Ramblings and well disguised social commentary from Santiago


Metro Times

The days are beginning to get colder, the mornings especially which leads to the problem of wearing a heavy coat and jeans as you make your way out into the brisk air only to be confronted by 20+ degree temperatures come midday. However, the weather only plays a small part in this tale. An embarrassing incident which befell me during the past week as I made my daily commute on Santiago’s efficient and always interesting Metro line.

I set off into the cold morning, wrapped up against the cold in the air and that which I have had for the past week. I blame the fluctuating temperatures and a lack of orange juice, a vindictive combo. My commute usually takes about half an hour, it requires that I take two trains, changing from the blue to the green line in order to reach my destination in the south of the city.

The first train I take is generally very quiet, few people head south on the blue line in the mornings. The jungle of offices and other commercial buildings lies to the north and centre of the sprawling metropolis. This results in the large and usually sardine can-like carriages being relatively empty. I take my seat and catch up on some reading, tunnel gusts cause scraps of paper to meander their way down through the carriages, all very artistic. The indy movie feel is interrupted by the reggeaton blaring youth across from me.

I arrive at Vicente Valdes, where blue meets green. Here I must make the grueling crossing from one line to the other, this time I will be heading north. Estación Vicente Valdes is where green line trains are born, they appear from that mysterious place where metro trains go when not in use. Despite myself I always seem to get jolt of excitement in seeing the lights appear in the blackness of the tunnel with the noise of the engines growing as the hulk rolls into its berth.

Today however was different, as I’m making my way amongst the zombie like hordes I see that there is a train already waiting on the platform, doors open and with people inside. It has to be said that in the mornings the trains depart every 5 minutes or so, so it is never a complete disaster in seeing one pull off as you approach. The problem is that somewhere along the human evolutionary trajectory we developed the innate desire to run towards any train that is waiting in a metro station. It is impossible to simply stroll up and take your seat, the fear of having the doors close in your face is too strong. Oh the horror.

Taking this basic survival instinct into account I immediately began to hurry towards the gaping doors, hop skipping down the stairs with headphones and backpack flailing before careening across the 10 feet of platform and into the unwelcome warmth of the carriage. Its all bustle as I squeeze in, out of breath and perspiring. It is now that I begin to notice the lack of movement in the carriage doors and indeed in the train in general. The next stationary 5 minutes only clarified the fact. The train obviously held up for some reason, rendering my Usain Bolt impression useless. My coat and jeans were now my worst enemies, their heat combining with the aforementioned sardines in a can-like nature of these trains. The fact that everyone else had seen my Olympic dash didn’t help things. Obviously I went for the best course of action in these situations; the fake phone call. One imaginary conversation later (‘Haha yes I made the train!’) and all was forgotten. The fact that my phone didn’t ring during this little piece of Shakespeare was, obviously, a bonus.

Back to classes

Semester 2 has just gotten itself underway. Having just moved into my third week of class, I can count myself lucky to be able to spend two semesters here. It has been so much easier to go straight into classes without the problems of having to adjust to the language. Very few get this opportunity and of course there is a whole new batch of exchange students whom, like I was, are wrestling with the linguistic and logistical difficulties.

Knowing the system better, it enabled me to easily choose my courses. Soccer was always a priority and I enrolled in Futsal and Futból, giving me 3 hours of sport 3 days a week. Portuguese was another subject which I really wanted to take, hopefully opening up the possibility of finding some work at next years World Cup. Thus far it seems quite easy to pick up, the similarities with castellano are rife and it is very easy to understand but I have found that the diction is more difficult. Brazilian portuguese in particular has a wide range of sounds and its phonetics make it very different from the other romanesque languages, speaking wise.

