A Travellerspoint blog

By this Author: Simpler

First Encounters

Meeting the group.

semi-overcast 5 °C

Today, I met my group on the tour for the first time. There were around 15 of us doing this trek from Santiago to La Paz. A mixture of ages from 21 to 62, with a clustering between the ages of 24 and 35. Everyone appeared friendly and more importantly seemed laid back. A few had already done one GAP adventures tour, so this would be their second.CIMG0169.jpg
Some others yet, were using GAP to string them across the entire continent for several months. I could only take this as testimony to the tour operator. You don't spend so much money with one agent without them being good...I figured.

Some sights and photos taken at random during the afternoon in Santiago.

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I wandered around Santiago city in the afternoon for a few hours. I caught a museum dedicated to Chile's most forward thinking president: Salvador Allende and found it to be quite boring.

Nothing to do with him, but more to do with my ignorance of Chile's political history and the fact that museums really don't hold much interest for me. I mean, this last point is somehting I think has taken me literally forever to acknowledge. Museums, are in my opnion, simply boring. So utterly devoid of any meaningful interaction. Apart from anything else, all they seem to do is lead its visitors on a meandering walkthrouhg of historical artefacts, pictures and poems, often held in glass cases, I knew that wheneve rI travel, I'm more often than not going to stop off at a museum and more often than not, I come out the other end feeling like it was a waste of time. Of course, I acknowledge this is not true for everyone. And for some, museums are undeniably fascinating. For me, however they lack imaginatio, and fail in the one aspect that they were surely designed for: to inform and to educate.

I couldn't tell you a single thing about Victor Allende....sorry Salvador Allende's life. Was he a president, prime minister? Was he a socialist? Republican? Dictator? What did he do that was so impacting, that an entire musesum was dedicated in his honour. That was so undoubtedly pioneering, that people felt compelled ti write entire pages in the guestbooks left at the exit of each exhibition. The thing is: I'd like to have come away, knowing the answer to these questions. That, at least, would have been informative. But museums just don't connect the dots properly. Perhaps I should have read up more, before visiting. Who knows? Anyway, the next time I go to a museum it might be because someone paid me!

Back at the hotel, our tear leader Miguel, gave us a quick meet and greet. Amiable. That's the word, I'd have to use when describing this plump, tall but stockily built Chilean. He had a very honest face and his manner was more "At your service", rather than "I'm your leader". And that was nice. We were all going to be together for about 3 weeks, and the last thing I'm sure anyone wanted to do was follow. Least of all me!

That night, I had my first proper night out since arriving. We went to a really nice Thai restaurant in the Bella Vista neighbourhood. I got to know some of the group better.

Lucinda 24 - From Fulham was on a career break.
Angelie 21 - From Holland
Will and Amanda - From England, both in their early twenties.
Conversation revolved around niceties, such as what do you do, how long have you been travelling for, and which places have you been to. A lot of the group had been to Argentina and Brazil.

Place names, like Rio, Sao Paulo, Mendoza and Buenos Aires were mentioned time and again.

Later we moved on to a bar and the TV screen was showing music video clips from the 80s. Each one was about 10 seconds long. No sooner had you made out the first tune, INXS' "Never Tear us Apart", the thing had moved on to Bon Jovi's "Living on a Prayer". And so on. And it was the audible equivalent of being tied up and spun around on a chair, opening your eyes and shouted at for 10 seconds, before being spun around again. I don't know why, but part of me thought that despite this being slightly infuriating it was also quite fun!

After a few drinks, many of the group that knew one another from previous tours carrie don drinking until the early hours.
It would be the first and last time the group was all together.

I decided to taxi it back with a few others, as I had an early-ish start the next day to a naval town about 2 hours drive north of Santiago called Valparaiso.

Posted by Simpler 06:46 Archived in Chile Tagged educational Comments (0)

Chol Chol Part 2

The Cautious Tea Drinker

overcast 6 °C

I was invited to see the Ruka from the inside and then the most bizarre thing happened. The Mapuche guy called Ambroachar asked me to describe his house in my mother tongue (See video - to be uploaded later)

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He then went on to describe his house in Mapuche-Dungun, It was a really cool experience.

