Sunday, November 8, 2009

----> Andes, officially

For all this time that my blog has been called 'from the land of the long white cloud to the land of the andes', I can now honestly say that I have oficially set foot on the Andes, the longest mountain range in the world. Offical Andean territory. 

I could almost honestly say I have set foot in Argentina, but unfortunatly it was 20 more kilometres away and what we came for was on the Chilean side of the border. But I did meet Argentineans (aside from the gorgeous Argentinean waiter at my second favourite Copiapino cafe). My host dad saw the young lad with red hair and said  v e r y  s l o w l y  'has visto otro vehiculo pasar?' (have you seen another vehicle pass?), thinking that maybe the blond man was a gringo, but when he answered with a heavy Argentine accent we discovered that he, too, spoke Castellano.

Let me give some advice to any future travellers to the Andes. Being in a mountain range, it is high up, therefore cold and extremely windy. Remember to wear suitable clothing, like long pants, warm top layers, a wind breaker and a hat. Despite my broad experience of mountaineering and after school classes about tramping and how it might possibly be cold in the mountains, I came poorly prepared in knee length jeans, which did not give sufficient leg coverage nor protection from the elements that was required.

The first stage of the trip was driving through the desert, which isn't flat as one might think. It's full of huge hills (much like the Awakino gorge, of that size) and rocks and sand, which at times can be quite ugly, especially with litter strewn on the sides of the road, but also can be unspeakably beautiful.

'Cerro' from high up

The second phase of the journey started after we stopped for tinkle time at a small mine. I had previously visited the state of the art mine where my host dad works, with its huge offices, well furnished cateferia, games room, forest with trees grown from the wastewater, and luxurious things like that, but this mine was an old rickety thing. Red paint peeled from the walls, the cafeteria was small and shabby and there was no green. At that time, there were only 20 workers on site.

More driving, after zig-zagging through the tall hills we came of a top plain, where we had to pass through a border control. The road was at times fairly straight, but also could be quite curvy. There was a tribute sign to the Virgen Mary, who a bedraggled traveller saw on his journey which led him to civilization.

It was at some point here when I got my first sight of snow. This landmark is called the Three Crosses, which are three mountain peaks, the first that one will see as they drive along the San Francisco Pass.

Los Tres Cruces

Plains with the Andes in the background

As we got higher up, we started to see ice and a bit of snow. Not enough to cover the ground, but definitely snow. The guy at the border control told us that in the winter the petrol freezes in the cars, and there has to be a heater left on all day and night in the bathrooms so the water in the water pipes doesn't freeze.

After more driving, we came to the Laguna Verde. It was a lake high in the mountains that supposedly is green, but it was more a sky blue-turquoise. However, close to it was a bery green lake, with flamingos!

Laguna Verde, 4328m above sea level

It was at Laguna Verde where we had lunch, in a tent near the thermal pools. The wind was extremely cold and strong. Car doors swung open at a great velocity when the handle was turned. 

The altitude affected all of us, with the air being thinner and all it makes one very tired after a tiny bit of exercise and lack of oxygen can cause headaches and dizzyness, all of which I got. It meant spending a bit of time lying in the car. But the fact that the Andes are a good four hours drive from Copiapó, meant we had time to see the lake, take photos, eat lunch, then we had to start heading back. Luckily I didn't miss much.

The drive back went a lot faster. We stopped at a waterfall where there were these really cute llama like creatures, called Guanacos, which are like a mix between llamas and camels. The river was really cool. It left a ribbon of green in the desert.

We got back to Copiapó reasonably early. After unpacking the car and eating a bit, my host brother set up the data projector to make me  'considerada persona'. This means watching five movies together - The Clockwork Orange, The Godfather, The Lord of the Rings and two more films. We watched the first half of the Clockwork Orange but he saw that I was practically falling asleep so we saved the second half to watch another say.

On Friday, after going to school at 11am and talking with friends (no classes, because of the strike), I went to a friend's house to have lunch. She has two younger brothers and despite telling me they'll probably ignore me because I'm a girl, they fell to me really well and we had a good old chinwag about girlfriends and this toy called 'go go' (I'm talking about seven and eight year olds here), soccer, where Nes Zealand is, whether I should support NZ or Chile in a soccer game between the two and little things like that. Coni was really surprised that they liked me, one even gave me a lollipop! I guess it shows that I miss my little brother back in NZ. 

After doing a bit of cooking - chocolate peppermint slice, which went down very well - we went to downtown to have an iced chocolate then to a singing competition in her school.

Me and Coni

Something I've learnt about being here - you would be surprised how much you stand out as a foreigner. After my drama class on Wednesday, I was standing outside with my host sister and another classmate. Wearing my navy Canterbury trackpants, sneakers, the sweater that I'm wearing in the above picture (bought from a store here in Chile) and with my hair out, I thought I looked pretty normal. The only thing going against my favour is the fact I'm taller than all of the girls I've met here and a good percentage of the boys.

So standing outside the Casa de Cultura, opposite the plaza, I was. On my left was one of the security guards, and who I thought was a friend, talking. But all of a sudden the 'friend' starts asking which country I was from. He hadn't even heard me speak. I then discovered he was just a typical drunk-off-the-street (but younger than usual) by the disgusting thing he said to me. He even reached out his hand for me to shake and I didn't know what to do . . . so I shook it. Ew! The naivity of gringos. If only I were shorter and darker.

Being a gringa does have its advantages. Now that I can speak and understand Spanish well, it's easy to converse and there's always a topic to talk about - home. People show a lot of interest in what another country is like, what school is like, what the parties are like, what the boys are like, what the food is like, basically a lot of things. I misunderestimated how much and what kind of things about my country I'd be talking about. There are a lot of things that my classmates find strange about where I come from. Sandals are part of the uniform! Single sex schools! Primary schools with mufti! Swimming pools in the schools! The 1/4 acre section! It's funny to see there reactions. And when they ask me 'do you like Chile?' I alway answer with 'sí, me encanta' (yes, I love it.)

Chau for now,

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