A Different Form of Patriotism

In the United States, the country only unites through the world of sports once every few years for various different competitions. In the world of team sports, the most popular are the Men’s basketball team that plays in the olympics, and the Men’s soccer team as they compete in the olympics and the World Cup. However, as many people know, the national intensity displayed in these sports is nowhere near the intensity shown at the domestic level.

Copa America logo

When Copa America came to Chile, I had absolutely no idea what it would entail. I had never followed soccer much, but the idea of all South American countries competing for the title of best soccer team seemed like it was going to be fun. When the tickets became available, I quickly purchased three, Colombia vs. Brazil, the Semifinal, and the Final.

Going to these soccer matches opened my eyes. First, at Colombia vs. Brazil, the national pride on display was breathtaking. 40,000 fans packed in a stadium, mostly Colombian, cheered like madmen for 90 minutes. The energy and emotion was unlike anything I had ever seen. When Colombia scored the first and only goal of the game, I found myself screaming and hugging all the “parceros” from Colombia (lucky, I decided to sport my Colombia shirt in anticipation). With a brawl between the players at the final whistle, I was convinced that the national pride I had seen would never be replicated at a US sporting event. After the game, there remained no doubt in my mind it was the most fun I had experienced at a sporting event.

Next up was the Semifinal. Chile, after a strong showing in the group stage, had advanced to the semifinal to face a Peru squad. Chile, seeking it’s first world cup title ever, came out hungry. Being in a stadium full of Colombians was quite the experience, but it was nothing like what I felt in Estadio Nacional watching Chileans cheer on their team in their own country. As Chile was tied 1-1 with little time remaining, Eduardo Vargas unleashed the most amazing soccer goal I have ever seen in person. A rocket from far outside the box, the Chilean cold-bloodedly sank the goal to give Chile the eventual 2-1 victory. With Chile in it’s first Final since the 1980’s the entire country of “weones” was buzzing with anticipation.

Unfortunately, my iPhone had been pick-pocketed a week before while I was at a celebration for a Chilean group stage match. Because of this I had to sell my ticket to the Final, which ultimately netted me a fairly large amount due to the fact that Chile was playing. In the Final, Chile was the heavy underdog against Argentina, widely regarded as the best team in the America’s. Chile went on to win a dramatic championship through Penalty Shoot Out. As Chile won, a country cried tears of joy. Friends at the stadium told me they saw elderly men sitting in their chairs weeping in joy. The Chileans I watched the game with yelled and celebrated for about an hour, and the whole country began to flock to the streets in celebration.

Immediately going to the Chilean version of the White House to celebrate with the president, I knew this was going to be no normal celebration. As people took to the streets and partied until the early hours of the morning, I knew this was a once in a lifetime experience. That day, I was able to watch a country unite and celebrate through sports in a way that I had never seen in my life, and probably never will again. Immediately going to the Chilean version of the White House to celebrate with the president.

Gracias y vamos La Roja!!

Chile's president Michelle Bachelet and Chile's national soccer team celebrates at the La Moneda presidential palace after Chile defeated Argentina to win the Copa America 2015 final soccer match in Santiago, Chile, July 4, 2015.  REUTERS/Rodrigo Garrido

Harnessing the Chilean Wilderness

Aldridge Patagonia

Few times in my life had I been more excited than when my peer from Germany asked me if I wanted to go backpacking for five days in Torres del Paine National Park. Going to school in Montana, the outdoors are part of the culture of the university. While during the semester it isn’t uncommon to have friends go away on a day hike or weekend camping trip, people who go to school in Missoula generally love the outdoors. Choosing to study abroad in Santiago, I was scared that nothing about my exchange would be outdoorsy. After two months of living in the hustle of a metropolis consumed by smog and volcanic ash, I was itching to escape to somewhere peaceful. Torres del Paine is located on the southern tip of Chile, commonly referred to as the “end of the world” because of the way the sky slopes downward and seemingly touches the ground. When I first arrived at the park, I was struck by how naturally beautiful it was. Never in my life had I seen such massive mountains covered in pristine glaciers surrounded by ancient old growth forest. Even though a few years back two Israeli’s accidentally started a forest fire that severely burned large portions of the park (and caused numerous warning signs in Hebrew to be put up everywhere we looked) it was as if the fire added to the mystery of the park. Walking along the trail felt like it was straight out of a classic horror movie, with the burned trees, the howling wind, and icy temperatures making the forest an astoundingly beautiful, yet “wicked” forest.

