We packed up our stuff and left Puerto Varas, and headed South towards Chiloé Island. Before we got there, however, we stopped at a small community called Pargua.
OAT, the company, is run by former teachers. Part of their big thing is supporting specific schools in all of these remote parts of the world. They ask us to bring supplies with us, if we so choose, to help out the schools. It was a Sunday when we passed through Pargua, so we didn’t see the kids, and only the outside of the school. However, three ladies from the community met us at their new community center, offering us tea and cakes and this fabulous type of local honey called ulmo honey.
The morning was cool, and the building had a tiny wood stove in the far corner. When the ladies came around with the hot water, we were all grateful. They talked about their families and community, and we got a small glimpse of the racism still apparent in even these small communities. Two of the women were sisters, and clearly of European descent, perhaps with some mixing with the native population. The other, Maria, was clearly native, with hair so black it seemed to absorb the light around. Other dark hair may glint red or blue in the sun, but not hers. Apparently the elders don’t really go gray, either, they have this charcoal black hair forever–truly stunning. But Maria didn’t want to own to the heritage. She shrugged and said probably she was native. Interesting, because I don’t think any of us travelers made a value judgement based on whether or not she was native, but clearly she did.
The ladies held a raffle for us–they had knitted some items and we put in 1000 pesos (like a dollar) and they pulled numbers out of a hat. Patty won the red knitted buff, which was poetic, as she was constantly cold.
We continued on to have a big lunch at another local family’s homestead. The Andrades family had a potato farm and livestock, and the mother-in-law was a sister to the two sisters at the community center. They graciously set up a Curanto to share with us. So a curanto is like a barbecue in that it feeds a bunch of people and takes a long time. Other than that, no similarities.
The idea is that you dig a hole in the ground and light a fire with rocks in it. You let the fire die down until there are just embers and hot rocks (some of the rocks cracked from the heat). You line the shallow hole with brush, so dirt doesn’t get on your food, then pour as many mussels as you can dig up over the rocks.
You lay another layer of brush and then add some sausage, some raw chicken, and some potato pancakes on top. You cover the heaping mound with plastic and then go do something else for an hour and a half.
The women of the house had us help them make more potato pancakes to be made in the oven, and then another helped us make a salsa that I swear is darn near identical to the pico de gallo I make at home.
Same everything, except she used a pepper she just called a green pepper, but in my grocery store at home looks like a wax pepper. And instead of sugar, she uses vegetable oil in hers. I don’t know why that would be an exchange, but it tastes the same. Other than the pepper type and the whole vegetable oil bit, I make an identical salsa.
Since the Andrades are potato farmers, we went out to the field and harvested some potatoes with them. But really, every time we went outside, I played with these two puppies. How can you resist TWO puppies?
I had to rewash my hands multiple times because just when I thought I was done with the puppies, oh no, MORE puppy time.
Eventually, we reaped what we had sown in the curanto. Nicole said the mussels were best straight from the curanto, and because I didn’t want to be rude and not eat the seafood, I choked down four mussels right then and there. We came back inside, and I ate the chicken and the sausage.
The potato pancakes from the oven were pretty good, but the ones from the curanto were very rubbery. The salsa was, of course, excellent, and they served red and white wine. The white wine being more like a local applejack than wine. Still, tasty.
After dinner was over, they sang a song for us, including the men who inexplicably came from nowhere once the food was ready to be eaten. Then the boy and his mother danced a traditional dance for us. They seemed to be having fun, if they weren’t a little embarrassed for being on display for a bunch of gringos like us.
We said our goodbyes and gave our hugs, and I played with the puppies one last time.
We headed South again, to Chiloé Island, which one can only get to by ferry. All of the vehicles drove onto the back of the ferry, and once on, we could get out and walk around. As we crossed the Chacao Strait, I spotted the sea lions in the wake of the ferry, gobbling up whatever got churned to the surface by the engines.
We arrived on the island, and got to know some of the mythology from the place. Specifically this super creepy figure who lives in the forest, said to be a dwarf who has only stumps for feet, and rapes young virgin girls when they go off wandering by themselves. There are many icky stories from around the world, but this one goes too far. The name is El Trauco, and if there is an unwed mother, they will actually put Trauco’s name on the birth certificate. Just…ick. What a way to normalize rape. I suppose you could try to look at the story in a different way, in a way that a young woman’s sexuality is not looked upon as being her “fault,” that she has done something bad, but then again, why take away her agency?
To be fair, there is also a mad, older woman, Fiura, who lures men in for days at a time, until she has her sexual appetites satisfied. Apparently this takes a long time.
Mary Joy and I discussed these myths. In some ways, we could see Trauco as being a defense for unwed mothers in the face of the Catholic church. It relieves the burden of shame for them and the child out of wedlock. At the same time, it also is permissive for men of the island to rape young women, and gives the idea of “it is expected” for a woman to be raped if she should leave her home without an escort.
The island itself, mythology aside, is beautiful, with the salty air from the ocean, and brightly colored houses in every village. There was an old military fort just below our hotel, with cannons in situ, watching the sun go down. The island heats with wood, so the air was thick with wood smoke from cooking dinner.
Dinner at the hotel that night was Hake, another type of fish, with an appetizer of abalone salad. I ate the five potatoes on my plate, and I was completely okay with the meager dinner, as the four mussels I ate earlier in the day was definitely influencing my nausea. Mary Joy thinks I may be allergic to fish–possibly. I don’t know if I am or not, but I tell you what, I got a little more vocal after that day about meal choices. I hate being a picky person, and I would rather go hungry than make a big deal, but my nausea levels were going through the roof.
Fortunately there was ice cream for dessert, so I didn’t feel underfed, even on that day.
We had another clear view of the Southern Cross that night, from the patio of the hotel. It was a lovely view, and another reason to kick myself into remembering how lucky I was to be on Chiloé Island, to be with Mary Joy, and to be able to learn about another culture, even if the whole rape vibe thing seriously creeps me out.