Greetings from the South of Chile! I’m Ethan, a rising Junior from Chapel Hill, writing the last blog for our program this year. If you’re just joining us, it’s winter here. The best days are 45F and sunny, but most days hover around 40F with intermittent rain. We inhabit the Patagonian Temperate Rainforest, with each day bringing views of snow-capped volcanoes and crashing waterfalls. Over the last two months, our program tested the water quality of 11 lakes, built 13 websites in English and Spanish for local businesses, and constructed a greenhouse full of ferns. You can find our websites at biologia.huilohuilo.travel and destino.huilohuilo.travel. Our community partner is the Huilo-Huilo Foundation, which oversees community development in Neltume along with managing the Huilo-Huilo Biological Reserve. Each week, one of us wrote a blog introducing our work and detailing our adventures. You should check them out!
After working on our last website all Tuesday (7/3) morning, we took the afternoon to learn more about the place we have come to call home. We picked up Ejidio Duath, a local man who knows the region well, and drove to several places in and around Neltume, listening to his stories. Señor Duath has lived in Neltume for almost 70 years, born to a Mapuche mother and Spanish father. Señor Duath described how the Chilean government pushed the Mapuche people in and out of their lands, Chile under the US-backed dictatorship of the 1970’s and 1980’s, the culture of Neltume, and how his parents fell in love. After the tour, Señor Duath and his wife Eliana hosted us for honey, empanadas, and sopaipillas in their home.
Presenting Our Websites:
On Wednesday we met with Rodolfo and Veronica, two members of Huilo-Huilo’s administration. We showed them around the websites we built, incorporating their suggestions and feedback. They expressed interest in creating more websites in the future, so we attempted to explain all we had learned of web development. We wrote a step-by-step guide to making websites using a platform called Drupal, which ended up including over 160 steps. Writing the guide made me appreciate how much we had learned and accomplished. Before this trip, I had little experience coding but now I can make a functional website in a matter of hours.
After spending Thursday morning collecting pictures for our last website, we hopped on a bus to Pucón, a town about 35 miles north of Neltume that sits between a lake and a volcano. We spent the first two days relaxing and enjoying the town. We particularly enjoyed hiking 12 miles to a spectacular waterfall and finding our new favorite empanada joint, Puras Pavadas. Over the course of the weekend, we collectively ate 30 empanadas at Puras Pavadas.
On our last day in Pucón we climbed over 5,000ft in elevation to reach the most active volcano in Southern Chile, Volcan Villarrica. None of us had ever used the crampons and ice-axes we needed to reach the top. Thanks to our wonderful guides Claudio, Juan, and Edgar, six members of the group reached the volcano’s summit, which rewarded us with panoramic views of the snow-capped Southern Andes. We hiked on a beautiful sunny day (these days are rare) and had perfect conditions for both climbing up and sliding down.
Last Days in Neltume:
After descending Volcan Villarrica, we returned to Neltume to wrap up the last three days of our experience. On Monday, we worked all day in the Vivero, transporting soil and planting ferns in the greenhouse we had managed in our previous workdays. It looks beautiful!
We spent the last couple days putting the finishing touches on all our websites. We all feel that we’ve accomplished a lot and have made a meaningful impact on the community we’ve come to know. On our last night, we hosted Francisco, the leader of the children’s mountain biking group Bagualitos for dinner. I’ve really enjoyed getting to know Francisco and sharing our love of outdoor sports. I’m glad we got to support his program.
The Gringo Treatment:
Moving around Chile, our group clearly did not fit in with the local people. People obviously treated us differently than they treated other Chileans, in subtle but noticeable ways. While different treatment annoyed me at times, I will always be grateful for the welcome showed to me by everyone I met in Chile. Different treatment made me appreciate how comfortable I feel in North Carolina, and what it means to feel at home. How can I work to make everyone feel as welcomed in Durham as I have in Neltume, in light of Duke’s gentrification and the U.S. government’s policies against immigrants? What would a DukeEngage look like where we host students from outside Duke, instead of going to other places?
As our time in Chile winds down, I’ve spent a lot of time thinking about how this experience has changed me, and on what I’ll leave behind here when I return to North Carolina. This place has taught me things I never could have dreamed of before coming to Duke. From practicing a language I learned 6 months ago, to coding a website, to hiking a glaciered volcano, I’ve gained memories and skills to last a lifetime. I’ve gained perspective on life outside my home—before this trip I hadn’t left my home state for more than two weeks at a time.
While I had no expectation of transforming Neltume (both because I couldn’t transform it and because it doesn’t need transforming), I feel I’ve left a meaningful mark on this place. The websites will help tourists experience more than just the flashy attractions, and they will help local small businesses connect with potential customers.
I’m definitely ready for summer weather, but I know I’ll miss this place. I hope I’ll be back soon.