When we arrived to the park, there were just four of us. Stefan from Germany, Colomban from France, Nick from the USA, and myself. With all of us except for Colomban having prior backpacking experience, I felt that since the park was such a national staple, it couldn’t be too terribly hard of a trek. Boy was I mistaken. After the second day, we had walked a shade under 45 kilometers (28 miles). I woke up with horrible pain in both my legs that radiated all the way down to my feet. With no other option than to walk another 12 miles to the next campsite, I wasn’t sure I knew what I had gotten myself into. As I walked straight up hill to the first view point, I knew it was all worth it. Never before had I been struck by such natural beauty. At every view point I went to, I became more and more impressed with what Chile had to offer. By the end of the trip I had seen lakes, rivers, mountains, glaciers, and some of the most impressive wildlife I had ever come across. At every view point there were massive condors flying above us with 7 foot wing spans. At one point in the trail, we came across a wild puma lounging in a tree just off to the side. The nature in Torres del Paine was mesmerizing and lived up the the hype 100%.

The people we encountered on the trail were just as interesting. I’m not sure how it is in other countries, but there are so so so many french people in Chile. Having Colomban proved to be our ticket to figuring out every shortcut and trick on the trail due to the amount of french people that we crossed. We spent a lot of time on the trail with two frenchmen, Willy and Gerrard. Both in their thirties, they didn’t speak hardly any Spanish so I tried my best to pick up French, without much success. We also met three college friends from Poland, who were reuniting twenty years after graduation to spend some time together before they all went back to their respective careers. Finally, we spent time with a Chilean couple, one of which appeared to be completely European. Born and raised in Chile after her parents moved from Europe, she didn’t speak any English, much to the surprise of everyone who didn’t expect a small European woman to speak perfect Spanish with Chilean accent. All in all, the people we met were friendly, and it’s sad to think that we’ll never see each other ever again. It just goes to show how the outdoors can unite people from all walks of life, and how even though we don’t speak the same language, the love of nature can help us communicate in ways that we don’t see coming.

Soccer? I think you mean futbol.

Coming from the United States to Chile, I knew that soccer was the national sport and Chile’s team performed well at the last world cup. Beyond that, I know very little about soccer. Growing up in the U.S. there were always a multitude of sports available to play as a child. From basketball to baseball to crew, Americans are known to be exceptional at many sports. Soccer however, is not one of them. A three sport athlete of Football, Baseball, and Racquetball in high school, I had not played in an organized soccer game since I was roughly 8 years old. Sports wise, coming to Chile was quite the wake up call.

The first day of orientation, I began talking to a boy from Medellin, Colombia. Immediately, he started talking to me about soccer. Unable to tell him more than who a few teams are in the Barclay’s Premier League, he began to realize that I did not play soccer.

“How can you even live with yourself!?” He asked me in Spanish. “Soccer is why I wake up every morning, nothing makes me happier than going out onto the field and scoring Golazo’s with my friends.” From that point on, I knew this was going to be a culture shock that I did not expect.

Whether I’ve met kids from Chile, Colombia, France, Morocco, Nicaragua, and more, they all have one thing in common: they grew up playing soccer. Being the gringo of the group, I have been teased with the stereotypical “American’s are only good at the sports they invented” line over and over. But the biggest thing about it is, it couldn’t be more true. To my horror, my friends decided to organize soccer games twice a week on a turf field nearby. Even though they knew I hadn’t played soccer, they welcomed me to come play with open arms. The first game I played in however, felt like a final exam for a course that I didn’t attend once. Unable to control the ball or make quality passes, the European’s and Latin’s we’re astounded by how bad I was at soccer.

Since, I have made a concerted effort to become serviceable at the sport. With the help of my friends and the continuation of playing for an hour and a half twice a week, I feel that I am experiencing a part of the South American culture that the common tourist never will. Sometimes, the best experiences can come from where you least expect them and personally, I am thrilled that I get to compete at the world’s most popular game with people from all corners of the globe.