Other subjects I took were Mundo Andino, which deals with the history of the Incan empire. It is fairly heavy subject matter but interesting due to the fact that I visited many of their ancient ruins during the summer (ruins have a very common trait of being quite ancient). One step closer to my dream of becoming Indiana Jones. Some will know that I did in fact once desire to become an archaeologist when I grew up. Young Nicholas was painfully unaware of the amount of reading realizing such a dream would entail. Reams of photocopies, all in spanish, will have to be read in order to pass this particular module. I took Italian Literature with the hope of keeping my italian well tuned. However it turns out that all the texts have been translated into spanish in a rather unpleasant turn of events. Dante succeeded in writing some of the greatest literary works of all time but that does not make them any less sleep inducing. At least in italian they sound better, a lot of effect is lost in the translation and the fact that they are 40 page poems.

Overall, things are going great. 8 months into the exchange I can cheesily say that it has been better than I could have imagined. With 4 months to go I feel I can still put the finishing touches to my spanish and hopefully rapidly learn portuguese. A short little blog, hopefully I will write about the adventures in Bolivia soon. In fact I did have it all written and ready to post but an unfortunate loss of power and subsequent lack of what I’d written put stop to that. When I get myself rid of that emotional millstone I will rewrite it again, maybe.


Day 1 

The first day of the trip was charged with covering the longest distance that we would face over the coming 3 weeks. A two hour flight northwards from Santiago brought us to the very tip of Chilean territory. A mere taxi journey away lay Peru. A few hours were spent waiting in the airport before heading off in a shared taxi at around five in the morning. A surreal journey awaited us. Signs warning of minefields and overladen, ancient Peruvian cars gliding past in the dawn light. A group of small women got out of one and walked off into the desert, intending to cross the border by different means.

Many sheafs of forms  and one puzzled Peruvian border guard later (my Kindle was of bewilderance) we entered into Peru, once home to the ancient civilization of the Incas and now, apparently, to an endless amount of car repair shops. We reached the city of Tacna which gives the impression of having been splatted down into the desert. Gloomy shapes of buildings loomed out of darkness and dank and dirty roads giving the city a very depressing air. A bit like Donegal.

Bus tickets for the city of Arequipa were immediately bought and we arrived at the bus to see a group of women loading what appeared to be half of Peru’s GPA into the luggage compartments. We tentatively deposited our bags alongside the fruit and veg and 6 hours later arrived in Arequipa. We arrived to the taxi filled colonial city of Arequipa early in the day and had to time to explore and eat some amazing pastries. Not too much to do so tickets were bought for Cuzco the following evening.

 Days 2  and 3 

More walking around the city, drinking the radioactively luminescent Inka Kola and enjoying more pastries. The night bus to Cuzco took around 12 hours. The night thoughtfully hiding any precipices we came close to. We were collected in the Plaza de las Armas by our hostel owner, the oddly eastern european named Yuri. Surprising as he had lived all his live in the Cuzco area and his native language would have been Quechua. On the Quechua front, he promptly proceeded to tell me that everything I had learned was basically wrong but in a friendly, smiling way. Strolling around Cuzco you soon realize that everyone is trying to sell you something; tours, food and photos with lambs. The little lamb holding girls becoming quite aggressive when you refuse. Not very sheepish at all.

Days 4 and 5

The night before was spent out in Cuzco. Of course, other Irish were present and not a Peruvian in sight. During the day we strolled up to the ruins of Sacsayhuaman, pronounced Sacsayhuaman, which were very impressive. Their location at 12000 ft above sea level led the walk up to the ruins being slightly  testing due to the antics of the night before. The ruins at Qenqo followed before a thunderstorm rolled in over the city. We’d organized the trip to Maccu Picchu the day before and we set off early on the morning of the 5th day. A white knuckle journey ensued with the driver flying through the countryside and along the narrow mountain passes. 4 hours and several frightened Spaniards later we arrived at Hidroelectrica. As the name suggests its a hydroelectric power plant and is the end of the line as far as motor vehicles are concerned with regard to arriving at the Incan citadel. For us, a 3 hour walk through the semi-jungle landscape was required to reach Aguas Calientes, the tourist town only accesible by rail below Maccu Picchu. We followed the train tracks and trekked alongside the swollen Urubamba River, arriving in the town in the evening.

