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Faculty of Science and Engineering - Chile, Villarica

Datum:26 augustus 2020
Auteur:Samyuktha Rajan
Villarica, Chile
Villarica, Chile

In September 2019, I went to Chile to do fieldwork as part of my first master thesis. I arrived in Chile during the time of their national festival. This is a festival that goes on for a week and the whole country shuts down during this time! Luckily I knew a family in Santiago who picked me up at the airport and took me to their beach house to celebrate this great national holiday. It was a lot fun because this was my first peek into Chilean culture at its most extravagant. I got to taste a lot of their national dishes and drinks, some which are made specifically for this holiday. After a week in Santiago, I travelled to my field station in the south of Chile. It is a small town called Pucon, about 1/4th the size of Groningen. Martje, my phd supervisor, picked me up by our very own fieldcar whom we called Olaf (he was the most important member of our fieldgroup) and we travelled to our cabana which was 30 mintes by car away from the town. And what a beautiful place! We were nested on top of the hills, with a forest as our backyard and a waterfall in front of us. From our cabana we had a majestic view of the Villarica volcano, which was very active during the month of September, so we got to see a lot of smoke coming from the the crater, which is something I have never seen before. We also had two very lovable dogs and around five cats also loving with us. All-in all, it was a very cozy place and I felt immediately at home.

I did not have to do any courses during my time in Chile but only fieldwork. We were studying the behavior and physiology of the thorn-tailed rayadito. This is a very small and cute songbird that breeds in artificial nest boxes. Every four days we monitored the 200 nestboxes in the area to locate nestbuilidng activity. Once the parents started laying eggs we would measure the different eggs and carry out certain experiments on some eggs. Once the eggs hatched, we would monitor the nestling growth. It was really amazing to be a part of the whole process of from egg laying to fledging and these birds became almost like our own babies that we were taking care of them. We all had to collect data together even though we would use only a subset of the data for our own research projects, but we collected it as a team. During my fieldwork I managed to establish contact with some of the local scientists and ecologists working in that area and set up my own project of looking at the effect of predation on these artificial nest boxes. This is very important research as it evaluates how well these nest boxes are actually able to help the birds. Through them I was introduced to the local science community and they even invited us to give a field course to visiting American students!

Villarica, Chile
Villarica, Chile

Even though I was there for three months I actually did not have that much free time because we had to do fieldwork everyday. Maybe we were able to take a day or two off, but because Chile is so long, we were restricted to only our immediate area (not that that was a problem). But because we had such a large team this year, my friend and me were able to take a week of during our last month in Chile and we travelled to Chiloe island to immerse ourselves in the indigenous culture there. It was really an amazing trip, and we got to see penguins and a lot of endemic birds! So although we did not have too much free time we maximized on whatever we had and besides, doing fieldwork itself is so exciting because you’re out with nature the whole day along with the wildlife and our cute little rayaditos!

Chile is a very exciting and unique country. It is very different from Europe, the food, the people, the way they dress. What is even more exciting is how different each part of Chile is from the other. It reminds me a bit of India (where I come from). area. I think I learnt a lot during my time there, and I think because I was living there for so long I was also able to immerse myself into their culture in a way that I would not have been able to if I was just travelling. I made friends with the local people, a café owner, a mapuche gardener, an artist tucked into the waterfalls, a rafting instructor, the town bartender, and so many more. I was very sad to leave that beautiful country and I cannot wait to go back for more adventures. I think this was one of the best and most exciting periods of my life, where every day was a new adventure waiting around the corner.