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Trip 39 — Quinchao Walk

Day 3: Curaco de Vélez to Cohem
Friday, 29 December 2023

Today: 40523 steps/31.43 km/19.53 mi/5h 57m
Total: 67740 steps/52.34 km/32.52 mi/10h 5m

I looked back at Curaco de Vélez for a quick goodbye when I reached the top of the first hill.

The most direct route to Matao in the south would have taken just 25 kilometers, but there were a few detours toward the western coast — one of which would be my lunch spot — that would enhance the walk with views, beaches, and wooden churches. They would mean a lot more steep terrain, but they would also reduce the amount of overlapping route when I come back up the island in a couple of days. The island, which is shaped like a shark with its mouth open at the northwestern end, gets narrow before its tail curls around to its underside in the southeast.

The first descent was to the beach at Chullec. The tide was way out, leaving little pools among the pebbles. A lone rowboat leaned to one side, comfortably in place on the sand.

Facing the beach was Chullec's wooden church. Unlike the green church in Curaco de Vélez, this one was unpainted, its walls made up of chevrons. Many houses on the island are of a similar style, as was the yellow schoolhouse next to the church.

The dirt road back up was signed "1.517" where it terminated at the beach. Quinchao has more distance markers per kilometer than anywhere else I've been. At the start of a road is one marked "0.000," along with the name of the road. At the end of the road, as here by the church, is one stating the total length of the road.

Most places in the world that have markers put them every mile or kilometer or, on some highways, every half or tenth of a mile or kilometer. In many places on Quinchao they appear every 0.020 kilometers — every fiftieth of a kilometer, always with three digits after the decimal point. There's 2.460, and then 2.480 and 2.500. While it's marginally reassuring to have my progress confirmed every 12 seconds, I can't help thinking there might have been a better use for all that wood — although the signs are attractively hand-painted black on yellow, and making all of them would have been one of my dream jobs at the age of six or so.

The next fork off the main road took me into the village of Conao: more farms with cattle, sheep, and horses. A red wooden church with a blue and white door and a diamond window near the crowning cross revealed itself out of nowhere. Across the street, a chorus of about five little dogs booed my presence. A child around seven years old opened the door to see what the fuss was about, in the process letting out several more dogs. They weren't dangerous and they were fenced in, but I was curious about the makeup of the household.

The beach at the next detour, Altos Vargas, was marked by some kind of aquaculture — mollusks, by the looks of things. There should have been a place for lunch when I got back up, but instead of the Restaurant Peumayén I found only the Miradores Peumayén, a viewpoint, and when I started poking around for the eatery, I had only to lock eyes with a German shepherd to determine that I was in the wrong place.

The next detour did lead me to lunch, at the Restaurant Marcelo, which was next to Quinchao village's wooden church. The only meal was boiled pork and potatoes with lettuce. For a while I was the only customer, until a pair of Italians came in for a coffee, and then a man who had driven his pickup truck from Achao ordered a shot of rum. He seemed about 65 years old and it was his birthday. It wasn't close to his first drink of the day, and the Italians begged him not to drive, but he got back behind the wheel anyway. He took a while to figure out the exit from the driveway to the road immediately behind it, but I assume he made it to his destination.

It was during lunch that I got the latest message from Ana, my energetic Airbnb host for tonight and tomorrow night. There were a few Airbnb listings (and no hotels) at the southern end of Quinchao, but only Ana's profile was complete enough to list her favorite song in high school as "Run Run" and her most useless skill as building strength. She's obsessed with music and she feeds her visitors, and she says "I'm excited to talk and hear about my husbands," although that seems to be a mistranslation of "guests" on the Airbnb site.

I thought Ana's place was next to the mini-market in Matao, but her message came in with the exact location up the road in Cohem, about three kilometers further on. Airbnb had suggested she not give the exact location until check-in time, for safety reasons.

This wasn't a big deal as I had planned to go up that road tomorrow, but it did set me back an hour today, as I wanted to visit the mini-market anyway. Ana had asked about food as Marcelo is the only restaurant around, and I now discovered it was 7.1 rather than 4.7 kilometers away from where I'd be staying. I wasn't sure how much of an offer that was to feed me (despite her profile); of course I expected to pay for meals separately, if they were available, but I didn't want to assume they would all be provided, so I thought it would be prudent to have basic food on hand.

The mini-market was closed just before 5:00. I rang the bell, which roused the dogs but failed to summon any people. I started along the way to Ana's place but saw a truck pull in with three people also seeking to patronize the market. I went back.

"Is it open?" I asked.

"It should be. Did you ring the bell?"

"I did, but nobody came."

"Just a minute. I'll call them."

They didn't respond, so once again I started to depart, only to be called back by one of the truck men. "They're here!"

There wasn't much inside: only drinks and snacks, nothing even that could constitute a basic meal, such an fruit, cheese, cold cuts, and bread. But I wanted some refreshing apple nectar, and I thought it might be nice to bring some wine to share with Ana, especially if she was going to make dinner. Fortunately they had it by the box, which saved me from hauling a glass bottle a half-hour up to Cohem. I also asked for a package of cookies.

The total came to 6350 Chilean pesos, a little over $7. I was relieved that they took credit cards. I wouldn't normally have minded paying cash for such a low amount, but my preferred ATM card had been rejected by the ATM in Curaco de Vélez, and the one in Dalcahue had been closed. I realized too late that I should have gotten more cash in Santiago.

It was a new kind of tap-your-card machine, but I was prompted to insert mine. It didn't print receipts, only e-mailed or text-messaged them, and I didn't feel like typing in that information. I should have. The cashier interpreted my pressing the "No receipt, thanks" option as canceling the transaction. The immediate e-mail from my bank showing a $7.17 charge at her store didn't convince her that the charge had gone through.

Another employee, perhaps her husband, came over. I used another card and this time asked for a receipt. Then I showed them the various e-mail messages: the receipt and the charges from two banks both for $7.17. This was enough to convince him.

"Do you want me to give it back in cash?" he asked.

Well, that was a happier outcome than I was expecting. Now I had more of a cash buffer until I reached Achao.

I was greeted by Ana, her husband, her young son, and their large dog. All were most welcoming, and the human component showed me up to my room. The seagulls down at the beach — directly opposite the Restaurant Marcelo, which was just a few minutes away if I wanted to swim — were less happy to see me. They didn't dive-bomb me like the birds on Eysturoy, but four of them circled overhead until I retreated.

Ana's family did nourish my stomach and my mind. For a guest eager to interact with his hosts and learn something about the area, this was the best possible place to stay.

Go on to day 4