Sunday, February 26, 2012

Trip to Chile


My country, my culture, my childhood, my memories...

Family: A group of individuals living under one roof and usually under one head.  Webster Dictionary

...In the beginning, Webster is right, we all lived under one we are scattered around the world, but we still remain a family...

I have just returned from a lovely trip to see my first born, her husband and 3 year old daughter in Southern Chile. On the way, I also stopped to see my Mother in the capital of Santiago
My journey started at noon on February 10, in Portland, Oregon. 18 hours later I landed in Santiago where Paula and her family were waiting. It was hot, middle of summer.

Cristian (L), Paula and Olivia  (kneeling), waiting for me!

There is a strong emotional component that happens when I travel to Chile. A couple of hours before landing, the sun appears on one side of the plane, and the the moon sets on the other. And then one can see the beautiful Andes mountains, with snow-capped peaks on the left, and the coastal range on the right.  And soft, lovely Chilean music is heard throughout the sound system. On this trip I noticed that other women, some older, some younger, became emotional as well when they saw the Andes mountains. A few clapped, tears appeared. It was the first time that I became aware that others felt the same way I do. When we see those mountains, we have come back home.

Arturo Merino Benitez Airport is busy, even a little scary. Too much going on, pickpockets mingle, it is hot and noisy.

The main floor at Santiago Airport
 We had lunch at the upstairs airport restaurant, The Gatsby, and I became reacquainted with little Olivia and her parents.

Cristian and Paula
   In the US I am Grandma or Mama to my grandchildren. In Chile I am GRRRRRandma with a loud rolling  “r”. After checking into the hotel, I took a brief rest before we headed toward the foot of the mountains to see Mother.

Hilton Gardens Inn
On the way to Mom's, with the old familiar Andes mountains in the background....
 We were able to visit for only a couple of hours, as they were leaving for the beach. After a quick tea time and 4 generation pictures, they were on the go and so were we.

Mother and I
Four generations, 189 years between us !

One last look....
I was exhausted, as I had been up for almost two days. I needed sleep.

Next morning I met a high school friend, went with the family to the fancy hotel pool ...

and then headed to historical Pomaire, about an hour from Santiago.
On the way to Pomaire

There are still adobe homes in this old town where time has stood still..

  Pomaire is a potter's dream. EVERY house, EVERY space has some clay art. There are hundreds of vendors in this sleepy little town with dirt floors. We went to a wonderful restaurant that offered “free” parking. Space is limited here, so parking is a gift! The restaurant also offered great Chilean food, live entertainment with traditional music, a swimming pool, never mind if you forgot your swimsuit, you could rent one, and towels, and anything else your little heart desires. 

And a wonderful potter's workshop, where patrons can take a clay class, complete with a wheel and got to keep their creation!  All for free, if you ate at their restaurant! 

Cristian's "DNA" rat....
Showing their creations
A potter demonstrating how to use a wheel
This potter created a bowl,candlestick and vase in less than 15 minutes!
 It was so hot, we decided to take a rest on the cool pets or picnics permitted on it, so it was clean!  When we were rested and cooled, we bought “mote con huesillos” a traditional summer dessert, made of re-hydrated dried peaches and fresh cooked husked wheat grain, in a light syrup, seasoned with cinnamon and sugar. It is delicious!

Paula and Cristian at the restaurant in Pomaire

Fresh baked bread and REAL butter, courtesy of the house....

Olivia requests "palmitos", palm hearts, but NOTHING ELSE, on the plate!

Cristian's dish, meat, onions, eggs and french fries!

Empanada, meat, onions, hard boiled egg, raisins, olives... oh, so good!
Onion and tomato salad with "humitas", ground corn, cooked in fhe husk
                   Notice that everything is served on a clay dish...of course...we are in Pomaire!
A harpist on a balcony restaurant

Centenarian cobblestone
Pottery and more pottery...lovely!
We shopped for trinkets,then we headed a few more kilometers down the highway to visit cousin Maruja and friend Bergie in Melipilla, wine country.  Maruja and Bergie have been friends since they were young girls. They lost their centenarian family home, where my great grandmother, and her mother before, lived,  during an earthquake about 20 years ago. The church next door fell like a blanket over the house, destroying it in a second. Nothing was left, nothing was spared, except their lives and that of Cousin Maruja's parents, Cristina and Alberto. (Aunt Cristina died at the age of 105) The old house has now been replaced with 2 prefab homes. The yard remains, the pomegranate, fig and peach trees are  there, the same grape vine and jasmine from my youth are still alive. I can close my eyes and be transported to a different time....
Cousin Maruja (R), Maria, and friend Bergie (L) under the centenarian grape vine....
 After a few of hours of catching up, we went to the nearby cemetery, where beloved grandma Emilia and the rest of the family are buried. The Rousseau grave. It has been recently repaired, after the earthquake, a couple of years ago, cracked the cover. We arrived to the cemetery just after they had closed. A man signaled us to enter through the side gates. We ran, and were able enter and purchase some purple flowers, Emilia's favorite color, to place on the grave.  We were the last and the only people at the cemetery on that beautiful evening....