Day 6

A 04:00 am start in the pitch blackness. The only sounds being the constant primeval roar of the river and the cheery tones of my alarm. A climb of and hour and a half, up through the cloud forest, brought us to the entrance of Macchu Piccu itself. The stairs up were tough going. Crude steps hewn into the rock, slippery in the morning dew. Very much Frodo and Sam popping into Mordor kind of stuff. They would have been glad of our plastic ponchos no doubt. As for the site itself, the photos speak for themselves. The scenery is simply amazing and the swirling mists give rise add to the air of mysticism. We spent the whole day exploring the abandoned city before making the long climb down the rocky stairs.

Day 7

Returning back to Hidroelectrica we were drenched for 3 hours in the rain that we had been so lucky to avoid the day before. On arrival we paused for a coffee in one of those little shacks that seem to pop up wherever tourists drop their bags. Conversing a little in Quechua with two old ladies led to me offering to help move a few small boxes of bananas. The boxes turned out to be huge and Peruvian women seem to have the power to lift 5 times their bodyweight. Like ants really. I was rewarded with an armful of bananas and a stylish new kink in my spine for my trouble. The mists fell for the drive home but it made little change to the drivers style. The little streams that we had crossed on the journey up had swollen to torrents but we reached Cuzco without problems and a healthy appetite.

Days 8 and 9 

A relaxing day after all the the walking and climbing of the previous days, we took in the last few things Cuzco had to offer before purchasing our passages to Puno, the point of exit from Peru into Bolivia. The rain had well and truly arrived as we mad our way to the bus terminal the following day. I momentarily misplaced my wallet but can gladly reassure everyone that I remained calm and did in no way panic and remove everything from my backpack. Wallet in pocket we boarded the bus for Puno, a woman soon got on with what appeared to be a sack of potatoes. It in fact turned out to be half a pig, in sauce, with potatoes and she began to cook it up and serve it out to the passengers. Hygienic gloves were but a thought as she proceeded to pass the meat and accept the money with the same hand. It did smell delicious however. Puno was packed when we arrived, so much so that we were forced to rough it up and sleep in the bus terminal. The fact that the terminal had rooms with excellent hot showers is irrelevant.

The next day we would set off for the unknown that was Bolivia, coming next week.



New Year brought about the marking of 5 months spent in Chile, although it does not have the same resonance as 6 months I will be travelling and hopefully away from a computer when that milestone passes. New Year’s Eve itself was spent with the traditional late night meal, watching the fireworks from a hill in the north of the city and then heading to the party at the unearthly hour of 2 o clock. This is mainly due to the fact that the whole city drives up to the hills and then all heads back down at 12:15. The fireworks were impressive but I staunchly defended the Dublin Skyfest, which I have never seen.

Me di cuenta que Año Nuevo acá es mucho más familial que en, por ejemplo, Irlanda (saben que vengo de allí?). Allá no hay la tradición de la cena en la noche y por supuesto las carretes no empiezan tan tarde. Pases año nuevo con tus amigos y el día después con la familia. Normalmente es ese día donde hay la cena y todo. La cuestión de subir los cerros a ver los fuegos artificiales me parece bien pero la locura de todo el mundo bajando inmediatamente después no tanto. Sin embargo una detalla pequena, otra vez yo tuve la suerte de pasarlo con la familia de mi polola, así que sigo experimentando la cultura Chilena.

Other updates on life are that I moved apartment shortly before Christmas, this was due to my old landlord deciding to sell the apartment so good had I been for raising the property values. The change has been for the better, cheaper and closer to the Metro the apartment also has cable TV and a hammock. The location of a Chinese restaurant named ‘Happy Everybody’ nearby only adds to the good vibrations. Also thanks to a meeting over a few beers last week, I now have a space to write about Chilean football almost daily and have it published online by a respected publication. Unfortunately this blog has yet to receive international recognition. As for now it is unpaid work, but there is the possibility of receiving a press pass which would open a lot of doors, mainly free ones into matches, which would be fantastic.

