Globe Trotter: ‘Les Vendanges’, a Costa Rican’s Experience Picking Grapes

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En la vida hay que ser piso’e tierra. I have a number of quotes my mom used to tell me memorized; this is one of the simplest and one of my favorites. In life you have to be “piso de tierra”, which translates to “dirt floor”; in essence, it stresses the importance of a humble life. It means understanding that when stripped of riches, or wealth or power, we are simply beings that come from nature and from dirt, and that we are not superior to any of our fellow humans. It was through this desire to find humility and to challenge myself that I decided to participate in les vendanges, the annual grape harvest in Burgundy, France.

I had heard various things about les vendanges, from both media and people. My initial idea of it was that of a trans-generational activity with people from all ages working in vineyards, singing songs, making jokes and, later, eating, drinking and enjoying their time together. Evidently, I also knew it was hard work; after all it was still an agricultural job. This became more and more clear after I had signed up for it. When I began discussing my plans to participate with friends and acquaintances, many reacted the same way: “It’s really hard work”. All of a sudden, the tone from “great cultural experience” changed to “exhausting labor”. A friend from work even said her 26-year-old husband tried it and gave up after a day of work. The comments made me more apprehensive about participating but encouraged me, given that this only reinforced my original motivation of doing hard work. Thus, the night before my first day, I packed myself some lunch and made sure to have a decent night’s sleep.

The alarm went off at 5:45 in the morning. After making toast and preparing my bag I put on pants on top of my shorts and three layers on my upper body. I left my apartment, heading for the train station through the chilly, empty Dijon streets. The train sped through large fields and little towns as the sun woke, slowly covering all of the green vegetation in my eye reach. At 7h20 we arrived at my destination: Meursault. A small group got down with me and we all found a small bus the managers had sent for us. I immediately noticed that I was the youngest. When we got to the chateau, I found a group of three my age in the corner. Except for them, the managers and myself, I soon realized everyone in the room was an African immigrant, many of them were from The Democratic Republic of the Congo, I learned later. The reason this fact stood out to me was because it implied to me that employers were specifically looking for cheap labor. I briefly spoke to one of the managers who made me sign a few documents and, after having some coffee and biscuits, we headed off to the vineyards in three different trucks. One of the young guys invited me to join their truck, even if we hadn’t yet spoken. Feeling slightly out of place, with everyone knowing where to go, I followed him.

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The Work

Indeed, it was hard work. This was not obvious until later, however. The first day, because I did not know anyone, I put my headphones on and followed the limited instructions I had been given. Crouching, removing leaves to see the bunches of grapes better, cutting them with the pruning shears they had provided and putting them in my bucket. I would continue doing this and empty my bucket periodically when the Porteurs (carriers) came close to me. They had large buckets strapped to their backs and their job was to collect the bunches of grapes from the coupeurs (cutters), like myself, then to go dump them into the trucks. I later calculated that these men- they were exclusively male- were carrying between 30 and 40 kilos back and forth throughout the day; as much as my body hurt later that week, I still cannot imagine taking their position.

In the first three minutes of the job, I cut my finger with the shears. It burnt but was not bleeding too bad, so I decided to ignore it and continue. Other than this, the first two hours rushed by fairly swiftly; they were repetitive but painless, and they had given me plenty of time to listen to a podcast and music. It was surprising to see people stop so soon, but I followed without complaining. The managers arrived, brought out sandwiches, water and wine. I decided not to have the latter on my first day. We soon went back to the vineyards for another two hours. These were slightly more tiring, but still easily bearable. After the 30-minutes lunch break is when my legs and arms began feeling a bit tired, but I persisted as I had in other physical activities during my lifetime. It was in the last 2 hours that the amount of work I had been doing really began weighing on me. My legs felt sore, my lower back had an intense pain and my shoulders felt perpetually uncomfortable. I was very relieved when I heard our bosses yelling from the other side of the field to go back. After going to the chateau and changing, they dropped us off at the train station and I dozed off for the 40-minutes trip.

The following day, I woke up with pain all over my body. It was what I had expected all along, but my mental preparation did not lessen the pain in any way. I repeated my morning routine and savored every minute of the train ride, enjoying the stunning change of color scheme in the French countryside. I forced myself to continue my job despite the aching, and an hour into our arrival at the vineyards I no longer felt pain in a certain spot, just fatigue. By the end of the day, after hours of crouching, squatting, kneeling and sweating, the fatigue was truly getting the best of me. I had heard people often passed out while doing the job, because it’s often the first physical job they do. I thought of how back in Costa Rica I had helped in reforestation projects and a few building tasks, but how nothing compared to this. One of my bosses, knowing my origins, asked if I had ever picked coffee. I thought of how picking coffee was thought of as a very “lower class” job in my country, mainly done by Nicaraguan immigrants. This was an instant reflection of what the culture of the vendanges is slowly changing into. It certainly gave me something to think about while cutting the grapes. I should have at least tried picking coffee once, I kept thinking.

After getting home the second day, I cleaned my room, cooked dinner and then intended to take an hour-long nap at 8pm. My 9pm alarm did not wake me, and I slept 10 hours until 6am, only to wake up feeling even more sore than the previous morning. People had told me, and I knew it, just like with sports the third day was the worst, when you must bear the soreness of both the first and second day. I looked at my hands, scratched from reaching into vines all day, looked at my shoulders, burnt from late August’s sun, and smiled in pain, knowing that this was exactly what I had signed up for. The third day was by far the hardest, my legs hurt every squat and my back stung whenever I bowed down. And then the fourth day, I was ok. It was a very strange feeling where I was exhausted, but it didn’t bother me to continue working. At the end of every day I was ready to stop, hungry thirsty and sleepy, but not sore, not necessarily in pain.

In terms of work, I found precisely what I was looking for. Unfortunately, I had to start the harvest late because of my internship dates and could only do 6 days, yet these were enough to challenge me and satisfy my desire for self-achievement. Beyond that, I was satisfied in a philosophical aspect, as I had been working with nature and, in a way, doing exactly what my body was made to do: gather fruit. As you might expect, though, I doubt I would have been happy continuing for much longer and the experience also helped me appreciate office work and life as a student. That in itself is what made the experience so powerful as well: knowing I didn’t have to do this for the rest of my life and doing it next to people who were not fortunate enough to say the same with certainty. This work showed me what I could do in many ways, but it mainly taught me about what many people have to do; and in doing so it gave me great respect for all that part of the human community that allows the rest of us to have food on our tables at night.

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// 2 tips on picking grapes //

  • Try not to cut any grape in half. The juice will cover your sheers and your hands will become sticky, making it much more uncomfortable to continue the work. The longer you can continue with clean shears the best.
  • When you see several bunches bundled together, you can put your bucket on the bottom, move the leaves with one of your hands, cut with the other and let the fruit fall on its own.

Globe Trotter: Advice From a Traveler Who Lost Her Luggage More Than Once

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‘Ma’am, the plane left five minutes ago. You must go to the counter to know what to do.’

That’s how I learnt I would be stuck in Frankfurt for at least a day, on my way to the United States.

 

Throwback.

