Reflections on separation (poem-post)

It seems a little strange – not to say wrong – to post poetry on a blog, when every blog I’ve ever seen is written in first person prose form.

But I try to write poetry as well as prose, because I want to keep the poetry wheels turning and the poetry muscles working. Sometimes I’m put off trying because we all seem to feel that poetry = art, and if what you turn out doesn’t match up to the greats, well, really, you should have kept your mouth shut. Yet we don’t feel that way about prose; if we did, all the newspapers in the world would shut down tomorrow. Some topics just seem to work better in verse, especially those about someone you love. Even if you run the risk of ridicule.

So, here it is: the first venture of poetry-on-blog. It was inspired by a Shakespeare quote I found yesterday (Absence from those we love is self from self – a deadly banishment) and an argument.

Separation from you makes every line less clear,
My bones cold,
Lights in apartments across the street
Without power, electricity, heat.

Being away from you is an empty room
Where bad things can come
Not hearing your voice, my stomach and lungs
Creep up my throat.

Touching you is part of my body’s daily routine,
The cycle it goes through to keep me alive.
Help me with the pain of not touching you
The cloak of miserable, white, static satin.

To brush my nose against your chin and
Catch my lip upon your hair
To see your dark eye under the shadowy lines of lashes
Breathing in the smell of my only human soul on earth.

Copyright: Clare Bevis, 2011

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Silver and jewels tucked away in the Valparaíso hills

Silversmith Victor Hugo has been producing handmade jewelry for twelve years. His antique showroom and workshop are hidden away like so many things in Chile’s beloved port city, down a bohemian passageway, drawing in customers from Chile and around the world.

Valparaíso silver smith Victor Hugo

Valparaíso silver smith Victor Hugo.

On a hot day, climbing up the salty harbor streets of Valparaíso, the rainbow of stands selling traditional trinkets, shawls and beads can become as oppressive as the midday sun. But hidden deep inside the city’s winding hills is a vein of pure silverwork charm. High on Cerro Concepción, in one of the prettiest parts of the labyrinthine port, is the shop of Victor Hugo, silversmith and maker of original Chilean jewelry.

An antique workshop

His showroom – Silver Workshop – is easy to miss, only announced by a small placard propped up on the pavement part-way down Templeman Passage. Step in to the alleyway on the left, ring a the bell at the rustic doorway, and the artisan will emerge to invite you into the cool antique villa that serves as his workplace.

The showroom is spectacular. Simple traditional furniture and dark wood cases laid out with fine Chilean silver; the precious metal gleaming with its unique tone in the uneven light of the shop’s slatted windows.  A central glass case holds chunky necklaces, rings and star-like earrings studded with amber. Spaced around the room is more jewelry along with miniature statues, engraved cutlery and loose stones for people who might want to set the gems themselves.

Other pieces feature the famous veined blue of Chilean lapis lazuli, a rare semi-precious stone that is found in relatively few countries in the world. I’m unable to resist a tiny one with a hole threaded through the center ready for use, on sale for a steal at US$1.70 ($800 pesos).

Victor Hugo: “Inspired by the Valparaíso hills”

“Valparaíso is an inexhaustible source of inspiration,” says Hugo, owner of the shop and creator of all the work on display around us, with the exception of a selection of some characteristic Mapuche jewelry placed prominently behind the counter. This he sources on annual trips south to meet with indigenous artisans based in Temuco, Chile’s capital of Mapuche culture.

Born in the northern Chilean city of Antofagasta, Hugo began working with precious metals and stones while living in Brazil in the 1970s and 1980s. Returning to his home country in 1994, he lived for short periods in Santiago and in Valparaíso’s sister city, Viña del Mar, before settling in Valparaíso in 1998.

The historic port city has become a muse for the silversmith. “I am inspired by the lines of the hills,” he says. “The geography and the diversity of cultures. People from all countries live and travel here, and I talk to them a lot, about Chile and about life abroad.”

Jewelry craft in Chile and abroad

Artisanal silverwork brings Chile, with its own rich sources of silver in the mines to the north of the country, into contact with cultures around the world. Hugo has traveled worldwide, from Sweden to Brazil, to present his work at exhibitions. He used to run jewelry-making classes with foreign students in Valparaíso, passing on his skills to young people from the US, France and Switzerland among others.

Chileans are also becoming more interested in fine artisanal jewelry, Hugo believes, with increasing numbers of native customers visiting his shop. “There is more interest in art and culture,” he says. “Like foreign tourists, Chileans come to browse in the shop – and they are more likely to return to purchase a piece.”

