Any of you who have read my blog regularly over the last 3 years know that I love living so close to the Andes Mountains and have taken every possible opportunity to get to explore them. However I have not explored the cordillera around Santiago as much as I have wanted to. Despite various promises from friends to accompany me up Cerro Manquehue or Pochoco, sadly I still have not hiked either of these mountains.
But, thanks to a great initiative I have recently become involved in, this is changing and on a monthly basis I get to explore a different mountain around the capital.
“Sube Conmigo” is an initiative of Fundación Fe y Alegria, which is a Jesuit movement founded more than 55 years ago in Venezuela with the aim of supporting social change through education and social promotion. The Foundation operates in 17 countries in Latin America and the Carribean, Spain and The Chad in West Africa, in the communities most vulnerable and socially marginalised. The Chilean Chapter of the Foundation was established in 2003 and in 2007 they started the Sube Conmigo initiative.
Sube Conmigo has the vision is to be a space of integration, learning and reflection for the youngsters from the network of schools belonging to Fe & Alegria, who through the programme can experience nature through mountaineering. The aim is to provide a space to discover the diversity of ways and means of working together with other people to achieve goals and overcome challenges.
So what exactly does the programme involve?
Once a month a group of volunteers (called monitors) meet up with students from particular schools to climb a mountain around Santiago. Considering Santiago is in a bowl with mountains on all sides, there is no shortage of peaks to summit. I have become a volunteer and so far have accompanied about 20 kids from Colegio San Luis Beltran in Pudahuel on hikes in the precordillera of Santiago.
In April we climbed Pampa Alta
and in May we hiked the beautiful valley of Quebrada de Macul
After meeting with the students and their teachers at the school, we head to the mountains via metro and bus. Before starting to hike, it is important to warm up a little and thanks to some very creative monitors and teachers, it is not just warming up, but also an ice breaker and rather entertaining.
A warm up with a difference ! (Photo by Olivia Oyarzun)
Our main role as monitors is to make sure that the students are safe and enjoying the walk. Considering that many of them don’t get to experience the wonderful nature right on the doorstep of the city and seldom, if ever have hiked up mountains, our job is also to help and encourage them when the going gets tough. Considering that there are usually around 60 students from 3 or 4 schools, it is rather a daunting idea to try and keep them all safe. For this reason, each school is divided into small groups of 4 or 5 students with one monitor responsible for each group. Much more manageable and it is a great way to get to know some of the students better.
My group of students on the hike through la Quebrada de Macul. I had great fun chatting with these girls, although to be honest the language they use is rather different to the spanish I have become accustomed to. They tried to teach me a few “flaite” phrases (slang), but didn’t have too much success.
I really enjoyed the second excursion to la Quebrada de Macul because the path wound its way alongside a small river.
Lunch time beside the river, before most of the students took a very icy dip in a big rock pool. I was only brave enough o cool off my feet.
Normally after lunch, there is activity with the students and a change to take a moment to reflect on our surroundings and the environment and the challenges faced on the hike. Again, this kind of activity is not something normal for these students and so for me it is really interesting to see how they react to the experience.
The students, teachers and monitors all participate in the activity
Since the afternoon in la Quebrada de Macul was spent swimming and enjoying the valley, we had our group activity when we returned to the starting point. It was really special for me to sit with my girls and chat about the day and what they liked and disliked about the mountains and see how they enjoyed chatting with me about South Africa and practicing a few words of english. (Photo by Olivia Oyarzun)
Group photo in la Quebrada de Macul (Photo by Olivia Oyarzun)
Bernardita, Melinda, Bárbara, Manuel and I – the Monitors from Colegio San Luis on the excursion to Pampa Alta.
I am really glad that I was put in touch with this initiative and am looking forward to exploring the cordillera more over the next few months. Hopefully I will have the time to write posts about each mountain experience, so keep reading…