Hey there! My name is Alex Adler, I am a rising sophomore and I have the privilege of blogging this week about the first half of our Enrichment Trip here in Chile. This past week we took a temporary break from the projects we’ve been working on for the last month and a half to explore the southern town of Valdivia and many of the surrounding coastal areas. Valdivia is located about 3 hours west of Neltume (where we have been spending the majority of our time). It is a larger city situated on the Calle Calle and Valdivia Rivers, very near to the Pacific Ocean. It is also a popular tourist destination, the capital of Chile’s Los Ríos Region, and home to the Universidad Austral de Chile. In order to share the highlights of this engaging enrichment experience, I will dedicate this blog post to some of the best things we saw, did, and ate while in the city of Valdivia.
On Wednesday morning (June 26), we woke up early to pack and drive west to Valdivia. Along the way, we enjoyed observing differences in the Southern Chilean landscapes and climate and were entertained by José’s vast iPod library of Beatles songs! Upon arriving in Valdivia, we checked into the hotel and immediately began exploring the city. After enjoying a wonderful lunch at a local café (I got a typical Chilean beef sandwich called ‘mechada’), we crossed the Pedro de Valdivia bridge to visit Teja Island. While there, we walked around the Austral University campus and learned more about Valdivia’s history, its German influence, flora, and fauna at the Philippi Exploration Museum. The night was not complete until we visited La Ultima Frontera, a restaurant favorite of previous DukeEngage Chile groups… and we loved it as well! A few of us ate massive tacos while others consumed huge Chilean-style sandwiches.
On Thursday morning (June 27), we began our journey to the Reserva Costera Valdiviana. Traveling there took almost the entire morning and involved driving to the small town of Niebla, taking a ferry across the Valdivia River to the town of Corral, and driving another hour south along the coast to reach the reserve entrance, where we met our guide for the day, a local resident who was also named José. During our three-hour hike, he led us through the forest, explained the various tree and fern species, and emphasized that the reserve focuses on conservation rather than tourism. While taking a break in the afternoon, we all reflected on the differences between the Reserva Costera and Huilo Huilo (our community partner), the abundance of flora species, and the cultural significances of different plants for indigenous Mapuche populations.
About two hours into our hike, we reached an enormous tree in the middle of the forest with a fence around its trunk. José explained that this was an Alerce tree (Fitzroya cupressoides) measured to be over 2,500 years old! Alerces are the largest tree species in South America but these conifers are now endangered due to logging in the 19th and 20th centuries. As the park name suggests, these trees are considered one of the most important species in this forest and being able to see a living one that is so old was truly one of the highlights of our visit to Valdivia.
As I write the end of this blog post (Friday, June 28), we are riding on a bus en route to Puerto Varas, a lakeside town southeast of Valdivia. Here, we will spend the second half of our enrichment trip exploring another Southern Chilean town, interacting with local residents, and hiking around the Osorno Volcano. Although we are all sad to leave Valdivia, we look forward to visiting Puerto Varas and enriching ourselves in the culture and experiences of a new region. I hope you enjoyed this brief insight into our adventure and be on the lookout for a blog post in the near future about our trip to Puerto Varas, provided by Sam!