Speak, World

On this platform, my “footprints” are postcards to my friends. My home is the country I am in! I am committed to learning its language, and as much as possible about it, while maintaining great curiosity, a sense of humor and increasing acceptance.
Living in: Alexandria, United States
  • Day74

    Concepción, Chile's Second-Largest City

    May 17 in Chile ⋅ 🌙 50 °F

    Concepción was recommended to me by two of her native sons, the Orellana brothers, my friends in Castro, Chiloé. After their promise of many places to see, as well as a contact number for their mother, off I went. It is a modern city on the banks of the Bío Bío River, rebuilt many times, first because of destruction by the marvelously brave original inhabitants of the land, the Mapuche people, and then by numerous earthquakes and tsunamis. Concepción also had trouble gaining independence from Spain in the early 1800´s, due to the powerful and numerous pro-Spain royalists. Nowadays, the buildings are government-sanctioned earthquake-proofed, there are evacuation routes from tsunamis, and a feeling—for me, at least—of some stability. That is helped by the fact that there are many public and private universities and technical colleges, and a student population that is both progressive and studious—mostly. For more information about the city and the war for independence, here are two articles:



    I took a one-day outing to Lota in order to descend into a Dickensian coal mine named “Chiflón del Diablo (I translate it as “The Breath of the Devil”) which was closed recently—in 1999. Roberto, our guide, was a miner there, and at my queries before the other two people in our group joined us, gave me a corporeal tour of his many injuries. Quite a scary place is this mine, and aside from a guard rail and many closed-off sections, there is nothing touristy about it. During my visit I prayed for NO EARTHQUAKE.

    Most of the time I walked around the city during the day, visiting the library, a gallery of dioramas by Rudolfo Gutierrez, the Pinoteca of the Universidad de Concepción, Parque Ecuador, and student haunts. I also attended a documentary film on campus (U de C) about seaweed forests off the coasts of Patagonia, close to where I just had been. All very interesting, and certainly different from other places of my trip so far.

    Please enjoy the pictures, and be sure to sign your first name if you leave a comment.
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  • Day68

    In Chiloé: Hiking!

    May 11 in Chile ⋅ ☁️ 54 °F

    I am very enthusiastic about city and country alike in my travels. There is just something so wonderful about being on a trail (preferably totally alone) with my binoculars and all my senses—just walking and absorbing. Perhaps this and using my languages are my two greatest pleasures in life.

    So I first indulged myself to a guided hike to Parque Tantauco, a private park, made available to the people of Chile by the current president, Sebastian Piñera. It is a rain forest, with rare and wonderful trees that store water in their roots, which in turn are set in lush moss a foot or more deep. It is a magical place, endangered as all places are in Chile, by cutting cutting cutting trees for firewood. Even virgin old-growth forests are fair game. If you expand the map above to see the rest of the island, this will be more than evident. I weep to think of it. My guide, Felipe, was first-rate, and he and his historian brother became my friends.

    I also hiked in the wetlands section of Chiloé National Park, on well-made trails on many boardwalks. I saw birds of many kinds, and ate a great many “murta” berries, which resemble a cross between a blueberry and a sweetened cranberry, but with an acidic bite. A berry with character. The park is bordered by the Pacific Ocean, which was a thrilling sight, what with the breakers rolling in. I unfortunately remembered that some disastrous tsunamis covered the exact place where I sat to have my lunch, which wasn´t pleasant. Never mind, I’m OK.

    Please enjoy the pictures.
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  • Day68

    Excursions in Chiloé: Towns and Churches

    May 11 in Chile ⋅ 🌧 55 °F

    During my two-week stay in Castro, I took a few excursions around the island. The small towns are lovely, the wooden churches are certainly amazing, and the bus rides there and back passed through countryside that looked a great deal like England. (A few English visitors concurred.)