 

Last Summer, I went to the United States for the very first time in my life. My family had decide to book an organized trip to make the most out of the ten days we would have there. First there was a flight from Paris to Frankfurt, then from there to Los Angeles – flying with a company which for its own reputation will remain anonymous ( was cheaper). So we got up at 4 am on that Tuesday morning, took a plane from Paris, and arrived in Frankfurt to know that the airport was fully blocked because of a security incident. We were parked for five hours in an airport hall, and our plane took off without even calling out for passengers, leaving many people behind

 

We safely arrived to Los Angeles a day later, after more than ten hours of queuing for tickets in two days. However, the situation was solved quickly enough for us to be able to laugh about it a month after. It also made me think over the hardships that a traveler can meet, even though they remain very light when considered through the realm of the luck we already have to travel, freely and without constraints. I however noticed that in the four long trips I have been lucky enough to experience, only one went perfectly well (with no lost suitcase or blocked airport). Indeed, our suitcase was lost for five days when we went to the Seychelles island, our plane was cancelled when we went to New Zealand, leaving us stuck in Australia, but at least we could do some tourism in Sydney whereas queuing up in Frankfurt’s airport doesn’t offer much of an entertainment. I thus came up with these advice, for people who love to travel as much as I do, and will still love to travel no matter the number of lost suitcases, blocked airports or cancelled planes…

 

  1. Always take the vital minimum in the cabin with you

The day after we were told we couldn’t take the right plane to Los Angeles, all people stuck in Frankfurt were divided between a handful of different planes to finally reach the US. Some of them went through Manchester, Paris, or even – as was our case – Warsaw. At all moments of the process, we were told our suitcases would leave in exactly the same plane as the passenger and that we would get them back as soon as we’d arrive in Los Angeles. That sounded too good to be true; to me, that was impossible; either the suitcases would have left in the plane we should have taken, or they would stay in Frankfurt. Turned out – to my disappointment – that I was right, and all families that had suitcases checked-in didn’t get them back for at least a week.

My family was the only one that had decide to keep everything with us in the cabin – which means we didn’t have much, as the weight and size are limited, but as least we had some. We were able to share some first-necessity goods with the others; toothpaste, tampons, medicines… From now on, we’ll always travel with at least some clothes and necessary items in the cabin with us!

  1. Find other travelers

As soon as we learnt our plane had taken off without us, my family and I started running to The Company’s counter to see what to do. After a long race through Frankfurt still partially blocked airport, we found the place – wasn’t that difficult, there already were 200 people queuing up. We would spend six hours in front of this counter; the company hadn’t brought enough people to help. Finally, it turned out the counter could not give new plane tickets but only an accommodation for the night.

Nevertheless, after asking all people we could see, we managed to find other travelers who should also have been in the plane to Los Angeles. We gathered altogether and spent those six hours talking, getting to know each other, the situation making us closer than we would have been without this. We called ourselves the Frankfurt’s Shipwrecked Squad and stayed together the whole time. The next day, one of the Squad figured out which line to choose, so that we could leave Frankfurt. When we eventually arrived to the United States, our trip was even better, as all Frankfurt’s Castaways felt like a large group of friends that had gone through an adventure together.

 

  1. Carefully divide your belongings in case you lose a suitcase

Four years ago, my parents decided to take my brother and I on a trip to an earthly paradise, the Seychelles Islands, where they’ve had their honeymoon. As soon as we arrived, after a long flight that left me delighted – I had just discover we were given food and could watch movies in a plane, which made my 13-years-old-self overjoyed -, I was caught by the Seychelles’ unique atmosphere. The air was so hot I could literally feel it, there were palm trees everywhere and the airport looked like kind of an exotic treehouse. However, nothing perfect is made to last; after two long hours of waiting for our suitcases under the warmth, we found out one of them hadn’t arrived. We were told it had most probably been put into another plane, which means that by the time it would take to find out where it was and to bring it back, we would have to wait at least three days. It finally arrived five days later.

It eventually turned out that we’d been lucky enough to lose the least useful suitcase, but half of our clothes, swimsuits, solar creams and those highly necessary items had been left out. If you have two suitcases,divide everything between them – clothes, pads, everything. We never know.

 

  1. Always keep a small backpack with you during the flight

When one decides to keep all their belonging in the cabin, one ends up with a ten kilos-luggage to carry by hand and to put on the shelf above their seat. Then, one quickly understands that there’s nothing as annoying, in a plane, as someone trying to get their luggage from this shelf during the flight. As a 1,60m dwarf that does not even weigh 50kg, I could picture what would happen if I tried. I’d have to climb on the next passenger’s seat, which would probably coincide with turbulence ensuring that my suitcase would fall on someone’s head, as would I.

That might have been a bit too dramatic. Nevertheless, I couldn’t have been happier I had chosen to bring a small backpack with me, to put under the seat in front of me. I first thought I couldn’t fit more than a book and a box of tissue, but this small backpack with black and white elephant patterns turned out being more useful than even I could have imagined. It made me think of my roommate – who happens to be the Honduran Keeper! – and never travels without her tiny little backpack, that already went to France, Italy, Spain, Guatemala and so many different countries. That became the ultimate goal for my backpack, too.

 

  1. Take every hardship as an opportunity

In 2015, my family and I went to New Zealand, to follow the steps of the movie The Lord of the Rings. I’ll remember this trip as one of the happiest moments in my life – now that I think about it, most of the ‘happiest moments in my life’ are related to traveling. However, after we arrived in Sydney, we were confronted to an unexpected hardship. There was wind that day; and the company that should have taken us from Australia to New Zealand had its reputation to maintain; it never had any accident, and was determined to not take any risk. Our flight was cancelled and we were stuck for a whole day in Sydney.

We were terribly sad. We had less than ten days to spend in Kiwiland and one of them was being withdrawn from us; moreover, a Lord of the Rings tour was planned for this day and that was what we’ve been the most looking forward to.

But finally, that was literally the best thing that happened to our trip. My Mother and I were able to visit Sydney during a few hours; we went to the Opera – which made me understand I still had to improve my English-speaking skills, as I spent ten minutes asking a stewart for a soup while he was laughing his heart out and probably wondering why this Frenchie was asking for a soap – and saw the Harbour Bridge. Even better; the tour guide accepted to work on Christmas day, two days later, for us to still be able to do this Lord of the Rings Tour, and we spent an unbelievably awesome couple of hours with him. Bob turned out to be the best guide we could have had and made us feel like we were involved in the movie. Without our flight being cancelled, and without the Kiwis being amongst the most pragmatic, helpful and generous people I’ve ever met, that would have never been possible.

 

Finally, all those advice can be summed up into one: always believe that things happen for a reason, and that we can make the best out of anything. If our flight to New Zealand hadn’t been cancelled, we wouldn’t have seen Sydney and meet Bob the Awesome Tour Guide. If Frankfurt’s airport and That Company’s jobs hadn’t been awfully done, such a solidarity would have never been triggered between Frankfurt’s Castaways, and so one. Keep smiling, and keep traveling!

 

 

Australia’s Home Trotter: 4 Man-Made Wonders of Australia

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Following one of my previous articles featuring some natural wonders found throughout South Australia, I began thinking on the well-known landmarks found all throughout Australia. The infamous Sydney Opera House and Sydney Harbour Bridge, the Great Ocean Road, and the historically rich Port Arthur. Now I’ve written a fair few articles showcasing some of the finest things, I believe, Australia has to offer, so why stop there? I’ll just keep going and do my best to get as many people excited about my country as I am!
So here it is, my top 4 list of iconic Australian, man-made, landmarks. Enjoy!

1. Sydney Opera House, Sydney.
Sydney Opera House 1The Sydney Opera House, partnered with the Sydney Harbour Bridge, is possibly Australia’s most recognizable landmarks. It is easily one of Sydney’s most popular tourist destinations as a multi-venue performing arts centre that is one of the most famous and distinctive buildings of the 20th century. Designed by Danish architect Jørn Utzon, his now world-famous design was the winner of an international competition and was formally opened to the public on the 20th of October, 1973. Prior to the Sydney Opera House design, Utzon had won 18 competitions but never seen any of his designs constructed, making the Opera House his first. The design was praised throughout the world, with the Assessors Report of January 1957, stating:
‘The drawings submitted for this scheme are simple to the point of being diagrammatic. Nevertheless, as we have returned again and again to the study of these drawings, we are convinced that they present a concept of an Opera House which is capable of becoming one of the great buildings of the world.’
Its fusion of ancient and modernist influences resulted in its the worldwide appreciation, with having “changed the image of an entire country,” according to U.S. architect, Frank Gehry.
Following the beginning of its construction on the 2nd of March, 1959, the Opera House cost about $102 million to construct and was about 10 years late in terms of its completion. Today, the Opera House hosts 40 shows a week and is home to the Australian Chamberlain Orchestra, Bangarra Dance Theatre, Bell Shakespeare, the Sydney Symphony Orchestra, Opera Australia, the Sydney Theatre Company, and The Australian Ballet. If you’re ever in the Sydney area, the Opera House, as well as the many shows it puts on, is definitely worth a visit (or maybe even two!).

