Chile 2014: A Glimpse into the Mapuche Culture

by Lindsay Cox

Dinner in the RukaRuka Kimun was built for educational purposes in the style of a traditional Mapuche home. Historically, families in a Mapuche community would get together and form task groups to complete various parts of the construction – cutting straw, logging, preparing food for the workers – all was done using local materials, sometimes prepared far in advance.

We dined in the Ruka while we chatted with Curi, our guide, who is also a wood carver who creates traditional Mapuche statues. During our tour, we also visited the native forest of Cerro Ñielol, where we learned about medicinal plants and herbs still in use in Mapuche medicine.

Studying native plants in ChileTo end the day, we visited the greenhouses of a Mapuche women dedicated to collecting and cultivating the seeds of native plants in order to prevent their extinction. It was a fascinating glimpse into one culture’s intimate relationship with its surroundings.

Next up: An overnight hiking trip to El Cañi nature preserve.

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All photos courtesy of Piedrosa Obrera del Arte (Nayade)

Chile 2014: Mud-slinging in Los Riscos

by Lindsay Cox 

Students learn mud-slinging to build houses in Chile. I don’t believe we’ll soon forget our first day of mud-slinging (among other work) at the building site in Los Riscos, the future home of a Waldorf school run by Pucon resident and environmentalist Jerry Laker. Jorge and Leo, our mentors and builders, made it look so easy – scoop up a handful of the sand, clay, straw and manure mixture, take aim at a spot on the wall, and release! Once stuck on the wall, smooth with a spatula and repeat. Keep repeating, and you’ll soon have a smooth surface that will be ready for painting once dry. This looked easy, so we took aim and fired with confidence; our mudballs flopped onto the floor like sad, somewhat stinky pancakes. But with some patience from Jorge and Leo, and over the course of the next couple of hours, our hands became acquainted with the texture, elasticity and unique nature of our building material. Slinging the mixture on the wall became easier; we acquired just the right touch for smoothing so that our recently completed work would not cake off. Both students and teachers reached a rhythm, a harmony with our surroundings and our teammates; it seems we reached the point where we could just begin to put our fingers on the pulse of sustainable building.

Over three days of hands-on volunteer work (not only mud-slinging, but also hauling rock and sand, carpentry, and equipment repair) and conversations with our new friends in Los Riscos, our students got a first-hand peek at what it means to be a sustainable “do-it-yourselfer”. Use what is at hand (old bottles, cans and bags were used to fill interiors of walls), use what is local (sand, clay and manure), and use simple building methods that are accessible to people who are neither carpenters nor contractors. In this way, great things can be achieved – the old scheme is broken. What we assumed was unattainable without someone else’s specialized equipment and knowledge, as well as significant financial resources, really IS possible to do ourselves – sustainably, in harmony with the surrounding landscape and the local community, and in cooperation with others who share the same vision.  We don’t know what path our students will follow down the road, but we do know that their experiences at Los Riscos will have an impact. Not only that, but our students have made their own contribution, one that goes beyond  the walls they helped build – in traveling from halfway across the globe to spend their time volunteering at a sustainable school, they are sending a powerful message that our planet, and our future, are worth the effort.

Follow all the adventures from the 2014 Landmark College Study Abroad Program in Chile by subscribing to this blog now.

Landmark College Students Study Human Ecology Abroad in Chile

compressed file Chile '12
Two Landmark College faculty members have been traveling to Chile each January for the past five years with groups of students as they explore the local and global impact of human interaction with the earth. Today we depart with a new group of students.  You can follow our adventures over the next three weeks.  We plan to post photos and commentary on our explorations and discoveries on a daily basis so you can enjoy the journey with us from afar.