Cascadas de las Animas (Wed., 3/11/09) – An Identity Crisis Indeed

Today was a little more relaxed. We spent the day participating in outdoor team building exercises including white water rafting, horseback riding and trekking (and unplanned cliff jumping).

In short, the whitewater rafting adventure included four of us in one raft and six in another with guides in each, rafting down the Maipo river. The river was cold (9oC) enough to take your breath away, sandy colored and quick with continuous rapids. The river is low enough that the rapids were only class three. On one side were the majestic Andes, with few small patches of snow and mostly striped shades of brown and green. The other side was a rocky, dusty shore that rose an average of a couple meters above the river level. The ride was exhilarating with constant rapids such as The Dead and The Washing Machine, lots of quick commands from our guide and lots and lots of cold river water splashing into our raft, especially on those of us in the front.

In the afternoon, 12 of us jumped on beautiful brown, black and white horses and escorted by three guides, began our ascent up into the mountains on a dusty, rocky, steep and narrow trail. The horses were very well trained and well behaved as they mostly maintained head to tail formation all along the way. There were some horses that seemed to want their own personal space or to march to the beat of their own drummer, but for the most part, they were easy and friendly. The climb up felt gradual and as we leaned forward to help our horses, we saw green valleys, several small clusters of houses, cliffs, waterfalls and more mountains that seemed to rise forever. The way down was a little more nerve racking as the trails were very steep and dust clouds abounded such that you could only see a few horses in front of you. Many of us were sneezing from all the “particulate” (technical term) The cutback trails threaded through both wooded and unwooded areas, most of which were irrigated to prevent erosion resulting from the trails.

Our rafting guide told us something that made me think differently about our day yesterday and about a conversation we had had earlier. He said that Chile is a wonderful place but their biggest problem is that they have an identity crisis. Apparently, even on national holidays, people don’t really celebrate, or don’t know what they’re celebrating.  I have to wonder if this is a result of the Pinochet regime. It seems that he was so suppressive that he made people forget what being Chilean is all about.

I have to admit, that when I signed up for this trip, I really had no idea what to expect. There’s nothing that I know to associate with Chile except maybe some of the produce I see at home and wine. It seems that Chile needs to find their niche and broadcast it to the world. The Argentines have the tango, the Brazilians have the Amazon, what does Chile have? I’ve been here only four days, and there is so much that is wonderful about this place that I never would have known. If you doubt it, just look at some of the pictures posted in our photo gallery.