Olivia and Paula decorating the grave
The Rousseau grave, since the early 1800's

A beautiful and old fashioned cemetery
We returned to the hotel very late. I put my head on the pillow and I was gone....
Next day we spent it resting, shopping, said goodbye to Santiago and left for Concepcion, arriving around 1 or 2 am. 

And along the way, more lovely markets. Miles of wicker shops.....

In Concepcion, among other 'traditions,' I must visit my favorite restaurant, Don Beto, owned by a friend of Cristian and Paula. He has the freshest, "bestest", most delicious, seafood in the world. Lenga is a tiny coastal town near San Pedro, Concepcion.
  Don Beto's restaurant is right across from the beach, you can cross the street and touch the ocean. When the earthquake happened, the tsunami destroyed a large part of this community and half of Don Beto's establishment was swept away by the waves. Since then, some have rebuilt, others have made wood huts to make their money during the summer. They sell Chilean pastries, clothes, seafood, refreshments, toys, etc. The entire length of this “center” is about 2 blocks. 
Beto used to be a diver when he met my son in law, Cristian, who was studying at the university in the 90's. He used to bring him marine specimens for the lab and harvest fresh food for his, then, very tiny restaurant. He has since expanded, and from the looks of it, and the way people flock to his restaurant, he has been very successful. The meal starts with an appetizer of empanadas. Either cheese, meat or shrimp and cheese. They are followed with sopaipillas, similar to Indian fried bread...but better! Different kinds of dips accompany this pre-dinner feast. Then the main food comes, and the servings are monumental. A “bajativo” (something to help dinner 'go down') is brought upon request at the end, usually a “menta” liquor (mint). 

Sopaipillas, courtesy of the house
Grilled reineta (white fish) with potato and mayo salad and sopaipilla
Paila Marina (Seafood Soup) with all kinds of sea "creatures"and lemon
A new walkway has been constructed in Lenga that is parallel to the ocean. Passing through this area leads to the marine center, where Paula, in addition to teaching at the main University, is in charge of the ''Estacion de Biologia Marina Abate Juan Ignacio Molina de la Universidad Catolica de la Santisima Concepcion”, (a mouthful!) In short, in charge of this Marine Biology Station from the Catholic University :) Summer experiments were taking place, we saw shells, a shark and other studies going on. She gave us a tour of the center. The view is spectacular. They have an auditorium, classrooms and a little outdoor chapel that is carved into the rocky hill, the altar made of rock, with the Virgin Mary in a grotto and live, planted flowers around. The pews are made of rock. Absolutely lovely!  Remember, this is a Catholic University, so a cross is in every room. 

The "Jefa" (Chief)  of the Marine Center
Outdoor Chapel

The Chief checking the tanks

Virgin Mary
I couldn't help but notice how some parts of the “old life” in Chile, still  remain the same. Horse pulled wagons for delivery of goods making their way between the buses and cars, the mailman on a bike or the guy that comes and washes your car in his "bike business".

"Car washer". He comes to your home :) He will vacuum and wax too.

 Paula and Cristian have a new and earthquake proof house, after losing theirs in the last quake. It is 3 stories high, made mainly of wood and VERY large windows to observe the forest that surrounds them. Copihues, the native flower of Chile, is found in their property hanging on the trees, a treat not many can enjoy. I thought that it would be neat to see deer through the windows, but they don't have deer there, mainly birds, like queltehues, which are cute and loud, woodpeckers and others. There is a tiny species of "pudu" that looks like a miniature deer. They purchased native forest land and have carefully cut only what they need, so their house is barely visible from a distance and camouflages perfectly into the surroundings.
Front of their house, with deck and forest.

Native forest

Three story window and pretty thick forest

Chef Paula
Paula and Margarita, Cristian's aunt
A view from the balcony
We closed the evening with Paula practicing her guitar, while singing with Cristian, who was hanging their new wall clock, a gift from a friend of Christine, Paula's sister
Which brings me to the story of the clock. Joe packed it in a wooden crate and I brought it with me, across thousands of miles. It arrived, unharmed, without a scratch!
"Fragile as a clock"
Unpacking ....

It's  not broken!!

Cristian waiting for the clock to chime  :)
 The next day we headed to a tiny town called Quinchamali. A farming community with homes that were built over 100 years ago. Some survived the quake, some simply patched the cracks on the adobe, others started new. There are about 2 places on the main drag where you can buy clay trinkets, especially black clay, Quinchamali's trademark. I always stop at a little hut to buy a 3 legged pig, a lucky pig that will bring you prosperity and good luck. 

