17 October 2008 – day 15 - Friday

Today was our last day in Chile and it's very sad. But at least we had a reasonably full day. We did the usual morning routine: get up early, eat breakfast in the hotel, then get on the tour bus. This time the bus took us through town. As the bus went down the street Nelson entertained us with stories, as he has done in the past. For example, he told us about how men in Chile know certain things, but they want that warm comfortable feeling of being helped. So a man can walk into their equivalent of Home Depot, stand right in front of an aisle full of hammers and yet ask a store employee, “Can you tell me where the hammers are?” just so that they get the personalized attention needed for shopping.

I took some more photos of the power lines because I find them so amusing. In Minneapolis, trees are hacked to shreds to make sure that no leaf or branch will touch the power line for the next five years.

As we got to the outskirts of town, the scenery became more beautiful, with the Andes in the background and green valleys below.

The hills were alive with the flowers of Spring.

Finally we reached our first destination: a school. This was not a normal school day, it was a special parent-teacher conference day or something. So there weren't many students there. There were a couple of dozen students around, and they gave us a special demonstration of the Chilean dancing. The boys were dressed up as Huassos, the cowboys like we saw in the rodeo. The girls were decked out in Spanish dresses. The dancing was very fun.

Some of our group were brought up to dance with the students. It was fun.

Next, the school Principal took us to their computer lab and gave us a presentation about the school. The travel company, OAT, has a foundation and a certain percentage of our money for the trips gets donated to the foundation. So the Principal gave us a PowerPoint slide show about the money they've received from the foundation and how that money has been used. They showed a whole bunch of “before and after” photos and explained what improvements had been made since 2007. The computer lab was interesting. They had a bunch of computers lined up, older machines by our standards, but at least they had several to go around. I'm guessing there were about 20 computers in the lab.

Nelson had told us earlier about how the school system in Chile is different from the United States. The odd thing is that the teachers move around throughout the day whereas the students stay in one place. That makes it very difficult for a teacher to set up an environment in which to teach. All their teaching tools and aids have to be lugged from room to room. Some of our group talked to the English teacher and said later that his English was very poor. However, he also had plans to improve his own English skills for the next three years.

Another interesting thing is that they take their absenteeism very seriously. We were told that if any student fails to show up for class, the school is required to call the police, and the police is sent to the student's home to find out what happened. That's serious.

After the school visit, we visited a local winery.

This was pretty cool. Earlier in the fall, Kathy and I went with her dad and stepmother to visit a winery in Wisconsin. That “winery” was a joke. They didn't even have established grapes, so they basically imported grapes, blended them, fermented them, bottled them and sold them. Well, today's winery outside of Santiago was a real winery. They had huge fields full of well-established grape bushes, huge fermentation vats

and machines and equipment for bottling and labeling.

It wasn't a big commercial wine factory by any means. It was still a small operation. But it was really a locally owned winery with all the frills.

The owner of the winery gave us a tour and explained all the kinds of wines he made, and the differences between them. He was slow and considerate.

I wouldn't call him a salesman. He was a wine artist and it showed in how he spoke and acted. He spent a lot of time talking proudly about his trade and how things worked, and he was entertaining. You could tell he was not trying to rush us or pressure us into buying the wine. I would be proud to call this man my friend. After the tour, we were served meat empanadas that were a lot bigger than expected. These were probably the best of the ones I've had in Chile. It was a lot of fun.

After that, we headed back to the hotel where the group split up. This marked the end of the official OAT tour, so half of the group disembarked and prepared for their trip back to the United States. The other half, including us, said our farewells and got back on the bus.

We were shuffled off to the airport where we took an uneventful flight to our post-trip extension. Our next destination: Buenos Aires, Argentina. They pronounce the city's name like “Bway-noss Iris.”

We are staying at a fancy hotel in the middle of downtown Buenos Aires. We were given a short walk around. Being a Friday night, the city was a bustling madhouse of loud noises and questionable-looking people. Some people put out bags of trash to be collected before morning. Other people dug through the bags to see what scraps of food they could gleen from within.

I must say my first impressions of the city are not very good. It's dirty and we were warned about pickpockets and thieves. I guess you can find that in any big city, but Santiago seemed more clean and safe. Maybe it's just the loud noises I didn't like. Maybe I'm just starting to miss the quiet solitude of our lake home. Or maybe I've just grown more comfortable with Santiago and the smiling faces of the people of Chile.

Tomorrow we're going on a city tour of Buenos Aires and we'll have some free time to explore.