    My first trip was to Dalcahue and its church, town, and waterfront, and another day I went south of there to Achao, with similar sights. One day I went to meet my friend Omar in the northern part of the island to Ancud to visit the Historic Churches Museum and eat THE local food, “curanto.” And lastly, I went from Dalcahue east with two guides I became friends with. I was their model “extranjera,” foreigner, to appear in photos advertising a tour the historian brother was preparing for the next tourist year. We visited six churches, and had a jolly time.

    Again, I let the pictures tell a bit more...
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  • Day67

    At Home in Castro, capital of Chiloé

    May 10 in Chile ⋅ ⛅ 52 °F

    Chiloé, “place of seagulls” in the indigenous Huilliche language, is known for being South America’s largest island, and the last place in the continent to finally gain independence from Spain. It is also an archipelago of tiny islands with distinct architecture, food, superstitions, customs, mythology, flora and fauna. Too too much to describe in this short blog. But feel free to learn more here:

    I decided to devote two weeks to just live on the island, in its capital of Castro, in a neat little cabaña (in Chile, a self-contained little house) in a residential area a mile from the center of town. Here I have become acquainted with many sweet “chilotes,” all about my height of 5’ 1” or shorter—rarely taller—and have fallen in with the culture day by day.

    I started with the Mercado Municipal, the “feria,” (the City Market) which is in every Chilean town of any size. During the week, the permanent stalls re-sell food and handcrafts which were bought from other markets or individuals. But on the weekend, a large inner space is occupied by folks from all over the archipelago to sell their garden bounty. They are not charged for the space. I bought Swiss chard, a bag of very unique potatoes (it is said that over 200 varieties are cultivated here) “cochayuyo,” a kind of kelp that bulks up a soup, fresh shelling beans, fat sweet carrots, cilantro, cabbage, and giant cloves of garlic. At the regular stalls, I bought a bit of smoked pork for flavor and the ultimate luxuries: cheeks of merluzas ( a large fish) salmon ceviche and wood-smoked salmon—all of which I enjoyed in my own soups or on their own.

    Every day there have been conversations, chance meetings, and many observations. Such as: when it rains, a very frequent occurrence, the most anyone does is to pull up the hoods of their jackets—or not—and just get wet. Kisses on the cheek are the greeting of choice to say hello or goodbye, and they are warm and affectionate. I have been kissed by the sales staff who helped to sell me my new rucksack, two men on my street carrying a heavy bag home to their wives, and my guide from a hike. When two dogs meet, they lick each other on the “face.” They teach each other to howl lustily, and to practice the deliciously dangerous and naughty sport of chasing cars and motorcycles. Fish and shellfish rule—fresh or smoked—and they are cheap and delicious. Ditto with local cheeses.

    I’ve haunted city cafes and the municipal library to study, and visited more than once the main church of San Francisco —one of sixteen which are UNESCO Patrimonios de la Humanidad— and the City Museum. But most of all I walked and talked and looked and wandered. The pictures tell more of the story.

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  • Day48

    A Glacier and Volcano: Goodbye Patagonia

    April 21 in Chile ⋅ ☁️ 50 °F

    After my few days of sociability in Rio Tranquilo and Coyhaique, it was back to hiking and exploring, first in Queulat National Park near Puyuhuapi (pronounced pu-yu-wá-pee) and then in the town of Chaitén.

    In Puyuhuapi, a made-up-the-night-before group chartered a van to take us up to one of the Queulat Park entrances. There were four possible trails to take. I went with the group on the “main trail” up to a glacial waterfall, immediately letting everyone pass me by so I could have the trail to myself.

    Some notes about hiking. First of all, most hiking trails have a “destination,” but for me, the TRAIL is the destination. I enjoy it all: the changing scenery at each stage, the lichens and ferns, the smaller plants, the bushes and the trees. I examine everything that moves, as well as plants and vistas, with my close-focus binoculars. It takes time, because I let it take all the time I want just to SEE. In the case of the Queulat Trail, I did get to the end to see the melting water of the glacier form a spectacular waterfall to the river 2000 feet below. Another note: after slipping on a piece of wood and landing on my rear with a terrible wallop on this hike, I decided to invest in a hiking pole. My balance is improved 100% with just one pole.

