Taking on an active volcano, a new game, and some friendly locals over a week in Chile
An Unusual Chilean Game
Back in Pucon that evening, ambling home after a warming dinner, Tom and I noticed some animated locals with equally animated hand gestures lined up in a yard. Curious, we entered the front gate to discover that the locals were playing the Chilean game of rayuela, the grounds being home to their local club.
The rules of rayuela require one to toss a small metal disc down a pitch, trying to land it in a small hardened mud pit. If you land the disc on a bit of string running across the middle of the mud pit you get two points instead of one for just the mud pit. I'm not sure if rayuela players normally score to twelve but Pucon's certainly did - they'd found a couple of clock faces to keep score.
The enthusiastic locals invited the Aussie gringos to practise. The game looked pretty simple, but Tom and I struggled to get anything to land and stay anywhere near the mud pit. With the setting sun bringing a merciful end to our ignominious play, the hospitable rayuela players called it a day and invited us into the clubhouse, extending more kindness by plying us with fried chicken, bread and Chilean wine despite our utterances that we'd already eaten.
None of our hosts spoke English, and it was obvious that we didn't speak much Spanish. This was little deterrent to the group, which crowded around, very excited to talk to us, well before the wine had begun to take effect. A few basic answers to the group on what our names were and where we were from thankfully appeased most. A few others were more insistent, including a man who told me about 10 times that he'd painted the pictures on the wall, and I had to congratulate him as if I'd just heard it.
One kind man got me a chair to sit on, presumably so that I could ease up while fielding the ongoing questions. An older man promptly moved in and hovered above me, such that I had no room to move or get up. This was unfortunate, as the old man, towering above me, proceeded to mumble indecipherably while dribbling on me.
Another lively (if a little drunk) old woman who was about half Tom's height continued to pressure Tom to dance with her, to the folk music that now filled the clubhouse. We enjoyed a little dancing before saying goodbye to all 30 attendees, detaching ourselves from our warm hosts as we exited into the cold night air.
Rayeula events are probably not always this much fun, but for those that are interested, the following link provides a good short video (Spanish audio) of the game, showcasing a tournament in the northern coastal Chilean city of Iquique:
As an aside, the name of the company posting the video caught my attention - "Ciudad Extrema" which my very rudimentary Spanish tells me means something like "City Extreme" (My visit to Ciudad del Este in Paraguay wasn't a waste!). Now I don't want to be overly critical of a cool game, but the only extreme thing in that video was the first man's woollen cardigan. Wingsuit flying and base-jumping maybe haven't taken off there just yet.
After the Volcano blizzard and wine infused Rayuela Club partying of the prior day, a relaxing day was now in order, so we hopped on a bus to Termas Los Pozones (Los Pozones Hot Springs) for an unwinding soak.
There were few people around, leaving Tom and me to enjoy a soothing warm bath amidst the wooded scenery and gushing sounds of the passing Liucura River.
Finally realising that east-west travel is much more time effective than north-south travel in Chile, we managed to line up several interesting destinations all within relative proximity.
After Termas Los Pozones, the second was Valdivia, an historic town a few hours south-west, and close to the coast. This attractive riverside town was one of the most distant, but most heavily fortified towns of the Spanish empire, a town ruthlessly de-fortified by the highest magnitude earthquake ever recorded, the Great Chilean Earthquake of 1960. This catastrophic event was certainly a cause for reflection after having enjoyed the healing properties and utter relaxation that volcanic activity had brought me via my hot spring bath earlier in the day.
Valdivia was also Beatriz's home town, and as Tom had her contact details, bets were on as to which of us could impress her less with our underwhelming progress with the Spanish language.
Continue Reading: Part 3 of 3 link below
Unfortunately we couldn't get in contact with Beatriz (she'd probably heard of Tom's dalliance with the elderly rayuela lady!), so we explored the town ourselves, strolling down the riverside promenade on a still day of clear blue skies, skies so contrasting to those experienced so far this trip. Some other mammals were also enjoying themselves - five sea lions frolicked about in the water, strategically keeping their play alongside the riverfront fish markets from where a plump female fishmonger would drop them a fish from time to time.
