"Argentina 2002-03" story # 10

Chanco, Chile           February 17, 2003

Hey, all you "huevˇns." I hope you all enjoyed Valentine┤s Day with your "pulolos." (Just a little bit of Chilean slang to set the mood ...)
     That┤s right. Turn the thermostat all the way down, ┤cause it┤s cold here. Put on a romantic episode of Chilly Willy, the cartoon penguin. And get changed into something sexy, like a bathing suit, flippers, and your snorkel mask. And let Smooth Lover Daddy Modern Oddyseus seduce you slowly into late-night ecstasy (or whenever you┤re reading this), in Chile-land.
     Awww yeah. That feels good. When I┤d told you guys, "Ma˝ana, me voy a Chile," I┤d actually meant it! Thanks to Tito, Muriel, and their son Vicente, I was driven through the Andes recently from Argentina to Chile. My first-ever, international, long-haired hitchhiking trip was a screaming success!
     Awww yeah. I went first to a Patagonian island called ChiloÚ. The juicy gossip going ┤round town was that I could have a stimulating encounter with the cold-water plants, animals, and seas that so wildly attract me.
     The best snorkel I had was at a rural spot called Chanco. What do the words, "brown algae," call to your mind? To me: phat beauty. Fifteen-foot fronds of brown kelp gathered themselves in an underwater forest inviting like a modelling convention, yet so tangly. Brown strings grew together, with large leaves branching out everywhere to fan themselves in the current or fold themselves over heavily. The swaying, impenetrable forest concealed dark mystery behind each wave-shaped leaf. Bunches of seed-like balls could be revealed in the plants, or else a spiky sea-urchin had made his hidden home there, or else a midnight-blue fish would swim out. The water was even cold enough to have krill - tiny, clear and red, flute-bodied, big-eyed shrimp - swimming around.
     I left the krill┤s domain, and my body trembled spastically. I changed clothes, gulped hot tea, and thought about passing out. After fifty minutes, I stopped shivering. So is the life of the bare-chest, frigid-water, puny-brained snorkel-fish.
     Luckily, this snorkel-fish had been invited to a big "curanto" of ChiloÚ feast tradition.
     A friendly ChiloÚ family had put white chicken-legs, potato chunks, blood-red pork rinds, pea pods, delicious sausage hunks, fat oysters, green beans, and a pastry made out of potatoes and chicken fat, all in a bathroom-sized pot that they steam-cooked. For twelve people, there was seriously like a hundred pounds of food, so I almost got filled up. The snorkel-fish doesn┤t usually eat seafood, because that would be like cannibalism. But, I did crack open one poor oyster, and its red meat was soft and succulent like a meat/dessert mix.
     After scoring some free grub, I got invited to spend the night at family member Pedro┤s house. Over tea that night, Pedro, a salmon-raiser and the head of a young family, told me about ChiloÚ fifty years ago when almost no money was used on the island.
     He said that when a person wanted to build a house, he hosted a big party, invited everyone around to what was called a "minga," and they built the house. When two people got married, they had a "medan," and everyone gave the couple the gifts they would need. There were few roads at this time, so that when a person had to travel, he went walking for days. When he got tired, he knocked on the door of the nearest house, and the people inside gave him food and a place to sleep. Unfortunately, this capital-less brown algae paradise got spoiled when the Spaniards introduced money and crime.
     Not all good things have to end, though. ChiloÚ still remains a paradise for penguins, who will still give you a cold rock to sleep on and catch you a fish, if you come knocking. I went to a "pinguinera" to pay homage to the greatest Chilean hero I know, Chilly Willy! (Other than the infamous, murderous former dictator, Pinochet, Willy┤s the only famous Chilean I know.)
     Boats would carry you out to three big ocean rocks to see the penguins (in exchange for money - rrrgh!), but Chilly Willy wouldn┤t take no boat! I swam. With the help of a friend named Luz-Marina, I fastened myself in to my torn left flipper by tying plastic bags and a fishing net around my feet. I braved the cold water. Boy, would ol┤ Willy have been proud!
     In the clear, crisp water, I swam over curly-haired wigs of green algae and brilliant orangish-pink starfish on the rocky bottom. Three huge rock islets erupted from the sea. On the one I swam near ... I spotted ... penguins! Woohoo!
     The penguins were small and hunched-over, like they were trying to bury their beaks in their chests. They squabbled up and down paths on the steep island, staying so close to each other they practically tripped over themselves. They were black and white, of course. They looked sad, like they were dreaming of someplace tropical, so they wouldn┤t have to be so miserable and always cold. I wanted to give each of them poor guys a warm hug.
     There were twenty or thirty penguins in two spots on the rock. Surprisingly, none of them came in the water to play with me. Neither did the "chungunga" (sea otter) that hopped around eagerly with the penguins. His slick, slippery, smooth gray coat and black-striped face had a mesmerizing shine that stole the show from the penguins.
     A warm hug from Luz-Marina helped control my after-snorkel shivering, but she didn┤t have that penguin squeak to her.
     For the last of my time in Chile, I headed mainland to visit Grace, a purple-skinned girl I┤d met on the island. In comparison to other nationalities, I would say Chileans have purple skin and round faces.
     In Puerto Montt, Grace and I and her cool, funny Chilean friends had a great time. We went to discotechs, swam at chilly Patagonian beaches, and ate "completos" (hot dogs with guacamole, tomatoes, and mayonnaise). We occasionally formed a six-man hitchhiking team, with our star member being a beautiful, long dark-haired, dark-eyed three-year-old named Antonia, whose bright smile and excited thumb stopped the cars.
     We jumped up and down to a free rock concert near Puerto Montt┤s lit-up sea-walk. For Puerto Montt┤s 150th anniversary, "Los Prisioneros" belted out powerful theme songs and bopping-around drum beats.