En otras noticias cambie mi departamento antes de Navidad porque el dueño del viejo andaba vendiendolo. Pero el cambio ha sido por lo mejor creo. Ahora estoy pagando menos, estoy mas cerca al metro y hay muy buena onda entre los compañeros (no es decir que no había en el anterior!). No hay mucho pasando en enero, muchos compañeros de intercambio ya fueron. Ahora es tiempo ahorrar plata pal viaje al Bolivia y Peru.

January is playing itself out as a rather quiet month, money needs to be saved for the trip to Bolivia and Peru and routes need to planned. Santiago has been its useful slightly crazy self with rat infested supermarkets, men electrocuting themselves on pylons and indigenous protests all happening recently. The heat has really risen too with 34/35 degrees this past week. Nowhere here has air conditioning. I don’t wear grey t-shirts.

Christmas in Santiago

Spending Christmas away from home is always going to be different. Spending it here and it being my first Christmas away from home was always going to be an experience. It is important to point out that it is not the five day binge that takes place it home. The importance of the holiday is far less and the event really only takes place over the course of one evening. Christmas Eve or ‘La Noche Buena’ is the focal point. The family gathers for a meal and presents are then exchanged after midnight. Turkey is not present and neither are all the classic trimmings or desserts. Overall Christmas here is a low key affair and one that is by enlarged solely a product of consumerism. Seeing snowman decorations in temperatures of 30 degrees or more just doesn’t fit.  Not to say I didn’t enjoy it, I was fortunate enough to spend it with my girlfriends family and have the chance to see how Chileans celebrate it.

Nunca he pasado un Navidad fuera de mi país, es decir que este Navidad siempre iba a ser diferente. Las diferencias entre Navidad allí en Irlanda y acá en Chile son hartas. La primera y la más grande es que allí el 25 diciembre es el día más importante. La Noche Buena no existe en el mismo sentido, la gran cena y la entrega de los regalos ambos toman lugar el 25. El día después también es un día de vacaciones y realmente las cosas no vuelvan a lo normal hasta el 1 de enero. Son 5 días más o menos de fiestas, en mi opinión ha sido convertido en una celebración inflada donde la gente sienten presionadas a celebrarla de gran manera, a veces gastando mucho más que deben o pueden. Acá veo una celebración que ha crecido con el consumismo, hay muchas cosas donde hay nada que ver con el ambiente del país, estoy hablando de decoraciones de muñecos de nieve en temperaturas de 30 grados o más. Pero debo decir que lo pasé muy bien, tuve la suerte de pasarlo con la familia de mi polola, la comida estuvo rica y la compañía excelente,  así que tuve una experiencia bien autentica del Navidad en este país.

Christmas day itself was back to normal, people worked and shops opened up. Slightly surreal with having been accustomed to overdosing on Roses by half eleven myself. My dinners consisted of sausages and pasta but I managed to fit in a viewing of ‘The Fellowship of the Ring’ in order to maintain some sort of Christmasanity. The following two days spent on the beach in Viña del Mar, which I must say is one of my favourite places, completely blew any Christmas feeling out of the water. New Year is fast approaching and then January promises to be a quiet month before I head off to Peru and Bolivia for 3 weeks of classic backpacking. It was strange spending Christmas away from home and the family but thanks to the miracle of Skype I was indeed present in Dundalk on Christmas Day.

One important note; I wrote this from a hammock on our balcony, its 28 degrees and I am quite warm.

Ruta Atacama

Part 2

The eagerly awaited saga continues. Day 4 saw the bus depart for the northern coastal city of Antofagasta. The desert was undeniably monotonous, miles and miles of nothing. Dirt and rocks and the odd cactus stubbornly maintaining the stereotype. After hours of nothing, huge mounds began to appear in the barren landscape. The remnants of the regions nitrate mining industry, the bus stopped at an disquietingly large cemetery located alongside one of these now obsolete operations. The amount of graves revealed just how many people lived and died in this most inhospitable environment. The days other main event was the Hand of the Desert which comes in in first place in the list of self explanatory sculpture names. It is difficult to describe the landscape without using the grandiose, the sheer scale of emptiness is almost impossible to comprehend for someone who is used to seeing a GAA pitch or another bloody golf course every few minutes on the road.

