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Trip to Hornopiren, South on the Carretera Austral

The days are quickly fading into weeks and the month of April is almost over. My time here in Chile is disappearing and I am just beginning to be effective enough to not make regular errors for lack of understanding of the system or natural stupidity. It seems to me that this program ought to be two years long as is the Peace Corps. It also seems the height of injustice to my students that I teach half a year twice (Winter and Spring 98 term and then Fall and Winter 99 term) and never a full year. A school year here is from March through mid-December or Fall through Spring. The blessings of this program have been very personal in the form of opportunities to learn about a marvelous country, excellent vacations and great travel, but not necessarily about doing what is best for students.

Students at San Javier have again amazed me. One unique incident took place last week that reminded me of the dominate honesty that exists among the boys at my school. I was helping a student near the front of the class when a tightly wadded paper struck me on the head. As I looked up it was evident that many students saw the impact. They all became silent waiting to see how I would react. I was more indignant than angry but decided to evidence anger as only a teacher can. I began in English with a tirade of “How dare you act in such a miserable fashion” and continued in Spanish about a serious lack of respectable behavior in the classroom. Then I asked who threw the paper. A hand at the back of the room shot up and the youth immediately began a profuse apology saying it wasn’t intentional and that the wad was aimed at the waste basket. There was a basket just beyond me. How refreshing - actually taking responsibility for an action, even if in error. I’ve also noticed that any pen that is borrowed is always returned, any supplies shared are generally repaid. It is good that this pleases me as I still am frustrated by the lack of textbooks for my Juniors. Only a third of them have books 7 weeks into the school year. Next week I will begin class expulsion for lack of text material.

Its time to write about my experiences and travels as it is raining and 3/4 of town is without electricity that results in very limited services in stores and banks if open. Chile is experiencing a drought from La Niña and supposedly a connected power shortage. We had regular power cut offs last November and December, but none durning the Summer. The electrical cutoffs began again in late March and last from one to two hours daily. I’ve heard many people grumble and say that it’s not a water and power problem but a poor management problem. Even a drought in this area, meaning only two or three days a week of rain, leaves us always wet and evergreen. Unfortunately there is a minimal snow pack and the river runs are all very low.

I had guests again and took advantage of company to make a weekend trip on the “Carretera Austral” (southern highway). That is traveling south out of Puerto Montt by land around beaches, across fiords and almost always on a dirt and gravel road. A Fulbrighter’s mother and uncle from California were visiting her in Santiago and came to Puerto Montt and stayed with me most of a week. I do enjoy traveling alone but enjoy even more having companionship. Our destination was Hornopiren, a town about 125 miles south but five hours away at the speed we traveled. The Greyhound like bus south was full and even the aisles were stuffed with people as we began the ride. I hate to disappoint my niece who has a certain image of South American buses, but no animals rode with us. Many men were traveling home for the weekend or to new fishing waters and boats. The majority of the stops were at fishing sites (too small to be called villages). As the day warmed it became apparent that the sky was not only clear and bright but Summery in its feel as the Antarctic winds we had experienced for three days faded.

At the biggest fiord, Seno Reloncavi, we, bus and passengers, boarded a large ferry. The crossing was about 30 minutes of crystalline sea fragrant air blowing over the gentle whitecaps until we reached the far cliffs and the bus began to traverse the road sliced into the rocks. Way below in the water edge we saw many fish farms. The majority are for raising salmon. When we went inland and across a peninsula the vegetation increased to its tropical look of lushness. The bamboo, giant ferns and mammoth caster bean plants were below the unique small leafed Coigue and giant Alerce trees. I continue to be in awe at the year round greenness of this temperate rain-forest. It must be my past experience of so much dryness in the Golden State that leaves me so impressed here. As we neared our destination the scenery became spectacular with the partially snowcapped rugged Andes and two conical volcanos dominating the sky view before us. We arrived at mid-day so had ample time to explore and hike.

