Santa Inez (my home)Three weeks have passed rather quickly since I arrived to Chile. I've spent a lot of time adjusting to the new culture, practicing my spanish, and filming at the markets, ports, and cultural attractions around Vina del Mar and Valparaiso. At first it was hard to communicate, being that I hadn't practiced any spanish in over two years. But I quickly got up to speed, mostly because few people if any speak english. I ended up spending my first day in Chile down in the filming trenches (so to speak), shooting footage at the Valparaiso fish market. Here fishermen wake up early, around 3 am, jump into their tiny yellow boats and brave the cold foggy waters of the South Pacific. By about eight in the morning they have landed enough fish to sell for the day, having to avoid the large oil and cargo tankers that begin to appear around this time. Using a winch on the end of an old pier, the boats are pulled one by one out of the water. The fishermen then line their boats up in order and begin hawking their catch.
By 9 the market is abuzz with activity. Locals buying fish, fishermen yelling, and workers untangling lines. Dogs run excitedly back and forth between the shellfish stands and the boats and the sea lions clutter the beach barking madly for a meal. For my first day in Chile it was quite an adventure.
I was stunned to find out during one interview that generally speaking most fishermen make around $150 US per month. That's right. Not $150 a day or $150 a week but $150 in a month. This particular fisherman told me honestly that's its nearly impossible these days to make money as an individual fisherman. There is so much competition with foreign Spanish and Japanese trawlers and such a lack of large fish that the industry is nearly sunk. Through missing teeth and sunburnt lips he told me that most of his food comes from whatever is leftover at the market. It was an enlightening but sad first encounter in Chile.
I'm glad to say though that although it was sad to hear this one fisherman's story, Chile is alive with friendly people and a willingness to share their culture. Three weeks have passed and I've been invited to homes, barbeques, soccer games, and car races. The family I live with are perhaps the most hospitable, kind people on the planet. They continue to astound me everyday with their selfless and caring ways. They've taken me all over this region of Chile from the dunes and coves to the north to the vineyards to the east. I've gotten a chance to glimpse the great Andean cordillera which I hope to visit sometime soon. I've even walked with crazy winding streets of Valparaiso with its hundred year old ascensores (hillside elevators) and angular houses and I've ridden the convenient but incredibly fast micros (buses). Of all the peoples I have met on my journey so far, I'd have to say that the Chileans have already made me feel more comfortable and accepted than anywhere else. Each day my eyes are opened by how little they have but how much they give.