2. Sydney Harbour Bridge, Sydney.
Sydney Harbour Bridge 2 - Construction.jpgThe Sydney Harbour bridge is, as mentioned before, another one of Sydney’s most iconic landmarks. Construction of the bridge officially began on 28 July 1923, when an official ceremony was carried out to mark the “turning of the first sod”. However, the building of the bridge itself only commenced in 1924. The building of the monument took eight years by 1,400 men and cost about 6.25 million Australian pounds (which in modern terms is approximately $13.5 million AUD), with about six million hand driven rivets and 53,000 tonnes of steel being used in the structure. The construction of the bridge also claimed the lives of 16 men, with only 2 of the 16 having fallen to their deaths – for that time, that’s pretty amazing.
The formal opening ceremony was conducted on Saturday, 19 March 1932 and, fun fact, the ribbon signifying the bridge’s opening had to be cut twice. Just as the Premier of New South Wales (the state in which Sydney is the capital city) was about to cut the ribbon, a man in a military uniform, named Francis de Groot, rode up on a horse and cut the ribbon with a sword – the man was arrested straight after. The ribbon was re-tied and the Premier finally got to the cut the ribbon and officially open the Sydney Harbour Bridge to the public. The bridge is also known as the “Iron Lung” as it kept many workers employed during the Great Depression, greatly assisting with continued prosperity of the Australian people during trying times; the bridge is largely considered a triumph over the Depression era in Australia.
Nowadays, the bridge is the world’s fourth-longest spanning-arch bridge and which celebrated its 75th anniversary in 2007. The bridge also features the Sydney Harbour Bridge Climb, a walk up the southern side of the bridge, which is a popular tourist attraction that gives people an incredible view of the harbour and the city. The Sydney Harbour Bridge is also the centrepiece of the fantastical New Year’s Eve celebrations.

3. Port Arthur, Tasmania.
Port Arthur 1.jpgNamed after George Arthur, the Lieutenant Governor of Van Diemen’s Land (now known as Tasmania), Port Arthur is located approximately 97 kilometers south-east of Hobart, the capital city of Tasmania, on the Tasman Peninsula. While the settlement began as a timber station in 1830, it is best known for being a renowned penal colony. From 1833 until 1853, it was the destination for some of the roughest and most violent of convicted British criminals, those who were secondary offenders having re-offended after their arrival in Australia. The most troublesome of convicts from other convict stations were also sent there in order to bring these individuals under control. Port Arthur operated as a prison up until 1877, when it was put up for auction. Much of the land was destroyed in fear that it would remind people of the darker times in which the area was one of the harshest of all the penal colonies in Australia.
Thankfully, in 1979, funding was received to preserve the site as a tourist destination, due to its historical significance the critical role it played throughout the development of early Australia. Now, Port Arthur is a World Heritage Listed Historic Site with more than 30 buildings, ruins and restored period homes set in 40 hectares of land. People are also able to take a cruise to the Isle of the Dead, join a guided tour of Port Arthur’s island cemetery, or even take a tour of Point Puer Boys Prison, which was the first reformatory in the British Empire that was built for housing young male convicts. People can also spend the night to fully experience all that Port Arthur and the surrounding environment has to offer. With it being such a rich piece of Australia’s history, as well as being a World Heritage listed site, why wouldn’t you go visit and experience a piece of history frozen in time?

4. Great Ocean Road, Victoria.
Great Ocean Road 2 - Memorial Arch.jpgThe Great Ocean Road is an Australian National Heritage listed 243-kilometre stretch of road along the south-eastern coast of Australia. It stretches between the Victorian cities of Torquay and Allansford and is the largest war memorial in the world, dedicated to the memory of those lost from the ranks of the First Australian Imperial Force (AIF). It was planned at the end of World War I, as, by the time of World War I, the rugged south-west coast of Victoria was accessible only by sea or rough bush track. Construction on the road began on 19 September 1919 and was built by approximately 3,000 returned servicemen as a war memorial for their fellow servicemen who had perished in WWI. The construction was conducted by hand with explosives, pick and shovel, wheelbarrows, and some small machinery used to clear areas of land. This work was perilous at times, with several workers killed on the job. The road was completed in 1932, with it being claimed to be “one of the world’s great scenic roads” by the Tourist Development Authority in 1962. In 2011 the road was added to the Australian National Heritage List.
Today, the Great Ocean Road hosts the Great Ocean Road Marathon, a 45 km marathon which began in 2005, and the Cadel Evans Great Ocean Road Race, 6.3 km cycling race that was first held in 2015. Another cycling event, the Amy’s Gran Fondo cycling event, is also held along the road and is held in September. With such an incredible journey through some of the most beautiful landscape in Australia (and indeed the world), featuring a variety of natural landmarks (like the 12 Apostles and Bay of Islands), as well as stunning beaches, great dining places, national parks, and hiking and walking trails, a road trip on the Great Ocean Road is an absolute must.

Clearly, I’m more than a little passionate about what my country has to offer tourism-wise. Visiting these places won’t only make you a grade-A tourist, but it will also allow you to experience little pieces of Australia’s history, from its beginning as a penal colony, all the way to its influential roles in the wars of modern times. If you ever have a chance to visit any one of these landmarks (or all of them!) do not hesitate. I doubt that you’ll be disappointed!

If you’re curious about any of the places I’ve mentioned here and would be interested in learning more, these links would be helpful places to start looking!
https://www.sydneyoperahouse.com/our-story.html
https://www.sydney.com.au/bridge.htm
https://www.travellingking.com/fast-facts-sydney-harbour-bridge/
https://www.discovertasmania.com.au/attraction/portarthurhistoricsite
https://www.australia.com/en/places/melbourne-and-surrounds/guide-to-the-great-ocean-road.html
https://www.visitmelbourne.com/Regions/Great-Ocean-Road

Chile’s Home Trotter: Why Visit Chile?

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The longest, thinnest country on the planet boasts an enviable geographic diversity. From the driest desert on Earth up north to the rainforests and glaciers of the south, through the Polynesian traditions alive and thriving found on Easter Island, Chile has it all. The fault-line between the Nazca and Latin-American plates gifted us the Andean mountain range, oft-visited by international skiers, and not far from the snowy terrain lie our sandy beaches to the west.

40033414_1675514325909637_5503474817107492864_n.jpgThe North: San Pedro de Atacama

This region possesses the driest desert in the world: the Atacama. Surprisingly, this is an area full of life and community, where the indigenous heritage is culturally front and center. The town of San Pedro de Atacama’s old and plain adobe houses are firmly planted at a crossroads between modern travelers and ancient culture. The town square is a great place to experience tradition and shop for goods in the true sense of the word; crafts and textiles. For those who love expansive territory for long-haul biking, wish to sand-board down dunes, or feel a desperate need for a privileged view of the stars (the region is host to world-class astronomical observatories), San Pedro is just the ticket.

 

40037114_1801454669904211_2229035456224296960_n.jpgThe Center: Santiago and Valparaiso

Given that Chile’s financial and cultural hub is in its Capital, Santiago is undoubtedly Chile’s most metropolitan city: from chic restaurants to museums and nightlife. This is where the local traditions meet the international scene. Impossible to miss is the Andes Mountain range which towers over the city and is often an unexpected surprise for visitors.

Chile’s center is host to a range of ski lodges which rank amongst the best in Latin-America. More importantly, many of them are open all year long. This means you can go to the beach and up the mountain to ski, in one trip (this depends naturally on the amount of time of your visit). The Pacific Ocean and the Andes mountain range are separated by only 2 hours of travel by car.
Santiaguinos are valley-people. Cozily tucked away between two parallel mountain ranges, the uniquely hospitable weather provides an indulgently ideal environment for wine production. Wine is one of Chile’s biggest exports and no visit is complete without a wine-tasting trip to one of the numerous scenic viñas that a short ride away from the city.

