Loving Santiago and all its surroundings, adventures, and cultures – but I am shocked at how exhausted I am every day! We get intermittent wifi to send a few messages here and there or upload some photos (It’s almost refreshing). I am learning a lot, having amazing discussions revolving around sustainability, culture, and “the Chilean Way” (and everything in between) and there’s a good balance between fun, education, and research. The peers I am traveling with span a 30-year age gap, yet we are all working toward a similar cause: To do better for our community, environment, and planet by preserving and conserving to ensure an efficiently resourceful future. This opportunity has been incredible!
A bit of a recap thus far: we began our journey on August 8th, with Chad and I flying out of BWI. In a roundabout way, we all met in Houston before catching an overnight flight to Santiago, Chile. With very little sleep and mostly sore bodies, we made our way through customs and checked into our hotel in the late morning of August 9th. We had a bit of that first morning to settle in and get ready for our first round of adventures.
Through a city tour by bus and on foot, we learned an extremely brief overview of Santiago, with snippets of history thrown in throughout. We also met our mentors and Chilean hosts: Alex, Fernanda, and Isabell, who each do an amazing job translating, interpreting, and filling in gaps or extrapolating on some of the questions we have. Seeing as though Fernanda and Isabell work closely with Alex on his research at Universidad del Desarrollo in various fields of sustainability, they are familiar students to our perspective. We hiked throughout Parque de Metropolitano de Santiago, took a chairlift to the top of San Cristobal Hill and gawked at our first expansive glimpse of our host city.
The following day we spent our morning touring the KDM landfill and energy site. Some of the most interesting stand-outs from this day were the fact that Chile does not have the same focus on recycling as I’m used to seeing within the United States. When we asked Alex about it, he mentioned that the amount of energy and capital it takes to invest in a recycling program is so expensive, it doesn’t reap enough benefits to make it worthwhile. Within our lecture and presentation from KDM it became a little more apparent… The composition of Chile’s waste is 78% organic material, 10% plastic and 6% metal (glass is barely on the pie chart). It is no wonder why most of the focus is on sanitary landfill efficiency and landfill energy recapture. KDM’s primary site has the capacity to consume organic waste and produce energy through 2045, at which time it will peak and alternative methods will take over.
Walking on the landfill and seeing it working live was quite eye opening… We were able to look down at the backhoes and dump trucks in the valley below us while standing atop a Cliffside with the knowledge that in 2-3 months, the valley would be level with us as a result of garbage. Scenes of Wall-E start playing in my head and there’s a bit of an overwhelming sense of urgency to “figure out our problems” a whole lot faster now.
We left the landfill site and headed to our host campus for lectures and a tour. Our presenter was renowned researcher Camilo Rodriguez-Beltran Arts + science collaborator who posed us with the challenge of taking four recent events in Chilean history regarding sustainability issues, analyzing them and presenting possible solutions. My group received the problem of paraffin contaminated water within a community. The water source was being contaminated from a local ski resort who uses paraffin to heat the facility and resort. The contamination was discovered by a resident who noticed their water smelled like gasoline and reported it to the water company. After several reports, the water company started a chain reaction of events that lead to the discovery of the source of the contamination, and the subsequent causes. Additionally, it was discovered that the ski resort was aware of the leak, but unaware of the severity and the fact that this area was a water source for a community. Though the leak has been fixed and the community has clean water, there are lasting effects on the flora and fauna that can still be seen to this day.
August 11th we had a winery/vineyard tour scheduled, complete with a tasting for research of course! Vino Ventisquero is an ISO 9001 and ISO 14001 certified company that also holds several additional sustainability certifications. They use methods throughout their vineyard and winery to continually reduce energy and water consumption, and address their waste management. Seeing as though my capstone project was on sustainability in craft breweries, this wasn’t too far off from a lot of the research I had done to complete that project. Vino Ventisquero engages in rain water catchment, drip irrigation systems, and internal water reclamation to reduce their water consumption and waste water runoff. They also use the clippings from pruning the vines to compost and fertilize the soil for the next season and donate their spent fruits to local farmers for feed and composting. They monitor their energy efficiency and find ways to promote energy savings throughout the winery including converting all illumination to LED and installing a pilot solar program which has resulted in about a 15% energy savings over the last year. When the facility was built, it was built into the grade of the mountain which not only helps with heating and cooling efficiency (typically an enormous energy guzzler in commercial facilities) but also allows gravity to do most of the work during the harvest. Their focus on consumption and efficiency in every step helps monitor and meet their annual reduction goals. Vino Ventisquero produces one million cases, 12 bottles per case, per year of wine – 21 million kilos of grapes and at their peak, they support a staff of around 250 employees during their harvest.
Though cards are accepted throughout many businesses, it is not as prevalent as in the United States and a lot of people still use cash. Our average exchange rate has been about 630 pesos per American dollar. That night we had the opportunity to experience Bella Vista market and exchange money. This little bit of casual time also afforded us some networking time. I met a woman from Duluth whose husband is involved with a new and upcoming local brewery. It was easy to converse, seeing as how she’s obtaining her Masters in Sustainable Management and I just finished a thesis paper on Sustainability in Craft Breweries. She asked me to email her the paper to read and we discussed the possibility of using this research in the new brewery. It seems like the perfect way to get the craft brewery experience I need to start building on my resume and perhaps develop some professional relationships with people in that industry. Adventuring our way back through town with impromptu dance parties, a saxophone serenade and a few stops on the metro later, we called it a night and prepped for our first free day.
Saturday morning, August 12th I kicked off with a mini workout in the tiny hotel gym and met up with friends to navigate our way to Skydive Andes. We got a bit lost on the way, but enjoyed the sights while we figured out the route. The dropzone was one of the most beautiful I had ever seen, but we didn’t think to call ahead and the owner informed us the grass runway was too soggy to fly. They would be closed Saturday and Sunday, but would be open on Monday for a few loads and we would try again at that time.
We met up with the rest of the gang who had been wandering through Los Dominicos market and we made a plan to find somewhere to eat. The logistics of finding not only something to eat that 18 people agree upon but a place which can accommodate the group has been a small frustration. We’ve dubbed a lot of things “the Chilean Way” on this trip such as tardy guides or tour buses, ultra relaxed schedules, heck even drinking a glass of wine well before lunch, but when you’re two hours passed an expected meal time a funny passive-aggressive tone takes over the group (aka, people are politely trying to avoid being the first one to be dubbed “Hangry”). The sun was finally shining so we opted for a cute café with outdoor seating and soaked in our first bit of Chilean Vitamin D.
Chad and I decided to make a break for it and explore without the group after our late lunch. We found our way to the metro and headed up to Los Dominicos market. Los Dominicos is a small artisan market in the center of Las Condes, where we are staying during our time in Santiago. It was right before sunset so the light cascading upon the Andes in the background was stunning, and the market was a breath of creativity and goodies. We found a few souvenirs for friends and family and toasted the cool evening with freshly made tiramisu and cortados (espresso with milk).
We’ve been so busy it’s hard to keep up so I hope to provide an update for August 13-17 tomorrow evening! We are currently preparing to leave Santiago and head to a Green Innovations Conference at UDD and then fly to Concepcion tomorrow evening. I’m thoroughly enjoying this experience and I’m just trying to soak up every ounce I can while I’m here!