The night was spent in Antofagasta which did not have too much to offer, a typical port city, noisy and dirty but in reality we saw very little. First stop on the road the following day was an abandoned train station, a relic of the nitrate mining past. Now it serves as a train museum/graveyard of sorts, the big hulks well preserved due to the lack of rust in a place where there are more likely to melt than corrode. Apparently free from theft as well, one fellow passenger insightfully remarked that if there was this much metal left around back at home then “the gyppos would have a field day!”. The Atacama Salt Flat (and yes it is real salt, I tasted it) offered the opportunity for the classic photo-shoots but proved quite dangerous to walk on. The crystalized salt is razor sharp, making it one of the more dangerous condiments that I have encountered. The day was broken in the Peine oasis  where we stripped off and took a dip in the freshwater pool, simultaneously providing the afternoons entertainment for the locals. After a brief stop at the local flamingo reserve, lovely birds, we reached the final destination; San Pedro de Atacama.

The two days we spent in the desert town went very quickly. After our late arrival we decided to stay up until 04.00 the next morning as we were to make our way to the Tatia Geysers at first light. Our effervescent driver decided to give himself some substantial help by snorting cocaine off his credit card at regular intervals, whilst regaling us with tales of his short lived time in the police force. Thankfully he was not to be our driver the next day. The geysers themselves were not the most impressive, donning my ‘look how well travelled I am’ hat I can say that the ones I saw in Iceland were far more impressive, they were real blasts of water, these gave the impression of a kettle permanently boiling, damaging the cupboards above it. One co-passenger really began to struggle with the altitude, which I think at that stage was around 3000m. Our driver for the day disappeared before returning with a handful of Coca leaves for the sufferer to chew on. His mood improved. Laguna Cejar  followed, a Chilean version of the Dead Sea, enabling you to float unaided in a surreal experience. Getting the salty water up your nose is not nearly as surreal or tranquil.

The day was finished off with the Valley of The Moon and its cave systems, amazing scenery. A Martian landscape, to fall into the cliché. The following day was our last, we passed the morning sandboarding in the cheerfully named Valley of Death. Climbing a 100 metre sand dune at 2500 metres is without doubt one of the hardest things I’ve ever done. In other words each time I reached the top I was absolutely bolluxed, for want of a better word. Impressions of sandboarding were good, relatively easy to pick up and also relatively easy to face plant yourself into the dune at high speed. That evening we departed for Santiago, 25 hours in bus. Fortunately it passed rather quickly and brought to an end an expensive but completely worthwhile and compelling trip.

Atacama in a minibus – Ruta Atacama

Part 1

Santiago to San Pedro de Atacama. By road it is a journey of 742 miles, the length of Ireland is 301. The bus departed from Central Santiago at 9 am Saturday 2 weeks past. The first day encompassed a lot of mileage in order to reach the coastal city of La Serena. After a  brief paddle in the Pacific we arrived at the bizzarre cat infested hostal late in the evening. Deftly avoiding pools of cat urine in the sitting room we made our way to our rooms to ponder on the possible presence of supernatural beings in the old building. One creaky wardrobe cast fear into the heart of a once brave Englishman. Another comrade descended into paranoia, furiously searching his covers for the presence of the Arana Rincon, fearsomely named in the Saxon tongue as the Brown Spider. Its bites have been known to cause death but unfortunately for the other occupants of the room, our friend did not encounter any.

Santiago hasta San Pedro de Atacama. Por tierra es 1194 kilometros, el largo de Irlanda es 486. El bus partió desde Santiago a las 9.00 hace dos semanas. El primer día incluyó un viaje muy largo para llegar a La Serena. Después de un breve momento en la playa llegamos al hostal donde encontramos un montón de gatos y sus propietarios felinos. Evitando los charcos de orina en el salón fuimos a nuestra pieza donde pensamos sobre las posibilidades paranormales del hostal. El edificio era muy viejo y un armario en particular le dio miedo en el corazón a un previamente valiente inglés. Otro compañero estaba obsesionado con la posibilidad de la presencia de una araña de rincón en su cama. Desafortunadamente no la encontró y seguimos escuchando sus temores por el resto del viaje.

