My overnight bus arrived an hour early into Concepción... sounds familiar? Sat in the cold terminal, trying not to fall asleep whilst waiting for Andrés to pick me up. Andrés is a very old friend, whom I had met back in the days when I was training hard at appreciating the German national beverage in the guise of an exchange student in Dresden, East Germany. Whilst in Peru, saw him many times on MSN, and he always asked when I was coming to Chile. He knew that I had my heart set on going to Argentina, and had given up on my coming. Hence he was pretty surprised when I logged on an internet cafe in Santiago, and said, ok, will make the five hours trip to his city for a visit.
So there he was, at the terminal at the ungodly hour of six thirty in the morning. Understanding I was tired, he gave me the option of having a nap first - for as long as I wanted, then knock on his door and he would make me breakfast. Think we both needed that, that early in the morning!! Later on in the morning, he went out to buy some vegetarian friendly food - for lunch or dinner. Then the elaborate affair of setting out breakfast. It was typically Chilean, mainly with bread, but with an assortment of filling; ham and cheese, avocado, butter, marmelade, honey. He explained that the Chileans were more European in their cuisine than Latino - the numerous plates containing the different food were almost falling off the table!
With his trusty guide, he gave me a briefing of where we could go over the weekend. Though the second most populous city in Chile, Concepción was not really a city of interest - since the city was more or less levelled in an earthquake in 1939, and the consequent architecture not objects of beauty. More interesting and prettier was the countryside. So later on in the afternoon, we set out for Tumbes, a village further north on the peninsula.
Shortly after changing buses, two of Andrés friends' came on board, also bound for Tumbes. They were also exchange students; Patricia from Quebec, Canada and Sandra from Frankfurt, Germany. They hadn't been to Tumbes before, and it was lucky that they got themselves a guide for the day.
The bus dropped us off at Tumbes, a small fishing village - evident by the strong smell of fish, fishermen casting their catch of the day, and rolls of fishing nets on the beach. First stop, to a small natural rock arch, where we gambled with our lives slightly. The rocks were constantly hit by waves, and the surfaces were slippery. Nonetheless we managed to climb over to the other side, and back again in one piece.
Then we backtracked to begin a trek over the small hill and to the other side of the island. It was a good walk, passing through small villages. We walked past a communal salon where the local children were in the process of a party, playing musical chairs. They friendily invited us in, but since we couldn't join in the game and walk away with a small present, we soon left. There were also villages literally only one street long, where everyone lived on the Main Street - cos that's the only one! Though the houses were not perfectly built, there was an air of beauty about them, and casted an impression that the occupants were happy with what little they got. At one village near the sea, a lady invited us into her garden, for an extravagant display of seashell jewellary which local children have made. At the end of the conversation, her son-in-law, a fisherman in diving suit, came back with a basket of his catch, which were mainly shellfish. The lady delightedly picked some of them up, showed us the difference of species and poked the meat, which shrank at the touch, to show how alive and fresh it was. Lovely.
Instead of following the trail back to Tumbes, we took the more adventurous route of the beach. Well, more like by the sea, the sandy beach giving way to big rocks which we had to scramble over. Though I had a few slippery moments, I really enjoyed the walk. Arriving into Tumbes, we saw the taillight of the bus going back to Concepción...whoops, have to wait another half hour! Oh well, we just had to park our bums in the local restuarant for some "empanadas" (pastry) instead.
I have had empanadas before, but found the Chilean ones slightly bland - a fried pastry filled partially with cheese. But that evening, I learnt a new technique of eating it... filling it with "prebre" - a sauce made of onions, parsley and chilli powder marinated in lemon juice. It was so good I tucked my way through five of these!! And made a mental note to recreate these for my Mum to try, when I eventually make it home!
Patricia invited us to her house for dinner - her housemates were in the process of making pancakes. Well, pancakes, I was easily bribed. She lives in an apartment with five other students; two Chileans (very happy and always laughing Isabel, a French teacher and Francisco who studies architecture), two other Quebecans (including the very hospitable Jennifer) and a Canadian from outside Toronto (Simon, Andrés new band member - who for most of the day I thought was called Simone). Was quickly handed a glass of wine and introduced to the inhabitants, and almost as quickly forgotten people's names. Jennifer's boyfriend Damien (from Strasbourg) took on the role of the perfect French chef, dishing up a mountain of pancakes including veggie friendly fillings for us to sample. The evening called back memories of student parties, and almost felt like being a student again. Great!
Despite the mainly French speaking inhabitants, they made a very good effort to speak in Spanish, for the benefit of everyone. In fact, haven't spoken in English for two days myself!! Simon, being North American broke my English silence as he wanted to hear my accent - even though he could speak five languages himself! Whereas in Germany, Andrés and I spoke in German all the time, four years later, we msned and conversed in Spanish. And also for the first time, I heard him speak in English when he joined into Simon and my conversation. So, next time we meet, we must pick up a new language!! :P
Although it was Saturaday night, I was very rubbish and was tired before midnight. Some of the others went out to party the night away, but we had missed the last mirco to Talcahuano, where Andrés lives, and elected to spend the night in his friends' apartment. There was enough space for us all, and Jennifer very generously gave me her bed for the night... hmm! finally some rest!