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Trip 39 — Quinchao Walk

Day 4: Cohem to Traiguén via the Matao and Chequián beaches
Saturday, 30 December 2023

Today: 16251 steps/12.96 km/8.05 mi/2h 19m
Total: 83991 steps/65.30 km/40.58 mi/12h 24m

Luna the dog was the first to welcome me to the farm up at the top of the Cohem hill. Jorge waved a hello from the house. Ana and their seven-year-old son, Yeri (short for Yerald), were close behind.

"Would you like a drink?" Ana asked. "Fruit juice."

That was most welcome, as the ups and downs on the Cohem road had been fierce. Parts of it looked like a roller coaster in the distance.

"Una cervecita?" Jorge asked when I'd finished the juice. A beer — but with the diminutive ending commonly used. Tecito is a cup of tea. Pancito is a little bit of bread. Karencita showed me around a museum. If it sounds so small, it can't be bad for you, can it?

We took our beers up to the terrace. There was a clear view of Quinchao village, where I'd had lunch, and on this clear day we could see all the way to Michinmahuida, a perfectly conical snow-capped volcano on the mainland.

They showed me to my room. I had two beds to choose from. There were more downstairs. Ana and Jorge once hosted eight people.

"Mate?" they offered — yerba mate, rhyming with "latte," a cup full of green leaves to which they replenished hot water. We passed around the cup, taking turns drinking this mild simulant through a metal straw with a flat head.

We talked as they made dinner; I offered twice to help but was assured there was no work for me to do.

"Who's the best U.S. president?" they asked.

A thought-out response would have involved mental matrices and categories of competency, to be scored via laboriously considered rules, taking far more time than anyone wanted. So I answered hastily: "Barack Obama."


"Because health care in the United States is far too expensive, and he made it accessible," I said.

"I heard that," Ana said. "I know someone who had to go to the hospital in America. It cost three thousand dollars a day."

"Three thousand — how many pesos?" Jorge asked.

"Three million," Ana answered. "For one night." She calculated for a moment. "We can live on three thousand dollars for four years."

That's because they mostly live off the land. They own chickens, ducks, sheep, and pigs. They grow potatoes, tomatoes, fava beans, lettuce, pumpkin, cinnamon, and much more. Noticing my sunburned skin (all from the first short day, before I remembered to use the cream), they showed me the greenhouse, plucked an aloe leaf, and broke it into a cold paste for me to soothe my skin.

The only foods they pay for, then, are sugar, tea, rice, oil, butter, flour, and similar staples. They make their own bread, sweetening the air in the house. They pay for electricity but not water, which they draw up to a tower above the house in order to let gravity carry it through the pipes.

As a pre-dinner snack, they brought out sopapillas — fried dough with a salsa topper. I still wasn't sure what dinner would be, but I was pretty certain by now that they were including me in their plans.

Yeri was an expert soccer player. He asked me which soccer teams I supported. I confessed that I didn't follow any of them, but if I had to choose one it would have been the women's World Cup teams with Megan Rapinoe.

Yeri went on to name his favorite teams around the globe, and then he went over to the hanging world map. "There are one hundred ninety-five countries," he said. (This is the number I go by as well, not counting both Greenland and Denmark, or similar territories separately.) "How many have you been to?"

"Almost a hundred."

"Half of them!" Ana said.

"It's ninety-six or ninety-seven. I'm on track to visit half before I'm half a century old next year."

Yeri then kept naming countries, asking whether I'd been to them. The Middle East was a touchy subject; following one of their leaders, they were firmly of the opinion that the current dire situation is a result of Israel's aggression.

"But Hamas started it," I said.

"But Palestine is so small compared to Israel. It's an unfair battle. It's like Chile and the United States."

"But Chile would never invade the United States. Hamas represents Palestine." I wouldn't mention my relatives in Israel until much later. "I do agree that the situation is terrible." That appeased them and I got off the subject as quickly as I could.

