“What they saw-eastward, beyond the sun-was a range of mountains. It was so high that either they never saw the top of it or they forgot it. And the mountains must really have been outside the world.” – C.S. Lewis, The Chronicles of Narnia
A wide smile formed on our tour guide’s face as he answered my question. “Basically,” he said, running a hand through his thick, jet black hair, “this is the end of the world.”
I gazed at my surroundings once more. The end of the world was a weird place. We stood inside an enclosed forest glade, the leaves and branches of the trees forming a dense canopy overhead. The tight foliage blocked the dusk light from entering the glade and cloaked the area in a heavy, but inviting darkness. A small creek divided the space in two with its clear waters. The laughs of children reverberated off the willows that hung over the water as children splashed about in the brook. A handful of families sat by the stream’s edge, eating dinner while they watched the kids play in the water. Not too far beyond the trees, one could see the striking walls of the Andes that encompassed the grotto on all sides, their undetectable peaks spiring into the skies. A little further away from the creek, outside the copse of trees was a series of huts and small buildings. The majority of the buildings possessed large open windows revealing rooms where vendors stood advertising their handmade crafts which ranged from plush pikachus to ornate jewelry to intricate wooden flutes. The soft voice of the stream mixed with an odd, ambient music consisting of a coalition of flute and bongo drums that seemed to come from one of the buildings. In the middle of the buildings was a circular amphitheater area where groups of friends sat laughing and conversing in the dim twilight light. At the edge of the circle I noticed a young man juggling three very real swords while being watched by three stray dogs who appeared to be quite fascinated with the man’s talent. The end of the world was some sort of artisanal commune.
My class schedule here consists of 3 days of very long classes followed by 4 days to do all the assigned work and reading for those classes. So far, on top of using my free time to complete my homework of course, I’ve been using my time to practice my Spanish as well as travel. One of the best ways to learn another language is by reading in that language, and because my current Spanish level is not very high, I’ve been reading children’s books to practice. Specifically, I’ve been reading my favorite childhood book series, The Chronicles of Narnia. That’s why it seemed fitting to start this entry with a quote from the 6th book in the series when the main characters discover “The End of the World.”
Moreover, I’ve been using my free time to explore and travel, which is how I found myself in the tranquil artist commune. Two weekends ago, I took a trip with some of my IES Abroad friends to one of Chile’s most beloved beach-towns called La Serena, which is located in Chile’s Coquimbo Region about a half hour from the Valle de Elqui, the vast valley that housed the artisanal grotto. It was a great weekend spent perusing the many Spanish churches scattered throughout La Serena and simply relaxing in the sand on the beach as we looked out over the blue waters of the Pacific. In fact, one night while we were taking a stroll on the beach and gazing at the stars (the Coquimbo Region is known for its prime stargazing conditions) we all watched as a massive shooting star flashed and then disappeared in the sky with the speed of lightning. One of the days of our trip was spent visiting the neighboring town of La Serena called Coquimbo, which my Lonely Planet travel book very accurately deemed “the ugly cousin of La Serena.” We had been drawn to Coquimbo in order to visit the massive cross that had been constructed in the late 90s on Coquimbo’s largest hill to commemorate the 2000th birthday of Jesus Christ. The cross was incredible to see, although it was kind of sad to stand and stare at such a grandiose structure while directly beneath it sat the impoverished neighborhoods of Coquimbo that had garnered a strong reputation of high crime.
The last day of our trip was spent on a severely underpriced tour of the majestic Valle de Elqui. Led by a young, jovial Chilean, my friends and I piled into a small van along with two couples and took a trip through the valley. Known for excellent star gazing and strange geographical terrain, the area is characterized by very fertile and lush earth at the bottom of the valley as evident through its many vineyards and orchards, and immensely tall mountains that look quite naked due to their lack of nearly all forms of vegetation aside from a few cactuses and scrawny bushes. Our trip consisted of a trip to a papaya juice factory, a massive dam and lake, a restaurant that cooks its food through boxes that sit under the sun all day, a beer distillery, two mountain towns (one of which held the house of famous Nobel Prize winner Gabriela Mistral), and, of course, the artisanal commune. Personally, my favorite stop was the commune (if that’s actually what it was). As we were walking through the tranquil grotto, I asked our guide if there was anything beyond this small artist “pueblo.” He answered me stating that beyond this location, there was one more small town just up the road. Beyond that town, though, there was only mountains, snow, and nothingness. According to him, at that moment, deep in the body of the Andes Mountains, we had reached civilization’s isolated edge; we had reached the end of the world.
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<p>Hello and welcome to my blog! My name is Matt Osche and my two greatest passions are my writing and my travels! I’m just your average 20-year old college student trying to “carpe diem” while balancing my studies and my passions. Having grown up in Penn Trafford, PA, a small suburb of Pittsburgh, I’ve come a long way from my humble beginnings as my semester in Santiago, Chile, is my second adventure after my junior year of high school spent in a small town outside of Oslo, Norway as a foreign exchange student. Take a look at my blog and read about my adventures here in South America!</p>