The town of Hornopiren has about 2000 inhabitants spread along the river and fiord shores. Most homes are wood and shingled and have a comfortable size yard for gardening, but grass grows thickly everywhere else. The central plaza was exceptionally pleasant with benches and wide walkways between gardens. A new dark mauvy-pink Catholic church fills one side of the plaza. Inside it is stunning with a modern natural pine like wood slat finish. Hornopiren means snow oven. Quite literally the community sits at the base of a semi-circle of mountains that usually have heavy snow and reflect the bright sunlight into the village keeping it warmer than any other nearby town. Its inhabitants were very friendly and extremely helpful. Some of the homes were very old aged and mossed over structures while others are painted warm friendly colors. One young man working on a new house that is almost finished, invited us in to examine his handy work. It was good sized with two tone stripes of reddish Alerce and pine toned planks on the walls. He even posed for a photo with his kids and house.

A Hoster_a owner arranged for us to take a launch trip around Deer Lake and stop mid-way at the hot springs. He even chased us down as we were hiking to tell us that the boat, tide and captain were ready and gave us a ride in his van to the shore. The water was lapping against the small knoll at the edge of the road as we boarded the launch and took off for a two hour ride. Going out into the fiord gave me a chance to take photos of the town from the water side. The mountain views changed and each seemed more impressive than the last. I decided that this area is the ultimate art in the lens as no matter where I pointed the camera the shot was either spectacular or very artistic. When the town had disappeared from sight we arrived at a small island that housed the “termas” and had 1/2 hour to soak in the sulfury hot water springs. There was a large pool or individual baths but the pool was out doors in the fading sunlight so it was the best choice. It was both relaxing and served as a no soap bath for the night.

As we circled the island on our return to Hornopiren we came alongside one of the fish hatcheries. There were giant splashes randomly inside the netted areas. It was full of grown salmon leaping. Out launch captain told me that the salmon grow from egg to full size in this contained area. They never spawn up a creek. That seems very sad. Mostly, this area is pure naturalist paradise as we saw next. As we went around and behind the island and lost the sun on us, the tall mountains to the south glowed with the gold orange light of sunset. Their bright reflections shimmered in the dark blue-green water when the launch parted it and made ripples. I was mesmerized by the dance of light and color and finished my second roll of film for the day.

There were several restaurants when we finally located their neighborhood but we entered one that seemed to be only groups of men having a drink after a day’s work. This took me back to the 60’s when I recall that women in Chile rarely went out at night but men usually did. We were the only people who ate food and it was good. In this small town the modern world hasn’t made a very great impact. There were no banks, no ATM’s, no supermarkets, no taxis and it was delightful. Our hotel was quite old and had marvelously aged and polished wood floors and stairs. My room was very comfortable and cozy with a chimney stack that went from a downstairs fireplace to the roof. It was an exceptional bargain that for $10 included a breakfast of home-made bread. We did meet another Californian at our hotel, an ecologist-map maker who was a kayak adventurer and an avid student of nature here. He is on a four month water and land trek before beginning his Ph.D. work back in the US.

After a comfortable good night’s sleep I looked out my window in the early morning to see heavy mists rising off the mud flats that were the fiord was the evening before. The tide had gone out and the broad expanse of mud and grass that remained made it very clear that this fiord was connected to the ocean and not a lake. Some people were out on the mud collecting muscles and just enjoying the walk. That inspired us to venture out into the middle of the fiord where a river flows toward the sea. There were several small streams to ford and many times I sunk into the boggy mud. When I was on more solid sand I found the view was captivating in every direction. After my last adventure of rafting I could picture finding quick-sand but was happy on returning to the knoll by the road that this was a simple walk around the sea water bottom.

This second day dawned at warm and sparkly as the previous one. It was hard to believe that in this cold rainy part of Chile that my weekend jaunt took place in perfect weather. It was Sunday and at noon I attended enough of the mass at the mauvy church to see the community take sacrament and hear the priest thank and plead concerning the church finances. The pews were all full and the music was charmingly sung to the strums of a guitar. A small girl and several dogs waited on the steps of the church for the service to end. It capped a picturesque stay in an exceptionally beautiful corner of the world.

With Love and best wishes,




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