39986186_521000221671825_944883832933318656_n.jpgFor a different quick getaway, Valparaiso is a welcome change of scene, only an hour and a half away from Santiago. This coastal city is known for its many hills, artsy-colorful houses, quaint shopping opportunities, plentiful art galleries and delightful views. Historically an artist and activists hub, the town is a favorite among most Chilean artists working today.

 

40044402_1094095150758576_2472958803721584640_n.jpgEaster Island: Rapa Nui

No place on Earth is as isolated, geographically, as Easter Island. Annexed in 1888, the island has since become a powerful attraction for tourists that are curious to see the Moais, stone statues that have been silent witnesses to the island’s history. Unfortunately, some Moais were stolen from the Island in the past, by the British, as well as the French. Luckily these are but a minority, given that most Moais are still located on the Island. The small town of Hanga Roa is the Island’s capital. The beaches are always 20 minutes away. Scattered around the island are the Ahus, the bases upon which Moais stand. There is also a large volcanic crater Rano Kau which is undoubtedly worth a visit. Word on the beaches is ripe, sweet figs grow inside that lusciously green crater, if you dare retrieve them.

 

40008397_317956495420413_5911218808663572480_n.jpgThe South: a land of green

The south is the heart and the magic of Chile. Comprised of rainforests and lakes that are well protected, this area is noteworthy for its volcanoes (such as Villarica), many of which are open to hikers. The dominant culture here is courtesy of the Mapuche, the biggest aboriginal ethnicity in the country. The south also has a noticeable German influence, given that the Chilean state encouraged the arrival of German immigrants to the south of the country. This is obvious in picturesque cities such as Valdivia, Puerto Varas, and Frutillar, and in small bodegas where the baked good of choice is “kuchen”. These same bodegas usually have cheap, delicious home-made white bread (along the whole length of the country). Order marraquetas if you like light and fluffy, or hallullas if you prefer dense and chewy. Leave behind any pretenses to whole-wheat preferences. These will await you in your country of origin. And don’t forget the salted butter on top.

The island of Chiloe belongs to this region. A legendary spot, you’ll here find colorful houses on stilts (palafitos), plus 16 wooden churches that were declared Unesco national heritage. The island is a great place for those who demand a stunning backdrop to go with their trekking or kayaking.

 

But wait. There is still more south to be found, well, further south. Keep heading down, and you’ll feel you’ve fallen onto another planet entirely; the land of Patagonia. The Carretera Austral will bring you here. This point in time-space is home to one of Chile’s most incredible national parks: Torres Del Paine, a sprawling place that requires at least a week to explore properly. Delightfully safe (only a small family of reclusive mountain lions pose a risk) choose between luxury sleeping quarters or old-fashioned eco-friendly camping and soak in the beautiful territory. You won’t miss the iconic towering stone peaks, nor the impeccably blue glacier-water lakes. Watch out for the adorable Guanacos- essentially miniature llamas.

40019648_675181776195116_1907873774812790784_n.jpgOnce you’ve made it this far south, you might as well keep going and visit the Glaciers of San Rafael. Climate change has unfortunately reduced its size, but it is still possible to hike around the glacier via the “Zodiac tour”. Or, if you’re truly ambitious, hop on a brief plane ride and check out our icy slice of the south pole!

Globe Trotter: Naples: An Organized Chaos

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At 7:15 in the morning on the dot, on a warm June day, a train arriving from Rome stopped at the Stazione Napoli Centrale. I set foot out of it knowing only rumors I’d heard about Naples from Italian friends, and only having seen a couple pictures of the city on the Internet. The air was thick with humidity, and the rising sun announced a hot weather to come. My friends and I began walking towards the center. Soon enough we had left the crowded train station and were walking down littered, deserted streets, where we would only see small groups of locals in old clothes, glaring at our clearly foreign outfits. The streets smelled, and I began feeling a familiar sense of alarm that I had often felt in various Costa Rican cities, but only seldom in a European one. In retrospective, this was the calm before the storm.

Eventually, we reached busier streets, and as time passed more and more people, as well as vehicles, began swarming out. We arrived at a 4-lane main street with a crosswalk right in front of us; however, no car seemed interested in the slightest reduction of speed. We looked closer while we waited to, maybe, get a nice driver who’d stop for these three tourists. We then realized that close to us there was an uncontrolled intersection with 4 lanes perpendicular to the main street, with cars transiting just as fast. As a group of cars crossed the intersection, we began crossing as well. A few cars on the main street managed to cut through anyway and at our sight decided to swerve rather than slow down. After crossing, I began seeing several motorcyclists with no helmet, large construction zones that seemed abandoned and the huge residential buildings with drying laundry covering most of the windows. I began getting an idea of the kind of place I was in.

The trip to Naples had been spontaneous. We had been staying in Tuscany and had already seen both Rome and Florence. After having had nonstop Italian food for over a week, visiting the birthplace of Pizza seemed appropriate. Thus, we decided to stay a night in Rome and part on a daytrip early the morning after, with the main objective of seeking the best pizza we’d ever tasted. Train tickets were relatively cheap, and the ride was only slightly over an hour.

The pedestrian center had a whole different, yet equally muddled aesthetic. We paced down narrow streets between large housing structures, where, at the base, many homes had their doors open, with no one inside; presumably, because there was not much to steal. We reached a major plaza and, finally, we were surrounded by tourists as well as hundreds of street sellers and artists. The lack of care for public infrastructure, the utter disregard for basic laws and the steering-wheel locks in parked cars all pointed towards the poorness and, frankly, the dangers of the city. My feeling of discomfort, however, began to disappear and it slowly turned into an adventurous and curious sensation. Particularly because I was astonished by the city’s disorder that contrasted its ancient richness, seen through its astonishing architecture and monuments, as well as its natural beauty of coasts, mountains and surrounding islands. It felt like Naples fate had taken a wrong turn at some point in its history.

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Neapolis, the city’s original name meant new city. It was founded around 600 BC as a Greek settlement and taken over by the Roman empire a couple hundred years later. It changed hands various times during the middle ages, belonging to both France and Spain at separate times, becoming a duchy at one point and eventually joining Sicily to form a kingdom. Considered a powerful city, it was an area of dispute and power for centuries. During the Renaissance, Naples was the home of various celebrated artists, symbolized by monuments, architecture and literature. It wasn’t until the 19th century that the capital began to see trouble: at the time of its unification to Italy. Naples was no longer the capital. For the first 10 years of the Kingdom, it was extremely far from the centralized government, located in Turin first and then in Florence. Massive emigration, government negligence and a cholera epidemic were all factors of the city’s slow fall from grace. To top it off, during the Second World War, Naples was the city to receive most bombs in the country. The city’s postwar recovery was slow and is yet another cause of the city’s present state.

Even understanding the historical background, the city’s environment is something to admire. It gives off the impression that the city was abandoned, and the inhabitants now populate its ruins. The city’s ordered chaos was what I imagined Northern African cities such as Marrakech or Tripoli would look like, and as the day advanced, I wanted more of it. It reminded me of how various American friends had mentioned that visiting Costa Rica gave them a sense of adventure and danger that they didn’t get back home.

Given that I already came from such a place, it hadn’t crossed my mind that visiting other poor/undeveloped (for Western standards) area would give me the same feeling. It definitely did, and, ever since, I’ve been contemplating at the amount of ways of living humans have. The average Neapolitan lives a life of much more insecurity than I have (I haven’t even mentioned the Mafia yet), but what I have been accepting is: that is all that it is, a different way of living. And that was exactly the core of my amazement. The fact that these people’s way of living: dealing with danger, noise, heat and much more was so distant to the way I live my life currently. The trip was a reminder of how most of the world lives in that situation: uncertainty and struggle. Now, knowing that Naples is only the tip of the iceberg, I crave to see more of this, more places, more people, more dangers that show the diversity and the resilience of our species. I crave to see how my fellow human beings deal with the challenges of nature, of ourselves and of everything that we have created.

