This week I traveled south to Temuco. Cristian grew up there, and had invited me to visit for the weekend. I was simultaneously excited and a little nervous. I was excited to travel to a new part of Chile, and for the weekend in general. But meeting the family is always a little nerve-wracking. I was going to be doing it in a foreign language! Oh my, how was this going to go?
I would take the bus to Temuco (my favorite mode of transport in Chile). Like my previous trips to Iquique and San Pedro de Atacama, I chose the seat that reminds one of an airline first-class seat. It lays out to a full flat bed. Since I would be traveling overnight (about 8 hours), this seemed a great option to ensure I arrived well-rested.
The house is beautiful, but I especially love the backyard (pic below). Overflowing with flowers, fruit and nut trees, it feels like a little slice of heaven. Breakfast included cherries and raspberries picked from the backyard alongside avocado and coffee. What a perfect way to start the day.
Our first stop was the feria. It was huge! This feria contained not only fruits and vegetables, but meats and cheeses, clothes and shoes; just about anything you can imagine. It went on for several blocks, winding its way around the city. I was so enamored by the enormity of the feria; I wandered around without taking pictures. So I admit that I cheated a bit – the pictures you see below have been taken from the Internet.
When we returned to the house, Cristian’s mother and oldest sister were preparing to go to his other sister’s house. She and her husband were hosting a large party that day. All of this discussion, of course, takes place in Spanish. I was getting along fine, as I can (now) usually get by understanding the context of the conversation. Understanding every word in a sentence is not always necessary.
Then, Cristian’s sister asked if I had a bathing suit (there was a pool at the house). “Bathing suit” translates to “ el traje de baño”. Of course, I heard “baño”, and assumed she was asking if I needed to use the bathroom before we left. Without hesitating, I replied “sí” and turned around to go use the bathroom. Cristian, his mother and sister were all kind of baffled. It took me a few minutes to understand my misunderstanding, and then I couldn’t stop laughing (and neither could Cristian). Sometimes context isn’t enough! 😉
With that safely behind us (as I had brought a swimsuit), we departed. His sister’s house is beautiful – all richly colored wood, spacious and homey at the same time. The backyard is enormous, with a pool nestled in the middle of a summer-green lawn. A small patio set-up for the band made the picture complete.
The remainder of the afternoon and evening we spent eating, drinking, swimming and talking. Of course, my Spanish tends to fall off the more I drink. This is the opposite of other people’s experience – I guess most people lose their inhibitions and suddenly speak much better. Not me, I just lose the ability to form complete sentences! 😉 With all the alcohol, and all the sun, I left the party for a comfy couch fairly early in the evening.
Many people had already planned to spend the night so they could fully enjoy the festivities. In the morning, I awoke to a house full of happy, talkative people. The kitchen was crowded with breakfast preparations.
Here I have an opportunity to share with you another aspect of Chile that I love. Chileans (almost) always set the table and eat together. Even if it’s just two people, the table gets set. Plates, cutlery, folded napkins and other accouterments appear in an organized fashion. Coffee cups have saucers. Food is plated – not just left in the pan in which it was cooked. People sit and eat together. Meals here are events, even if small ones. They are excuses to talk and share and relax (from my outsider’s perspective).
Breakfast for this group was no exception. Five or six people ferried food, plates, hot water, cutlery and napkins to and from the kitchen. They brought in more chairs to ensure everyone could sit. Eventually, everyone sat down to breakfast – at the same time. No one ate hovered over the sink, or on the couch in front of the television, or walking back and forth across the room. Every single person sat down to eat. Then everyone helped to clean up. This was all very natural. No one seemed to shirk any duty. And it seemed not to occur to anyone that there was any other way to eat a meal.
When I mentioned this to Cristian, he seemed surprised that this caused such amazement for me. Something I found so rare and lovely was just life for him. This is something I want to emulate. The mental adjustment is difficult. So often when I’m home in Viña, I maintain old habits. I eat in my room, in front of the computer, alone. But, more aware now, I will make an effort. It’s such a much better way to live.
The final day we traveled to Pucón. A tourist destination to its core, Pucón boasts a tremendous lake, a volcano and beautiful mountains surrounding it. It is an outdoor adventurer’s dream. (a few pics below) Naturally, I loved it immediately. We spent the afternoon at the beach. The sand was black and coarse, which I assume stems from its volcanic origins. The water was cold (!) but refreshing. Sitting under our rented umbrella, we enjoyed a relaxing afternoon. We concluded this lovely weekend with a beer as the sun set behind the mountains. I was so very grateful for the entire trip. Cristian’s family and friends had all been so welcoming and friendly that I felt right at home despite any language differences. I was offered an invitation to return whenever I wished (from both Cristian and his mom), and I think I just might do that. 🙂
Two hours from Temuco, it was a very long day in Pucón. By the time we returned, it was nearly time to catch my bus back to Viña. As I gratefully settled into my seat, I didn’t even think about the weekend. I fell asleep immediately. Then suddenly a gentleman was shaking me awake with a hot cup of coffee. Now THIS is the way to travel! Till next time, abrazos y besos!