Valparaíso is becoming an excellent source of quality jewelry, with another silver workshop, that of fellow silversmith Rocco Napoli, just round the corner from Hugo’s own store on Cerro Concepción. Courses in Chile teaching gold and silver craft are also on the rise, with schools around the country catering to Chileans and foreigners alike. The Universidad de Chile backs a gold and silver work course run by Santiago’s Museum of Popular American Art, and the Universidad Católica de Temuco in the south of Chile also offers a course in Contemporary Gold and Silver Smithing.

Asked what keeps the craft alive and keeps customers coming back time and again to his small workshop in the beautiful city that is his home, Hugo’s answer is simple: “ Belief. Belief in what you do, and love of the work.

“I work with the elements of the earth, with its various and beautiful colors. Every jewel is a poem, an act of love, and with it there comes a story. My work is a universal language.”

For more information visit

First published in This is Chile on November 15, 2010. Copyright Clare Bevis/Fundación Imagen de Chile.








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Skiing in Chile: 5 surprises for northern hemisphere snow bunnies

The Andes are famous as a summer snow destination for overseas skiers and boarders, but Chile’s resorts are no carbon copy of the Alps or the Rockies.

Ski in Chile at Valle Nevado

Valle Nevado (Photo by Clare Bevis)

Whether you’re living in Chile, studying, or just traveling through, there’s no doubt that proximity to the Andes – along the country’s entire, skinny length – is one of its biggest draws.

Summer brings hiking, rafting, climbing and biking, but winter (June – September) is when the world’s longest mountain range really comes into its own for skiers and snowboarders.

And the fact that Chile’s winter comes during the northern hemisphere’s hottest months, providing a snowy haven for Olympic teams and backpackers alike, is just the start.

The Andes are a winter sports destination like no other. Here, This is Chile highlights the five biggest surprises about skiing in Chile.

1. That view

Maybe it’s because the Andes are just so long that the sight is so spectacular, but the view of snowy mountain tops from the chairlift will take your breath away. A carpet of peaks stretches on and on as far as the eye can see, one rising up behind another as if the horizon curved up, not down. It’s an otherworldly landscape that reminds us we’re not in North America any more, Toto – no, we’re at the end of the earth.

2. Volcanoes

The unique experience of skiing on the slopes of a volcano is a huge draw for visitors, with the conical perfection of Osorno and Villarrica in the southern Lakes District drawing thousands of adventurous skiers every year.

But, as we all now know, volcanoes can be something of a beautiful nuisance. In 2011 it was Chile’s turn to disrupt the international skies as Puyehue Volcano erupted, making for gorgeous sunsets but frustrating many travelers on their way to Chile’s southern slopes. The moral of the story: check the news before booking your trip, get travel insurance and be prepared to keep your plans flexible.

3. Ski on a budget

Skiing in Chile can be a surprisingly economical experience. Lift passes are cheaper than in Europe and North America, costing around US$50 per day at Valle Nevado, one of the largest resorts in Chile. Two-for-one deals and other discounts are also common on weekdays at many of the main resorts – check center websites.

Adult ski equipment (skis and boots) can be rented at resorts for around US$45, or slightly less in Santiago. And with many of the major resorts within two hours drive of the capital, you can avoid shelling out on the expensive week-long ski packages so common in Europe. Many visitors and locals sleep in Santiago and head up to the slopes on the days that suit them.  Transportation includes daily buses (about US$27 round-trip from the capital to Valle Nevado) and rental cars (about US$80 per day, plus US$20 for snow chains on icy days).

4. Oh so quiet

Clean, groomed, almost-empty slopes are, for many skiers, such stuff as dreams are made on – but hard to find in the busy high seasons in Europe and North America. Not so here in Chile. Locals flock to the mountain on weekends but tend to stay away during the week, meaning weekday visitors can take advantage of wonderfully spacious runs and smooth, even snow: especially useful if steering around other skiers isn’t your strong point.

5. ¿Hablas español?

Spanish on the slopes is one of the great delights of South American skiing. In contrast to North America and Europe, where English is everywhere and you can get a job in the French Alps without speaking a word of French, Spanish can be heard in day-to-day life throughout the Chilean resorts.

English, of course, is ubiquitous, spoken by staff and used widely on signs and literature. But it’s more than a little refreshing to hear a ‘gracias’ when you show your lift pass to the lift attendant and a ‘¡cuidado!’ when you slither off at the top. We are, after all, in stunning South America – and why did we come here, if not for a little challenge and adventure?

Published on on August 25 2011. Copyright Clare Bevis/Fundación Imagen de Chile

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Torres del Paine: Chile’s world-famous natural wonderland

The most-visited Chilean national park is a paradise for hikers, adrenaline-junkies and nature-lovers alike. Grab your camera and hiking boots – this is one attraction you can’t miss.

