Featured Volunteer: Andrew Douglas
My journey to Chile started as I flew from Atlanta to Santiago on New Year’s Day. Our host, Claudio, met me at the airport as I came out of customs. We waited about an hour to pick up Kevin, and we were on our way.
Claudio had a nice surprise for us immediately. We got into the big, yellow and red “Lifeguard” truck, and he told us we were headed straight to a television studio to film a segment that would air on Chilean national TV that night.
We all got make-up done when we got there. I remember sitting in the chair, tired and confused, trying to get my Spanish skills up to par. Before I knew it we were filming. There was no practice-run. It went by very quickly, and I all remember saying was, “Sí.”
We spent the day running errands around Santiago to get ready for our trip to the beach. Normally, this would’ve bored me to death, but I got to get a behind the scenes look at life in Chile. We visited countless stores and watched Claudio do business, trying to follow along in Spanish. I immediately saw that I was going to be living as a Chilean for two weeks as opposed to being a tourist. After a long day, I forced myself to stay up late to watch our segment on “Super Bueno.” A little embarrassing, but definitely worth it.
When we got to the beach, it was 2 am and pitch dark. We drove on a gravel road to get to the guard house, but everyone was asleep. We met the entire house the next morning when we ate breakfast. There were at least ten guards living at this house. They all ate breakfast together as they got ready for work. It reminded me of my house in Ocean City, as we all go through our morning routines together to brush our teeth, shave, eat, etc. However, they all ate together at the table. I usually eat a pop tart in bed. I liked the family feel the house had.
We followed Claudio around for the beginning of the day to see the three beaches that our new housemates worked at. He took us to a fish market for lunch. It was what I have come to expect from an international market based on my previous travels. Open air, crowded, pets walking around, a little daunting, but very delicious. We went to a trough full of oysters. There was a guy plucking them out of the water, splitting them open, and serving them to the customers, as they stood right over the tank.
The oysters were splashing water all over as they moved around in the tank. Even after being split open, you could still see them pulsing. Definitely one of the freshest things I have ever eaten out of the sea. Obviously, they were delicious and the eighteen that we ordered disappeared right away. We got a few other little things to eat and finished off with an Empanada de Mariscos (a mixture of seafood). Stomachs stuffed, we went back to spend the rest of the day on the beach.
One of the beaches ended up being fairly busy. At one point we were almost all in the water making rescues. It was amazing to be in a position of assistance and authority in a country where I had landed two days earlier.
I ended up spending some time patrolling on the Zodiac boat with a 36-year veteran lifeguard. I told him about the fresh oysters we ate. He drove the boat over to the nearest buoy and said something along the lines of, “I’ll show you fresh.” He picked up the buoy. There were dozens of disgusting and deformed looking shells piled onto the chain below. They were called piures. They were spitting water out of a tiny hole. He ripped one off the chain, cracked it on the side of the motor, plucked something out, rinsed it off, and handed it to me to eat. Which I did. It could’ve used some lemon and salt but it wasn’t bad.
Our last night at the beach, the guards cooked us a big family dinner. We stayed at the table all night eating, drinking, and playing games. It was a blast. All the guards were super friendly and welcoming. We got to spend a lot of time together on the beach getting to know each other. It was great to hang out with kids our age.
Our next trip was 8 hours south of Santiago to Pucón. This area was drastically different from the hot, dry north. It was very green and very beautiful. We drove into town on a road that ran along a huge lake. The view was dominated by the extremely impressive, snow-capped Villarica Volcano. We drove into the center of Pucón, which has a main-street full of wooden restaurants, shops, and excursion companies. It was obvious that Pucón has a very active population. There were countless opportunities to go kayaking, white-water rafting, canyoning, hiking, etc. In addition, with the Ironman in just a few days, the streets were packed with runners and bikers.
We stayed in Claudio’s father-in-law, Segundo’s, rustic cabin. It was in the woods, yet walking distance from the center of town. Much of the cabin, was designed and built by Segundo. When we arrived, they were finishing up the construction of the handmade bunk beds we were going to be sleeping in.
Our purpose in Pucón was to guard the aquatic portion of the world famous half-Ironman. Most of our time was dedicated to preparing for the event. We met with the director of the event, the head of the paramedics, and the Chilean navy. It was a much bigger deal than I expected. We worked the Ironkids triathlon on Friday and the main triathlon on Sunday. Claudio and I were on Jet Skis, and Kevin was on a paddleboard. Since, the swim is first in a triathlon, we were able to pack up and make it to the finish line just in time to see the winner cross. He was a very tall beast from Brazil, and he didn’t even look tired.
While in Pucón, we also got to shop around town, eat at a few restaurants, and go to the natural hot springs. I had an unbelievable time all around, but I also missed a week of classes to do it. So, when we woke up Monday morning, I traveled 25 hours straight to make it back to Clemson in time for my class at 9:30 am on Tuesday. It was well worth it, and I hope I can do another trip with ISLA someday soon!