At 3:30 AM one March morning began a day I shall not forget. That morning we headed to the port of Niebla, thirty minutes away from the city of Valdivia, which is located in southern Chile. We were told to contact Don Osvaldo, who we could find at 4 AM that morning in the port, by a woman whom we met in the fish market of Valdivia. We waited for our fisherman to arrive, standing alone at 4 am on a dock staring at a gathering of about 12 medium sized fishing boats docked at the port. When Don Osvaldo arrived, with three other men, and invited us into his boat, we set off on a fishing journey into the southern waters of the Pacific. Fishing is the second most important industry of Chile, and we lived its significance through the yells and laughs and jokes and labor of 10 Chilean fishermen, who rise daily at 4am and dock nightly at 6pm after a ritual that sometimes pays off, and sometimes doesn't.
We set off into a dense fog fed by the darkness of the morning, having only instruments to guide us to the Pacific. We navigated the shores of Chile for close to 12 hours, lowering the nets in a wide circle and trapping a few tons of anchovies four or five times. The boat, large enough to have a small kitchen and hold ten men, was unfortunately not large enough to control the rage of the ocean. My stomach fiercely fought the torment of the pacific, and lost every single time. As we were rocked back and forth by a seemingly anxious ocean, ate beans and bread with homemade marmelade, and took intermittent naps on the roof of the cabin, I asked the fishermen why they fished. "Because my brothers, my father, my grandfather, and all my uncles fish," replied many. "Because it is all I know how to do," another told me. Some of them were saving their money for their children?s education, earnestly hoping for a professional degree of any sort. And many of them drank their earnings away nightly. The day left us exahusted, and as we headed back to our hotel that night, the fishermen waved goodbye as they went to unload their precious cargo and prepare for the next morrow.
Santiago went by quickly, spent mostly in universities and with researchers from the UN Economic Commission of Latin America, whose headquarters are in Santiago. I visited think tanks and government ministries, many times being amazed by the similarties found in the politics of Chile as compared with those of the US (never forgetting, of course, the much stronger left found in my country). Chile as a whole presented a less grim picture than Argentina, showing signs of a foundation built over decades of loss and struggle, yet made strong through difficult lessons and sometimes violent changes.
We then headed across the driest desert on earth, the Atacama desert, crossing what seemed like an ancient ocean frozen in the midst of a tumultuous storm, colored light brown and abandoned forever, and into Peru, Inca land of rich history and a more sordid present. We will soon walk the paths of the Inca empire, ascending to Macchu Pichu (chewing nonstop coca leaves to prevent altitude sickness) and crossing the height of the magestic Andes. And then to Lima, to see where history has brought the proud people of Peru, from a mystic greatness of the past to a more questionable today.