|Dates:||February 13 – May 12|
*Airfare for international and in-country flights additional
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- Witness History Firsthand as Cuba Opens Up to Americans After 60 Years
- Teach ESL Classes to Aspiring Patagonia Tour Guides and Eager School Children
- Experience Havana’s Energy, a City Bursting With Music, Dance and Great Food
- Trek in the Shadows of the Towering Peaks and Glacier of Torres del Paine
- Deliver Food by Horse and Buggy to Cuba’s Elderly and Shut In Community
- Study Chile’s Fishing Industry Through the Lens of a Local Fisherman
- Homestay with a Gaucho Family and Experience the Lifestyle of these Cattle Farmers
- Sample the White Sand Beaches and the Turquoise Waters of Cuba’s Caribbean Shores
ARCC’s Patagonia & Cuba Spring Gap Program provides access to some of the world’s most intriguing and undiscovered regions, ranging from the picturesque frontier and jagged spires of Chile’s Patagonia to the historic enchantment of Cuba, a land timeworn and unendingly magical. Taking advantage of our unparalleled access, we delve into conservation efforts that include a study of the fisheries off the coast of Chile, the effects of climate change on the melting glaciers in Patagonia, and a glimpse of the contentious debate surrounding proposed hydroelectric dams of the region’s waterways. Starting up an ESL program, we teach English to aspiring tour guides and eager school children. Swinging our packs upon our backs we embark on a trek through some of Patagonia’s most spectacular trails. During a homestay we have the opportunity to learn about the Gauchos and their ongoing fight to protect their local traditions and to preserve their lands. Witnessing this community that subsists below the poverty level, we observe a people known for their hard-work and positive outlook on life.
We journey from the rugged peaks of South America to the tranquil caribbean shores of Cuba. With unusual access to Cuban citizens, we encounter a nation and proud population emerging from a 60 year time capsule, ready to enter the 21st century. We view history in the making firsthand as we crisscross Cuba for a month refurbishing local schools and orphanages. We teach English classes to a population eager to learn, knowing that this skill will soon be invaluable as the nation continues to open its doors to outsiders. We work with a special organization that prepares and delivers food to a shut in elderly community, giving us unique access to a side of Cuba that most never witness. We bask in the crystal clear waters off improbably white sand beaches. Finally, we experience the color and vibrancy of La Habana, Cuba’s historic capital city, its streets echoing the notes of the ever-present salsa music. After experiencing two of the world’s most fascinating, and stunningly beautiful nations, we return to the U.S. with broader perspectives and a new passion to learn.
Orientation to the Patagonia / Cuba Semester and Travel to Santiago, Chile
We begin our semester with a Gap orientation in San Francisco, California. After a welcoming BBQ with all ARCC Gap programs, we settle into our group, getting to know one another and our instructors. Together we map out our itinerary and set both individual and group goals for the duration of the program. We introduce our curriculum and brainstorm ideas for our individual Capstone projects, all the while coming together as a traveling community.
Leaving San Francisco behind, we fly together to Santiago, Chile, where we start our orientation to Chilean culture and customs. We explore Santiago, all the while learning about the rich cultural history and the complicated political and economic framework of the Southern Cone of Latin America, as well as the cultural norms and social etiquette of the region.
In Santiago we also begin our education in this section’s foundational themes of Environment and Conservation. Patagonia presents us with a perfect opportunity to explore all sides of these issues as we meet with stakeholders and visionaries. For the next two months we explore Chile from north to south to see firsthand the results of the extraordinary efforts of individuals, organizations and nations to protect one of the world’s most stunning, and fragile, ecosystems.
From Santiago, we head to community of Lago Budi, home of the Mapuche, one of Chile’s most significant indigenous people. Here we explore and experience the Mapuche’s traditional culture and try to understand the many conflicts of maintaining a connection with the past while a nation modernizes around them.
Chiloe, Parque Pumalin and the Futaleufu River
Our odyssey continues south as we make stops on the culturally rich island of Chiloe, a place known for its rich history in mythology and seamanship. We explore the wool co-ops, educational farms and work to better understand the economics of fishing from the perspective of the small fishing communities lining the coast. We continue on to explore Parque Pumalin, one of the largest and most diverse conservation efforts in South America. Parque Pumalin is our first glimpse of the success that can be had when individuals, NGOs and governments collaborate to protect a valuable resource. This section concludes with a study of the many issues facing the famed Futaleufu River. The “Fut” is ground zero for the battle between environmentalists opposing a proposed dam and a nation looking for a predictable supply of water and electricity that a dam will provide. We analyze this complicated issue, one that has no easy answers, through the multiple lenses of the many constituents involved.
Manihuales Homestay, Cerro Castillo and Parque Patagonia
Our next stop takes us to the tiny town of Manihuales, a village as populated by sheep, cattle and hayfields, as people. Here we participate in a homestay where we have the opportunity to experience traditional living while lending our hands on the expansive farms, working in the gardens and learning about two important issues facing this part of Chile: food security and urbanization. Complimenting our learning, we have the opportunity to experience rural communities with a four-day trek in Cerro Castillo.
Parque Patagonia not only provides us the opportunity to glimpse first-hand what privately-funded conservation looks like in Patagonia, but it also presents us with the opportunity to practice our English teaching skills through classes that we offer to aspiring tourist guides. As tourism continues to grow in Chilean Patagonia, the need for English comprehension is significant and highly sought after by aspiring guides. The opportunity to share our mother-tongue, while forming friendships with these guides who are not much older than we are, gives us a glimpse into the work ethic and dreams of these hard working people.
