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Published: February 6th 2012
I alighted the bus in Pucón, retrieved my backpack and was then met by a smiling lady by the name of Silvana who would become my mother away from home. I had arranged a homestay in conjunction with my 4 week Spanish course and had hoped that it would be a memorable experience. I didn’t anticipate that in only 4 weeks I would be finding it difficult to part company with not only Silvana, her husband and daughter, but their whole extended family and friendship network. I was seamlessly integrated into all their family gatherings, whether it be family festivities or informal ‘drop-ins’ that would end up with the drinks being poured, dishes of food being prepared and songs being played. On occasions this even involved a guitar being placed in my lap whilst everyone eyed me expectantly! I have come to realise that families in Chile are a tight-knit community, so to have been living within one and for all intents and purposes, be a member of one, was indeed a very privileged experience and something that will stay with me as the years pass.
Silvana was almost a larger than life figure. I quickly realised that at family
functions, she was the centre of all hilarity and constantly had a mischievous glint in her eyes. She was quick to laugh and without doubt one of the best cooks I have ever known. Every item of clothing that I have brought with me is wearing a little more restrictively after living under Silvana’s roof for a month. On the first day, I thought the quantity of food may just be a ‘Welcome to Pucón’ lunch. I thought wrong. This quantity was served up at every meal and those of you who know me understand perfectly well that I cannot forego delicious food when it is placed in front of me. Also, it would be plain rude to turn back your host’s meals (at least, that is what I repeatedly told myself).
The amount of food on offer seemed to be in contrast to their humble dwellings. Their abode is a timber house in need of paint and considerable maintenance; however, that was swiftly forgotten once ensconced within its walls, due to the environment created by Silvana. She was always active, either singing, cooking, cleaning, whistling, talking with people walking past her property or tending to her enormous fruit
and vegetable block. This adjacent block of land explained the abundance of food, for much of what I ate was homegrown. Even the Pisco (a particularly tasty Chilean alcoholic drink) was made at home. Silvana is from Mapuche blood (the native people of this region of South America) and her parents spent their entire life living in what is now a national park. They both lived to a ripe old age, pushing 100, which Silvana attributes to everything they ate being grown and prepared by them, without any processing or chemicals. She is one of 10 children and each of her siblings has had health issues or even died since living in town. I wasn’t about to argue and neither were my tastebuds! Every meal I ate was different from all those that came before it, yet they were all traditional Chilean meals. That is quite an achievement over 4 weeks.
In many respects, living with a family and attending classes five days of the week made my stay in Pucón feel routine and normal. As a result, I think that if I returned to Pucón and stayed in a hostel, I would have a very different experience. Pucón
is a hub for adventure activities, from white water rafting, skiing, mountain biking, kayaking or even hiking up to the crater of a smoking volcano and then tobogganing down (which I described in my last blog). The only times that I actually engaged in any of these activities were when friends old and new were passing through Pucón and asked me if I would like to join them on a bike ride or hike to a waterfall. These were brilliant days, as the scenery of Pucón and its surrounding regions is simply astounding in its overwhelming variety and abundance. When I asked locals why they lived in Pucón, every one of them answered with the same expression, stating that “Pucón es precioso” – which I tended to agree with. In fact, there were numerous occasions when I discovered that I had stopped in my tracks and was marvelling at my surrounds, whether it be the snowy slopes of majestic Volcán Villarrica, the verdant green hills which punctured the skyline before descending into the waters of the lake, Lago Villarrica, where countless people were swimming, kayaking, catching some rays or drinking at one of the beach bars, the list goes
on. If one tires of these things, then there are the waterfalls, thermal pools, various other mountain lakes and natural places to explore or just to find some solace. I could do much worse than end up living in Pucón, that’s for sure!
I really enjoyed the language course and found it challenging to use my brain in such a capacity. It has been quite some time since I studied anything at length, so I made sure that I always did my homework and tried to establish some patterns to ensure that the newly acquired knowledge would sink in. There is an awfully long way to go, but I feel that I have made some inroads, however small, into belatedly learning to speak a second language.
Another thing I discovered about Pucón is that it is situated in the region of Chile where many German migrants settled. As a result, there are many tasty beers brewed in the region, such as Kunstmann (which gets a little tricky to pronounce after a few steins). To my great delight, they had decided to host a three day ‘Fiesta de la Cerveza’ commencing on my last day of classes! Silvana, her
daughter and a whole host of relatives turned out in force for the opening night and it was loads of fun. There was live music, from cover bands to traditional German folk music and the night was rounded off by a 10 piece reggaeton outfit which had the entire crowd going berserk. About three songs into their set, the heavens opened, but no one was deterred. If anything, everyone became more animated, including the band. It was like an act of defiance towards the weather and we were all involved as a collective unit, dancing and chanting whilst being lashed with a ferocious downpour.
I write this having left Chile…for now. I am sitting in the small village of San Martin de los Andes in Argentina, reflecting on my time across the border and have come to realise that if my travels take me back to Chile, there is a place that I can call home, where smiles, laughter, delicious food, drinks and good times will all be abundant.
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