Posts Tagged With: Independence Day

No Quitting The Cueca In Oasis Called Quitor

Folkloric Ballet of Chile. Photos, slide show below

What a week last week!

Chile celebrated its Independence Day in grand style, with cookouts, a wide variety of events that involved food, music and dance, and a healthy amount of patriotic flag-waving.

I had been so busy balancing work and enjoying what Chile served up during the celebrations that stretched over a month that little time was left to share with you – in a timely manner – all that I’ve been up to. In a nutshell, unabashed fun – even at work. That’s just how Chileans roll.

Team Blue at Gaby Mining Company ready for competition

For me, the long Independence Day weekend started  in earnest at the copper mine where I teach English to corporate executives and their support staff. Company employees took to the parking lot for friendly relay races that drew laughter and then to the dining hall to watch and take part in a cueca competition. The cueca is Chile’s typical dance. It consists of some foot-stomping and fancy footwork all while the dance partners wave white handkerchiefs. I started dancing the cueca about two weeks ago and I swear I haven’t stopped. If you come to Chile during Independence Day festivities, you can bet your bottom peso that someone will drag you out on the dance floor to watch you make a fool of yourself. No matter. After a few pisco soursyou won’t give a damn.

Careful laying that egg!

After much diversion at work, that very evening I went home, took a long nap, and headed over to the office for an office party that consisted of a barbecue, Chilean food and the unavoidable shop talk. It was at the office party that I learned that the following evening there would be a free performance of the Folkloric Ballet of Chile. I jumped at the chance to attend this rare cultural treat in Calama. If this dance company ever comes to your town, don’t miss it! The troupe has toured the world with an entertaining repertoire  of traditional and modern dance, highlighting Chilean folk music and dance. I thoroughly enjoyed.

Early the next morning I headed for the bus terminal with two of my housemates – Zack and Chris – where we  met others with whom we would spend the weekend in  Quitor and San Pedro de Atacama, high in the Chilean desert. That was some weekend, spent touring, eating, dancing, swimming and having an amazing time on an estate – an oasis of pleasure and relaxation in the middle of the desert – owned by the aunt of one of my colleagues. About 20 of us ate, sang and danced there all weekend long.

Monday afternoon we headed back to Calama content and a few pounds heavier from all that good eating. I believe the word “diet” was tossed about several times. What a week it was.

The Deja Vu Wrecking Crew: (left to right) Me; Christina, (New York, USA); Angello, (Calama, Chile); Zack, (Florida, USA); Chris, (Saint Jacobs, Canada); and Maureen (Chicago, USA), all English teachers at the International Center in Chile

Stone mermaid in Quitor, Chile, on estate where weekend was spent

Pre-Inca site in Quitor, Chile. What a find!

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I Put My Travels On A Long Pause To Take A Job In Chile

A section of the center of Calama, Chile, on a Sunday.

Today is Independence Day in the United States, the day the most powerful nation on Earth celebrates its independence from England. Today marks 235 years of that self-determination.

While most Americans will be celebrating with a day off from work and with picnics, cookouts and just having fun at music concerts and fireworks displays, I will be reporting for work as an English instructor in Northern Chile. I will be working for an agency – the International Center – teaching English to employees and executives of a company that operates the largest copper mine in the world. This bit about the company from

“Chuquicamata is known around the world because of its copper production (activity that preceeds the Inca Empire). It´s an industry that began circa 1882, although it started operating properly in 1911 when US capitals finished its construction. Today, the production reaches the 630 tons of fine copper every year. The Chuquicamata Mine belongs to CODELCO (Copper Corporation), the most important Chilean mineral industry, and it`s the biggest copper mine in the world (4,3 kilometers long, 3 kilometers wide and 800 meters deep). The mine has a balcony for visitors, who can also learn about copper procedures.”

Calama is also a gateway to the Atacama Desert, known as the driest place on Earth. It’s a fascinating place, with geysers and hot springs. I of course intend to visit.

New, more modern business emerging outside of downtown. Fantastic! But where's the Starbucks? 🙂

I will be working in Calama for at least the next six months. So this desert town will be my home until December. I will share a house with several other teachers (I’m not quite sure how many – perhaps three or four) but I will have my own room. Housing, health care, utilities, including Internet, are all provided free of charge by International Center, which has contracts with dozens of businesses and corporations around the world to provide language and translation services.

So what does this mean for my three-your journey around the world? Well, I see it as just a pause, an opportunity to stick out winter in one place and resume travel across the rest of South America in summer. It’s a chance to catch my breath. To stay in one place longer and learn about the people and culture. It’s a great opportunity to try my hand at something other than journalism. And it’s good for my resume, too, should other teaching opportunities in other parts of the world arise.

I’m not sure what my six months in Calama will be like. For someone used to big cities like New York and Miami, Calama is a small town. I took a walk around the town on Sunday and it looked like a ghost town. Just about every business was closed. And the few people who were out and about just stared and probably wondered what the heck was I doing in this dust bowl of a town. In the ice cream parlor the woman behind the counter asked if I was Colombian. Her eyes lit up when I said from the United States. She seemed pleased to see someone from a continent away and went out of her way to be helpful and to share information about little ol’ Calama.

This is a mining town! And evidence of that is everywhere. The men in town look like miners, and the women, well... 🙂

I also stopped in one of the local barbershops. I had walked past it and notice the three people inside looked so bored. I told them so and they laughed. They said things are kind of slow in town on Sundays. I also talked to two young Chilean soldiers sitting on a park bench. They said they had been assigned to Calama and they had been in town two months. They said they were from the capital, Santiago, where there is much more hustle and bustle. But Calama had a couple of clubs and on Fridays and Saturdays there were at least two nightclubs and several bars. Calama also is growing – or I should say growing up. It has a relatively new rather swanky Sonesta Hotel and a casino next door. A shopping mall is just three blocks away. And several very cool new businesses and restaurants are set to open any day now. The center of town is not exactly an ode to modernity. All the buildings are rather old and it reminds me of an old frontier town, like the ones in Western movies in which desperados ride in to town on horses looking for a couple of shots of whisky and a woman named Kitty in the saloon. In fact, as I walked through town, one of the local drug addicts pretending to mind cars for some change, first asked if I needed to park my car. Funny, since I was on foot. I said no, then he asked if I was looking for the company of a woman. Apparently, the drug addict/parking attendant is also part-time pimp. I told him I was just checking out the town. I had been drawn to that corner because I saw that there was a Blockbuster. Good heavens! Maybe there’s a Starbucks, too! Fat chance!

The Sonesta Hotel Calama, pricey modernity but modernity nonetheless

So today, Independence Day for my fellow Americans is Orientation Day for me. I report to meet the International Center staff, fill out presumably lots of paperwork, make arrangements for a medical exam (mandatory for employment), and more paperwork to get my Chilean work visa. Not sure if today I will meet my roommates. Just hope they’re the kind not to mess with my stuff! (I joke 🙂

My friend Brian Tarcy, ever the jokester, asked if now the blog will be known as Mike Tends To Work. Funny, Brian. No, as I consider this venture all part of my travel experience. And I still intend to travel to nearby places on my free time. Bolivia is but a bus ride away. The rest of Chile, too. I will bring you my work and travel adventures here. Several days a week I will have to travel for work anyway, to the mine, where I will conduct my lessons. The mine is about 16 kilometers away from Calama. Those bus trips should be interesting. But more interesting, I think, will be this six-month journey. Let’s see how it goes.

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