Tuesday, July 14, 2009

---> Survival in the desert

I think living here has definitely taught me a few things about life, or more like, life in the desert. One month and a few days before I came here, I got my host family information, and discovered I would be living in Copiapó, a city in the middle of the driest desert on earth, the Atacama. I imagined days filled with scorching heat; the Kiwi turning into a tomato from the strong, bright sun; having siestas every day because the heat rendered anyone incapable of working between 12pm and 4pm; pavements so hot you could barely walk on them between those hours - and I could go on and on. Obviously I was a little bit off on my predictions - today, it rained. And for anyone coming to the same city as me for their exchange, it gets very cold at night.

I'm nearing the halfway point of my exchange, and like I have been told by many people, this is the point when everything starts to come together, the soft concrete foundations of friendships start to harden and strengthen, the mastery of the language happens and you feel like you're really part of the family. So far all of this has been true. I honestly would be regretting making the choice to do a semester if I had chosen that, I am fully glad with my choice to do a year.

A couple of weeks ago, well actually the weekend after I got back from the North Trip, my host dad took us on a trip to see the mine where he works. Two other families came, and it drove through the desert for one and a half hours until we arrived at the mine.


When we arrived it was straight to the office to put on safety gear - a vest, goggles and a helmet, all very model-eske and well fitting. As you can see...

Afterwards we boarded a bus to get a good view of the mine, which is an open pit mine. Lots of big, grunty trucks. The copper that is mined is first treated to be pure copper and put in bricks of 45 kilograms, then is sent by truck a few hours north to the city (or outside the city) of Antofagasta to be shipped.
It was a rather brief time at the mine, enough to get a view of the mine, see my host dad's office and where he stays during the four days he works during the week - it might be four days, but that's four 12-hour days! 

No outing with other people would be complete without an 'asado' (barbeque). So we drove about one hour south to Caldera, where one of the families had rented out a unit, and were getting ready the barbeque and food. After a few hours we returned to Copiapó, in the wee hours of the morning.

This last week at school before winter holidays (or recess, according to my philosophy teacher) has been a bit strange. Being winter, bugs and viruses are quite common but now I understand why in Chile they say so many things can make you sick - walking around barefoot, not blow drying hair, - while we pass around drink bottles freely, give bites of food to each other, kiss on the cheek (ironic really but anyway), because in Chile when it's winter nearly everyone gets sick! So obvioulsy taking preventative measures like wearing shoes and socks at all times would come in handy. Everybody means, in the case of my host mother's school for example, that out of a class of 30 students, only two were well enough to come to class. Touch wood, I havn't been sick yet.

As a matter of fact, the last day of the semester was suspended because 30% of the students at my school were away sick. Thursday was quite a flop of a day, because it was nearly the holidays, and so many students were sick or just didn't turn up, that we had half a class for the first class of the day, then after that about half of that half left. I think some people came because they just wanted to drug snails. (We tested the reactions of snails after being put in water, alcohol and nicotine). The snail we put in alcohol was the only one that sank to the bottom of the beaker.

On Saturday we drove the five hours south to Coquimbo, for the 80th birthday of my host-grandfather. It was a quiet family get together, and I must say his birthday cake was absolutely delicious - it was layers of thin crepe with manjar and lúcuma cream. Lúcuma is a type of fruit that has a fruity-caramely taste and is orange on the inside and dry and powdery but very good in a cake.

We drove back on Sunday, then on Monday I was the only one in my house that wasn't sick! Touch wood I won't get sick! Nobody was seriously ill but colds can get you down. In the afternoon I went out with an exchange student from Finland that was visiting Copiapó with her family and Ananda. We saw Ice Age 3 (in Spanish), and I understood all of it! After that we went for coffee in a cafe - had to leave in a bit of a rush to get back before my curfew, but I think being able to stay in town until 8pm is pretty sweet anyway. 

Today my host sisters and I cleaned out a room where my host grandma and a cousin are going to stay when they come to visit, which involved putty-ing all the marks on the wall, apparently tomorrow we are going to paint it! 

That's all for now. Sorry I hadn't updated in a while, at this point in my exchange the last thing I'm thinking about is my blog, I'm living life here and making the most of my time in Chile!

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