Last Friday, I headed to PUCV’s Casa Central, a leisurely 10-minute walk from my house in Cerro Barón, after the usual hearty breakfast prepared for me by my lovely host mom Paty. Heading to Casa Central on a Friday morning is unusual for me, however—I managed to finesse a schedule with only three days of class a week, leaving my Mondays and Fridays free for adventures in the Quinta Región and beyond. May 31st was no ordinary Friday, though; it was the day of our long-awaited CIEE field trip to the Museo de la Memoria y los Derechos Humanos in Santiago.
Over the past few weeks, those of us in Professor Fernando Vergara’s class “Chile: Historia Contempoaránea y Geografía Cultural,” (muy recomendable!) hosted by CIEE, have been learning about the dictatorship of Augusto Pinochet in the 1970s and 80s. Throughout those decades, innumerable human rights violations and disappearances created a culture of fear and distrust in Chile. The Museo de la Memoria documents, in horrific detail, the atrocities committed under Pinochet in the hope that similar events will never be repeated. Fernando led us on a powerful tour through the dark halls of the museum, where we admired trinkets creatively crafted by political prisoners in abhorrent conditions, watched footage of the September 11 bombing of the presidential palace, and heard the stories of torture survivors kept in government black sites. In the main hall, a massive wall bears thousands of portraits—most of loved ones who were disappeared, but several that are just empty frames—a stark reminder that unresolved cases still remain.
The field trip to the museum was an emotional conclusion to our unit on the dictatorship, and before we move on to the democratic transition next week a few friends and I decided that a descanso en Santiago was in order. The 10 of us rented an Airbnb apartment in the swanky Providencia neighborhood and linked up with several compipas from CIEE Santiago for a weekend of games, banter, cigars, and pisco.
On Saturday, the city treated us to a rare (mostly) clear day, and from the top of Cerro San Cristóbal we could see the magnificent Andes looming over smoggy Santiago. Despite the heavy air, the vast parks and many trees were a welcome respite from Valparaíso, where every space is tightly packed with art and people. Sometimes the coziness of Valpo can begin to feel oppressive, and having Santiago only a short bus ride away helps keep the cramp at bay. Even so, I confess that this was my first time really exploring Santiago—and with only a month left in Chile!
We enjoyed the Champions League final between Liverpool and Tottenham at the Palacio de la Chorrillana (chorrillana is a local specialty; the southern hemisphere’s answer to poutine but just a bit more delicious) and caught a spectacular sunset on a pedestrian bridge over the mythical Río Mapocho. A short bip! ride took us home, where we flexed our culinary muscles preparing dinner and rested up for the next day’s activities—a picnic and frisbee in Parque Forestal followed by a long walk through the Plaza de Armas, Baquedano, and city center.
After a weekend enjoying busy Santiago, we were all ready to feel the tranquil sea breeze of Valparaíso again. It never takes long to settle back into the rhythm of life here after a weekend away, especially with the excellent care provided by Chilean host mothers. Still, the excitement wasn’t done—late Sunday night I felt my first earthquake: a 4.8 magnitude tremor that gently rocked me to sleep after an extraordinary weekend.