A couple of the sea lions lay about languidly on the concrete ledge at the water's edge. The smaller one seemed to have good reason, with a visibly bloody wound on its back, sustained I presumed in the fight for fish, though superficial research suggests he may have come off second best in a territorial battle.
Some of these lazy pinnipeds were still lying on the dock when we returned that evening, proving that effortless daily fish is a good enough reason to not move anywhere.
From Valdivia we took another bus out to Niebla on the coast, to visit Castillo de la Pura y Limpia Concepción de Monfort de Lemus, or the more economical English "Niebla Fort". It is one of several fortifications built by the Spanish around the mouth of the strategic, and picturesque Valdivia River. The whole area was very attractive, with the lighter tinged seas moulding into pretty coves and inlets, the coastal views enjoyed by the visitors amid refreshing sea breezes as we roamed around the expansive fort system, safely behind its bountiful cannon defences.
Local Ice Cream and Beer
After lots of walking around, we headed back to Valdivia, fatigued. Appetites whet and mouths salivating for some ice cream after reading Lonely Planet's complimentary review of Austral University of Chile's range of on-campus produced dairy products, we now had renewed purpose. All dairy products were described as excellent, and at bargain prices.
Unfortunately the products must have been too cheap, because we sadly found the dairy outlet had gone broke six months prior. The 'Milk Institute' linked to the university looked like a pretty sorry institute now, with a big out-of-use factory attached to its office. Years later, the university still appears to be involved in dairy research and technology, so I wonder whether pure commercial pressures were the simple reason for the plant's closure.
My unfulfilled ice cream yearning soon became a fixation, turning me into an agitated and relentless detective, desperate for a breakthrough as I systematically searched most of the university, corridor after corridor, corner after corner, spurred on in the hope that each new portal might lead me to any sort of shop selling the dessert that I desired, or at least a lead in the quest for any sort of frozen dairy confection, an ultimately futile search, an eventual cold case, but not lickable and on a stick as I had been hoping.
Dairy depression was the result of the first of several considerable variances between what our guidebooks led us to expect (of certain places and attractions) and what we actually found in reality. It was to become symptomatic of this multi-month South American trip, where so much seemed to have changed since the printing of our travel manuals.
Tom and I had bought separate South America Lonely Planet guidebooks around the same time, but I ended up with an old version, and Tom a freshly published version. The contrast between them was stark in many cases, despite just a 2-year difference, and even Tom's version seemed somewhat out of date, despite having just come out. I had recently used equivalent guidebooks in Europe and Asia, and hadn't noticed such great discrepancies there. Granted, Argentina's economy was in meltdown, with the peso dropping markedly on an hourly basis, but maybe the whole continent was more in a state of flux than other regions?
Valdivia contains many citizens of German heritage. Most came in the mid 19th century, due in part both to unrest in Germany at the time, and a targeted campaign by Chile to recruit Germans to resettle and develop industry in the Valdivia area. Develop they did, in a range of industries including agriculture, steel making, ship building, and more relevantly for Tom and me, in beer brewing.
Heavier substances were definitely required after the failed quest for ice cream, and the quest for beer was thankfully more easily satisfied as Tom and I settled in by early evening, and by happy hour, at the local Kunstmann microbrewery. With several interesting flavours to try, the German style beer was great but the attached 'museum' pretty average, a complete reversal, on both counts, compared to the Heineken brewery and museum experience I'd had in Amsterdam just a few months prior.
As I write in early 2016, I can report news as refreshing as Kunstmann's beer - they are still in business - http://www.cerveza-kunstmann.cl/
Liquored up after happy hour, I slept well on that evening's overnight bus back to Santiago. In two days' time, Tom and I would be at the other end of the continent, in Caracas, Venezuela.