Saying Goodbye

Our Habitat journey has come to an end. On Friday, we finished sanding and spackling, painting and varnishing, hammering and hanging, and turned the house over to Alba, Elisa, Vicente and Christopher.

There’s still some work to be done, but our Habitat colleagues assure us that they’ll be back to Paredones in two weeks to finish tiling and electrical work so the Martinez family can move in… and Christopher can come home.

Our closing ceremony was a bittersweet time. We sang songs, shared stories and well wishes and exchanged gifts–official Habitat Chile T-shirts and hats for our group, and Pace apparel for the family and the Habitat team. We’re proud to say that there are now 12 new Knights fans in Chile! We were so honored to be a part of this special family’s life, and so grateful for the hospitality and love they showed us. Truly, we were family for the week, and we’ll carry them with us as we return home.

We were up early Saturday morning to make the drive to Santiago and catch a flight to Temuco, a city in southern Chile just outside of Villarica National Park. The region in which the park is located is home to the Mapuche people, an indigenous group currently engaged in a fight with the Chilean and Argentine governments for greater autonomy and rights to ancestral lands. We spent 24 hours learning from individuals within the Mapuche people about their beliefs and traditions–Mapuche families even welcomed us into their homes for the evening.

Today’s activities included a hike up to a beautiful vista overlooking the Trancura Valley and its volcanoes (some of which are active!) and rivers, as well as an amazing Mapuche lunch and workshops in traditional Mapuche crafts. We’re now enjoying a low-key evening at the Gran Pucon Hotel. Tomorrow, our last full day in Chile, we’ll hike to thermal springs and explore the city of Pucon a bit more. It’s hard to believe our trip is almost over… it’s been an amazing journey!

The Habitat Build

We’re two days into our five-day Habitat build and enjoying every minute. We’re working outside the tiny seaside town of Paradones for Christopher’s family. Christopher is 18 months old and has never been home from the hospital due to several serious medical conditions. His mother travels three hours several times a week to visit him, and his sister, brother and grandparents want nothing more than to bring him home–and that’s our goal.

The municipality in which the family lives constructed a house for them, but it was never finished and didn’t take into account the family’s special needs. For the past two days, we’ve torn down walls to create a new floor plan, hung siding, sanded and painted, framed new walls and installed the ceiling. There’s still much work to be done, but we’re energized by the progress we’ve made.

We’ve already formed strong bonds with the family–members of our group have picked fruit and vegetables and helped prepare meals, and Vincente, Christopher’s six-year-old brother doesn’t know quite what to do with so many eager playmates.

We’re looking forward to the next three days…but for now, it’s time for empanadas!

Day 2: Exploring Santiago

After a good night’s sleep at the Happy House, we enjoyed breakfast (pan, huevos, jugos de frutas y cafe) before meeting up with Rachel and our translators, Claudia and Catalina, recent university graduates interning with Habitat.

We walked from the hotel to the nearest Metro stop, where we hopped on a train and traveled to the base of Cerro San Cristobal, the highest point in the city. We rode the funicular to the top of the hill, took in an amazing view of the city and hiked to the statue of the Virgin Mary that towers high above the city.

More than a third of Chile’s population lives in Santiago, and the size of the city was evident from our vantage point–it sprawls throughout the valley, sky scrapers and bustling neighborhoods amidst the mountains. We learned from Rachel that the wealth gap in Chile is extreme; the rich are very rich, and the poor are very poor. Our afternoon stroll through downtown districts revealed the wealthier parts of Santiago: tree-lined streets, nice restaurants, beautiful parks, public artwork and state universities.

We stopped for lunch at a restaurant that served traditional Chilean sandwiches and tried “hot dogs” topped with avocado, tomatoes and mayonnaise… lots and lots of mayonnaise. Much of the afternoon was spent exploring a public market, where local artisans and vendors set up shop, selling copper pieces, lapis lazuli jewelry, and blankets, scarves and sweaters made from alpaca wool.

Upon our return to the hotel, we tried to stream the varsity basketball team’s Final Four game but, unfortunately, the Wifi connection at Happy House isn’t so happy. Instead, Ms. Rhodes followed the game on Twitter and announced the Knights’ victory as we gathered in the courtyard for dinner (go, Knights!).

After potatoes and beef, we met as a team to discuss logistics for the coming day and set the tone for the build. Tomorrow morning, we’ll leave Santiago for the build site. We’re ready to get to work and are looking forward to everything the week has in store!




Day 1: Santiago & Staying Awake

We’ve arrived in Chile! Our group gathered at the airport as the sun set over Atlanta and boarded a plane bound for Santiago. Some slept on the nine-hour flight; others… not so much.

We arrived in Chile’s capital around 10 a.m., took an uneventful trip through customs, and were greeted by Miriam and her team, who transported us (and our luggage) to the Happy House, a quirky, colorful hostel in the heart of the city. The building is beautiful, with 20-foot ceilings and detailed molding… we’re wondering what dignitary or wealthy family might have lived here years ago.

Following a pizza lunch, we took off on foot to explore the city (an attempt to power through day one on little sleep). We ended up at the Centro Cultural La Moneda, which sits under Citizenry Square and serves as a cultural facility for the city. Some of us took in the Picasso exhibit on display, while others wandered throughout the Centro, checking out the shops and exhibits inside.

The Centro is adjacent to the Palacio de La Moneda, the seat of the president and other government offices. Prashanth, a Latin scholar who’s determined to learn Spanish while we’re here, attempted to strike up a conversation with one of the guards, who wasn’t quite as enthusiastic about the conversation. Prashanth will no doubt keep trying.

After a stop for water and sweet treats, we’re back at Happy House, enjoying some R&R before our Habitat host, Rachel, joins us for dinner and our orientation. She’ll tell us more about what to expect in the coming days and provide additional information about the family we’ve partnered with this week. Then, it’ll be off to bed so we’re ready to go tomorrow morning. Our itinerary includes some of Santiago’s must-see sites and a trip to a local marketplace. Stay tuned for details and photos!