Part two ended with the UDD Green Innovations Conference and our subsequent travel from Santiago, where we had been based since the beginning of our trip, to a small town called Concepcion. Concepcion is located in central Chile, southwest of Santiago and is nearer the town of Chillán, where we would also be touring and exploring.
We woke the morning of August 19th with eager anticipation to get to Chillán with a promise of snowboarding in the Andes and relaxing in the piscinas thermals (volcanic hot springs!). The morning was structured for us to spend time with a professor and colleague of our host in Santiago: Dr. Diego Rivera. We spent time learning about the history and culture of Chillán, exploring the markets, and ended with a tour of Diego’s home campus at Universidad de Concepcion Campus Chillán.
We then made our way through a stunning drive to Riding Hostel and Restaurant at the base of the Andes below Nevados de Chillán for lunch. I practically engorged myself in the amazing fare of lomo (steak, basically) smothered over perfected mashed potatoes, sopa de pollo and delicious local red wine. We were quite surprised and honored when our organizers, Dean John and Associate Dean Mike picked up the tab for us as a final treat! (THANKS GUYS!!!!)
The winding, curvy, switchback drive up the mountain was quite entertaining and we were all ready for the excursion we had all been anticipating for almost the entire trip! I know Chad and I were more than anxious to get on the slopes and see what this bucket-list opportunity had in store for us. Unfortunately, the morning delays and the time spend at Riding Hostel and Restaurant ate into almost our entire opportunity to snowboard and enjoy the thermals. With the mountain at the end of the season, many of the lifts were closed, the conditions were less than optimal, and the resort would be closing at 5pm (it was 3:45pm when we arrived). Most of the group opted to do the volcanic hot springs, but a few of us rushed to the rental office, paid way too much for the ride we would be able to accomplish, and rushed out to the lifts. I’ll be honest, up to this point I had remained extremely flexible, not bothered or rattled by too much, but this was such a “hot ticket item” for me that I had been looking forward to for months, that my initial reaction was disappointment and devastation. I quickly got it out of my system (after a mini-mostly-internal temper tantrum) and realized I had to make the most out of what I could control… I was in the Andes Mountains, dammit, and there was NOTHING that was going to stop me from snowboarding my ass off, even if it was for 40 minutes in shitty snow conditions!
We headed down a beautiful corridor of the mountain, surrounded by enormous trees with peaks of overlooks and stunning views. I whipped out every single camera device I could for the lift ride up, and captured a bit of the ride down on our GoPro. By the time we got to the lift that would bring us to the summit, they were already closing operations so we had missed our big opportunity. We headed back down the side of the mountains and rode into the chalet at 4:48… Knowing we wouldn’t have time to make another quality run, we turned in our gear as quickly as possible, joined Joe, who had also just finished, and the three of us hurried over to the volcanic hot springs to meet the rest of our group.
Again, cutting it a little short, we knew we had to be dressed and ready to head back to catch the bus to Concepcion at 5:30pm – Chad and I actually wore our swimsuits all day and during snowboarding because we had a feeling it was going to be cutting it close and didn’t want to waste a single moment! The thermals…were…incredible!!! There were two outdoor pools and one indoor, all surrounded by snow and mountains with swim-up bars, waterfalls and even a slide! Our friend and peer, Julie, showed us where the hot water spout was (basically, where the water that was being heated by the volcanoes were feeding the pool) and we camped out there while we enjoyed our brief-but oooohhhh so worth it time. I would definitely recommend hitting this resort up, maybe a little earlier in the season and making an entire weekend out of it! We ended the evening with dinner out at a phenomenal Peruvian restaurant called Fina Estampa and stopped off for local brews on our walk home before calling it an exhausted night.
It was ever more evident at this point that our adventures were coming to an end. Sunday, August 20th was spent packing up, touring the Universidad de Concepcion main campus to kill time, and then beginning our long haul home. The first round were our flights from Concepcion to Santiago. These were relatively uneventful and went off without a hitch. Upon arriving in Santiago’s International Airport, we had to grab our luggage and then begin the ticketing and bagging process to exit the country. I will say, though the service was pleasant, the speed was less than a snail’s pace and this whole process really was just a waiting game that ran the risk of testing a lot of people’s patience. Chad and I – along with a few others – opted to make the most of the last few hours together and keep our optimism as high as possible. We found creative ways to entertain ourselves, such as impromptu mini-dance parties, singing and laughing, and reminiscing about the trip and friendships we had made.
Our plane out of Santiago was delayed slightly, but we took off after 10pm and I settled in with an Amy Winehouse documentary and a cerveza. A little more than an hour into the flight, our captain announced that he had been concerned with the hydraulic levels and after discussing the situation with ATC in Chicago, he had been advised to turn around and return to Santiago to assess the impairment. I literally laughed out loud… I have long considered myself to have a travel curse and have since become somewhat of an expert at rolling with these situations. We were advised to hang tight when we landed in the event that we were cleared and able to resume our travels; however, those hopes were soon dashed and it was announced that we would be making our way back to the airport and United would find us other accommodations for the evening. Now, I was a ibuprofen PM deep into what I expected to be an overnight flight, so instead of fighting the system that was clearly so far out of my control, Chad and I made our way off the plane and back to the airport. Since it was already after 1am, the terminals had closed and all staff had left for the evening. We lucked out with a few shuttle drivers and customs agents to help (technically we had already exited the country, so we all had to grab our luggage and re-process back into Chile, before making our way up to the United Customer Service desk).
