Wednesday, February 18, 2009

While His Wife is Making Up Stories...

While his wife is struggling to make up good adventures, my husband Dave is off having real ones in the wilds of Chile. He's working down there for six weeks. I'll let him tell you about his weekend:

The day started with me buying a cup of the strongest coffee I ever drank in my entire life. I learned that even though a company is a U.S. company, that doesn't mean the employees speak a word of English. I now know how to ask for a "cafe grande" at the Dunkin Donuts shop.

I met up with William "Willy" Tang (grew up in San in Miami) and we were picked up by a local tour guide. We were told the night before someone would come around and pick us up and take us to the Maipo Valley and the cost would be 180,000 pesos, or 240 dollars. I wouldn't normally spend that kind of money, but after things worked out like they did, I was glad I did.

First we met the tour guide Natural (the closest we could come to his name in Spanish). He then introduced us to Jorge, the driver. And then if that wasn't enough, we met up with a "trekking guide" Rodrique (Rod). He was running late, so we did a little shopping (little tents set up for weekend selling) in San Jose de Maipo, the little town where we met the trekking guide. Once we connected with Rod, we started up into the mountains in the van. The road soon became something that only vaguely resembled a road. We were moving slowly up the mountain. Finally we made it up to a little open area where some kids and a dog were playing and parked. Rod went up to the house and apparently obtained permission for us to use the trail. When he returned, we started up the mountain.

Since Willy is an entomologist, he had an insect net and an aspirator and was collecting insects as we went. We would turn around and Willy would be nowhere in sight. Finally Rod said, through Natural, "We will have some really good collecting areas up ahead." Of course this really meant, "Hurry up...let's go!" So I think Willy caught on because he picked up his pace. We walked for a good hour and finally came to the most rickety bridge--really just a lot of small logs tied up side-by-side--across the creek.

Pretty soon Rod began to whistle really loud. He continued to do this several times and then finally crossed the creek and disappeared up the trail. After a couple of minutes he returned, but with an old man. We all crossed the creek and made it up the hill. We eventually learned that the old man was named Lalo. We walked up to his "house." He pulled some chairs around for us under the trees and we sat down. His dog stretched out on the ground near us and his extremely scraggly chickens, who were pretty much tame, walked around us.

The Chileans talked to Lalo at length and then as the conversation progressed, I noticed that Lalo started to drop some English words in here and there. Eventually he just straight out began to speak English. As it turned out he had lived in England for 5 years, and then went on to Germany, then to France, and finally to Spain. He worked in various jobs in all those countries. Some time ago, he returned to Chile and has been living up in the Andes in his shack for 23 years.

He had a black cook pot hanging over a fire pit, lots of fruit trees, and of course, his chickens. I asked him what the dog eats, and he said the dog has guardian angels who take care of him. Willy asked him if he had cable t.v. (a strange question to ask an old hermit living up in the Andes...but remember, Willy is an Entomologist). He said he only had a c.d. player he listens to sometimes. He also had his gun leaning up against the tree and he said he shoots rabbits from time to time for meat, but he doesn't want to overdo it because there are hunters that come up there and would be upset with him if he over-hunted the area. Rod mentioned through the interpreter that the first time he came up that trail Lalo met him with his gun and demanded, "Who are you and what do you want!!!" They have been friends ever since.

We talked for about an hour and finally got up to go. Lalo shook all our hands and gave us a hug. Well, anyway, maybe I had the honor and distinction of meeting the Ernest T. Bass of Chile. Or maybe what really happened is I saw a reflection of myself in Lalo. Maybe sometime in the future I will be sitting around telling anyone who happens by about all the places I have worked. Even if I don't, so far the highlight of coming to Chile has been meeting Lalo.

(Lalo and Dave outside Lalo's House)