The Baker River
Our next section takes us on an adventure down Chile’s most voluminous river, the Rio Baker. For five days and nights we float the Baker River, experiencing the periodic rush of rapids, while soaking up the grandeur, remoteness, mighty winds and people who depend on the river for their livelihoods. As we slowly drift down the river, we witness the quiet pace of life and engage with remote communities, seeing a side of Chile that many never witness. We also retrace our discussions around the ongoing debate about dams, as the Rio Baker was once slated to have two megadams, but remains untouched for the moment. Our rafting expedition ends at the ocean in Caleta Tortel, a beautiful peninsula community dotted with colorful houses and connected by endless stairways and boardwalks made of cypress wood. .
Student Planned Module
Tortel is the small city base for our Student Planned Module. This section is completely planned, organized, budgeted and implemented by the students
Torres del Paine
Rounding out our time in Chile, we make our way to the world-renowned Torres del Paine, one of South America’s most beautiful national parks. Looming nearly 10,000 feet above the Patagonian Steppe, the spectacular granite pillars that make up Torres del Paine tower over the former sheep estancia, which is home to exotic birds, lama, and countless other types of wildlife. Celebrated as one of the best hiking locations in the world, we spend our days exploring, trekking and soaking up the incredible panoramas of Torres del Paine. Blown away by the spectacular vistas and endless valleys, we say goodbye to South America, sampling the region’s famous cuisine, namely the dulce de leche and mouth-watering barbecue, in a farewell dinner.
Welcome to Cuba and Matanzas
Our flight takes us out of the southern hemisphere to the Caribbean island of Cuba, a nation just recently opened to U.S. citizens for exploration and a land seemingly untouched by time. Once clear of customs in Havana, we travel down the coast bound for the city of Matanzas, a vibrant university town, which is our hometown for the next several weeks. In Matanzas we receive an orientation to Cuba, which includes an overview of its fascinating history, and have the opportunity to forge our first friendships with our new neighbors.
Our lodging in Matanzas is called a Casa Particular, which is privately owned (as opposed to a government run) lodging. Casas Particulares are wonderful alternatives to hotels for lodging in Cuba. Something akin to a family run inn or bed and breakfast, casas are extremely comfortable and clean, reflecting the pride the owners have in sharing their home with outsiders. Living in casas affords us a glimpse into a thriving independent market and the significant growth of one of Cuba’s many self-driven businesses, which touches on one of our core themes of economic growth. Our Casa in Matanzas is minutes from the beach.
For 60 years many buildings in Cuba have suffered from neglect and disrepair. The local schools and orphanages have suffered the same fate. Our days during this section are spent painting, repairing and refurbishing schools and orphanages that haven’t seen a coat of paint for decades. Our work is challenging, hot and physical, but so worth it! The results of our efforts are visible daily and are so appreciated by the faculty, students and residents. In the afternoons or evenings we take advantage of the nearby beaches to cool off after a hard day of work.
Conversational English Instruction
Leaving Matanzas behind we continue our journey down the coast, where we delve into the education and literacy theme by setting up a language camp. Settling into a small community, we spend time teaching English to a population very interested in learning the language. Most Cubans recognize that to thrive in the next 10-20 years, and take advantage of the much anticipated arrival of Americans, they need to learn English. We hold classes for many types of “students” from preschoolers to well-educated Cubans (doctors!) hoping to touch up their language skills. This project gives us a unique opportunity to interact one-on-one with Cuban citizens and learn about their everyday lives.
Food Delivery by Horse and Buggy
Complimenting our English language lessons, we spend time working with an amazing local organization that prepares and delivers food to senior citizen and the homeless populations of the area. We traverse the community’s cobbled streets, delivering meals by horse and buggy to those who can’t make it to the community food center. This is an incredibly positive and emotional project for both our students and the senior citizens. Again, we have extraordinary access to the everyday citizens of Cuba, and are honored to be able to provide valuable assistance to local families.
Cuba’s Caribbean Beaches
A trip to Cuba is not complete without spending time on its stunning white sand beaches. After our grueling construction, teaching and food delivery projects, it is time for a break. We move down the road to Varadero, a bustling beach community exploding with activity. Varadero’s 12-mile beach is pristine and the crystal clear Caribbean waters help remind us that this is indeed an island paradise. Many great restaurants are within walking distance of our lodging and we use the reliable trolley system to explore up and down the coast. Varadero is also where we can find some of the best Cuban souvenirs during our visit.
Havana, Conclusion & Return to San Francisco
Switching gears, we say goodbye to the tropical island waters and head across the country for Havana. Havana is a city stopped in time but aching to join the 21st century; a fascinating blend of the colonialism of days long gone and a city ready for its modern debut. Our days in Havana give us ample opportunity to explore the streets that teem with colorful, open air markets and salsa music. We visit Hemingway’s favorite haunts, take guided tours of Old Havana and El Malecón, visit famed museums and have time to stroll the cobbled streets and plazas of Old Havana. We even have a unique opportunity to dine with a University of Havana economics professor to discuss the dramatic economic and social changes underway in Cuba.
With our semester coming to a close, we reserve time to present our capstone projects to our Gap peers. Sharing our new perspectives with the group, there is no question our living, learning and travel together through these great countries will prepare us for the rest of our lives. We savor our last week together but are excited to head home to share our newly gained knowledge and insights from our firsthand look at Patagonia and Cuba.