On Friday, we went to a city called Constitución. We traveled via train from Talca and that was the first exciting part of the trip. All of us were expecting a large modern train but we were all surprised when a tiny, old, rickety train pulled up to get us that had to date back to the early 1900s. It was a loud, bumpy train ride and the conductor honked an extremely loud horn throughout the trip that made many of us jump with surprise even after hearing it several times already.
The train ride was filled with beautiful views of mountains, rivers and large fields of different crops. Sometimes, the train even went between a clearing between two cliff edges making a small tunnel. The seats were small and uneven, but the experience made up for it.
Halfway to our destination, the train stopped in a small village in the middle of nowhere with food vendors of homemade goods and a small, family-owned shop with snacks and water. The locals of this rural town looked us up and down in awe but they were very welcoming to us.
Some of the houses we saw along the train ride were very small and run down, like shacks. I found myself wondering throughout the trip how much access they have to food, healthcare and other basic needs to sustain life since they lived in such a rural part of the country.
As we got closer to our destination, I noticed more and more poverty. I saw homeless people laying alongside shacks in old ratty clothes on cement or grass with shabby old blankets. When we got to Constitución, I knew it was the poorest place we had visited in Chile so far. The train station we arrived at appeared unclean and people immediately started begging us for money. We then began to walk to find food. Our journey began on uneven sidewalks alongside abandoned, earthquake-damaged houses. The sidewalks crumbled beneath my feet and I couldn't help but worry for the safety of the community and wonder how any handicapped person could get from point A to point B in this city.
We made our way to a street with tons of markets and vendors selling used clothing that were thrown about in piles, with people scavenging through them, desperately searching for something to buy. Street vendors also sold food. To our surprise, we saw whole, cooked chickens sitting out in the hot sun for sale. I saw hundreds of rotten strawberries sitting out at a fruit stand for sale, and we also saw eggs for sale that were not being refrigerated.
Overall, we noticed there was little attempt to repair earthquake damage whereas in Talca we saw a ton of construction and less damage due to the fact that many buildings had already been repaired since the earthquake.
We then went to a restaurant, which was just a kitchen in a market with four women cooking traditional Chilean food in front of us at tables right next to them. This was honestly my favorite dining experience in Chile overall. Many of us got homemade pastel de choclo; this dish is a casserole with ground corn, chicken, ground beef and hard boiled eggs, and it is served with sugar on top. It tasted amazing and sweet.
Next we ventured to the beach. On the way there, we came across a park with different stations to workout and get physical activity. There was a sign with directions on how to use each of them, how long to be at each station and how many sets to do on each machine. They had equipment to train cardiovascular, flexibility, strength and conditioning. We thought this was awesome that they promote a healthy lifestyle in this city. We also saw some of these in Santiago.
Finally, we arrived at a beautiful, cliff-side beach with breathtaking views of rocks and caves, turquoise water and black sand. Along the beach were small shacks and concession stands selling snacks and drinks. We were amazed because in the U.S. this type of beach would be lined with multi-million dollar beach-side homes. It would probably be inhabited with rich, upper-class citizens. This beautiful beach however was very humble. The only other odd thing we noticed was that right next to this beach there was some sort of industrial factory with enormous piles of sand and construction vehicles outside. We thought it was odd to see that right next to this beach, on the water.
Overall, we saw the most poverty and earthquake wreckage so far in Constitución yet I think it was the most fun and culturally-enriching experience so far for a lot of us.
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