Well, today’s my last day here in Chile. The two months I’ve been here seem to have gone by very quickly, I guess since I’ve kept pretty busy, I haven’t had much time to catch my breath—these last two weeks included. Since getting back from Fray Jorge, we’ve been going to Rinconada and starting the radiotelemetry component of the grad students’ work. Radiotelemetry is a neat technique that involves putting a radio collar on a degu, with each collar emitting a unique signal. With a transmitter and antennae, we can track that signal when a degu is underground to find out exactly where an individual is. The point of locating the animals is to figure out where they’re sleeping, which is the best method we know of to determine social groups. Loren came out one day to teach us all how to use the equipment, and since then we’ve been trapping degus and attaching the radio collars. Unfortunately I won’t be around for most of the time spent searching for the degus once we’ve attached the collars, but I got to try it out once at least.
Although we’ve gone out to Rinconada most days since coming back from the national park, we had a chance to take a day and drive down to the coast. The other four researchers visited Valparaiso, a great city built on a hill (so lots of stairs) with tons of street art and character. Unfortunately I never got to visit the city, but I did get to go scuba diving off a little fishing village south of Valparaiso called Quintay. It was different from any diving I’d done before; both Zanzibar and the Bahamas, the other two places I’ve been diving, are very tropical with water temperatures in the 80s. Off Quintay, the water temperature was 51 degrees (so I had to wear a thick 7mm wetsuit), the water had a greenish tint, and the marine life was completely different. There was lots of kelp on the bottom, which was neat to swim through, and we dove at a wreck only a couple hundred feet from the shore.
This last week has also been pretty eventful in terms of city life. Some of you may have heard about the protests which have been transpiring for awhile now—mostly students who are upset about the president’s new allocation of education funds. Here’s a link to a bit the New York Times just did on it: http://www.nytimes.com/slideshow/2011/08/05/world/americas/05chile.html
Basically, in Chile, the public universities are the more prestigious and offer the best quality education, and the president decided to put a portion of their funding into private schooling. For the two months we’ve been in the country, we’ve probably come across five major protests. They tend to be orderly, with thousands of people walking town the Alameda (the city’s main thru-way) carrying banners, singing, etc. Although there are always riot squads lining the streets just in case, these marches are pretty unobtrusive and approved by the government. Sometimes, however, the government doesn’t approve the students’ request to march, and people get angry and riot. Such was the case on August 4th, when there were fires in the streets, windows and advertisements were smashed with rocks, street lamps and traffic lights were brought down. The use of tear gas is pretty common here as a crowd-control technique; right outside our apartment, a round of tear gas was released and some even seeped into our room. Several times since then we’ve had to take a detour through the city on our way to work because of fires people have started in the streets. Overall it wasn’t a calm way to wrap things up, but a valuable first-hand account of what is intrinsically important in Chile, and the extent that people go to broadcast their message. Also, I recorded the sound of people protesting outside our apartment–I tried up upload it to the blog, but I’d have to pay. So if you’re interested in hearing the audio, send me an email and I’ll forward it to you.
So that about wraps thing up in South America. I’ve added a few more pictures to the Santiago album. And stay tuned—over the next three weeks I’ll be getting ready for my next research trip—to the Democratic Republic of the Congo!