Day 2 involved a lot of driving (familiar theme growing here) before we reached the Humboldt Penguin reserve located on Isla de Choros off Chiles coast. Needless to say we took a boat to the island but judging by the amount of the marijuana that our driver smoked the night before (more on the irrepressible conductor later) he could have flown us there. The penguins played their role marvelously, pattering about and falling over at all the right times, hiding well their true side as ruthless fish butcherers. A certain species of whale aslo joined the party and was really very impressive as it submerged and surfaced several times, earning its tip with several blasts of spray and a well timed splash of the tail. Lunch followed on a nearby islet before a return to the mainland and a very bumpy journey onwards towards Bahía Inglesa (English Bay).

Día 2. Mucho viaje (un tema familiar ¿no?). Llegamos a la Isla de Choros para ver a los pingüinos tiernos y sus amigas las ballenas. Obviamente tomamos un bote hasta la isla, pero con la marihuana que fumó nuestro conductor la noche antes estoy seguro que podríamos haber volado (más sobre él más tarde). Los pingüinos eran todos súper tiernos, cumpliendo sus roles maravillosamente y la ballena también era increíble. Pasamos por toda la isla en el bote y después almorzamos en la isla de al lado donde, obviamente, me quemé como un tomate.

On the third day we rose again, from our beds and headed to the beach. We had spent the night in an empty beach resort which we were told is normally leased out to Chiles retired citizens, this meant the 13 of us from the bus had it to ourselves and it excelled in portraying itself as a potential location for any up and coming serial killer. The day was passed on the beach with some good old fashioned belting of a football out To sea then getting it back, rinse and repeat. The night was passed in the most typical of Chilean traditions with a barbecue, all in all it was delicious with the mood only being slightly dampened by the presence of several vegetarians who by law should not be allowed within 50 feet of such a fine celebration of meat. Our driver cracked out the rum and began to amuse one and all with his inability to utter a signal sentence with using Chilenismos. He revealed how he had once been a member of the police force but had been kicked out for reasons which were never revealed although events later on in the trip would offer some clues.

En el tercer día nos levantamos de nuevo desde nuestras camas y fuimos a una bonita playa, pero desafortunadamente nombrada Bahía INGLESA. Habíamos pasado la noche en cabañas al lado del mar. Era un gran, pero vacío complejo y nos dio la impresión de haber venido de una película de horror. Pasamos el día en la playa después de dos largos días en el bus (¿les he dicho que fuimos en bus?) y terminamos con un típico asado. Fue muy rico como siempre y la presencia de cuatro vegetarianos solamente hizo un poco de daño. Debería existir una ley que les prohibiera llegar a unos cincuenta metros del fuego. Nuestro gran conductor llegó con algunas botellas de ron y pisco y empezamos a tomar como si estuviéramos en un asado al lado del mar con toda la noche por adelante. El empezó a contarnos que una vez era policía pero lo echaron, nunca dijo la causa pero eventos posteriores en el viaje darían más luz a la situación.


*Note that all pictures were taken with a camera without a screen or viewfinder. Unparalleled technique, there are much more on facebook, these are for those lucky ones who have escaped it.

Exams – Fin de semestre

I am (nearly) on my summer holidays. My second bout of summer holidays in the past seven months. Classes finished on Tuesday and I have just 2 exams left to wrap up. There is no RDS cash extravaganza here, exams take place in the classroom during the time allotted for class during the semester. It makes perfect sense and provides for a much calmer examinational experience.  Granted that the class times are 1hour and 20mins, this is adequate time to sit an exam, unlike the 40 minutes back in Dublin. The Chileans who spent last semester in UCD were surprised that we normally sit our exams in a arena where the likes of Cian O’ Connor and other top quality horses strut their stuff. Crowded in alongside thousands of other students and at an obviously massive cost to the University, which undoubtedly we must be paying for. Considering that the campus here has twice the number of students as UCD surely it would be logistically possible to have all the exams take place in Belfield. Of course that would seem to be the sensible option, antithetical to UCD’s standard decision making.