After that, I was asked if I wanted to drink any tea. My natural caution was ever present, so I said yes, but didn’t want to the the person to take the first sip. We went inside his normal house (not the ruka) and something herbal called Mate was presented to me in a very ornate looking silver pot. Sticking out of the opening of this pot was a straw. Not any straw but a metal one. I was instructed quite firmly, not invited, but instructed to suck the tea through the straw. I looked around me to judge the reactions.

Manuel, the guy that accompanied me seemed to think it was ok
Ambrochar the half Mapuche gue was looking like he might be deeply offended if I didn’t drink any.
His wife, whose name I forget had made the tea and appeared ready to make another brew, once I’d finished the first.
Finally, there was Jonathan, the Mapuche son. He was around 20, and didn’t seem all that bothered about whether I had the tea or not.

I couldn’t do it. What if the tea was an aphrodisiac, and I started humping my guest’s coffee table. What if it put me to sleep and I woke up the next morning with my possessions gone and one of my limbs missing. I just couldn’t do it. There were 3 pairs of eyes on me, all willing me to take a sip. Rather than risk fate or death, I said to Jonathan:

“I’m Indian.. We can’t eat until the youngest person has eaten first”
It was complete bollocks obviously, but if I was going down, their son was coming with me.
Jonathan took a sip. I glanced at his mother checking for signs of panic. But there were none. I looked across at the father, who still had a slightly demented look in his eye.
Manuel was egging me on.
Jonathan passed the cup back.

I took a sip.
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I don’t know what herbs there were in there, but I did begin to feel a little mellow. To cap the experience, Ambrochar, pulled out a strange comb-shaped Mapuche instrument called a “Trompe” and pressed his lips against it whilst flicking one end of the instrucment with his finger (See vid)

I was all a bit surreal. But I was glad to be able to the story of how I experienced something of an ancient culture without asking for it, without the help of a guide or book. It will stay with me, I hope, for a long time to come.

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Evening – Returned back to Temuco. Dinner in a fancy restaurant. Some coffee with my hosts at Hostal Francia before heading back to Santiago on an overnight bust to meet my travelling companions for the next 20 days.

Even though I was alone for the first leg, I’ve never really ever once felt alone. If ever I’ve needed company, I’ve found it. The Chilean people, I concluded were quite friendly.

...Next -- The Return to Santiago.

Posted by Simpler 09:14 Archived in Chile Tagged backpacking Comments (0)

Chol Chol

Population 10,000

overcast 7 °C

Enough. I have to tell you about Chol Chol. I took a rural bus out of Temuco for a 45 min trip to this little village (£0.60). The bus was packed and I was quite lucky to get a seat. Not everyone that lives in Chol Chol is Mapuche, around half are. The rest are a cocktail of mixed Spanish blood and immigrants.
The mapuche certainly look different. Their skin tone is several shades darker, their hands, particularly their fingers are long. Their faces are weather beaten, although attractive and their cheeks are full.

My god. I’m so lucky. Here I am on a mini quest to discover a little more about the ancient peoples and right there next to me on the bus, was a young Mapuche film maker. He was educated. Had gone to the United States (Denver) for his degree and had come back home. He was originally from Chol Chol. On that bus ride, he explained in Spanish and English how his people had been persecuted through the ages by various Chilean governments.

A Mapuche school nearby Chol Chol was having rubbish being dumped next to it by towns such as Temuco.
Another community that had existed for centuries was having a road built through it, dividing the town in half.

There was no protection, nor education of the mother tongue. Or rather, no framework provided for it by the Chilean Government.

This was all very sad. Even though, I didn’t think the last point was necessarily down to Bachelet’s government to sort out. However, everything else I was told seemed to tell a story I’d heard before of repressed communities. People who once upon a time, owned the land upon which they toiled, and now, centuries later, whose very culture was being treaded upon. It reminded me very much of the Gitano (Gypsy) community mainly found in Southern Spain (Andalucia). There were lots of parallels.

