Thursday, April 3, 2014

Friday, March 7

We woke up today at 8:20, and I got ready really fast and was ready for breakfast at 8:30. We ate a long breakfast and then sat at the table talking with a few other people while the rest went to pack their backpacks and get ready to leave. We left at 10 to Embalse Puclaro, which is a damn. It was a gorgeous walk out over the damn and also shocking how rapidly the water had evaporated from the river and left long water lines along the walls of the mountains.
We had fun goofing off and taking pictures for a while, then it got really hot, so we went back to the feria artesenal at the entrance of the damn. There were a lot of typical things made out of cactus. I tried cactus fruit (it tastes a lot like kiwi), cactus ice cream, cactus syrup, and cactus jelly.
I ended up buying some cactus jelly as a present for Nancy. Last time when I brought them presents from the south they seemed less than impressed with their magnets and pencils, so this time I’m trying to make the gifts more personal and more expensive. Then we got back onto the bus to drive about an hour away into Valle del Elqui. We passed vineyards and wove through incredibly high mountains. We arrived and went immediately to eat lunch.
Then we went to look at a pretty church nearby and take a walk around the feria artesenal. After that, we drove to the school where Nobel Prize winning Chilean poet Gabriela Mistral studied. It had been turned into an incredibly tiny and lame museum. We got bored there pretty quickly and went outside to play on the playground. Then we got back onto the bus and drove over to the town of Coquimbo, where Gabriela Mistral was born.
We got off the bus and walked to the house where she was born, now another museum, only to find that it was closed for maintenance. Instead, the counselors bought us each an ice cream and turned us loose to walk around the town for a little while. It wasn’t anything particularly exciting (I have seen so many different cities in Chile that I can say with confidence now that they all have a very similar look—center street with all the businesses, park in the middle with grass and statues, and then side streets with other businesses and houses), so after walking down a few streets, we went back to the little park in the center and Cassidy, Jasmin, Ruth, and I sat down on a bench and talked for a while. At 9, we walked over to a restaurant in the town to eat dinner. There was a little commotion at dinner because Vivian, a blue-haired German exchange student whom I had never met before but who had already gotten a tattoo here in Chile, had been caught by the Rotarians buying cigarettes and who in danger of being sent home. She was crying. I never actually figured out what happened with her, so I don’t know if she will be sent home or not. After dinner, we changed into pants and warm clothes on the bus and traveled about an hour up a mountain to Observatorio Mamalluca. It was the first experience we had with altitude, and it was a little dizzying. Our ears were all popping and some people were feeling light headed. We got to the observatory and watched a video about the stars, and then went up to the roof to look at the stars through a telescope. We saw Mars, the moon, and Jupiter through the telescope, but mostly all 40 of us just lay on the roof of the observatory looking up at the night sky. It was the first time I’d really seen the stars in the southern hemisphere, and they’re completely different from the ones we see in the north. I could actually see the Milky Way (it’s like a huge line of densely populated stars that crosses the sky). I also found the Southern Cross and Orion’s Belt (that looks different from down here too). It was great just to lie down and talk with everyone while admiring the night sky, but by the time we got back on the bus around 12, we were all dead tired. They turned out the lights on the bus and we rode the hour back to the hotel in La Serena. Then we immediately went to our rooms and went to sleep. Everyone had laughed a lot at Katie and me for not realizing that the twin bed that we shared last night actually had a pull out underneath, so we pulled it out and I slept there tonight.

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