"No necesitamos banderas!
No reconocmos fronteras!
No aceptaremos filiacones!
No escucharemos antones!" - Los Prisioneros
(We don┤t need flags! We don┤t recognize borders! We won┤t accept affiliations! We won┤t hear anthems!)

On Valentine┤s Day, round-faced Grace even gave me a kiss good-bye at the bus station. But, we didn┤t become "pulolos" (boyfriend/girlfriend).
     And so, with nine nice days in nice Chile in the rear-view mirror, it┤s time to put the trip in perspective. What made me most wish I lived in Chile? What most made me not want to live in Chile? What sets it apart? let┤s see ...
     You know, them crazy MODERN ODDYSEUS┤ TOP 5!!! lists are always good for some perspective. Even if they┤re authored by the myserious, sexy-clothed snorkel-fish.

Awww yeah. Let┤s get it on! The Top 5 Best Things About Chile!:

"Help! I┤m stuck in kelp!" Not really, but Iiiii luvit!

I didn┤t see much poverty, at least in the South. There seemed to be decent pay and health care for the workers. Grace said she and her friends came from a poor neighborhood in Santiago, yet even they could affort to travel south on their vacations.

Grace and I danced to salsa, merengue, other types of okay latin music, english-language rock like Credence Clearwater Revival and The Doors ("Keep your eyes on the road, and your hands upon the wheel ..."), great Argentinian rock that never passes anymore in Argentina, and good Chilean rock. A popular Chilean band called "Los Jaivas" played rock music mixed creatively with Mapuche Indian instruments.

In Chile, the vacations seem to be about getting to know friends and nature. Unlike Argentina, which is more based on shopping and consumption and maybe sex. I found good conversation and good humor in Chile, and the boyfriend/girlfriend relationships seemed to be more about romance, friendship, fun, and inner feelings.

Chilean Patagonia would be awfully cold to live in. But, it┤s full of Andes mountains, snow-covered volcanoes, big lakes of every color, beaches, fjords, islands, kelp, penguins, seals, otters, fishing villages, and culture. The "Carreterra Austral" (Southern Highway) was recently made to majestically go between mountain and sea - broken up by fjords in places, and boats are required - towards the country┤s southern tip. I especially enjoyed sitting atop an oceanside hill and looking out upon an icy blue sea that floated on Antarctica-wards into the cold, white horizon.

I was surprised to find Chile and its people much different from their Argentinian counterparts across the Andes. From what I saw, I liked Chile more.
     But, almost nothing is without its faults. Even the migrating snorkel-fish. Case in point, just note The Top 5 Worst Things About Chile!

In south Chile, the beggars were either alcoholics, people who don┤t like to work, or the many young people backpacking on vacation who think other people should support their alcohol and marijuana purchases. These begging backpackers made the hospitable Chileans reluctant to lift hitchhikers.

Lots. I┤m anti-cell-phone.

Often, Chileans warmed me about their untrustworthy countryfolk who would lie and make off with what they can.

Many young Chileans smoke this; and I don┤t care to tell people how to live their lifes (except when I┤m preaching, of course). However, the marijuana is very important there, and I was told three seperate times by people that I was no friend of theirs because I don┤t smoke dope. Each of these people was only kidding, but still ...

5. NO HEAT -
The houses didn┤t seem to have heating systems, most of them. Brrr!

Awww yeah. I hope it was as good for you as it was for me.
     Chile was a great time, I liked what I saw, and I left some very nice short-time friends there.
     Ciao, "huevˇns!" (friends)

- Modern Oddyseus

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