    The following day, I took a bus to Chaitén, a town just coming back to life after a surprise eruption of Mount Chaitén in 2008 covered the town with volcanic ash. I talked to a woman who went through it. She said there was a terrible explosion in the afternoon of May 2nd, 2008, and the order to evacuate the town came soon after. By nightfall, people were still leaving, and the next day all were gone. Only animals were left, and many perished in the ashes.

    So, April 24 found me exploring the newly-constructed town, poking around the ashes which are still everywhere, and examining hills of dead trees and new growth. Toward the end of the day, I had a conversation with a house construction contractor. I asked if, given the risk of a future explosion, it was unwise to build new houses. He said that no matter what, construction would continue. But after further questioning, I found that no one in town could ever purchase home insurance for a future volcanic catastrophe.

    Here are some interesting links: (you can find many others as well, of course)
    1. From Geology.com: https://geology.com/volcanoes/chaiten/
    2. From Wikipedia : https://en.m.wikipedia.org/wiki/Chaitén_(volcano)
    3. From YouTube: https://m.youtube.com/watch?v=HyDIyALTwL8

    And here are my pictures! Please sign your first name if you leave a comment.
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  • Day46

    Rio Tranquilo and Coyhaique Redux

    April 19 in Chile ⋅ ⛅ 54 °F

    I decided to change my Northern Patagonian itinerary in order to celebrate my sixty-eighth birthday on April 19th. I had found an excellent conversationalist in my new friend Omar in Rio Tranquilo during my first visit there (blog of April 11) and he readily agreed to spend my birthday with me. He kindly plied me with excursions around the neighborhood, including the campground which he owns and manages. He prepared as well an excellent birthday dinner, even ordering his local baker to make a strawberry cream cake! Hooray for good company!

    I then made a second stop in Coyhaique—mainly to recover from all the icy, shared-bathroom, one-to-two-night hostal stays. I caught my breath in the familiar streets, and was lucky to make a new friend, Vicky. Originally from Rome, she met her artist husband, Siguesmund, in Italy over thirty-three years ago, and has lived in Patagonia/Coyhaique ever since. When she and I met in one of those huge Chinese-owned emporiums (which are now all over the world) she invited me to supper that very night. I met her husband and two grown children, and was treated to more excellent conversation. The following day, we walked all around Coyhaique to see “Sigues’s” sculptures, and also to have a nice long chat. The advantage of traveling alone at my age (and with a few foreign languages) is that I can quite willingly lend my ear to anyone who needs a non-gossipy alternative to local company. We had a ball.

    So, here I am, sixty-eight in actual age but hey! —still twenty-four in outlook—or so I’d like to think.
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  • Day41

    Cochrane, My Southernmost Destination

    April 14 in Chile ⋅ ⛅ 50 °F

    If you look at the map, and pinch it in quite a bit to see the rest of Chile, you’ll see that Cochrane is pretty far south. In fact, since the regions of Chile are numbered from one to twelve, starting in the north at the Peruvian border, Cochrane is in region eleven. It is a not-pretty town of around three thousand inhabitants, founded in 1954, and only connected to the rest of the country when the Carretera Austral was completed in 1958. It is the last town on the highway. By the way, the “highway” is basically a one-lane gravel road.

    I was dying to go there in order to visit Patagonia National Park. Frankly, if I were to copy one elderly woman, who, with an ingenious two-wheeled cart she could pull along behind her, walked the entire length of the Carretera Austral, I would experience all of the exquisite scenery I might require for the rest of my life. But entering a national park anywhere in the world is a special experience, and this is a very new one, so I was excited.

