the middle of Santiago has now been converted into a beautiful cultural center for everyone to enjoy. And La Moneda, the palace where Salvador Allende died and his government fell, still stands and is a major tourist attraction.
One really fun thing that I did this past weekend was go skiing in the Andes, which is a huge advantage of visiting Chile in winter! We had an absolutely gorgeous view of the mountains and the Aconcagua Valley beyond.
So far, I´ve been enjoying spending time with my family, tuning my ear to Chilean Spanish, and eating a lot of empanadas. I hope to do a lot of reflection about family history, especially about the childhoods of my grandparents before they emigrated to the United States. The rest of my trip is starting to come together as well. I´ve only been here for one week, so I still have five left, and I will now start to explore different regions of Chile. First, I will spend a week on the central coast, visiting Valparaiso, Vina del Mar, and Tunquen. Then I will head south, but not too far south…Patagonia is way too cold this time of year! I will explore the lake region and Chiloe instead. Lastly, I will head north to the Atacama desert before returning to the US. Look for another update in about a week!