Un semestre acá, ¿y que aprendí? ¿cuáles son mis impresiones de este país y su gente? Claro que no hay espacio acá para discutir todo pero puedo decir que los 4 meses que he pasado acá han sido fantásticos. La gran mayoría de gente que conocí en Chile me recibieron muy amistosamente. También creo que estoy manejando mucho mejor con el español de chile (y shile). Trato de usar muchos los chilenismos porque como dije a un amigo; ‘El mejor modo de aprender es imitar’ y ademas los ocupan siempre, es casi imposible comunicarse sin usar esas palabras. Cacho que puede sonar raro que un extranjero las esté usando pero lo hago para que poder comunicarme con mayor facilidad con ustedes. Voy a dedicar un otro post, probabilmente después de 6 meses, a hablar más sobre mis opiniones y pensamientos de Chile. Cambiando de tema, quiero decir que el sistema de exámenes en la UC me encanta. En mi universidad en Irlanda es un gran proceso, toman lugar en un salon muy grande con miles de otros estudiantes, hay exámens de cada ramo en el mismo salon al y al mismo tiempo. Esto genera una atmosfera de presión y es difícil relajarse con cientos de personas escribiendo al lado. También creo que es un gran gasto para la Universidad porque arrienden un gran salon que es normalmente usado para los show de caballos. El sistema acá es mucho más relajado. Haciendo el examen en la clase con el Professor allá es mucho más facil.

The vast empty waste of summer stretches out before me and what better way to fill it than by heading to one of the vastest and emptiest wastes around. In two weeks I head off for the Atacama desert, famous for being one of the driest places on earth and for Daniel Craig strutting around it in Quantum of Solace. I will be travelling by bus all the way, there and back again, stopping in various places on Chiles northern coast on the way up and then embarking on what surely will be a delightful a 25 hour direct trip on the way back. Naturally enough my body and skin type is prime for desert travel and general extreme heat living so I expect no trouble in that regard. There will be some photos I’m sure, I can sense you all on the edge of your seats. However, I did sit on my camera recently so there is no guarantee that they will be mine. Other highlights of the trip should be an encounter with penguins, after all these years of reading their jokes they will have a lot to answer for.

San Pedro de Atacama será mi primer viaje del verano. Nosotros Irlandeses somos famosos por nuestro capacidad en los desiertos. O sea, nuestro capacidad de quemar. He visto muchas fotos de los viajes de mis amigos a San Pedro y tengo muchas ganas de verlo. Voy en bus con tres amigos, parando en La Serena, Bahía Inglesa y Antofagasta en la ida. La vuelta es directo, en bus, 25 horas. La raja. Habrán fotos seguramente pero no hago promesas, me senté en mi camera y ahora no veo nada en la pantalla, old school.

Quechua – Quechwhat?

Tupac was fluent in Quechua and unsurprisingly so were all his family. He would conduct the majority of his business affairs through the medium of the ancient indigenous language and would go on to conquer many countries with his words. Unfortunately no recordings of him laying it down in Quechua have survived. However this is to be expected considering he was an Incan Emperor who lived in and around the late 1400’s.  Túpac Yupanqui or ‘Pac to his friends was responsible for expanding the Incan empire far to the north of South America and for beginning the growth southwards from Cuzco which would be completed by his son and homie Huayna Cápac.

