We were told this would be a day of immersion into the lives of the ordinary people of the area. Our first stop was at a small rural school thar served a community of approximately 35 families. OAT is a part of Grand Circle Travel and a small portion of what we pay for a tour is given to the Grand Circle Foundation which in turn helps worthwhile projects in areas around the world. This school was one of those projects. In addition after having visited the school we could make an additional donation that would designated for just this school.
As we exited the bus a student would shyly come up to us, take our hand and lead us into the building. It was my good fortune to have Martello pick me. He was in the 1st thru 3rd grade class and he will be someone very special when becomes an adult. English isn't introduced until grade 6, but he proudly showed me he could count to ten in English. I then counted to ten in Spanish and from that moment on we were best buds.
There two teachers, one doubling as an administrator, plus a food service person for the school. Both teachers are college graduates and the administrator had additional schooling with the food person being licensed in that area. The teachers union was actually on strike that day, but both teachers were still teaching. They explained that the families had no one to care for the children if they were home, so the teachers still came to school to provide a good place for the children and a noon meal for them. Neither teacher lives here, both commute daily by bus, with the trip being 30 minutes for one and 45 minutes for the other. As far as the number of years they have been at this school, the teacher learned she had been assigned to this school the day before the first day of school.
The 1st through 3rd grade classroom. All the desks are next to the window for maximum light. Before the gifts from tour members there were no electric lights in the rooms and other than the two classrooms, all the other floors were dirt. It is a very poor area, but the people are determined to give their children the best opportunity possible.
The children, there are nine students in the school, four in the lower three grades, five in the upper grades, preformed a traditional folk dance for us. This was followed by another dance where some of us paired with a student. Martello made a beeline for me and we had a great time. The girl who had led Linda in from the bus, an upper grade student, danced with Linda. We will remember this for a long time.
Next came a visit to a Patigonian home. The rooms in the house were not large, the downstairs had a kitchen, small dining area, living room and dining room, plus the bathroom. Upstairs were six bedrooms, most were used when the extended family visited. There was also an outside kitchen that was used when family can. There is always another building that has a large room where all the family can gather at the same time. As you might guess, family is very important.
It looks like Linda is auditioning for junior tour guide, dressed almost the same as Annie. I know what Linda would say about that statement, "In your dreams Bob, in your dreams."
After yet another bus ride it was over the river and through the fields so to speak to get to where we were having lunch.
Lunch was to be a real family meal, just as the family would enjoy. A fire had been built earlier which had heated a number of rocks. By the time we had arrived it had burned down to coals. The coals were removed, leaving the hot rocks on the ground.
A tub full of mussels was dumped on the rocks, followed by some sea squirt, chorizo and chicken.
Ferns were placed over this and then potato cakes, followed by more ferns and a plastic sheet to keep all the steam in. I may not have gotten the order exactly right but that's close enogh. It was left covered for 75 minutes.
When waiting for the cooking to take place some of us made sopapillas while others took photos.
Later, one person in the group tried her hand at spinning wool on a hand spinner that looked like a top and is called a drop spindel. She provided great entertaiment, not only having the others in our group laughing, but also the elderly woman who was trying to teach her the technique. At least Linda was willing try. Awesome Linda, the Fumble Fingered Sweet Spinner.
Removing the steamed, cooked food. I knew I forgot something, it was the potatoes. I'm not sure I will ever be able to eat what passes of potatoes in the US after repeatedly having real potatoes down here on top of awesome potatoes in Scandinavia in the past. Potatoes originated in South America and they have some 200 different varieties, and the people here can tell the difference between them. I'll say one thing, they have nothing that tastes anywhere near as bad as an Idaho baking potato, it's no wonder people have to pile goop on them to eat the things. Why is it Americans can always ruin a good food?
Mussel man Bob. Mussels are one of my favorite foods and did I ever chow down on them. Platters where loaded up with the mussels, chicken, potatoes and potato cakes then taken it inside where everyone went except for me and two of the older men from the family. We squated down by the hot rocks and proceeded to eat mussel after mussel after mussel after mussel.
Eventually going inside, it was more of the same and I devoured three plates full of mussels. I learned it was by far the record for mussel eating on the tour. What can I say, I love mussels. Fat Bob.
Given time I could have eaten all of these. The ladies thought my mussel gorging was funny. I'm thinking maybe we should start wintering (their summertime) down here, except there may be a mussel shortage if we do. I guess our usual shrimp tacos will just have to do.
And you think the price of gas is high. It is why so many Chileans rely on buses to get around. Remember those teachers who rode the bus to work? With tolls for the highway and gas costs, it would be over $50 a day for them to drive to and from the school. Once again, when you think we have it bad in America, be glad you live there and not someplace like Chile. As our Chilean guide said, Chile no longer has a middle class, only the very rich and everyone else.