    I stayed at an Airbnb listing: a room with a shared bath in a house occupied by a single woman and her fourteen-year-old daughter. It was efficiently heated by a ubiquitous wood-burning stove, so I waited every morning to get up when the fire had been made so my suffering in the bedroom cold would be limited to only a few minutes. Lucía was friendly, though shy, so it took a few days together for us to get chatty. By the end, she was plying me with homemade bread, and made a rare shellfish dinner for us all on my last night.

    Patagonia National Park can be approached from two points, but only one, the Tamango Section was open to me when I was there. Twice I hiked on private property toward a now-closed park entrance. It was a splendid walk, and made easier by being a dirt road: I could look around all I wanted with little fear of falling. I fall on the average of once every two weeks—either by slipping or by inattention. I have since bought a “bastón,” or walking pole, to have better balance. The trail in the park proper was beautiful every step of the way. I rejoiced.

    Enjoy the photos, and please remember to sign your first name if you leave a comment.
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  • Day38

    Puerto Rio Tranquilo and Marble Caves

    April 11 in Chile ⋅ ⛅ 55 °F

    Lago General Carrera is the largest lake in South America, and is shared with Argentina—where it’s called Lago Buenos Aires. The Carretera Austral runs down along the exquisite western part of the lake, and I stopped to visit the hamlet of Puerto Rio Tranquilo to see the famous Marble Caves.

    One has to see them by boat, so upon my arrival I hurriedly booked a trip there—to take advantage of the lovely afternoon light, and to avoid a day of rain forecast for the morrow. The marble caves and other formations are truly remarkable—carved by glacial movement into quite exotic shapes. The marble is “young,” soft, and not the type that Michelangelo carved. A marvelous tour.

    The town itself, with its 350-person population, was of interest to me as well. I stayed in a hostal with other foreigners, which I at first abhorred. Why? The shared bathroom for one. But also, if I am in Chile, I want to meet Chileans—not a bunch of foreigners like myself. HOWEVER, I developed a much better attitude by talking to the lovely owners, a family from the north, a French jazz violinist, a French enthusiast of Namibian music and song (both of these Frenchmen entertained us with their skills); a young Japanese man who quit his job and was slipping into volunteer work to re-invent himself, a pair of young women working for a mining company up north in Chile’s Atacama area, etc. I can see why the hostal experience has been so important for so many travelers.

    I made a new friend in town, an ex-veterinarian who runs a campground and sightseeing boat service. And I also enjoyed walking around and seeing such things as the very atmospheric cemetery. You’ll see what I mean in the picture section.

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  • Day31

    Coyhaique and Villa Cerro Castillo

    April 4 in Chile ⋅ ⛅ 50 °F

    Coyhaique is the “capital” of Northern Patagonia. With a population of 50,000, it’s considered a “real” city in this part of the country. I first stayed in an Airbnb lodging with a single mother and her 12-year-old daughter, inconveniently located a mile from the center. I was placed in the daughter’s room—no space whatsoever for my things—just the floor and the bed and a shared bath. However, the mother was so articulate, friendly, and generous, that I forgave her the inconveniences—though I did mention them to her in my private review for Airbnb. She had just lost her job in town, after the new federal government administration kicked out of her long-held job. So I could tell that she was quite desperate for anyone to rent the room. I have found that this is often the case in the rooms I’m taking. Many single mothers eking out a living.

    Coyhaique is set in a very beautiful valley, so I was eager to explore the huge “National Reserve” a few kilometers away. It had a well-set-out circular trail of around twelve miles, with much variety of scenery, and mainly native plants. Three different varieties of pine trees were planted in Patagonia in the 1950’s to quickly fill in the losses from various forest fires. Bad idea: the pine trees have multiplied so rapidly that they are out of control in many areas. They are used for paper pulp and firewood, mostly, but they are not native, and blemish the landscape. I did love the Reserve, though.

