People always say that the incredible thing about Chile is the contrasts, that you can surf one day and ski the next. And while I know intellectually about the proximity of beach to mountains, people also said this when I lived in Oregon, where I never did either.
The last week in Chile has been a telling recap, a summary of very many things you can find in this country, from elegant, wine-matched-to-the-food-matched-to-the-dessert near the best left break in South America, at a surf lodge with a sitting hammock hung beside the fire, to petrified rolls served with anemic margarine beside Néscafe at a hostel we had to walk up through a shopping gallery and past several locked gates to access, up a long, winding stairway with a puddle firmly entrenched at floor two-and-a-half in a city whose greatest current claim to fame is the formerly tall apartment building split at the mid-torso, and laying flat on its back near the access to the main highway.
But Chile is beautiful in many, many places, and I had the chance over the last week to see arching beautiful yellow-pompomed aromo trees drooping over rainsoaked highways while a fine insistent rain hammered past. And I’ve seen brackish waters where locals harvest salt, where great white herons swoop past, opening their wings in a giant fan, and cows matching the heathery red plants walk splashily and sloppily through the salty glop as I snapped it all happily.
And then there was the giant, low, bright white cloud that hovered over a town that I spied from a bridge. I imagined a woman pouring her morning tea and talking to relative in the next town over. Sushine? What sunshine? We’re socked in with a low, white cloud. Because it’s impossible to imagine what a nearby town’s weather is like, when yours is so very different.
And there was the beach at Pichilemu. Black sand and a frothy minty milkshake of water, spilling in every direction, Dawn dishwashing-liquid green and every shade of white. And in it, bobbing, like prehensile fingers of some unseen sea monster, black neoprene-suited surfers, waiting for the next big wave to roll in. And they would paddle furiously and hop atop their boards and execute turn after practiced turn until surfer went one way and the board went the next, and they’d paddle out to do it all again.
And then, on a whim, maybe a trip up to Las Termas (the hotsprings) at Chillan. We rented snowchains, wondering if perhaps they were overkill. And as we thud thud thudded over barely sleety asphalt, the asphalt disappeared under first a slick, then a coat, and finally a fluffy layer of the most perfect snowball-making snow. Where we were planning to stay was the very last stop before the road to the ski resort, but five km below, people were already skiing and snowboarding towards us, in our tiny red, low-riding rental car. And when we got where we were going, there were four feet of snow on the ground, which collected in the cuffs of my pants as I walked, just like it did when I was a child, but now I was smart enough to shake it out before going inside and having it melt in streams around my freezing ankles.
And the snow kept falling, and giant tractors came to push it out of the way and bring it somewhere else and I scooped some up in my hand and ate it, which you can’t do with the black sand in Pichilemu, but I think I love them both, all the same. And it’s true. Chile is incredibly varied. And I chose well when I chose to live here.
Yeah yeah, photos forthcoming, a girl’s got to work, you know. In the meantime, watch the video up top for my song of the moment, thanks to travel companion, R who drives like a pro in all conditions (tested: dry, mud, gravel, rutted, washboard, ice, sleet, snow, rain, wind), and has excellent musical taste. The video was filmed at Pichilemu and we listened to this song a ridiculous number of times, at my insistence (sorry R).