In classic Chilean style, I was invited on a hiking expedition over an extended lunch one day. The trip was over 2 days, up into the Andes mountain range just to the East of Santiago, climbing a mountain called Cerro Provincia, a relatively small 2750 metres high. Despite Wikipedia telling me the trip was doable in a day, I was assured by Enrique (the other teacher I was going with) that the kids we were taking would take at least double this. We were going with 15 children from Primero Medio, which is pretty much year 9, aka 15 year olds. Yay.
Enrique's orange trousers
We left at 8.30am on the Friday, and I rapidly realised that Enrique was entirely correct and these were some of the slowest people I'd ever walked with. This being Chile, we also had an extended 90 minute lunch break for everyone to have their food and a nap. The walk up was pretty easy, and we arrived at the campsite by 1500 that day where the boys went off to find water (no taps here!) which we collected from a nearby stream. Because there's really no wildlife up that far (save the odd Mountain Lion) and it's remote, the water is drinkable straight out of the stream - at least this is what I was told. However, no cholera so far, so it seems as if it was indeed legit. Arriving back at the campsite (basically a clearing) we put up the tent and had a nap, followed by a dinner of chicken and rice that Enrique's friend had brought with her. Then, marshmallows over the bonfire and an early night, after a suitable amount of time admiring the insane views over night-time Santiago.
Defying health and safety
The next day we were up early (well, 7) and after a quick trip for water the one group that was still keen headed up towards the summit. On this trip the path became a gradually less well-defined concept, and at some points we were essentially climbing, minus safety equipment. However, still alive, we reached the summit after about 2 hours climbing and found it to be considerably colder than expected; snow was still on the ground from last week's bad weather. After a few group pictures we rapidly headed back down, and made it back to the campsite in good time, amazingly without any major casualties. Finding the girls had wandered off somewhere, and decided to do nothing in our absence (like take their tents down) we settled down for another nap and waited for them to arrive. 2 hours later we were ready to head back down to Santiago, and set off with me at the front attempting to set a slightly faster pace. This rapidly failed, especially when combined with the steep slopes and massive lack of traction - lots of slipping and falling ensued, and meaning I accidentally taught some of the kids a few more colourful words in the English language.
If you really want, you can watch my video of the trip below, and notice how, for some reason, I go massively rah at sunset. But that's about it.
In a slightly odd turn of events, this week I ended up at a panel session with two members of the Chilean cabinet: Minister of Energy Jorge Bunster Betteley and Minister of Agriculture Luis Mayol Bouchon. They each gave a short talk, introducing their ministry and what they are doing at the moment, as well as giving a lot of background information.
Unfortunately, the Agriculture talk was unbelievably boring, and seemed to only discuss water supplies throughout the country in great detail, but the Energy talk was significantly more interesting. The Minister talked about the Chilean power network, gas prices, dependence on foreign powers for fossil fuels, and the increasing role of alternative technologies. Impressively, Chile has 35% of its energy coming from hydroelectric sources. The rest is made up of mainly coal and natural gas, with some other renewable technologies thrown into the mix (don't say my blog isn't educational...).
It also gave me an excuse to see the seriously nice (and expensive) Grange School where the talk was held, and who kindly invited me along...
Last week I had the luck to be invited on a school trip with 7th Basico, who were spending the day in Valparaiso. Valpo is a large city about 90 minutes drive from Santiago, which used to be a major shipping hub in the South Pacific. According to Wikipedia it's the site of the longest continuously running Spanish language newspaper, and of Latin America's oldest stock exchange. The Guardian also has a semi-interesting article.
On the trip we visited a few museums, went to an organ recital, walked around the town, went in a funicular, and took a harbour tour (it's still a big container and naval port). It's quite a dirty, sprawling town that has a lot of character and is a very interesting place to look around. However, it's also the site of an annual downhill bike race (Valparaiso Cerro Abajo), and you can see one guy's ride downhill here - pretty impressive stuff:
So today I experienced my first earthquake! According to the USGS, it measured 5.5 on the Richter Scale, and 17.22 UTC, which is 14.22 my time - just as lunch was finishing. I was in the office doing some marking (/on Facebook) with the others, when the floor started shaking like someone was playing really loud, bassy music below.
Initially, that was exactly what I thought was happening until people started getting under desks and someone mentioned it was an earthquake. The shaking got stronger and then stopped after about 15 seconds. Although it was definitely noticeable, nothing was falling off the walls or toppling over, so it was hardly chaos.
This kind of thing happens really frequently in Chile, given their unfortunate geographic position, and so there are established drills for earthquakes, just like we have fire drills in England. Everyone knew exactly what to do (except me) - we all went into the playground and counted the children. Maintenance then inspected the buildings to make sure everything was alright, and we went back inside.