For seemingly countless hours, we traveled in a summer-induced oven that my family kept calling a “truck.” As we reached the Los Lagos Region, we saw more and more cheery, triangular flags that lined the road for maybe fifty or a hundred meters before a hand-painted wooden sign appeared boasting different artisanal foods: “quesos, tortillas de campo, mote con huesillo, miel.” And sure enough, little shacks spotted every kilometer or two of the road. These, Edwin assured me, are the real kinds of cheese that I’d been missing out on for so long.
We pulled over to buy some.
Turns out, my in-laws had bought reduced-fat cheese. And it squeaked when we chewed it. Also, it miraculously did not melt when we cooked little cubes of it over an open flame. #chilemedecepcionas
Upon arrival to the dirt roads of Reumén, my new grandfather-in-law, also known as Papi Tilo, greeted us in front of his two-story wooden home that he build with his own hands while in his seventies. This guy is trouble.
Here are some highlights from my stay in Reumén:
- The teenagers that partied every night of the week. And by party, I mean they played loud music in the plaza from nine at night until midnight or one in the morning. Every day. What else are you going to do in the middle of nowhere?
- Running along the dirt paths and seeing tractor crossing signs—just like in Vermont! They were right after all!
- The cows. And the rooster waking us up every morning.
- My mother-in-law eating basically any fruit, berry, or leaf that she came across. These included maqui, murta, blackberry, arrayán (these Chilean myrtle trees didn’t have fruit in January when we were there), plums, and on and on. In fact, while in Vermont, we had to explain to her that she should probably lay off berries that might be poisonous. She’s a country girl at heart.
- The garden: Papi Tilo entertains himself by keeping a garden with all sorts of berries, veggies—corn, peas, fava beans, carrots, potatoes—and plenty of plum trees, apple, pear, and cherry trees. Well, on one of those cherry trees the delicious fruit was too high out of our reach, so we needed to climb up and pick some. Papi Tilo was not to be left behind. At the age of 86, he stubbornly climbed up into the tree after us—machete in hand.
- Edwin and I decided to unorthodoxly bring out a blanket to the main plaza to take a nap. Pretty soon, we heard the faint chirping and the conspicuous whisperings of young children. “Es un hombre y una mujer… ¡Parece que están haciendo el amor!” (It’s a man and a woman… And they’re making love!) We could not control our laughter.
In order to reach “civilization,” we would head over to Paillaco, a city of about twenty thousand people, of which half live in rural areas. One day, Edwin and I decided to walk the twelve kilometers to Paillaco. Because there was nothing else to do.
- The plight of a vegetarian goes on! I don’t think Edwin had fully grasped that the majority of restaurants in Chile do not have vegetarian options. This percentage nears a hundred percent the more rural you go. The result of entering to ask what they have for vegetarians will almost always be a slightly bewildered look, thoughtful pause, and then, “Salad? We could make you a salad.”
- Apparently, it’s a thing to paint tree trunks white. I feel like I might have seen this before, but the explanation Edwin’s aunt gave me just seemed ridiculous: it makes everything look cleaner. What? You paint trees to look unnatural so they’ll look cleaner? No.
- As we were sitting in the plaza playing escoba, a man came up to us and asked for money to buy a couple of drinks. Edwin said no, but offered him some cookies. He said goodbye, addressing me as “señorita.” “Señora,” Edwin corrected him firmly. Suddenly the man became very interested in seeing our rings, and promptly commented that they were not gold nor did they have diamonds. He lost interest and left. Moral of the story? He wanted to get whatever he could out of us. Be cautious.