Dinner was boiled pork finished off on the wood-burning stove, accompanied by rice and diced tomatoes. While we ate, we watched the History Channel. It was a program on aliens. Jorge and Ana believe in the existence of other life forms. They also don't believe humans ever landed on the moon. I maintained a noncommittal stance, but that Buzz Aldrin book from my Eysturoy walk had a big effect on me.

I was pleased when they accepted my offer to wash the dinner dishes.

On the way through Cohem I'd seen, to my great surprise, a sign for a museum. Jorge and Ana knew the owner and confirmed that it was open, and so on my way out today I paid a visit.

Karen showed me around the small but rich cabin full of artifacts from the past. Of note were the lanterns and candle holders: Electricity didn't get to Cohem until 1995, and Karen used to carry a candle to school. They used a car battery to power the television set; when it ran out, they would bring it to nearby Matao to be sent to Achao for recharging, leaving them without television for a few days. There were also plowing implements, items for roasting beans and such, early soccer cleats, and the suitcases her father, Carlos, who joined us near the end of the tour, brought to Patagonia to work in the fields.

Karen's mother, Calendaria, the museum's founder, invited me into their garden to present me with fresh goldenberries, and then they walked me up the hill so I could see down to where Calendaria had spent the morning collecting shellfish. It was quite the slope to climb up carrying a basket of mollusks. A few decades ago, they would have brought shellfish to Matao to exchange for manufactured goods with people from Achao, but that bartering — indeed, the whole exchange — has ended, and now they eat what they catch.

I thanked them for the informative tour and headed down the hill back to the road. My aim was to round the beaches at Matao and Chequián before high tide made it impossible, and then to return to Marcelo for lunch.

The majesty of the green fields under steep hills spread out below me. Cattle roamed the expanse like wildlife on the Serengeti. It was almost the most tranquil place I could imagine, except that I picked up one of those large bumblebees, who followed me for three kilometers, circling me continuously.

"It's OK, you can join me," I said from the start, as if talking to a pet. It didn't seem so bad at first. But ten minutes later I was insistently instructing, "Please go away," and finally, "Damn you! Get out of here!"

It finally left by the time I reached the wooden church in Matao, built at the end of the 19th century. Opposite was a colorful cemetery. At the water was a mussel-farming operation.

The tide was coming in and I had to hurry around the next bulge to reach the beach at Chequián. I picked up another bee, and then another one. They enticed me to go faster along what had become a rocky shore.

After nearly an hour from Matao, I reached a stretch of rocks covered in seaweed. Maybe I was too late. Could I pick my way along them without slipping? I had to try. It was a long way back. Besides, I could see the Chequián beach just ahead.

I found just enough breaks in the rocks that I could scamper ahead at a reasonable pace. Chequián had another church, under construction, as well as a salmon operation. I followed the road to the end, kilometer post 38.560, measured from the ferry landing all the way north. A bus was turning around — this was it. I resumed along the beach.

I lost bees and then acquired them again. It seemed the way to get rid of them was to make significant contact with them. If they landed in my hair and I brushed them away, or if they happened to fly into my hand, they would leave for a while. But they always came back, muggers of my serenity.

There was plenty of noisy bird life as well: lapwings, ibises, and gulls. Occasionally they'd hover over me and I'd veer to the water, wondering whether they were shooing me away from a nest or whether their positioning was coincidental.

It was midway between high and low tides, and I'd long passed the last house and the end of the marked path, but I could see that I was going to make it. The dirt track appeared, perpendicular to the beach, with a 1.000 marking — exactly one kilometer to the main road.

Marcelo's special was fried conger eel, and I lingered at the restaurant and then down the street near the school, from where I could see Ana and Jorge's house just across the inlet. If there hadn't been water, I could have gotten there in about 15 minutes.

Instead I retraced my walk from yesterday, almost an hour and a half, around the inlet and along the Cohem road, up, down, up, down, too many ascents in the late afternoon. There wasn't much traffic near the end of the Cohem road, and so I approached kilometer post 2.920 — where the road veers to the right but Ana and Jorge's place is straight ahead — with only the sounds of my feet, the calling of the sheep, and the bass drone of a persistent lawn mower. Or rather a bumblebee.

Go on to day 5