Salto Grande, Torres del Paine, Patagonia, Chile

Salto Grande, Torres del Paine. Photo (c) Clare Bevis.

Tucked away in a remote pocket of southern Patagonia is one of the most beautiful natural landscapes on our planet: the magnificent Torres del Paine National Park.

The park covers almost 600,000 acres (242,242 ha.) of wild, mountainous terrain scattered with alpine plains, winding rivers, pristine ice-blue lakes and the awesome glaciers of the Southern Ice Fields.

Declared a Chilean National Park in 1959 and a UNESCO World Biosphere Reserve in 1979, Torres del Paine is home to remarkable biodiversity. Pumas, foxes, guanacos and rare huemul deer live in four separate ecosystems, along with hundreds of bird species.

What to see

The iconic view of Torres del Paine – and some say of Chile itself – is the tall, twisted Paine Massif. A spur of the Andes, cut off from the main cordillera, it rises sharply from the lakes and grasslands into blue-grey granite cuernos (horns) and peaks, and is visible from almost all parts of the park.

The Paine Massif, Torres del Paine, Patagonia, Chile

The tall and twisted Paine Massif above Lago Pehoe. Photo (c) Clare Bevis

The three torres (towers) themselves are best viewed via the day hike that departs from the Hotel Las Torres, marked on the official park maps. After a few hours of walking and a sharp and grueling final climb, the torres appear soaring above a high mountain lagoon. The hike forms part of the ‘W’ and ‘full circuit’ treks – see below – or can be tackled in a (long) day.

Another unmissable sight is Glacier Grey, which can be reached via a hike around the shore of Lake Grey. You can also take the more comfortable option of a boat trip out across the lake, topped off by a pisco sour served with a chunk of glacier ice.

The park contains some spectacular multi-chromatic lakes and waterfalls, of which Salto Grande is the largest and most well-known. This, and most of the lakes, are easily accessible  by car followed by a short hike. Ask at the park’s visitor centers for details.

Lago or Lake Pehoe. Torres del Paine, Patagonia, Chile

Multichromatic Lake Pehoe. Photo (c) Clare Bevis.

Activities to try

Torres del Paine is a world-famous hiking destination. The park attracts thousands of hikers each year to take on its headline routes, the five-day ‘W’ and the longer ‘full circuit’, as well as its many shorter trails. Information on where to walk and how to prepare can be found on

Horseback riding, rock climbing and kayaking are other ways for the adventurous-minded to get up close to the park’s extreme landscapes and stunning views. Tour operators in the nearby town of Puerto Natales can help with organizing these activities.

For creative travelers and shutterbugs, photography trips are becoming increasingly popular. Check out Wild Patagonia Nature Photography for information on photo safaris, or gather a group of like-minded friends and head out independently.

How to get there

Most visitors get to Torres del Paine from Puerto Natales, located 70 miles (115 km) away. There are several car hire agencies in Puerto Natales, and public buses leave daily from the town to the central park destinations. It’s also possible to drive up from Punta Arenas in the south.

When to go

Summer (November – March) is the most popular time to visit Torres del Paine, with warmer weather and easier conditions for hiking. However, the park is famous for its “four seasons in one day” climate, and any day of the year can see gale-force winds or heavy rain.

Autumn and winter are not out of the question and offer less-crowded trails and a unique southern light, beloved by photography buffs – but be wary of the shorter days if you’re outdoors.

Published on on August 18 2011. Copyright Clare Bevis/Fundación Imagen de Chile

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Chile: new economic star or education ‘apartheid’?

Chile is the world’s latest success story, with a booming economy, thriving post-dictatorship democracy and rave reviews in the global media. But recent education protests–and an increasingly unpopular government–reveal the deep inequality still plaguing Chilean society.

Education protester in Valparaíso, Chile

Protesters with police in Valparaíso, Chile. Photo by Valerie Schenkman Sanjines/Santiago Times

From the outside it might seem that Chile’s never had it better. When the New York Times chose Santiago as its number one place to visit in 2011, international media such as Der Spiegel and El País raced to follow suit. Barack Obama visited in March, mega-music festival Lollapalooza touched down in April, and the country has been named “most transparent,” “lowest-risk,” “most connected,” “most innovative” . . . the list goes on.

Most importantly, Chile’s economy is on the up and up, posting record growth in March 2011 and named “Latin America’s most successful economy” by the World Bank.

So you’d be forgiven for feeling confused by the two months of protests that have been raging around Chile, resulting in arrests, violence and tear gas. And also by President Sebastián Piñera (whose approval rating is at an all-time low), giving an impromptu address to the nation and announcing a radical cabinet reshuffle.