Chad and I shuffled along through and waited… and waited… and waited… and waited… Around 2am, we reached the Customer Service counter to hear exactly what we expected: no flights available, United was working feverishly to accommodate the situation, and we would be shuttled to a hotel for the evening. We were to keep an eye on our emails or the United app for updates, and would be automatically rebooked on the following flight. (The following flight being 10pm the following evening… wah wah wah…) Chad mentioned to the agent that we were travelling in a group of 18 on a study abroad trip, and the agent notified us that he was unable to accommodate all 18 at once since our final destinations were in various parts of the United States. Well, we tried, right? We were told to find our way downstairs to the Delfos counter which would have our names cleared for a shuttle service to the hotel they were contracted with (ahem, the Crowne Plaza… not bad!!!) where we would be given complimentary rooms and meals until our flights were rebooked.
Our group was scattered throughout the rest of the line and we stopped to inform several of them, including our Dean and Associate Dean, of the process to which we were left with… None of them seemed very thrilled, but most of us recognized how far out of our control this process was and we just decided to roll with it.
We got to the hotel around 2:35am, and I know I was personally a little more awake than I expected, probably due to adrenaline. I will say the entire process was smooth and completely appreciated. Aside from taking FOREVER at the airport, once we made it to the Delfos shuttle counter, we were hurried off and checked in to the Crowne Plaza in record Chilean time. What a relief! Chad and I spent the next hour attempting to make contact with United to discuss out options, but found that we just kept hitting various walls and decided to call it a night, instead of fighting it. The beds were unbelievably comfortable, and our exhaustion overhauled any stress.
I woke up pretty early, all things considered, and was able to make contact with my family to explain the circumstances. We knew we had breakfast waiting so I made a quick Skype call to Landon and my mom back in Maryland to touch base. Everyone remained pretty optimistic and we just kept trying to make the most of the situation and focus on the positive. During my Skype call with Landon, the entire hotel began to shake and sway… An earthquake!!! Holy shit! Sure enough, 4.9 magnitude earthquake in Los Condas, just blocks away from us! Now, no need to be concerned, we were well informed that Chile is prone to earthquakes and literally, none of the hotel staff even took note of the rumblings. Landon and my mom got a good laugh out of it!
Chad knew he had a final for his current Master’s Degree math class upon our return to the US, thank goodness his professor had granted him an extension!!, so he remained in the room for most of the day, using the extra time to study. I found the hotel gym and made up a yoga sequence and crushed some cardio on the less-than-stellar ellipticals. I barely broke a sweat with the cardio, but it was nice to keep my legs moving. We had been instructed that the shuttles would arrive at the Crowne Plaza at 5pm to begin our re-embarkment to the airport and attempt our escape from Chile once again…
Even though the shuttle arrived at 5pm, the United ticketing and baggage counter wouldn’t open until 7pm so a few of us were really in no hurry to get to the airport much earlier than that. Louie threw some tunes on our shuttle’s Bluetooth and we had an absolute blast riding to the airport singing and dancing! A true cornerstone in sustainability is resilience and we definitely proved ourselves to be resilient in the challenges we had faced over the last few hours… If you can experience all of those trials and still find a way to make the most of it with your peers, to me that is a true test to our resilience.
Over the next few hours we had some amazing conversations, bittersweet reminiscence and plenty of all-out belly laughs commenced as we shared one final pisco-sour at our gate.
I learned so much about myself and my relationship with my husband on this trip. I also learned so much about sustainability, Chile, wine, copper, water resources and so much more. In trying to sum this trip up in all three blogs, I’m still rather speechless as to how to explain the entire experience. I planned for two years to make this trip happen, and now I’m recovering and returning to work, trying to process how intense the entire thing really was. I have a list of things I would like to do when I return to Chile and South America someday in the future… I am completely satisfied with everything I was able to soak up and try during the trip, and I only really have a few things I would have done differently throughout the excursion we accomplished.
On our drive home after landing in Baltimore, Maryland, Chad asked me what my favorite part of the trip was… After a little thought, I responded with the following:
My favorite part of the trip was honest and genuine laughter, connection, and awareness. I cannot remember the last time – especially since our plane crash – where I allowed myself to experience life on a whim each day without judgement, fear, or second thought. I lived every moment of this trip to the fullest extent and capacity that I could within the parameters of the intent (recognizing I was there as a student, not solely as a tourist).
I soaked up the 2017 Chile Travel Course with unapologetic enthusiasm and I appreciated the opportunity to be completely authentic throughout the entire trip. Such enthusiasm has since spilled over and renews my spirit and passion for life and adventure… I can’t wait to see what’s next!