A great beginning

Today Tommy, Helen, and I (one of the 4 sub-teams on CSC Chile 8) got to meet our host client for the first time face-to-face.  We were thrilled to meet Señor Victor Alberto Contreras Oyarzo and Señor Pedro Antonio Limarí Castro from JUNAEB (Junta Nacional de Auxilio Escolar y Becas), the National Council for School Assistance in Chile.

We heard about how  JUNAEB’s school feeding program provides breakfasts and lunches to millions of students throughout Chile so that vulnerable students can enter, remain, and succeed in the education system.  It is very hard to concentrate on your studies when you have an empty belly. In the Arica area alone they are preparing  over 23,000 meals per day.

Our focus will be to help JUNAEB address 50 measures from the Contrapeso plan which has been defined at a National level to combat obesity in students which is a growing problem in Chile.

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Then we headed to the JUNAEB office and met the staff there.  They were so welcoming and really made us feel at home.

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We  met the teams from the Nutrition, Scholarship, Health, Logistics, and Resource units.  Then we spent most of our time  with the unit for school nutrition, learning about each other, and the school feeding program: Programa de Alimentación Escolar (PAE).

 

#IBMCSC Chile  #CSCChile8

Fellowship of the 12 Comes Together

Years in the planning, all twelve members of the Chile 8 Corporate Service Corps team finally meet in person. It has been a long wait, with a lot of hopes and wondering about who I will be working with over these four weeks.  I’m so excited as we will soon begin our work with community groups in Arica, leveraging our technical and consulting skills to affect positive change in the local community.

I am going to start at the beginning  (a very good place to start…).

It was back in 2014 when I applied to the Corporate Service Corps and was so thrilled to be accepted.  I was also really nervous about leaving my family as my kids were 5 and 7 at the time.   Then in 2016 I was assigned to a team, but had to postpone due to other things happening at work (which were also fulfilling and great).

And then again at the start of 2017 I was assigned to a project and was so happy that it was to be in Chile.  I had visited Peru, Bolivia, and Ecuador on previous excursions, and I loved the people and the experiences.  I gladly accepted to return once again to South America.

The team then spent 3 months of prep-work.  We talked on the phone weekly and shared with each other, and started to get to know our team.

Debbie and I ran into most of the team at the left-luggage/baggage storage at Santiago International and then headed up to our gate where we met our twelfth and final member of our team.  The fellowship united.  Most of whom had been traveling for 1-3 days to get to this point, from 10 different countries.  It is fair to say that many brains were scattered at this point and excitement was high as we navigated the airport process and got to our seats on the plane.

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We flew the 2,000km to Arica together (remember Chile is the longest country in the world) and every single bag made it.  We were picked up at the airport and headed to Hotel Diego de Almagro Arica where we got to meet Carolina, our Regional Program Coordinator from Pyxera Global, and were very quickly assigned to rooms, our new homes for the next month.  Exhausted from the travel, but enthused greatly for the journey that lays before us.  I look forward to sharing this adventure with you.

 

#IBMCSC Chile #CSCChile8

 

Another time up the hill

On Friday, we had to leave Cascada de las Animas and head back to Santiago.

First we had to pack up and get our selves organized.  It was nice to not be in a rush and to take our time getting to breakfast.  We checked out at around 11:30 and decided to do one more hike before we left the beautiful sanctuary of Cascadas de las Animas (Waterfall of the Spirits).

We looked up at the peak that we had climbed to the day before.

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We met with our fellow hikers and had a talk in Spanish about some of the local flora/fauna.  I was able to pick up every 3rd or 4th word.  He talked about staying at least one meter away from the enclosures.  Then he mentioned chocolate and Cafe con leche which was confusing to me until a nearby family helped us translate that he was talking about the colour of the Maipo river — which really is that colour.

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This was a much easier path than the day before, but we still fell behind the group as we took pictures.  We passed the a few enclosures containing Pumas, Parrots, and two Eagles (which are the last two known of their species in Chile).

Then we got to the actual waterfall.

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“Cascada de las Animas means Waterfall of the Spirits, and is the legendary name given to this waterfall and to the nature sanctuary that surrounds it.

The legend of ‘Cascada de las Animas’ can be traced back several hundred years to a time when horse wranglers passing near the falls on their way down from the mountains were surprised to see a group of women bathing and dancing at the base of the falls.  As they approached closer they realized that the women were semi-transparent and were in fact spirits.

Many stories have also been told of countless sightings of fairies in the area.  The fairy people were known to be gentle and kindly towards children yet mischievous with adults.  In bygone days, children of local woodsmen have told stories of having spoken to the fairies, while adults have found their campsites ransacked by them.”

After heading back down the hill we left and headed back to Santiago to finally meet the other 10 members of our CSC team.

#IBMCSC Chile  #CSCChile8

 

Worth every step

On Thursday we woke up and really got to see the beauty of Cascada de las Animas for the first time.  Such a beautiful spot and a very well designed architecture and theme.

The name means “Waterfall of the Spirits”, not “Cascade of the animals” as I had originally thought 🙂

About Cascada (read more):

Through six generations the Astorga clan has cared for, and protected it´s lands. Currently the Nature Sanctuary has numerous reforestation, erosion control and wildlife reintroduction projects underway. More than 30.000 trees have been planted in the last 10 years and a number of endangered wildlife species, endemic to Chile, are being released to the wild.

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Originally today we were going to be doing the El Morado trek.(an Easy to intermediate 4 hour hike, but due to the unfortunate recent flooding of the Maipo river, the roads and park are closed.  We had called/emailed earlier in the week and Cascada had offered for us to do a  4-5 hour hike for some breathtaking views of the Andes in the realm of the Condor.  Which we accepted.

