The last time I was in Chile was spring of 2016. Flying into Puerto Montt, I was astounded at the sight of so many snow-covered volcanoes. The one closest to Puerto Montt is called Osorno. Amazing!
I had some initial apprehension about coming to Chile because of the protests in Santiago and elsewhere. The airport in Santiago was humming as usual with lots and lots of travelers. No visible presence of police or military. On Monday afternoon, the television news reported hopeful news: officials reached an initial agreement to form a new constitution for Chile. We pray that this is a peaceful process.
I am finding many opportunities to practice Spanish: watching the television news, speaking with hotel staff, and shopping at Jumbo! What an amazing supermarket! I spent more than an hour reading signs and admiring the wide variety of goods at the store. I went in the first place because I wanted bottled water for my hotel room. I spent 21,000 pesos! In addition to my favorite cookies and candy bars (and the bread!!!), I bought a couple of Christmas souvenirs.
By mid-afternoon, the sun came through the clouds, warming the day to mid-sixties. Three of the engineering professors from Universidad de Los Lagos and their families invited me to see the region and visit the town of Frutillar. Yes, the town does have a connection with strawberries (frutilla). The town, settled by German immigrants, also has a music history. There is a great concert hall right on the lake.
There is a lovely walk along the beach of Lake Llanquihue, the largest inland lake in Chile. A few people were swimming in the lake that my friends said was about 50 degrees Fahrenheit! Definitely not Floridians!
Across the lake is a clear view of the Osorno volcano. My tourist book notes that Charles Darwin witnessed an eruption of Osorno in 1835 when he was visiting South America. (A note for my friends at my church taking the modern evolution classes with me.) Osorno is still active to this day – and usually snow-covered all year round.
We stopped for coffee at a small shop in the concert hall building on the edge of the lake. It was the first really good coffee I’ve had here in Chile. Coffee is a challenge in Chile, first, because Chilenos are traditionally not coffee drinkers, and second, because Chile does not grow coffee. Instant Nescafe is what has been available until now. On this trip, I noticed that Colombian coffee is available in some of the cities.
The hotel where I am staying, Hotel Diego de Almagro, has a restaurant that serves breakfast, lunch, and dinner. Breakfast is pretty standard, with great scrambled eggs and rolls, and so-so coffee. Dinner both nights so far has been excellent: local salmon over a bed of grilled vegetables, and fettuccini Bolognese the second night.
On Tuesday, a national strike was called. The television news reported groups blocking traffic in Santiago, but here in Puerto Montt, all was quiet. It was business as usual – cars, buses, taxis, all moving about smoothly. Oops! I might have spoken too quickly: from the lobby where I was sitting with a book, I saw a group of strikers, mostly men, march up the hill from the port by the front of the hotel, waving flags and making noise. Without any media or police present, everyone marched by peacefully. Traffic flowed again within a minute or two. A few stragglers on the sidewalk were trying to catch up with the marching group. About 30 minutes later, a few people in groups of three or four came sauntering back down the hill toward the port.
The meetings that are the purpose of this trip begin tomorrow. I am glad to be here, and am looking forward to the next few days.