PS. We most definitely found the best Pizza we had ever tasted in Naples.

France: Vive la République, et Vive la France!

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It happened 229 years ago, at the early dawn of the first French revolution. On July 14th, 1789, the French people marched over to the Bastille, a prison that embodied the absolute authority of the King, overthrew its administration, and took hold of the weapons it contained. It was the very first time the people of Paris would get directly involved with the French revolution.

 

The 14th of July has since become our National Day. I usually spend it on holiday at the French Riviera, the Mediterranean coast in the Southeast of France. I have always associated that day to the sand cracking under my feet while I picnicking on the beach with my family. My brother and I would go swimming in the sea until we were freezing and then we would all go to the neighboring harbor to have ice cream. As the sun progressively disappeared, I would read under its declining light until my parents forbade me to go any further. We would make jealous remarks on how wonderful it would be to be on a boat instead of the crowded beach; and then, we would wait for the National Day fireworks, say that ‘They threw it later than last year’, that ‘It was one of the best ever, without doubt’, and then hurry up to the car to avoid getting stuck in the crowd.

It’s because of these kind of moments that I love my country.

 

I love France, because we have so many various landscapes. If each landscape corresponded to a planet as in Star Wars, a whole galaxy wouldn’t be enough to depict them all. From the heaven-like Riviera, in which the Sun has the scent of olive oil, lavender, and the sound of crickets; to the neighboring Camargue, with its deafening flamingos and its salt marshes. From the Northern Lille that looks like a colorful mash-up between Disneyland and St-Petersburg, to the greener-than-green Périgord in the Southwest, so full of forest that it looks black from above. We have a bit of England, Italy, Germany, Spain and so much more, as much as we have mountains and prairies, dynamic towns and deep countryside, rainforests and hot beaches.

 

I love France, because the country still wears the remains and the open wounds of its history. We still have the aqueducts and walls built by the Romans that invaded us, which stand firm and proud in the South, thousands of years after they they were erected. Castles from the Middle Ages or the Renaissance can still be spotted everywhere, each with its own glorious past, notorious characters and architectural originality. In France, men competed with nature to create the most beautiful wonders, and it sometimes did not even need to build to win the game. The beaches of Normandy, where Eisenhower’s troops landed to free the country in 1944; the maquis, where the French Resistance would hide during World War II; or the terribly sad Verdun in the East. All of them keep reminding us that our ancestors fought for the right reasons.

 

I love France, because I love the way it’s seen by foreigners. Travelling to the other side of the world, I have been told about this universal cliché of Marcel the mustached cyclist wearing his beret and carrying his baguette and croissant – which is both very French and ridiculously non-French at the same time, and a quite good depiction of my late Grandfather. I have been asked whether France was in Paris – ‘well, that’s not exactly true’ – and I have been mocked for my love relationship with cheese. Last, but certainly not least, I have almost fondly fainted in front of foreigners turning our Bonjour into a ‘Boonjouh’ – which is so inhumanely cute that I can hardly breathe thinking about it. I feel so honored whenever foreigners try and learn our beautiful headache of a language.

 

I love France, because of our gastronomy. French-gastronomically speaking, I am a living shame; I can’t help but declare my love for thai food and, even worse, I am a vegetarian and will make a face in front of a boeuf bourguignon or a blanquette de veau. However, I’m still the first one to very scientifically demonstrate that, since France is the world center of gastronomy, and Lyon is the French center of gastronomy, and the indoor supermarket Les Halles Paul Bocuse is the Lyonnese center of gastronomy, and having lived seventeen years right in front of the establishment, I am therefore the happy embodiment of French cooking. More seriously, and even aside of our typical and universally known dishes that boldly mix meat, vegetables and tasty sauce, our cheeses are a delight, our desserts are life-saviors, and a British journalist found exactly the right word saying that our croissants are nothing but ‘buttery pillows of perfection’.

 

I love France, because of the memories of our past and our art. There is a place in Paris that I love among all others, called the Panthéon. Great men and women are buried in this impressive building that always gives me strength, confidence and unlimited love for those who lived there before me. Recently, an incredible woman, whose name was Simone Veil, and her husband Antoine, joined the Panthéon as a show of gratitude for Simone for her involvement in the debut of the European Union, her contribution to the memories of the Shoah after she was deported to Auschwitz concentration camp, and her fight in favor of women’s rights and abortion. This country is also that of Victor Hugo, whose torrential writing style makes him our land’s most well-known Writer; of Edmond Rostand, whose character Cyrano de Begererac is a perfect embodiment of France; of Pasteur, who invented the vaccine…

 

I love France, because of Paris. Paris is a town like no other. It’s a whole. It’s not only because of the comforting light of the Eiffel tower that caresses one’s windows at night. Neither is it only because it’s impossible to get lost because one always has a famous monument to guide them back on path, such Montmartre, the Invalides, the Louvre or the Notre-Dame Cathedral. It can be because whenever one is randomly walking in the metro or in the streets, one can simply happen to find the Panthéon or remains of the Bastille by chance. Paris is the town of the unexpected and of the sweetness of life, that endured even when it was hit by one of the most devastating terrorist attacks of our time.

 

I love France, because I recently spent a weekend with young people who were sick with cancer and whose treatment was paid entirely by the social security, no matter their age or their social situation. My Grandfather – not the one that looked like Marcel the cyclist, the other one – was diagnosed with brain cancer when he was 65, and the State paid to ease his life and make it last in the best possible conditions, without even counting. These social benefits may cost a ‘crazy money’, Mr President; but last Saturday, as the sound of the Marseillaise played for a football match, all these people whose lives were saved thanks to it, got up and sang with their hands on the hearts, spontaneously declaring « J’aime mon pays » (I love my country), « Vive la France ». I sang with them.

 

I love France, because I was lucky enough to travel, and to see enough beauty and kindness in the countries I visited as to not compare them to mine. But every time I would go abroad, I would feel a peak of patriotism, far from any aggressive nationalism, and make myself my country’s ambassador, and hope I’d give enough of a positive snapshot of France to, one day, welcome home those people who welcomed me.

 

I love France, even though we did not welcome the 629 migrants saved by the Aquarius, even though we’re plagued by an enduring crisis and well-known for our strikes, even though we’re criticized for our ambiguity towards laicity and for the laws of our state of emergency; I love France, even though the memories of our past are far from being all glorious, and wars and colonization should not be forgotten.

 

I love France, because I have the right to point out what I think are its flaws without fearing anything. I love France, because those flaws do not make me want to leave but to try and change them a bit, at my level, because besides them, there’s everything else to love.


Vive la République, et vive la France!

 

Credits: An Adventurous World

Australia: Five Natural Wonders of South Australia

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Living in the suburbs of the city of Adelaide in South Australia, I’ve always felt like there weren’t that many eye-catching natural phenomenon around my home state. We don’t have a beautiful harbour (or a harbour bridge), nor do we have magnificent gorges. For all I knew, South Australia was basically a random mix of ordinary climates and landscapes.

Guess what? I was wrong. Very, very wrong.

After a trip to Mount Gambier for a music event, I remembered, and re-discovered, the beautiful sink-holes that litter the Mount Gambier area. This prompted me to search for other incredible landscapes and landmarks around South Australia and, lo and behold, I found many more incredible places that either I had forgotten about or hadn’t even heard of before.

So, I present to you the Five Natural Wonders of South Australia (that I have discovered thus far).

  1. The Umpherston Sinkhole

IMG_5533The Umpherston Sinkhole is actually the sink-hole that inspired this article in the first place. It was the first sink-hole I ever visited (about 4 years ago) and it left a lasting impression on me. It remains one of the most picturesque places I’ve ever visited, and I’ve made some treasured memories while I have visited. This special place is also one of the most aesthetically pleasing attraction I’ve visited, with the hole itself hosting a stunning, unbelievably green, garden of a variety of plant life, making it the perfect place for some stunning photo opportunities.

