Tractor Crossing: Reumén and Paillaco

Railroad to Reumén from PaillacoFor 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!Just like in old country...
  • 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 Plaza of Reumén from the second-story porchchirping 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.

Paillaco

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.

View from backroad in PaillacoThoughts and stories from Paillaco:

  • 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 cleanerNo. 
  • 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.

Let's cross that bridge when we get there.

Chile, me decepcionas

I’ve been complaining for months about the cheese in Chile.  I’ve been homesick for the beautiful green of Vermont.  (I LIVE HERE!)  I’ve been craving some delicious Lake Champlain Chocolates.  So Edwin convinced me to take a trip to the South of Chile, near Valdivia.

I found the bus ride to be long but worthwhile.  Chile has an amazingly diverse landscape, and it is wonderful to see it change over the course of eight hours.  By the time we reached the Región de los ríos, there were trees, cows, and rolling hills—it almost felt like driving through New England.  Unlike quaint New England houses, however, we passed homes with obtuse tin roofs and brighter colors than quiet New Englanders may feel comfortable with.

View from the bus...

We got off the bus and tried to gather our bearings.  Luckily, a carabinero was on the lookout for suspicious-looking gringos—and Edwin fit the mold.  After discovering that Edwin was, in fact, Chilean, he led us to the Chocolatería Entrelagos that everyone seems to esteem so highly.  It was mediocre, but the workers were in costume.  What did I expect?

Reumén

We hopped another bus and ended up in Reumén.  Edwin’s grandfather’s house is next to the town plaza, and from in front of the house, we could see the town limits in each direction where the houses give way to fields or forest.Reumén

There isn’t really a system of approaching houses that is anything like what we have in the US, as all houses have iron fences around them.  Sometimes, there’s a doorbell or an intercom system.  When there isn’t, you simply have to holler, whistle, or find some other means of getting the attention of the residents.  So while Edwin was in front of the house, whistling, the neighbor stuck his head out of the second-story window to tell us that “Don Tilo” had gone shopping.  Sure enough, as soon as the neighbor popped his head back into the house, a van came around the corner and out hopped Papi Tilo with his rib-high pleated trousers and his fedora.  After he greeted us and handed Edwin the keys, he hopped back into the van and was gone.

And that was the most excitement we experienced in Reumén.

20100627@121046 - DSC-S750The next morning was a Sunday.  We had heard about termas in Valdivia, beautiful hot springs that could chase the winter chill out of our bones.  So we decided to take a bus to the termas aguas calientes in the Puyehue National Park.  Oh, wait… it’s Sunday.  Nobody comes to Reumén on Sunday. It was at about this moment that Edwin established a new mantra: Chile, me decepcionas, or Chile, you disappoint me.  Although when he says it, it smacks of such betrayal that it produces a feeling of metaphysical disillusionment.  The only plausible solution was to hitch hike.  In a Savory truck used for transporting huge quantities of milk.  Awesome.

It also turns out that the “hot springs” we intended to see were actually just hot tubs and warm outdoor pools.  So we took a hike, which was just as relaxing, albeit colder.  After an all-you-can eat buffet where I could essentially only eat wilted lettuce, we called it a day and headed back.

Hiking!

Valdivia, Take 2

One of the islands on the River Calle Calle

I CAN HAZ CHEEZ??? So, we had a long weekend.  Monday was a holiday.  Which allowed us to travel.  It also meant that everything in Valdivia was closed except for Jumbo, the huge supermarket.  It also meant that I had to stare at the praiseworthy cheese I’d been told so much about through a locked glass case.

We wandered around the foggy streets, making our way down to the river, where we decided to take a boat tour.  And captain the boat.

Gatsby believed in the green light, the orgastic future that year by year recedes before us. It eluded us then, but that’s no matter—tomorrow we will run faster, stretch out our arms farther. . . . And then one fine morning—

I don’t know which island we ended up on, but the rivers are truly beautiful in Valdivia, and I really enjoyed the views while I could… that is, until the encroaching fog slowly engulfed my body…

“So we beat on, boats against the current, borne back ceaselessly into the past.”