Valdivia y Alrededores
Saturday 15 December 2007 - Wednesday 19 December 2007 27 °C
I have just arrived in Pucón, which will be the last stop of my trip! I got here today, Wednesday, and will leave Saturday morning, hopefully via the train from Chillán - Santiago (except that you have to reserve 4 days in advance and pay in person, and the only stations nearby to pay are in Temuco and Chillán... so we´ll see).
EN TODO CASO, I have just come from several days in and around the lovely Valdivia. I spent two nights at the hostel Ana María, where I discovered 100% Chilean guests! That is truly a first! I don´t think I´ve ever even stayed at a hostel with other Chileans before! One of them was a travelling salesman from La Ligua (and he was happy to hear that I loved the pastelería La Masa de Carlos when Caitlin and I visited!), and another was an overnight-bus ticket collector man. I mean, hey, I guess they have to sleep somewhere on their nights off.
It has actually, aside from a few moments at the internet and a few phone calls, been an entire 7 days entirely immersed in Spanish! This is truly incredible. I did not, sadly, ever achieve this during the academic semester. I love my gringo friends, but we can´t manage to carry on in Spanish for too long (though Jeff and I did a pretty good job in BsAs, I have to say).
Valdivia is the largest city in its region, with a diverse history including both German immigrants and the indigenous Mapuche people. It is a city spread out over 3 pieces of land separated by rivers, just about 30 minutes from the ocean. One of the best parts of the city is what is outside of it... hills that are SO lush with green... think pine tree carpeting. It also has a bunch of islands, including Isla Mancera and Isla del Rey, though I didn´t make it to either.
My first morning waking up in Valdivia, I headed to the Parque Saval, nearby the campus of the Universidad Austral de Chile, which I have to say is the most beautiful campus I have seen here. It even had DORMS!! Apparently it also has an Instituto de le Tecnología de la Leche (Milk Technology Institute), but I was there on a Sunday and ´twas closed.
The Parque Saval has a cool sculpture garden and a huge lotus lagoon... fotos coming soon. Furthermore, it felt really Chilean, since there seemed to be some Chilean elementary school field trip that day or something. And as I was walking I ran into a Mapuche art exhibition. There were woolen goods, herbal medicines, and of course the famous "platería mapuche" (Mapuche silver).
Back in the day, as the Spanish were attempting to conquer the area but the Mapuche kept defeating them, the Mapuches would take the Spaniards´silver coins, melt them, and make jewelry. From the pictures I´ve seen, Mapuche women would wear KILOS of the stuff draped all over themselves. So a lot of the jewelry is really big and laden with Mapuche motifs. A little too big for my tastes, but interesting. I ended up FINALLY buying something of Lapiz Lazuli from a young Mapuche jeweler, though. It is a stone only found in Chile and Afghanistan, and I decided it was a recuerdo I wanted to have.
I later went to Entrelagos, the mmmmmm well-known café-chocolatería. I got like a dozen pieces of chocolate, which I struggled to make last 2 days. They were RICO! I still have 2 alfajores waiting... but maybe not for long. And they also have crepes, sandwiches (RICO!), kuchen/küchen (I had to), ice cream, cakes... mmmmm...
Later I took the jeweler´s suggestion to take a micro to Niebla, a small beach town like 20 minutes away. The micro was ABSOLUTELY packed, and I had to stand scrunched up against another women on the stairs, and move out of the way when the driver oponed the door. Unfortunately, I managed to drop my trusty Turistel Sur guide... so I´m hoping/sure to find another in Pucón.
Niebla has a really nice beach just down a cliff and its historical fort a few blocks away, which I visited. It had probably the most professional looking museum I´ve seen in Chile. More kids on field trips.
It is quite disorienting in a good way that the sun doesn´t set until like 9 or 9:30 pm. It´s good, I think, since I´m always somewhere new and trying to explore something. Also, it´s helpful when my bus only arrives at like 8:30 pm and I need to walk to the hostel, as it did in Valdivia. Minus side is that it gets kind of sunny. And hot.
The next morning BRIGHT and early, I made my way Valdivia-Niebla-BOAT-Corral-Los Liles, a tiny community on the other side of the river, where I was staying with Ubaldo Triviños and Margarita Maricoy. It was totally foggy as we were crossing the river and on the micro from Corral. We couldn´t even see 20 feet in front, not to mention off the cliff to the side, where I assumed the ocean was located.
I was told that I could tell the micro driver the name of Mr. Triviños and he would know where to drop me off. But unfortunately he didn´t really understand my pronunciation of the name “Aldo” (which I thought Mr. Triviños had told me on the phone), so I was dropped at his brother Patricio Triviños´s house just down the road. All good and well, because it turns out Patricio was walking up to the road at just that moment, and apparently I look like a more “gorda” version of his niece, so he approached me. He ended up escorting me to my destination, mentioning that this place just 10 years ago was a very “humble” agricultural community that has seen many changes. With the introduction of “light” (i.e. electricity) about 9 years ago and a gravel road (along which the micro goes) about 8 back, nowadays few people subsist on agriculture. Turismo Rural has brought prosperity to the community, and apparently the UN has even gotten involved, trying to find ways for the local residents to protect the native forest in the area. That said, don´t have the image of Pucón in your heads: it´s really just a gravel road along the side of a cliff with a few houses. When I asked Ubaldo the population of the “town” of Los Liles, he counted it in number of families: 16. (Luis did the same in Purranque/Los Angeles).
Later that day, the fog lifted, and I was able to see the ocean just a few hundred meters from the house, with sheep grazing nearby. I went on a walk with Margarita, and we saw all the different kinds of seaweed that grow on the rocks along the shore. The next day, I went down with a neighbor to “observe” her job, but I actually ended up working too. She and two other women daily collect LUGA, a kind of seaweed used in cosmetics, from the rocks. We had to climb on the rocks and wade in the water and rip the plants off the rocks... the bigger the leaf the better. They are really slippery, almost like thick pieces of brown Saran wrap like a shaggy rug on top of the boulders.
After about an hour, I had filled up one large bag and the neighbor two. Then we took the bags and dumped them on a net higher up so that the luga would dry. Later, she sells the dry luga to a man that comes by in a truck for $100-150 PESOS per kilo. I asked her how many kilos were in my bag, and she said about 5. That means that for my hour of back breaking manual labor, nearly falling off rocks, and with my pants wet, I had earned a full $1 American dollar. I sat on a rock contemplating that.
In any case, it was a lot of fun and interesting. All of my 3 farm homestays were really unique: (1) cheese-making, (2) hanging with calves and hanging sheep, (3) harvesting seaweed.
And now for something completely different...