The Sunken Garden, as it’s also known, was naturally formed when the limestone roof of the underground chamber collapsed, forming the gaping cavity that can be seen today. The garden that now occupies the cavity was only appeared in 1886, when James Umpherston, the name-sake of the sink-hole, created the oasis that can be seen today. The lush ferns and hydrangeas, as well as a serene fountain, are just some of the reasons why this garden is so popular, though its popularity may also be a result of the (adorable) possums that also call this masterpiece of nature home.

If you haven’t visited this gorgeous place, I highly, highly, recommend it. However, if my words haven’t convinced you, then maybe my pictures will instead.

  2. The Remarkable Rocks

IMG_5535.jpgThe Remarkable Rocks are a group of granite rocks that, after 500 million years of erosion by wind, rain, and sea-spray, form a unique set of shapes and shadows, depending on the position of the sun. These lichen-stained rocks can be found on Kangaroo Island (which is also a beautiful place and is one of the most highly recommended places to see in South Australia). The orange lichen decorating the surface of the rocks also changes colour, from rust to gold, depending on the lighting.

Not only are the rocks themselves great photo opportunities, but they sit on a cliff overlooking the ocean, providing a beautiful ocean setting that the island itself is so well-known for.

The best time for viewing the rocks is said to be in the early morning (around sunrise) and in the evening (during sunset). This golden lighting provides one of the best for the viewing of the rocks, and, partnered with a serene sea, makes for a beautiful scene.

I myself have not the opportunity to visit these magnificent rocks, but people who have visited have highly recommended their visiting and, generally, thoroughly enjoyed themselves. If you’re ever visiting Kangaroo Island, give this rocks a visit, you won’t regret it.

3. The Blue Lake

IMG_5534.jpgThe Blue Lake is another masterpiece of Mother Nature that can be found in Mount Gambier. The Blue Lake, which occupies an extinct volcano crater, is one of the most incredible sights of Mount Gambier, with the site being renowned for the cobalt blue waters which can be seen between December and March (summer and early autumn months). While the cobalt blue waters, unfortunately, don’t last throughout the entire year, the lake still retains a remarkably pewter blue (which can be seen in the first image of mine) from April to November.

The reason for the magnificent colour change of the lake remains unknown, though there are many legends and stories that attempt to provide an explanation, with one legend (my personal favourite) speaking of bunyips (an Australian mythical beast) that live on the bottom of the lake coming to the surface for summer. This migration of the bunyips, is said to cause the colour of the lake. Some people say that the lake reflects the blue of the sky, and others (jokingly) say that vibrant blue is merely food dye. It’s more likely that this colour change is due to chemical reactions occurring between the water and rocks.

While I can’t confirm the existence of bunyips in general, I can say that the Blue Lake is a must visit if you’re ever spending time in South Australia.

4. Wilpena Pound

IMG_5536.jpgWilpena Pound (wilpena an Aboriginal word meaning bent fingers, describing the rock formation), a  large rock basin located in the heart of picturesque Flinders Rangers, home to the highest peak of the Rangers, St. Mary Peak. I successfully climbed the 1170 meter mountain on my year nine camp four years ago (when I was much fitter) and attempted to climb (but only got halfway due to failing light) once again with French Keeper, Camille, and a few other friends.

Wilpena Pound is, while quite harsh and very much belonging to the bush, one of the most famous areas in South Australia. It is a popular camping spot due to the attraction of St. Mary Peak, the Hill family homestead, ancient Indigenous artwork found at Arkaroo Rock, and the beautiful, sweeping lines of the mountain ranges.

This incredible feat of nature is definitely more than worth a look, and there are many accommodation options if you are keen for a visit. If you are heading over to stay, I would recommend staying for at least a few days (although don’t be surprised if you end up wishing you didn’t have to leave).

5. Lake Bumbunga

Lake Bumbunga-2.jpgHave you ever seen those extremely aesthetic pictures of people on Instagram sitting by a pink lake? You probably just thought, ‘Oh they’ve edited the lake to look pink, that’s cool’. Well would you believe me if I told you it wasn’t edited? One of the most popular pink lakes found in South Australia is the fairy floss (or candyfloss) pink lake of Lake Bumbunga.

The word ‘bumbunga’ is, reportedly, the word for ‘rain water lake’, for the Parnpangka people (indigenous community) of the area. The use of this word for the naming of the lake is a nod to the Indigenous people who lived on the land, as well as their rich history and culture.

The lake is located in Lochiel and is made up of three salt pans that have been harvested for over 30 years for a variety of uses. The colour of the water, despite being best known for being pink, has also been known to change to white as well as blue, this change being attributed to the salinity of the water which is known to fluctuate throughout the year.

The lake is also a short drive away from the Clare Valley, a famous wine region in South Australia.  So, if you’re a fan of wine and uniquely striking views, Lake Bumbunga is the place for you!

After writing this article, I’m honestly shocked that I ever thought that South Australia was the least picturesque state in Australia (seriously, look at this picture from the sink-hole!). While I’ve only provided five here in this article, I’m more than certain that there are more natural gems that are just as beautiful and awe-inspiring as the ones you’ve seen here.

If you’re ever able to visit any one of these places that I’ve listed, don’t hesitate. You won’t be disappointed.

 

// EDIT BY CAMILLE, Keeper of France // Two years ago, I spent two months in Adelaide, South Australia, Australia, to study in Siobhan’s high school. My host sister Lucy and her wonderful family showed me around, and I was lucky enough to discover almost all the places Siobhan wrote about. This will probably remain one of the most astonishing road trips of my life… and a good proof that Australia is not only about koalas, kangaroos, Ayers Rock and dreadful animals 😛

 

Links:

https://theculturetrip.com/pacific/australia/articles/8-amazing-natural-wonders-to-see-in-south-australia/

http://www.abc.net.au/local/stories/2013/11/01/3881917.htm

http://www.traveller.com.au/wilpena-pound-south-australia-travel-guide-and-things-to-do-12mah1

http://austhrutime.com/wilpena_pound.htm

https://www.tripadvisor.com.au/ShowUserReviews-g499708-d1813068-r70573658-Arkaroo_Rock-Flinders_Ranges_National_Park_Flinders_Ranges_South_Australia.html

https://southaustralia.com/travel-blog/south-australias-pink-lake-bucket-list

https://www.kidsinadelaide.com.au/lake-bumbunga-pink-lake/

Credits: Siobhan Reardon (Keeper of Australia), Camille Ibos (Keeper of France), southaustralia.com

 

Home Trotter: la Nueva Canción Chilena

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     The 60s were years of global change in politics, philosophy, and notably music. The student protests of May ’68 in France, the Woodstock Festival, and the anti-Vietnam protests are but a few examples of the spirit of the age. This spirit of change extended even as far Chile. Students became engaged in politics, motivated by a nascent hope in the possibility of social reforms. It was into this atmosphere that the musical movement of La Nueva Canción Chilena (the New Chilean Song) was born. La Nueva Canción movement, overtly left-wing, (it contributed to the election of socialist candidate Salvador Allende as President in 1970) was sparked by a yearning for music that was both Chilean, and Latin American. At the same time as Bob Dylan was composing The Times they are a Changing, and John Lennon Imagine, Chile was searching for a new type of sound.

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The birth of this movement can be credited in large part to the work of Violeta Parra, who by reviving previously scattered Chilean folk songs, and other national musical formulas such as the Parabienes, the Canto a lo divino (song to the divine) , and the canto a lo humano (song to the human ) was essential. This heritage, previously unknown or forgotten, was made accessible and reinvented by Violeta Parra, as well her son Ángel and daughter Isabel. Parra (Violeta), herself a prolific composer, greatly contributed to the musical development of the movement. A major breakthrough in the birth of the Nueva Canción was the founding of the Parra family peña (folkloric gathering place), which united several musicians who would go on to be leading figures attaining international recognition. Among these were, naturally, Isabel and Angel Parra, as well as Patricio Manns, Victor Jara, and Rolando Alarcon. 

