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Geology, Culture and Camaraderie in Chilean Patagonia


“This trip is like the reddest and juiciest apple you've ever sunk your teeth into.”
Sonny Gotos �11 (Philosophy major)

19 people, including 14 students, ventured to the Chilean Patagonia during spring break March 2010.

Students from Spanish and Geology classes who trekked to the Chilean Patagonia during spring break seemed beside themselves in describing it.

The trip was planned by Professors Laura Rademacher (Earth & Environmental Sciences) and Traci Roberts-Camps (Modern Languages & Literature) as a way to meld studies of culture and geology. Chile is rich in both areas.

The 8-day field trip from March 5-14, 2010, was required for students enrolled in the new Geology of Chile course (GEOS 65), which investigates Chile�s uniquely diverse geologic regions, including deserts, volcanoes, glaciers and coasts. The trip was optional for the Latin American literature class (SPAN 135).

Delights of Torres del Paine

In addition to a day trip to The Magdalena Island penguin colony from Puntas Arenas�the southernmost city in the world�a highlight for many of the travelers was the boat excursion through the fjords of Bernardo O�Higgins National Park and up the River Paine into Torres del Paine National Park. Win McLaughlin �10 describes �the strong winds that so typify Patagonia, the glacial blue waters, a wealth of amazing bird species. And then there was the geology! There was the coolest fault propagation fold ever.� (Spoken like a true Earth & Environmental Sciences major!)

�It is truly awesome to consider the forces necessary to take what were hundreds of meters of underwater landslides and tilt and bend them beyond your wildest imagination,� added Win. The only drawback to the trip from Win�s point of view was the time constraints. �It was really too short to see and fully enjoy the places we went.�

Living and Learning

Environmental Studies major Robyn Mendoza �11 claimed the trip far exceeded her expectations. �I knew it was going to be quite an experience, but the geological features and the people just blew me away! We saw volcanoes, glaciers, islands, poets, scientists and much more.�

�In Torres del Paine, the stars at night surrounded us like a planetarium and reached the mountaintops on all sides. On the boats, we saw towering waterfalls that ran down the mountains in between the trees like the scenery of a rainforest. The people were just as remarkable. They welcomed us with generosity and kindness throughout our entire stay.�

Robyn appreciated how they were able to see and experience tectonic and glacial activity in a way the classroom could never offer. �We stood on glacial moraines, walked on mineral springs deposits, and visited tangible evidence of subduction along the South American plate.�

Chilean Culture

Retired English professor and former interim dean of the College Dr. Robert Cox has been taking the Geology of Chile class, and he planned to take numerous photos of the unique geologic features of the region.

�But the culture and history of Patagonia is also a compelling subject, and, as it turned out, more than half of my photos were taken to capture an image bearing on the lives of people living in Patagonia in the present and the past,� said Dr. Cox. �It was a great trip!�

One of the cultural stops on the itinerary was �La Chascona,� one of the homes of Pablo Neruda�a Chilean writer and politician who is considered one of the most influential poets of the 20th century. Neruda won the Nobel Prize for Literature in 1971.

In Punta Arenas, an evening of art and poetry was arranged. Contemporary Patagonian poets recited their works (in Spanish) as did Dr. Martin-Camps, a distinguished poet who writes in English and Spanish. A video presentation included a song based on the stories of a Yagan woman, the only surviving member of the Yagan community in Chile.

Dr. Cox shared that the professors �went out of their way to give us the opportunity to have traditional Patagonian cuisine.� After the excursion to the penguin colony, the group ate at a traditional Patagonian restaurant on the outskirts of Punta Arenas.

What About the Earthquake?

A magnitude 8.8 earthquake struck central Chile on February 27, 2010�just six days before the start of the trip. The travelers flew into Santiago, which is 210 miles from the epicenter (offshore Maule, Chile). Because the airport had some ceiling, window and other minor damage, tent structures were set up to process passengers through customs and check-in.

The group took advantage of the extra long layover in Santiago on the way to Chile by piling into taxis and heading through the city to view some of the earthquake damage. They saw cracks in the land surface and damage to some of the roads, which gave an indication of what the earthquake must have felt like as its seismic waves passed through Santiago.

Here is Win McLaughlin�s account of the effects:

"There were hardly any damaged buildings�the building codes really are that good there�and people just dealt with it so well. While the airport may have been partly in tents, it was still noticeably more organized than certain U.S. airports I�ve been in! The long layovers in Santiago were the only effect of the earthquake on our trip.

"When you say Chile, people erroneously picture some third-world country. In fact, not only are their new building codes on par with the U.S., but they have a higher standards for retrofitting older buildings. "

Coming to a Theatre Near You

Thomas Woodward �11, a Business major with a focus on Arts and Entertainment and a Film Studies minor, is creating a documentary of the trip. �I saw Patagonia through the camera,� said Thomas. �It was the first time I had been out of the country and let me tell you, amazing does not do this trip justice. I think Sonny Gotos put it best when he said, �This trip is like the reddest and juiciest apple you've ever sunk your teeth into.��

The documentary revolves around how the region�s environment influences the literature and the need to continue preserving one of the most beautiful and vulnerable places in the world. A trailer for the film will be shown at the Pacific Film Festival this spring, and the full documentary will premiere in the fall.

�Everybody who went on the trip came out a changed person just by the sheer beauty of what we saw,� said Thomas.

Thomas expressed his appreciation for the professors who oversaw the trip, stating that they made the trip truly unforgettable. He was referring to the husband and wife pairs Dr. Traci Roberts-Camps and Dr. Martin Camps of Modern Languages & Literature, and Dr. Laura Rademacher and Dr. Kurtis Burmeister of Earth & Environmental Sciences, who provided instruction along the way. �Even the tour guides commented on learning something new for once,� said Thomas.

Drs. Rademacher and Roberts-Camps are now starting research to further examine the connection between the geology and culture of Patagonia, which they have continued to discuss in their classes.

The trip was a year in the planning, and the professors hope to offer the trip again. The cost was $2750 per person, but judging from student feedback, the experience was priceless.