After a yummy breakfast (with decent tea), we went to visit the office as our safe had been locked in the open position and we were not sure about our packed lunches.  Our Spanish vocabulary is limited, and I had taken a photo of the safe so we were able to mime/Spanglish our communications to get that sorted out (safe was locked, plus the batteries were low).

Then we met our amazing guide, Simon, who suggested we get more water for the trek while he arranged for our packed lunch.

We found out more about the trek, turns out it is a much harder trek than we had originally booked, but we figured they were exaggerating a bit and we were feeling adventurous.

Trip Length: 4 to 5 hours, Available all year
Difficulty: Intermediate to Strenuous

This trek initially follows the route of the ‘Meseta Trek’ then proceeds to climb an additional 500 meters higher into the spectacular Cordillera! After leaving the meseta, the trail climbs steeply upwards to “La Campana” – an 1800 meter, bell shaped mountain that dominates the landscape surrounding the sanctuary.

They were not exaggerating.

The hike was a challenge as it is walking uphill for what normally takes 2 hours.  We had a decision point at one stop where we could have taken a shorter hike, but we opted to go for the full hike and just take our time.  Simon was very patient with us as we took lots of photos and stopped for water breaks.

Our trek upwards:

After the grueling uphill climb (which took us 3 hours) we stopped at a gorgeous picnic area for lunch.  I swam in a mountain pool and we enjoyed our ham/cheese/guacamole sandwiches with nuts and fruit.

Flora/Fauna (the brown lumps are toads, the bird is a Condor):

The view at the top

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We walked back down, with our joints complaining the whole way.  Overall it took us 7.5 hours to finish the 4-5 hour hike, but it was so worth it for the experience, the views and the nature we encountered.

We headed back to Cascada for a cooling swim, and a delicious dinner.

#IBMCSC Chile  #cscChile8

The beauty of Cachagua

As a special treat, we are staying at a friend’s house in Cuchagua Chile.  This must be one of the most beautiful places on the planet.

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Overall it was a great day, we climbed rocks and explored areas and found lots of the unexpected.

Wildlife: just offshore we saw the threatened Humboldt penguins  Pelicans and other birds on the Isla Los Pinguinos Cachagua.   Thankfully, the island is protected.  We got a fairly good view with binoculars from the shore.

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We saw six-legged star fish, and a sun fish (like a star fish but with lots more legs).  There were crabs and lots of other small life in the tidal pools.  Also some weird striped pod-things.  Anyone know what they are?

After visiting the beach we went for a walk on La Rambla a path of stone steps and pathways that connects the beaches from Cachagua to Zapallar.

 

Tomorrow we plan to visit Playa de Zapallar and then continue on our journey via Valparaíso and Cascades de los animales

#ibmCSC Chile  #cscChile8

 

Santiago adventures

I am sitting in my beautiful hotel room in Santiago and wanted to share some of my adventures from yesterday.  I have a few days of travel planned before my exciting CSC Adventure starts and am exploring Santiaga, Cuchagua, and .

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My hotel, Castillo Rojo, really is beautiful, it is a castle originally build in 1923 that has been converted into a hotel.  Excellent customer service when I arrived, helping me with my bags and providing great recommendations on nearby sites, banks, and restaurants.

After checking-in and relaxing for a bit, I headed out to explore.

I walked around the neighbourhood for a bit and then headed to the nearby Vehicular (trolley) that takes visitors up to San Cristóbal Hill.  Bella Vista is a very nice neighbourhood and I enjoyed just wandering for a bit.

Since it was closer to the end of the day I ended up deciding to first take the tourism bus around Santiago to get a better sense of the town.  It was a nice view of the city, but my tired brain was not processing the audio-tour, and rush-hour was not the best time to take this bus, so I ended up getting off and walking for a bit to get to another stop so I could take the bus back to the Vehicular stop.  I enjoy walking in new towns anyway, as it is a much better way to get a sense of a place. There were a lot of neat murals and graffiti on buildings which really make the city vibrant.

I then headed back to the vehicular for San Cristóbal Hill .  It was a lot of fun to take the vehicular and I think my kids would have enjoyed it.   The view was spectacular.  I had heard that sometimes the view is blocked by smog, but I got a fairly clear day.

I then headed back to my hotel and then attended the free wine-tasting at the hotel and met some interesting other travellers.  Many of who were just wrapping up their Chilean adventures.  The hotel recommended Galindo for dinner, the food was yummy and hit the spot.  I then went to the “Patio Bellavista” for some Gelato.  It is one of my traditions to eat Gelato in every country I visit.  I chose “Frambuesa” (raspberry) over the “Melon con Vino” option (although I think “melon with wine” might be an interesting flavour).

 

Dreams to Reality

What started out as a dream a couple years ago is now becoming reality. I originally signed up for IBM’s Corporate Service Corps as it combined both travel and volunteering, two things I love. The first time I had heard about the program, I knew I wanted to participate. The opportunity to be able to give-back using my technical and consulting skills was just too good to pass up.

Now I am just a couple days away from getting on a flight and what was just a concept has now become all too real as I finish up my work tasks, pack for a 5 week trip and complete my TODO list (which seems to be getting longer, not shorter).

I have been getting to know my 11 peers on this adventure over the prep-work during the past three months and am looking forward to meeting everyone face to face for the first time.

Earlier this week my sub-team had a virtual meeting with our host client, JUNAEB, and it went well as we got to know each other a bit and better understand their goals. They are excited that we are coming and they said they are looking forward to working with us and showing us around beautiful Arica. I am very eager to start work with them.

#IBMCSC Chile