36177124_1793662890673003_1717094007584063488_n.jpgThe principal group, that would serve as the model for those that came after, was formed by the Carrasco brothers in conjunction with Julio Numhauser; it would take the name Quilapayún. In the beginning they received musical guidance from none other than Ángel Parra, but the group would establish themselves more firmly on the national scene when they incorporated Victor Jara as musical director. Jara introduced a discipline to the group which made its composition sessions more fruitful and productive. Quilapayún would go on to win, in 1969, the first festival dedicated to La Nueva Canción Chilena. Though the group went through many metamorphoses throughout its existence, it maintained a firm commitment to Latin-American folklore.

35955111_1793663234006302_3149591683860004864_n.jpgAnother fundamental group was founded by a group of university students, who would come to be known as Inti Illimani. Noteworthy was their incorporation of instruments such as the charango, the quena, and the guitarrón, with the objective of attaining a ‘new’ sound (Paradoxically only new in the sense that it had been forgotten). Much like Quilapayún, Inti-Illimani’s music mixed the national with the Latin-American by incorporating musical expressions present in different Andean countries such as Bolivia, Peru, and Ecuador. In the present context of divisions and/or distance between Latin-American nations it may seem strange, but in the 60s unity and cultural solidarity was significantly more common-place. In doing so, Inti-Illimani made accessible to the world, tunes that were a representation not only of the Chilean folklore but also of that of all Latin-America. This was a very noble form of cultural appreciation that existed throughout the music scene in Chile of the 60s and early 70s.

Because of its political affiliations to the Socialist Unidad Popular government, La Nueva Canción was brought to an abrupt halt in 1973, when the Socialist Allende government was overthrown by the military junta. The new regime prohibited Andean music for some time by banning the use of certain instruments used by artists of La Nueva Canción. Various music groups, having supported Allende with their music, became enemies of the state overnight and were persecuted. Victor Jara was brutally assassinated, whilst Angel Parra was sent to a concentration camp. Inti-Illimani had been touring in Italy at the time of the coup, and was left with little choice other than exile for the following 17 years. Quilapayún was also caught off-guard by the coup, while touring abroad in France, and they too began their life in exile.

35988945_1793664300672862_7996273427683999744_n.jpgDespite the arrival of the coup, and the exile of several of the main groups, some musical affiliations carried on with their music. One of these was Illapu, a group founded in 1971 (2 years before the coup) by university students. Being of a later generation, Illapu inherited the musical style of greats such as the Parras, Quilapayún, and Inti-illimani. Their office in downtown Santiago, too, was destroyed with their instruments included as well during the coup. The members of this group were well aware that the music they were producing put their lives at risks, yet they persevered nonetheless. Given their newfound international popularity, Illapu embarked on a European tour that lasted some time. Upon their return to Chile in 1981, the DINA (Chilean secret police) attempted to arrest these musicians at the airport. Given the presence of cameras from international networks that had been following the trail of the young musicians, this became a scandal, and they were instead exiled abroad (on the same plane they arrived), first in France, and later in Mexico.

For many of those in exile, the idea of returning to Chile seemed out of the question. This changed in 1988 when the Dictatorship agreed to hold a plebiscite over whether to continue with the current state of affairs, or transition towards democracy. The results were 56% against the regime, and 44% in favor of it. Democracy was re-established, and in 1990, Patricio Aylwin, a Christian Democrat, became the first president of the post-dictatorship years. This period saw the return of several of the groups that had been living abroad, many of whom continue performing and composing to this day. La Nueva Canción Chilena was a musical movement that marked the nation, both politically and culturally. Folk music remains one of the main genres of the Chilean tradition as a third generation of musicians carries on the work and tradition of those that came before.

Below I have listed some of the exponents of this movement that have been mentioned in the article. Happy listening!

Playlist:

  • Violeta Parra: Gracias a la Vida / Volver a los 17 / Parabienes al revés
  • Victor Jara (photo): Plegaria a un labrador / Luchín
  • Quilapayun: Vamos mujer / Qué culpa tiene el tomate
  • Inti Illimani: Samba Lando / El Mercado de Testaccio / Vuelvo
  • Rolando Alarcon: Si somos Americanos
  • Patricio Manns: Cantiga a la memoria rota
  • Isabel Parra: Centro de la Injusticia
  • Illapu: El Negro José / Lejos del Amor / Vuelvo para Vivir
  • Santiago del Nuevo Extremo: A mi ciudad

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Thoughts: Flags that Turn Into Logos

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A few months backwards, I was returning back home from a ski holiday that I had spent in northern Finland. Knowing that I would have to sit several hours on our way back, I had grabbed the local newspaper in order to have something to read in the car. Mostly it was nothing very exciting; as one could guess, it was mainly about local events. However, as I continued glancing through the pages, my attention was caught by an article that made me write down some notes and, later, gave me inspiration to write this text.

It was about a tiny Finnish town called Ruka. One of the biggest ski resorts in Finland is located in this small town, and that is where I spent my holidays, too. It likes to brand itself as being part of Lapland, the northernmost region of Finland that tends to attract plenty of tourists in the wintertime. The only thing was that it wasn’t technically located in that particular region, but just in a neighbouring geographical district.

One could believe that this little detail would not really make a difference, but according to the writer, the business owners who actually reside in the district of Lapland weren’t pleased with the fact that someone was branding itself as a Lapland ski resort. The wish to use the word ‘Lapland’ when promoting tourist services is understandable, as this name is commonly used to describe the northern parts of Nordic countries. It is a strong brand when it comes to attracting tourists.

When I had returned home, I decided to learn more about this ‘brand value’ that is attained by geographical places. As we zoom out from the regional perspective, we can see that even entire countries want to be associated with good things – most often a country itself wants to be a strong brand beyond its borders. Tourist organizations are good examples of spreading a country’s recognition, yet a good reputation can be seen as an asset in almost every sector where a country promotes itself to other nations. As a consequence of this effect, we can assume that a French cook working abroad might want to highlight his nationality as his country of origin is traditionally associated with high-quality gastronomy.

I am definitely not the first and only one who has been reflecting on brand image on a national level. We can see it as a phenomenon, where branding strategies that are typical for companies are applied to individual nations. For example Diplomacy in a Globalizing World: Theories and Practices is a book authored by Pauline Kerr and Geoffrey Wiseman. The authors help us see the bigger picture of nation branding; they state that the phenomenon of countries branding themselves is one of the plenty consequences of globalisation. The distances between nations are made shorter than they have ever been before. As countries are getting more and more connected to each other through international trade and tourism, it is expected that they increasingly share common characteristics. At the same time however, there is a counter-reaction. The nations still share, a little bit paradoxically, the need to be distinguished from each other in order to be successful in international competition. That is where the local specialties play a major role – they can be used as branding tools which help a nation to stand out from the crowd.

What we need to understand from today’s countries is that each of them needs publicity for the purpose of attracting tourists or gathering investments. A good origin of a brand may as well be helpful for companies that operate internationally. It should be no surprise that IKEA has the colours of the Swedish flag, or that iPhone’s virtual assistant Siri prefers telling you that it is designed in California whose reputation is closely linked to that of highly technological Silicon Valley, rather than mentioning the fact that it was originally made in China.

And it is not just that companies take an advantage of the positive image of their origin. The relationship is closest to a symbiosis where both parties benefit from each other’s existence. It is common that a country boosts its own prestige by organizations that aim at creating and maintaining a good country reputation, others being more successful than others. A good example of this is Sweden’s branding organization called Brand Sweden. On its website (1) it has gathered material that a Swedish enterprise can use in its work, that aims at making the Scandinavian country better known in the world. You can even find strict rules on how to use the stylised version of the Swedish flag, in order to make the country brand more recognizable. It is almost as if nations would have turned into companies that aim at keeping themselves alive in the global market, the only exception being that the players of this game are states rather than private units.

