Tuesday, January 17, 2012

Exploring Chaihuin

I woke up last night to a very strange noise. It was just outside my window. Clattering hooves and chewing noises. Every once in a while I heard a wail and then more clattering hooves and sounds of movement. At one point, I thought whatever thing it was outside my window was surely going to bust through my window, smell my food, and attack me. I think my fight and flight kicked in from years of back country backpacking, where I feared the scenario of a black bear invading camp wanting to eat the toothpaste I forgot in my tent. I wasn't alone in my bewilderment, however. My roommates also woke up. Luckily to our surprise what we were dealing with were only cows, which made for a good laugh later in the day! The cows around here roam everywhere. I see them walking across bridges, they hang out on the beach, and they are on islands in the middle of the river. Evidently, they also roam through camp at night.

So here I am on the lovely Valdivian Coast. During the first half of Tuesday (I wrote this blog post yesterday), I sat in on a workshop where the park rangers of the Valdivian Coastal Reserve talked about their hopes and dreams for conservation in Chile. It was a wonderful activity to be a part of. During the meeting, I acted like a horsefly on the wall as I listened and worked on a series of maps I am preparing for the Reserve. For lunch, we all drove about two miles down the road to a local restaurant called Fondo Marino. I was curious and did a quick translation. The name means seabed in English. I love that translation. It reflects the place and the people. Four women from the community formed a coop and now run the restaurant. Their husbands are local fisherman, practicing the artisanal fishing trade. Using their own small boats and the strength a few men, they are catching the freshest seafood as close to home as possible, which is really strengthening their community.

The meal was delicious. We had three courses. The first, a whole tomato carved out and served with sausage gravy and dill. The main course was seared white fish with baked potatoes. Accompanying the main dish, was a simple salad with cucumber, tomato, and lettuce. For dessert, a well-loved local treat, mote con huesillo! Of course, I had never heard of it, but a coworker described it as her favorite childhood Chilean dish. To prepare it, you take dried whole peaches and soak them overnight in water to rehydrate them. To the peach water in the morning you add sugar, cinnamon, and toasted wheat berries. The wheat berries become soft in the liquid and settle at the bottom. One peach is left in the center of this sugary soup that is fragrant and floral to the smell. And it tastes wonderfully unique. I loved discovering this special cultural method of preparing food. The restaurant interior was quaint and rustic. The tables were elegantly set with navy table cloths and white dishes. Wine glasses sparkled and waited to be filled with Chilean wine. The windows opened up to a view of the ocean. And just outside the windows, a view of the sea where fisherman hard at work had very recently caught our fish. What a lovely compliment to the culture, the community, and nature that so humbly served our table today.

After lunch, I worked until just after 6 pm and was then invited to join a small group about to go for a hike on the coast! This was my first opportunity to do so and I quickly got ready. We drove to a trail and hiked less than a mile down a windy pathway through bamboo, brush, and small trees. Occasional beach views opened up to a big ocean of waves and rocks. Pelicans and seabirds flew busily around them as kelp swayed gracefully back and forth with each passing wave. In the distance we were able to spot three dolphins! At first I saw their fins above the water and later would see them leaping from the crashing waves. In my head I was thinking, "I can't believe I am in South America. I can't believe I am in Chile. I can't believe I am standing by the Pacific Ocean half a world away!" I don't have to tell myself these things, but they flow freely and often because of my deep appreciation for visiting this place.

We walked and walked along the beach. I saw people fishing from the shore, playing in the waves, and laying in the sun. This is a small community and it’s off the beaten path for tourists. It’s quiet and peaceful. I took my shoes off and walked in the sand and waded in the water. Surprisingly, it wasn't all that cold! I enjoyed a solitary walk back to our cabins and later enjoyed a simple home cooked meal with my roommates for the week. We talked about Chilean culture, about the early days at The Nature Conservancy, and about music and cooking. It was very enjoyable. I even managed to forget about the horseflies swarming about like they were moons orbiting my head. It didn't matter. I looked out at the thin line where the sky meets the ocean and for a while decided simply just to be, leaving space only to wonder of the eternal and of the sand warm and rough beneath me feet.

Above: View walking down to Chauhuin beach.

Above: Sign at the entrance to Fondo Marino where I ate deliciosas comida!

Above: Mote con huesillo, a Chilean dessert made from dried peaches and wheat.

Above: A photo of our evening beach walk.

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