I wonder how much the Mapuche are fighting back. The Gitano community have found the resources from within to reist being imposed upon, to protect their language from disappearing, to essentially protect their identity. Los Gitanos even have a voice in Spanish government. The Mapuche apparently are a long way from this.

When I asked the young film maker next to me about this, he said that government representation is a dream. And having a separate Mapuche state, well that was just a fantasy.

In the name of “progress” and capitalism, villages have been razed, cultures erased and the only legacy of what is left behind, is held in museums for tourists like me to see. The real Mapuche have been colonised. Here in Chol Chol, I came hoping to see a big difference in how people live. I don’t know. Perhaps my expectations were too high. Why did I expect that I would find something so different from what I had seen thus far?

Here’s what I did find. The high street in Chol Chol consisted of 3 shops. A grocery vendor, a police station, and of all things an Internet Café! There was a small museum, a few blocks off to the left, and a modern school a few hundred metres to the right. But that was about it.

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A while later, I encountered a family out for a walk, who acknowledged me as someone not from their town. I don’t know what gave it away! I knew that Chol Chol had a few traditional Mapuche houses (called Rukas) still in existence, and I asked the family where I might find one. Manuel not only gave me directions, but also accompanied me for the next 3 hours. The ruka belonged to a Mapuche family. Well I say Mapuche but I mean mixed blood.

Posted by Simpler 09:12 Archived in Chile Tagged backpacking Comments (0)

Pucon to Temuco

Breakfast memoirs.

rain 3 °C

I awoke and decided to check out to find Chol Chol (nearest town Temuco). But first I just had to have breakfast in a place I'd discovered the day before. It was called Trawen but pronounced "Tuffaan". They did an amazing breakfast for around £3.50. It consisted of French toast with honey and a light dusting of cinnamon. It also included some cheese with raspberry marmalade. A cafe con leche and a fruit salad completed this dish that seemed like it was made in heaven. I've promised to make it for a couple of very special people once I return. I wanted to take Tuffaan back home with me. You know how sometimes, despite the need to try something different, you find something that you feel you will never ever tire of? Well that's me with this breakfast place.

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I arrived in Temuco after a 2 hour bus ride around 6pm and checked in to a charming little place called Hostal Francia. It was owned by an old eccentric Chilean senora, who had dedicated her life to a dance filled with lust and passion, belonging not to Chile, but neighbouring Argentina. The TANGO.

The room had heating and a small TV. Breakfast was included for £16/night.

It was slightly less rainy in Temuco, and for that I was grateful. On first impressions, Temuco seems boring, and as I wandered around my local neighbourhood. I didn't feel too inspired. It seemed small and sleepy and in a way it was. However speaking to a few people I came to understand that Temuco had undergone a vast transformation in recent years. It is recignised as the capital of the mountainous Araucania region and the gateway to the South of Chile. Nowhere is this transformation exemplified more than the newly built shopping mall.

At least twice the size of the Harlequin in Watford, it was most impressive. I've taken some video footage that helpfully and hopefully describes the giganticness of the thing.

They were prepared to pay me a monthly salary of 400,000 pesos/month. Which is about 25% higher than the national average. Needless to say I wasn’t tempted. But it did remind me of the endless opportunity that possessing a TEFL can bring whilst abroad.

Walking through Temuco was really interesting. Unlike Santiago (Barcelona in disguise) and Pucon (tourist trap for outdoor adventurers) Temuco felt like a proper Chilean town where it was possible to see everyday Chileans going about everyday life. Apart from a shopping mall, about which more later, there was a distinct lack of chain stores – GOOD! I spotted a number of fruit, fish and vegetable markets.

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I started getting into conversations mainly with shopkeepers and the like and discovered that depending on how I was feeling, I’d answer the question:

“De donde eres?”
With either “De Inglaterra o India”

Whilst Inglaterra would get a slight nod and a wry smile. India would often get “Oooohhh…La India!!”