Whether this trend where nation states are put in a competitive position and that is further pushed forward by increasing globalisation is desirable, is difficult to answer. Realising that unique characteristics of a nation are harnessed to serve a marketing image, in order to let the country be successful in the global competition, has a somehow grim tone. It should be questioned if countries really have to adopt procedures that are typical for international companies rather than for sovereign nations.

However, we must bear in mind that nation branding can be regarded as a harmless, even desirable consequence when it is compared to other side effects of globalisation. The Guardian published an interesting article (2) where nation branding is compared with constantly growing right-wing populism. These two phenomena are similar in the sense that they both can be seen to some extent as results of globalisation. In addition to this, it is quite startling to notice that both of them are willing to emphasize the abilities and identity of one nation over others.

However, the major factor that clearly takes these two phenomena apart from each other, is that they follow completely different rules. Whereas right-wing populist movements have quite clearly underlined their anti-globalist nature in different Western countries in the 2000s by attacking institutions that promote international cooperation, nation branding actually follows the general principles of globalism. Nation-branding is actually part of a bigger continuum in the history of international trade; it has transformed from the status of 18th century where mercantilist ideology was the dominant way to define successful trade policy into a state of affairs where nations are part of one global marketplace. While national populism is quite introverted in the sense that outside world is regarded mostly as a threat, the motivation for branding nations and emphasizing their greatness is solely premised on making a country more attractive in the eyes of other nations and increasing collaboration between them.

Nation branding doesn’t necessarily mean that the cultural heritage which nations have fostered through centuries is completely productized for commercial purposes. On the contrary, branding can actually be seen as a useful way to spread information of different nations worldwide. This may play a major role in increasing global understanding between different cultures. Tourists probably wouldn’t very easily find their way to learn more about the way of life of the people living in the cold and remote Lapland if it wasn’t for its strong brand image of being a winter wonderland. Still, I believe that what must be done in the near future is to define what kind of nation-branding can be considered as harmless and when it is essential to separate the role of a nation from the work done by a marketing firm. As long as flags are not replaced by logos, we should be fine.

 

Photo: The writer enjoying the views regardless of whether Ruka is part of Lapland or not.

[1] Identitytool for Sweden: https://identity.sweden.se/   

[2] The Guardian: How to sell a country: the booming business of nation branding (https://www.theguardian.com/news/2017/nov/07/nation-branding-industry-how-to-sell-a-country)

El Salvador’s Globetrotter: A Day in Disneyland Paris, France

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Whenever the word Disney comes up, I always feel a rush of nostalgia and happiness as I recall many movies and shows from my childhood and sing-alongs with my family and friends. And when I think of Disneyland, I always think of the words many have used to describe it before me: The Happiest Place on Earth. After having spent my entire first year of university in France without having visited Disneyland Paris, I knew it would be the perfect way to close this chapter and celebrate the end of a great year.

On Sunday, May 20th, I had the opportunity to visit Disneyland with a few friends. We decided we wanted to spend the entire day at the resort, visiting both Disneyland Park and Walt Disney Studios Park, so our day started early as we made our way to the train station at 8 a.m. We arrived at the park at 9:30 a.m., and decided to head to Disney Studios first, trying to beat the crowds for larger rides.

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Nothing felt better than rushing through a 5-minute wait line for the first ride we hit – the Rock ’n’ Roller Coaster. And then there was the ride itself – I’d forgotten just how much I enjoyed the thrill of being on a rollercoaster, especially one in the dark where you never knew what was coming.

It was only our first ride that allowed for a short waiting time, as the park had already begun to fill out by the time we headed to our next stop: the Tower of Terror. Waiting in line is not always a pleasant experience, but when you’re with friends the wait seems a lot shorter than it actually is. One of my favorite things about Disneyland is the way the waiting areas for rides are filled with thematic decoration that can be very detailed and makes the wait a whole lot more interesting. For the Tower of Terror, we noted how much work has to be put in to make a place look as old and abandoned as the hotel, while at the same time keeping it clean. The ride is probably one of my favorites, as I always enjoy the suspense of not knowing when you’re going to drop – the thrill it gives is indescribable.

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We then went on the Studio Tram Tour, where we got to see behind-the-scenes movie effects, and on the Ratatouille ride, before we decided to head over to Disneyland for the rest of the day.

As much as I enjoyed Disney Studios, there’s always something magical about walking into Disneyland and seeing Main Street lined with colorful buildings, all leading to the Sleeping Beauty Castle in the center of the park. I thought it was a nice variation in the castle, as opposed to having Cinderella’s castle, since it made Disneyland Paris stand out from its other sister parks.

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As soon as we arrived, we walked past the castle and headed straight to Hyperspace Mountain, a ride that we had been looking forward to during the entire day. As we had already reached 1 p.m., the park was significantly fuller and the line took longer, but with the constant changing of environments, time flew. The ride was breathtaking and made me feel as if my stomach was in my throat as it plummeted us into the darkness at high speeds. I enjoyed that thrill so much that I would love to go back just to go on it again.

Although I love Disneyland and the experience as a whole, next came what was possibly the most difficult adventure of the day: finding a place to get lunch. While Disneyland is definitely covered with places where one can find food at multiple stands scattered throughout the park, we decided we would cross the park to be closer to the next rides we wanted to hit. We also felt like we needed to find somewhere to sit for a while, considering how we had been going non-stop since our arrival. You always expect lines for rides to be quite long when you’re at Disneyland, but you can sometimes forget how long the lines for food indoors can get when it’s close to 2 p.m. and the sun is blazing with a great intensity. Despite the struggle that getting to the front of the line was, we managed to make our way and even found a table large enough for our group to sit at.

Once we renewed our energies we tried to get Fast Passes for any of the rides we still hadn’t been on and ended up at Indiana Jones and The Temple of Peril. After getting the passes we thought it would be a good idea to go for a slower ride since we had just eaten, so we made our way over to Pirates of the Caribbean for what was probably one of the longest lines we had been in so far. Still, I never cease to admire the dedication that Disney puts into decorating the waiting areas. This is something we discussed as we constantly walked into different areas and rooms, with the new environments making the wait seem shorter than it actually was.

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After the ride, we headed back to The Temple of Peril with our FastPass tickets and stopped for ice-cream before deciding to tackle what would be the longest wait of all: the line to ride Big Thunder Mountain. Ice-cream in hand, we made our way to the line and slowly edged along. Since we had been standing for the majority of the day, the line became a sort of game to try to find what spots we could sit on for a few seconds, since it wasn’t moving too quickly. Conversations among our group and taking pictures kept us entertained as we wove through the maze that was the line. Still, the wait felt worthwhile once we got on the rollercoaster and sped up and around the mountain.

By the time we were done, we realized we had to make our way back to the train station in order to make it back home on time. That didn’t stop us from grabbing dinner to-go at Five Guys, and eating that dinner on the RER as we headed back towards Gare de L’Est at 9:30 p.m.

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Overall, visiting Disneyland Paris was one of the most enjoyable experiences of my time in France and I would love to go back someday if only to visit some of the smaller and niche rides, since we did manage to hit most of the available major rides at both parks.

I’ll leave you off with some of my Disneyland Tips for anyone who plans on visiting anytime soon:

  • Check the weather and prepare accordingly: We were lucky to have a sunny day during our visit, but that also meant having to bring sunscreen in order to not end up red at the end of the day.
  • Bring lots of water and snacks: Waiting along in lines is more exhausting than it appears, and you can get pretty thirsty after a while, and despite how much food is available at the parks, it’s more wallet-friendly to pack a few snacks.
  • Arrive early to make the best of your day: It’s definitely possible to visit both parks in a single day if you’re on a time constraint, but you can only do so by getting there early so you can experience the full day.
  • Get a map: Though it might seem alright to wander around, our map was definitely helpful in finding the rides we wanted to go on from the start of the day and making our way through the park.
  • Enjoy yourselves!

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