Cuando la gente me pregunta; “¿Porque elegiste Quechua?” Normalmente digo que quería hacer otro idioma y Portugués estuvo llena. La verdad es que no hice trabajo suficiente en Quechua. Al principio era súper facil, hicimos los fundamentos y pensaba que sería todo así. Pero no, habíamos hecho un montón de trabajo ese semestre. Yo tengo la experiencia de aprender dos idiomas nuevas (Castellano y Italiano) en los últimos dos años. Aprendía mucho más lento, con muchos más tiempo para entender. En Quechua acá, si faltas una clase ,estas en la chucha!*

‘Quechua Language and Culture’ was a course I chose somewhat by accident. Exchange students here are generally not encouraged to take courses in other languages as they are supposed to be persisting with their spanish. However I needed to keep up learning languages so I bent the truth and told administration that I needed to take at least two other languages apart from Spanish in order to make my credits. A cunning and presumably foolproof plan. One that  spectacularly backfired when I was told Portuguese was full and that the only other language course open was Quechua on Mondays and Wednesdays at 8:30 in the morning. Backed into a corner and under the fearsome glare of a University receptionist I had no choice but to accept.

An example of a popular Quechua tune.

Hicimos casi todos los tiempos, el unico que falta es el temido subjuntivo. Ahora yo estoy, en las palabras del Profe ‘muy mal’ y tengo que estudiar mucho para que pueda pasar el ramo. Queda poco y todavia no estoy seguro si tengo una prueba oral o no. Una cosa que debería investigar pronto. Creo que Quechua podría ser una lengua muy interesante y que con tiempo es posible aprenderla, pero mi problema es que estoy aprendiendo a través de español y esto crea problemas.Es mucho más difícil aprender una lengua a través otra lengua que no habías dominado y esa experiencia ha cambiado mis ideas sobre hacer portugués el próxima semestre.

Please take the time to enjoy the impressive flute work in the above video. The language itself has been the most difficult that I have learned so far, a massive contributor being that I’m learning it through another language that I have not yet mastered. The pace has also been quite difficult, in the semester we have covered more than I would have covered in a year and a half of Spanish in UCD for example. It has been interesting but I doubt I will continue it, knowing how to speak a Pre-Incaic language is not exactly going to make the difference in me getting the job in Spar or not.


Elections – Elecciones

Student politics. For me its usually right up there with vegetarianism. I have a strong suspicion that all student politicians are in fact vegetarians. Over the last few weeks the University’s student elections have been taking place. There is the usual amount of flyers and posters on campus and ‘vote muggers’ are frequent and persistent. Originally it seemed similar to the waste of time and money that takes place every year back in UCD. However, a few important differences began to surface. The biggest, most important and downright sensible difference is that there are no paid positions. No sabbatical rubbish. These are unqualified, student politicians. Their work is important, but not near important enough to warrant a hefty salary and free accommodation for example. Another significant change is that there are actual ‘political parties’. Firstly the internal faculty elections took place, positions similar to Arts PRO etc. The candidates came from 3 different parties. Each party had its candidates in each faculty, resulting in a much more realistic election type situation. The parties all have their own views and thoughts as to how Universidad Católica should move forward. This week more general elections are taking place across the whole university again relating to the direction the University will take. The campaigns are pretty impressive; http://www.nau.cl/  and http://www.solidaridad.cl/Feuc2013/

Pleasingly there has not been one mention of any type of Ents Officer (avoiding the enigma that is ‘Communications Officer’). What with the frequency of protest marches and the struggle for free education it is understandable. Not to say that there is nothing of entertainment on offer, the complete opposite. Faculties seem to be competing with each other to provide on campus gigs, dances etc (all of which include alcohol on campus, future topic.). Definitely more than you will find in South Dublin.  I do not want to come across as fawning and gushing about the system in UC and so anti the UCD cliquish popularity contest but it is refreshing to see a bit of common sense in relation to student politics. Must reiterate that I’m not a fan of it though, as I said, vegetarians.

Hitch hiking was also experienced this past weekend (Hello, mother!). Very much acceptable over here but aslo the need to avoid suspicious looking vans. I have yet to pinpoint the Chilean equivalent of a Transit or Hiace but believe me you will be the first to know when I do. Drivers were more than willing to pick us up and drop us to and from the campsite, very handy as Taxi’s can be hard to come by out in the country side. Both trips passed in complete serenity and I now feel a lot cooler about myself. Something about sitting in the back of a pickup truck, bouncing through the hills will do that to you. For several minutes I was Instagram personified.