On November 15, nine Ambassadors from FF Northern Illinois along with five from Florida, North Carolina, New Jersey and Iowa returned from a 2-week exchange with FF clubs in Santiago and La Serena, Chile. Ten Ambassadors also participated in an optional 7-night pre-exchange tour of Buenos Aires and Iguazu Falls, Argentina.
Click here to see photos of the Argentina tour.
November is springtime in Chile and arrival day in Santiago was beautifully sunny and warm. E.D. Maria Beatriz Bravo Ureta hosted a welcome party at the home of her mother “Kika” Bravo. Well into her eighties, Kika is a 30+ year charter member of the Friendship Force of Santiago. Arriving guests were greeted with empanadas, chilled pisco sours and creamy glasses of whipped cherimoya, made from the white flesh of a delicious Chilean fruit. A lavish outdoor lunch combined with live entertainment followed. The thoroughly charmed guests were reluctant to depart.
Ambassadors were treated to city tours of Santiago, Valparaiso and Viña del Mar. Also included were visits to the Metropolitan Cathedral, the Ralli Art Museum, the Museum of Pablo Neruda (the Nobel Prize winning Chilean poet) and numerous other places of interest. We climbed Cerro Santa Lucia and Cerro San Cristobal both built on hilltops with spectacular views of Santiago. The ceremonial changing of the guard at La Moneda Palace was particularly memorable since it was enhanced for review by a visiting military delegation from Ecuador. Shop ‘til you drop was the order of the day several times as was our introduction to several of the fine restaurants Santiago is known for.
In lieu of a gift to their club, FFNI offered to donate gift funds to a charity chosen by our hosts. The Santiago club selected Hogar Mi Familia, a local orphanage. This facility receives and temporarily cares for children from 0 to 3 years old placed there by the courts. Ambassadors were brought to the orphanage for presentation of this gift. Staffed mostly by volunteers, the obvious outpouring of love and affection for the children was emotionally overwhelming, turning the visit into a memorable highlight of the exchange.
Click here for photos of the Santiago exchange.
After 7-nights in Santiago, Ambassadors boarded an airplane for the one hour flight to La Serena. Hosts greeted their Ambassadors at the airport and transported them to their temporary homes for lunch and unpacking. Later that evening, Ambassadors were treated to a welcome party at a local seaside restaurant complete with musical entertainment and dancing.
La Serena and the adjoining city of Coquimbo are Pacific Ocean beach communities with a combined population of 430,000 people. Visitors from Chile and western Argentina stream into the area during the December – March peak season. High rise condominium buildings under construction along the shoreline are reminiscent of the Miami Beach of 40 years ago.
In addition to city tours of La Serena and Coquimbo, the program included a bus trip to Vicuña City, Bauer Tower and nighttime observation of the heavens at Mamalluca Observatory. Another trip took Ambassadors by boat to the Damas Island reserve for viewing of protected sea lions, penguins and other species of sea birds. One of the home hosts, Nancy Iriate, is a renowned artist and art educator with particular expertise in pre-Columbian indigenous art and petroglyphs. Several lucky Ambassadors were treated to a private showing of her recent paintings, narrated by the artist herself.
As a gift to the host club and a memorial of the exchange, FFNI provided funds to purchase and plant a Friendship Tree in La Serena’s Japanese Park. A photo and article about the ceremonial planting appeared the following day in the daily newspaper of La Serena.
Click here for photos of the La Serena exchange.
Brian Harrington, ED