Often then the conversation would stop because often I don’t think they know a great deal about the ountry. Other times, mostly elderly men would engage me in conversation about religion, mistaking India as an Islamic country
I am aware of at least 3 Chilean men over 60 that now know the words Bhagvad and Gita, thanks to these conversations. It’s shameful that I’ve not read the Bhagvad Gita, but hey; at least 3 more people know that being Indian doesn’t necessarily mean being muslim. Not that I was offended in any way.

They would then want to either sell me something…anything remotely ethnic or talk about the one other person they met from India called Shiva or something. Shiva obviously got around a bit, because a few people seemed to be aware of him.
What I never experienced was any hint of racism. Something I’ve unfortunately witnessed and then only occasionally in Spain. Ironically, saying you are from Spain, whilst not generating any hostility, will often get you slower service in restaurants and at times will lead to you being charged a higher price.

Which brings me to an interesting point. Spaniards and Latin Americans, despite sharing the same language, and the same blood, it would appear, just don’t like each other very much!
My experiences in Spain have shown me that there is a superiority that Spaniards demonstrate towards their poorer cousins.

And over here in South America, at least amongst the middle classes, there is a deep seated need to disassociate themselves from their conquestors. I am too naïve about Latin American history to truly understand this tension. I just know that it exists!

Posted by Simpler 07:17 Archived in Chile Tagged food Comments (0)

Hot Springs. Cold River

... Only fools rush in.

rain 3 °C
View Walk This Way on Simpler's travel map.

The springs were fantastic and its worth saying a little about them. In a place where it has felt like my cojones have frozen, being otside and almost naked felt like a heroic achievement. Heroic, that is, until you see 5 year olds happily doing the same!

The walk down to Las Termas involved negotiating a 20m walk in the rain. The feeling through my body as I went from 5 deg to 45 deg was invigorating. So much so, that after a few minutes, I noticed a path leading out from the springs and into what sounded from afar like a fast running river. I took a walk.

Everyone was staring at me from the comfort of the natural hot tub. I could see "What the hell is he doing" etched on their faces.

When I approached the river, I realised that it was running fast. I hesitantly dipped a toe in. It was ice cold. But you know how it is....Gradually, I made my way up to my knees, then up to my waist, then finally when I'd lost all feeling in my limbs, I ducked my head in for a few seconds.

Wow.

I could swear my brain contracted. I'm sure I could feel more space between my ears than was either necessary or normal.

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I got back to the springs where I received a round of applause! Not sure what happened next, except 4 people got out and did the same. All guys. One of them Greg (just 17) was using his summer break between his A-Levels to do a 2 month placement as a teaching assistant. 17!!!. Kids eh?

Later on in the cafe, where it was nice and warm, I asked a question to our tour guide, the answer to which provoked and motiviated my next move. I was interested in discovering a bit more about the natives of Chile. The indigenous. Did they even exist?

According to some research (Does Google count as research?!)...Apparently here in Chile, there exists a tribe called Los Mapuches. They have their own language, instruments, dress, food etc. The language was called Mapuchedungun (I think). Perhaps, I thought to myself, in my naivety, they were the original indians. Who knows? Anyway it turns out that there is a village not too far away called 'Chol Chol' where a Mapuche community still lives. The guide worried or at least seemed a touch apprehensive. He suggested, or rather subtly asked by anyone might want to visit these people. His companion told me that the Mapuche were fairly useless and all ugly! He may well have been joking, but I took this to be racism. It wasn't until later, that I began to understand how deep and widespread this notion was.

Anyway it was good tour of Pucon overall. On the way back in the bus, 80's music was playing on the radio and people started singing along. Cyndi Lauper described Girls just wanting to have fun and Simple Minds reminded us not to forget about people we've temporarily left in another land. It was so cool!

Posted by Simpler 06:14 Archived in Chile Comments (0)

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