Why all the mixed messages from the world’s southernmost nation? Yes, there is a range of issues at stake, from a controversial hydroelectric project planned for pristine Patagonia to labor disputes in Chile’s lucrative copper mines. But by far the largest and loudest protests have come from one of the oldest political debates around: education.

“En toma”

The Chilean educational system came to a standstill in June as students revived an age-old protest tactic of “taking over” their schools. Classrooms were occupied; chairs slung over school railings; classes abandoned; signs posted declaring “EN TOMA” or “TAKEN OVER.”

And the protests have followed, with numbers reaching more than 100,000 on the streets to demand change in increasingly creative ways. President Piñera responded by offering US$4 billion in extra state funds for education, as well as more scholarships, more transparency and help with debt. He also appointed a new education minister, replacing the beleaguered Joaquin Lavín. But critics and students are not satisfied, claiming that deeper change is needed.

Among the Thriller dances, collective suicides and, most recently, hunger strikes, one thing is clear. This is not–as commentators in the U.S. and the U.K. have suggested–simply a newly-empowered middle class testing the boundaries of its freedom after a recent, painful history of military rule. It’s a reaction to deeply ingrained socio-economic segregation in Chilean society–and it’s a problem that won’t just go away.

Class apartheid

“In Chile today, public education is a ghetto of poverty,” says Marcel Claude, radical Chilean economist and professor at Universidad de Chile, in an interview with The Santiago Times. Indeed, Chile has the second most segregated education system in the world, where “the rich study with the rich and the poor with the poor,” according to lobbying group Educación 2020.

The loaded word “apartheid” has been used, notably by the outspoken head of Educación 2020, Chilean academic and businessman Mario Waissbluth, who tweeted in June: “The level of ‘class apartheid’ in Chilean education is similar to the ‘racial apartheid’ in pre-Mandela South Africa.”

“It is apartheid, in the strictest sense,” says Claude. Students from the poorest 60 percent of society make up 85 to 90 percent of Chile’s primary and secondary public education system, he notes, while students from the richest 20 percent fill up 60 percent of private institutions. And private education in Chile is far more than a luxury for the few: Claude adds that 50 percent of primary and secondary schools in Chile are now private. This is up from 10 percent in the 1980s, when new constitutional legislation from the Pinochet dictatorship opened the door for a vastly more privatized system.

Paying for private school, on the other hand, is far from easy. A 2011 report from the Organization for Economic Cooperation and Development (OECD) shows that Chile has the highest level of income inequality among the 34 OECD nations. It has the third highest relative poverty rate, the third lowest employment rate, and 38 percent of Chileans find it “difficult” or “very difficult” to live on their current income, well above the OECD average of 24 percent.

“The educational system has become a mechanism to deepen and reinforce inequality,” says Claude. According to a 2009 OECD report, the number of Chilean students from poor backgrounds who go on to university is “low”, and “this gap is due to the differing quality in secondary education.” Chile scores well below OECD average on the PISA, an internationally-used marker of secondary educational quality.

The story only gets worse in higher education. Chilean tertiary education costs, relative to per capita income, are some of the highest in the world, almost three times higher than the U.S., Japan and Australia, according to the OECD 2009 figures. And, with only 13.8 percent of those students receiving scholarships, costs fall almost entirely on the heads of families: 71 percent of all money spent on education in Chile comes directly from the families, compared to just 24 percent in the U.S. and 34 percent in Korea.

And so what happens?

“Education is an everyday problem, and every month you have to keep paying the fees and the debt,” says Claude. “Today’s students see this. They see their parents working the 14-hour days, the average working day in this country. They see that seven out of 10 jobs in Chile are indecent–that is to say, they have no contract, or they work unpaid overtime, or they can be fired whenever their employers want. The students see the abuses against the working class in Chile. And so what happens? The situation explodes.”

Claude’s solution is a thorough reform of the tax system, with some of the wealth from Chile’s huge copper reserves diverted away from multinational companies and into the state, to fund better public education for all. “We could pay for it four times over,” he says.

But there are no simple solutions to the education debate, and Chile is, in fact, doing some things right. According to the OECD, higher education spending as a proportion of GDP is higher in Chile than the OECD average. So, says the OECD in its 2009 report, “It’s a complex scenario. Increased state spending may not be the answer.” Another option may be increased private funding from sources other than family income, they suggest.

Whatever the outcome of this tumultuous period for Chile, the statistics and ongoing public pressure signal that some form of political change must come if Chile wants to reach its goal of being Latin America’s first developed nation by 2020. “This is not going to stop,” says Claude. “The people want a complete political transformation. Piñera and the politicians of this country must put their powers at the disposition of those who gave them their mandate: the Chilean people.”

Published in The Santiago Times, July 28 2011.

Copyright: Clare Bevis/The Santiago Times 2011.

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