    After two nights with the kind mother and daughter, I moved to a hostel. In a hostel? Me? I chose one that was run by an elderly couple. I took a few peaceful days there with strong wifi to finish my Thai Add1Advance Challenge and my Day90 video of a conversation with a native speaker. It was a surprise to me that I could speak Thai at all, with 99% of my day speaking only Spanish. A miracle. In the process, I discovered many great cafés—some of which did NOT serve instant coffee.

    I moved south by bus on the Carretera Austral (the main—and sometimes only— road in Patagonia, built during the Pinochet dictatorship) to Villa Cerro Castillo, a village of 2500 souls, with high jagged peaks definitely resembling a castle. My lodging was a boarding house for twenty-four men working in the area. I didn’t know this when I accepted the room, loving the view of the “castle,”and the price: $15 per night. I soon found out that there were no locks on the doors, no heating at all, and the bathroom was shared with the guys—way way down a steep ladder-like staircase. The elderly couple that ran the place gave the men three home-cooked meals a day, including hot bread from the oven at lunch and dinner. The husband was the “panadero,” making well over a hundred 3” X 3” “ayuyas”—flat Chilean-style rolls—per day, using two wood-burning ovens. Such an experience!

    The hike to the peaks was a trail leading straight up 1000 meters—3,280 feet—again across a lovely and varied terrain. I found myself wildly out-of-shape after five months mostly sitting down to study Thai. This situation was to change rapidly! The hike was as rewarding as the hot “ayuya” I ate with my usual vegetables upon my return.

    Please enjoy the photos, and don’t forget to sign your first name if your leave a comment.
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  • Day29

    A Ferry to Aysén, Northern Patagonia

    April 2 in Chile ⋅ ⛅ 52 °F

    From Puerto Montt, I rode a bus all the way down the island of Chiloé, Latin America´s largest island, to the small city of Quellón. It is the starting point for a few ferries going south through southern Chile’s islands and fjords. I took a look around the city for the day, walking eleven miles or so, until it was time for my ferry to leave at 11 PM.

    I thought it would be quite an adventure to take this 28-hour “cruise” to tiny and isolated ports in Chilean Patagonia. It wasn’t quite an “adventure,” or a “cruise,” but it was very educational. On the boat, all passengers sat in reclining seats, and at night we could sleep all we liked. During the day, movies were showing constantly on many screens, but we were free to walk around on the decks to see the islands. OK, most of the time we had an excellent view of fog, BUT thanks to my binoculars, I sighted two curious seals who bobbed up and down to have a look at the boat, as well as many birds.

    At every port there was great drama. Evidently, the arrival of the ferry was highly anticipated, as people were either coming home or leaving it. Also, trucks full of all sorts of needed supplies drove off the ramp. I saw some people receive a case of homemade apple cider (7-proof) who opened it and started drinking it right at the landing! There was also a great quantity of beer that was unloaded. Anyway, it was fun to watch, and most passengers tore themselves away from the Disney film on the screens to watch the landing action.

    I also spoke with many people. A French couple in their 30’s were biking around the world for two years, and South America was the end of their journey. They were open and delightful: international personalities. I spoke with a Chilean agronomist who was raising bees to sell the honey, and was also saving money for a special machine to artificially inseminate the queen so as to produce mixed breeds. There was a Syrian immigrant working for a transport company—grateful for Chile’s welcome, and his escape from his war-torn country. Etc. I love finding out what people do, and what is important to them.

    After landing in Puerto Chacabuco, I took a shared taxi to the small city of Aysén and my Airbnb property. My hostess and Patagonia guide, Sandra, advised me to visit the Rio Simpson National Reserve, a lovely trail along the river which charted the course of the settlers to the region. And the following day, she and her friend Sergio, another guide, took me out all day to see very beautiful local sights dear to their hearts. I am so glad to be where the air is pure, and the countryside is so stunning.

    Please enjoy the photos, and be sure to leave your first name with any comment.
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