This is our dear friend Pamela leaving Vina del Mar last year for what she thought would be a job as a nanny in Santiago. First she went home to the Lake Region in southern Chile to spend a month or so with her family, but now she's decided to stay, attend preuniversario and then marticulate to university or technical school in 2010.
From Valdivia, Bill and I took a bus to La Union. The bus was full, every seat taken and many people were standing in the aisle. We were entertained by a couple of little girls singing songs and squeezing back and forth from their abuelita who sat in the back seat, through older sisters listening to MP3 players, to where their mama and papa stood, holding on to their packages and the backs of seats.
Outside the window, the trees grew even more densely here than they did on our way to Valdivia, bearing witness to the stories we've heard so many times of the mammoth rains that occur in the Region de Lagos during most of the year.
La Union is in a valley, reminiscent of the lumbermill towns my family passed through when I was a child on vacations to the Pacific Northwest. Pamela met us at the bus station, and we were off in a taxi to la casa de su abuelita where she spends the weekdays, saving the weekends for her mother's place in Rio Nuevo.
Pamela's cousins Karen, Carolina, Valentina, her Tio Harry, her grandmother (abuelita) Elice and two of her brothers, Cesar and Felipe, were all there to greet us. Many besos (kisses) later, I was offerred the use of their computer to check on my mom in California.
Cesar sat down with my husband, apologizing for his ingles, which was far better than our espanol, wanting to find out what Bill thought about Obama. He explained that he was very concerned about Obama's position on abortion. The family is Pentacostal and very worried that abortion is legal in the U.S. Bill said that Obama supported a woman's right to choose what to do with her own body and then added that, personally, he felt making criminals out of these women was not a good idea. Cesar, in a very softspoken and careful manner, asked wasn't God the same God everywhere? Then he said that since we were guests in his country he would not argue with us and we should stop discussing the matter and enjoy the almuerza.
After lunch, we took a walk with Pamela, two of her cousins, and Felipe to a park where, in the heat of the afternoon a river seemed to beg to be waded in. However, even this isn't encouraged as it's contaminated with wastes from the mills and local dairies. We then walked to the plaza de armas. Earlier in the day, we saw a funeral procession in a little town where the bus had made a short stop. A good fifty or sixty people dressed in black had been slowing walking behind the hearse down a street that had been closed off. Here, at the plaza, another funeral procession had just ended. Over a hundred people stood in front of the Catholic church waiting for the coffin to be taken inside.
Pamela realzed it was getting late and we needed to catch a bus for Rio Nuevo. We'd left our bags at her grandmother's. On our way back, her brother saw the pastor of their church at a tienda. He wanted to introduce the pastor to us, so younger brother trumped older sister. We waited for fifteen minutes. We finally shook hands and kissed the pastor and his wife, spoke of our enjoyment of Chile while Pamela's brother took their groceries to the car. The pastor's wife warned us to watch our pockets and be careful. La Union looked so peaceful to us, a tidy town, slow paced, that we were surprised when she mentioned the drive-by shootings.
By the time we got to the bus station, the one we needed had left. The last one for the day was about to leave but would only take us part way. We got on and rode as far as we could. We were still twenty or so kilometers from Rio Neuvo. Thumbs out, it only took the third vehicle to get a ride. We climbed in the back of a huge van and sat on the floor and the wheelwells. The van stopped again and a family with five kids, a mom and a grandmother who had to have been at least 80 climbed aboard. The driver stopped once again for the cattle being driven back home by two huasos (An aside: my husband's favorite Chilean expression is "huasos con plata," cowboys with money.)
The van got to where it was going. We were left standing in the middle of grassy fields shimmering in the early evening light. Bucolic and beautiful, but we still had a long way to go. A young boy on a horse rode by and an occasional car ignored our imploring thumbs. After half an hour, we decided we had to walk the final six kilometers with our thirty pound suitcase (even with wheels, hard going on asphalt). But we didn't go far. A special bus that had been chartered for the funeral in La Union came chugging up and stopped. It took us to Pamela's road. Another kilometer and a half up a dirt lane, and we were home.
We were disappointed that we wouldn't meet Pamela's mom, but she was in Santiago visiting her eldest son. For dinner, Pamela fixed us huevos del campo (scrambled eggs) which she served along with the cheese her mom makes. Pamela knows very little English. We wonder how much Spanish we have learned, but when we're with her we carry on conversations all day long, only reaching impasses every so often when we just have to laugh and change the subject. That night we slept well and woke to the mooing of the cows in the backyard and the greeting of the rooster next door.
For breakfast we were served fresh warm bread, and, for our Nescafe, milk straight from the neighbor's cow to Pamela's woodstove (where it was brought to a boil) to table. We spent the day walking along the rocky shore of Lago Ranco where I slowly made my way; the other two were very patient with my bad eyes and lack of depth perception-- walking where rocks are concerned turns me into a turtle. I followed Bill and Pamela for two or three miles as we passed through the beachfronts of the homes of the ricos who might only spend a week or so in Rio Nuevo for summer vacations.
The thumbnail at the top is of a spring on the shore of Lago Ranco.
Every so often, we'd find shade and sit to take in the view.