Reporter’s Notebook: Letter from Chile

Violeta Edwards Salas (center) with friends Elena Fuenzalida, Flora Jurgens and Ángela Fernández (Photo provided)

Violeta Edwards Salas (center) with friends Elena Fuenzalida, Flora Jurgens and Ángela Fernández (Photo provided)

It’s been nearly eight months since I wrote a farewell to Cold Spring for The Current, and a lot has happened. 

My parents and two younger sisters and I returned to Santiago, our original home, and I have tried to fit myself back into a place I left when 8 years old and no longer remembered. I have learned a lot and wanted to share with friends in Cold Spring, my beloved former home, some of my experiences. 

We came to the U.S. in 2015 for my father to attend college, and for medical treatment for myself. I still remember gripping my bright-pink suitcase with shaking hands after we landed at JFK. I could only count to nine in English but quickly became the best English speaker in my family. I attended elementary, middle and high school at Haldane until we returned to Chile in December. 

Salar of Atacama

Salar of Atacama (Photo by V. Edwards Salas)

Chile is truly a beautiful place; it’s understated and less refined than any place in the U.S. that I saw, but it has its charm. It’s a dry place, so it does not look like a typical, tropical South American country. 

It gets drier every year, which can be attributed to climate change. People here always say that it’s ironic that the First World countries emit more fossil fuels and generate more toxic waste but are the ones that least feel the changing climate. 

To me, there is nothing as beautiful as the Chilean desert. As part of a school trip, my classmates and I went to San Pedro de Atacama, which left me speechless. San Pedro, the oldest town in Chile, is located north, next to the mining district, which is where I was born. 

It’s a great spot for tourists. The town has gorgeous attractions, such as the Salar of Atacama, where you can find flamingos and natural geysers, and lakes that are 4,000 meters above sea level in the middle of the desert. 

What interests me most is the culture and history. The Inca Empire resided there from the 1450s to 1550s and fought hard with other tribes to keep their land, just like the Atacamas (who named the area). 

Today, you can see where the Incas hid from enemies up in the mountains with cobblestone walls, and you can find their tombs, which are marked by piles of rocks, and you can walk along the infamous Inca Trail. Some historians say that when the colonizers came, they cut the Indigenous people’s tongues out and, since they only communicated orally, their language was lost forever.

A vicuna in the desert of San Pedro

A vicuna in the desert of San Pedro (Photo by V. Edwards Salas)

If you ever get the chance to visit Chile, your first destination should be San Pedro de Atacama. Aside from the friendly people, there are beautiful hikes along some of the highest mountains in the Andes, and small villas developed in the few oases that you find in what is known as the driest desert in the world. 

One of my favorite things about San Pedro is the night sky. The sky has so little light pollution and humidity that the world’s main observatories have been set up there. One of them is ALMA (Atacama Large Millimeter/submillimeter Array), which is part of a network of telescopes that captured the first image of a black hole in 2019. 

Violeta (foreground) and friends

Violeta (foreground) and friends

Getting accustomed to the people here has been a challenge, but one that has been fruitful. In my experience, Chilean culture is focused on the heart and feelings, to the point where every circumstance is weighed by emotions. 

It’s a warm and human way of interacting, but it can also be too much at times. This is coming from someone who was taught about the “personal bubble” in third grade at Haldane. Imagine my shock when I realized that people still have to be introduced with a kiss and a hug. 

Although I miss Cold Spring and its people more than anyone could imagine, I am learning a lot about who I am and where I come from. Being with family, especially my grandparents, has been so rewarding. So has, of course, being with the love of my life, my dog Dr. John Watson, named for the Sherlock Holmes character. 

One thought on “Reporter’s Notebook: Letter from Chile

  1. I thoroughly enjoyed the poetic and nostalgic “Letter from Chile” by Violeta Edwards Salas, the young and talented member of your Student Journalists Program. Drawing from personal feelings about growing up in her cherished Cold Spring, as well as from her whimsical discovery of her own Chilean heritage after returning home to Santiago, Violeta takes us into the depths she draws from what might be merely tourism for someone less sensitive.

    Hidden beneath her narrative is her wonder about the majesty of the Andes, the beauty of San Pedro de Atacama in the north, the power and relevance of the telescopes in that region and the infinity of the night sky.

    Congratulations to The Current for giving Violeta and other talented youngsters a forum that enriches the paper with deeply moving perspectives. No doubt we will hear more from Violeta in the future.

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