From the Road: Chilean Hospitality
Everybody travel for different reasons. Some travel to run away from their past, and some travel to chase after their future. Some travel for fun and relaxation and some to gain experience, knowledge and memories so they can sit back when they are older and fondly reminisce about their adventurous past.
Marina and I found ourselves in the south of Chile late at night, in the pouring rain, driving up when was supposed to be a mountain road but in reality was more like a level 5 hiking trail. It was complete with boulders, deep puddles and fallen trees. Sure we had made a mistake, our nervous laughter had almost turned to genuine concern when we started to make out a waving figure through the rain drops, standing in the dim light from our rental cars headlights.
We could smell the fresh baked bread before we even got to the front steps. Nicole, running after Pedro, their rambunctious and energetic two year old, welcomed us in the door and offered us each a pair of crocks to slip on. Their house was high up a mountain road, at a dead end right at the base of a snow covered volcano. Of course, we could not see this in the pitch black and falling rain, but trusted we would see the beauty of this place when we awoke the next morning.
Alfredo, who had found us struggling to drive up the hill, kindly chuckled as jumped in our car and drove it up the rest of the hill to his house, parking it behind his car in his driveway. A practicing lawyer, Alfredo had moved his family into a this beautiful home in the wilderness to act as a caretaker of sorts. Sitting in their homely kitchen, feasting on bread, a fresh wheel of cheese and chilean beer, we exchanged the pleasantries which come along with meeting people for the first time, but for some reason this felt different. I felt at home, at ease, relaxed. Alfredo, passionately strumming chords to classic Chilean folk songs, smiled from ear to ear as he sang the words of his countrymen.
Late now, after midnight, we had been talking for hours and the long hallways still rang with the sounds of our laughter and storytelling the night had produced. Nicole, now asleep in the living room with Pedro on the couch, the rest of us sitting around the huge wooden table in the kitchen, our conversation now dimming to a murmur, each listening to the crackle of the dying down fire. The floorboards cold beneath our feet for the few steps to the bed from the carpet, jumping under the thick feather blankets, we drifted off to sleep in what had only hours before felt like a strangers house, was now a friends home.
As the sun lightened the mountain we had only heard of the night before, the cool morning air rushed into the room and woke us all up refreshed and smiling. Again greeted by the familiar scent of freshly baked bread, Nicole had a breakfast spread only a mother could make, on the table when we entered the kitchen. Bread, cheese, jam, nuts, juice and fruit all filled the kitchen table. Alfredo, taking off his boots from an early dawn hike, greeted us happily as he walked into the pantry off the kitchen after placing freshly collected chicken eggs on the stove.
Emerging with two bottles of dark ale and a handful of small brown paper bags, he motioned for us to stand with him at the stove. “Classic Chilean breakfast” he said, “who doesn’t love beer for breakfast?!”. Alfredo proceeded to mix the dark beer with oats, brown sugar and an egg before proudly handing us a glass and waiting eagerly for our reaction. Surprisingly tasty, it had a certain hearty and homely taste which I was not expecting. The oats and sugar offset the egg and beer flavors I assumed would overpower the drink.
Lightly scrambled eggs with bright yellow yolks, perfect for dipping fresh bread into, rounded out our meal and we were wide awake, happy and feeling alive before we had time to realize it wasn’t even 8am yet.
Everyone travels looking for something different, but sometimes when you take a chance and take the road less traveled, the dark and windy mountain roads in life, you get lucky and find an amazing gift at the end of them. Its been almost four years since we met Alfredo and his family yet I can still smell the fresh bread, hear the music of that old wooden guitar and see Alfredo’s warm smile like it was yesterday.
I travel for the unknown, the mysterious and the magical. I travel to discovery new people, places and parts of myself I have yet to meet. I travel to leave my comfort zone, to take a chance and place trust that the world around me will reveal to me things I can’t even imagine. It is people like Alfredo and Nicole that strengthen my faith in humanity, who teach me that strangers can turn into life long friends and that we are all the same. I could never repay them for their endless kindness, and only hope I can share their spirit further along my travels.
Safe travels, Jeff