The little hut and clay trinkets
 In this town there are trees that were probably planted more than 200 years ago. Chickens, roosters and their babes are running in the street, horse drawn buggies pass by, sometimes the “driver” talking on a cell phone. The municipality is an old house, and the workers (all 2 or 3) wear trendy uniforms and heels. They have a little bit of everything. A little grocery store, a funeral home, health office, lots of ice cream, sodas and a hardware store the size of my living room. All this within one long block. What people can't see, as they arrive to the little shacks to buy souvenirs, is the long  history that graces this lovely community.


Funeral home
New and old transportation
Some "local" residents
 From Quinchamali we drove to Chillan. Chillan is a bigger city, known for it's very large market. There are so many people in that market, that it makes your head spin! It seems that they are all talking at the same time, selling something or advertizing loud. We had lunch at the Chillan Market. It is covered and people compete to advertize their establishment and food as you walk by. On the way you find meat markets, hog heads hanging, organ meats and meats from every part of the cow, pig, chicken... The smell is a little overpowering. After lunch we walked through the place and purchased some goods...the kiosks go on for blocks. There is a side with just produce, one with meats, one with cheeses, one with leather, other with purses, clothes, shoes, wool, spices, etc. Fun to walk around and see.

Entering Chillan
Beans, rice, ground corn, spices

Valentine's Day was the next day!

Paula with Cristian's family at the Chillan Market
On the way back, I saw the island of Quiriquina, where the political prisoners were taken during the Chilean military junta era,  many years ago. Some never made it back or died trying . The ocean is not kind in that section. 

Quiriquina Island in the horizon
On another day, we had lunch at an authentic Peruvian restaurant.. The service was superb. I am not into strange, saucy or very spicy foods, but Cristian and Paula know their menu. I did the usual, broiled chicken (chicken a la plancha) and rice. Olivia had her fresh “real” mashed potatoes and chicken, but here they were called “ chicharrones de pollo”, the Peruvian equivalent of chicken nuggets,with real chicken. Chicharrones are small pieces of salty fried fat. The chicken had no fat, buy it was fried in small pieces. In every restaurant there is always “jugo natural”, natural juice, made from real fruit. And, of course, the warm homemade bread basket is brought to you, with real butter, compliments of the house, in most establishments.

Aji  de gallina, chicken with nut sauce and spice
Tacu-Tacu, steak over rice and beans with fried eggs

Pollo a la plancha con arroz, grilled chicken with rice.
From that delicious and VERY filling lunch, we headed a few miles away to a resort by Laguna Chica (Small Lagoon) owned by Cristian's university. In here, faculty and staff  and their families can spend the day, have lunch and swim at the lagoon. From the pier you can see the deep green water on the foreground, with totora, a subspecies of the giant bulrush sedge, in the middle. In the background, and hiding in the dense twigs, brightly colored wooden boats with oars, and the clouds above. 

 These views were my inspiration for a thread painting experience (another post) a few months ago.

Shortly after we arrived, the day turned into A Maria-kind-of-day...and I was in heaven! Strong wind, heavy rain....

The day ended with a wonderful party and musical experience at Paula and Cristian's home. Paula has learned to play the guitar and has become quite good at it!!!  Each guest was handed an instrument and they all made noise. We played 'cuecas', the traditional song and dance from Chile, songs from long ago as well as modern. And we laughed until we cried! It was a marvelous treat. My heart was full. The family arrived in the middle of the storm and left in the middle of the storm. 

And the countdown for the long journey home begun. As we sung our native songs, I could hardly contain my tears. What marvelous memories. Slowly I start to detach myself from this country, this absolutely wonderful lovely family of mine. I know that the other absolutely lovely half is waiting to receive me back home...but it will never be easy, no matter which way I go....
And the hardest part of the trip takes place... the goodbyes...and a 3 year old little granddaughter crying loud that she wanted to go with Grrrrrandma. I could hear her screaming as I walked through security at the Concepcion Airport. I entered the waiting room and I could still hear her cries. Heart piercing. As much as I tried not to cry myself, it was impossible. I leave behind three people I adore. 

My daughter wrote:

"Dear Mama,
We are back at the house and your plane is probably just taking off. Olivia cried and cried until she fell asleep (as we were passing by the mall), sniffling that she wanted to see Grandma. A total compliment--I've never seen her do that for anyone, not even me!"

 I have been reminiscing much about this trip. I have become, once again,  'reacquainted', not only with my family, but with my long lost culture. I now find that I have renewed appreciation for the art, music, geography and the uniqueness of the people of my beautiful birth country. There is something special about the pottery, the woven goods, the lapiz lazuli and copper.... the scent of spices and the authentic foods. I feel that my life is rich in so many ways, even though my heart is always torn in half...

                      And upon arriving home to the US.... waiting at the airport....

Someone who loves me :)...

             VIVA CHILE!