Slumming it in Valdivia

I arrived in Valdivia, a bit exhausted from my experience with the Mapuche family and the long bus journeys. I was to help in a café in nearby Parque Oncol, also arranged by the travel agency, to make up for the failed experiment with the Mapuche. Next morning, a park ranger drove me to the Parque, 30 kilometers from Valdivia, a forested area ca. 500 meters high, famed for its Darwin frog, which I heard croaking loudly. The ranger unloaded me in front of a house which I was to share with other volunteers for the next two weeks. He told me to come to the café in an hour or so, 100 meters further down the road.

A sleepy looking girl opened the front door, and I looked around. I had some food stuff with me, which I wanted to put into the fridge. I opened its door, and things surrounded with blue, green or grey furs looked back at me – not that carrots, peppers and other by now unidentifiable things are supposed to look that way. In between, brown, red, or yellow sticky puddles – maybe the residues of carrots, peppers etc. which had left their furry state behind. I closed the fridge door. Mhmmm. What would the bathroom look like? There were two of them, I made the mistake to peer into the toilet bowls – apparently, the toilet flushes didn’t really work, a brown soap with little brown dumplings floating onto the surface, next to them bins with overflowing used toilet paper. Phew. Sinks covered with a white-ish-grey surface. A careful look into the bath tubs – ceramics covered by brown stains, but ok, there was running water. I asked where I would sleep. My room mate was still asleep, so I couldn’t get in yet. I waited, it was freezing cold in the house. At least there was a spacious, bright and airy living room, with several sofas, a big table, 10 chairs, an open fire place. A guitar was lying on one sofa. Everywhere there were glasses, mugs, ashtrays. A young man shuffled in, said Hola, collected some items and took them to the kitchen, where he started the washing up. We talked for a while – my ability to understand rapid Spanish isn’t really improving. Finally, the young man in my room got up, and I could move in. I asked for bed linens – he took them off another bed and gave them to me, I doubt they were freshly laundered, but for these instances I carry a sleep sheet and pillow case. Still – I asked myself more and more what I was doing here. But I would not give up right away again, I do have my pride.

Around 11am I walked over to the café, where I was warmly welcomed by Luis and Nieta, two elder employees. They showed me what I was to do: Basically, just helping wherever I could, especially with foreign guests without Spanish. Of those, there were hardly any, most guests where Chileans, who thought my stumbling Spanish was amusing and supported me. In the next hours, I learned how to prepare and serve food and drinks, and within a short while, it was like I’d done it for years. Ok, that would do.

In the evening I tiredly returned to the house. In total, there were 10 people living there, all volunteers, all Chileans, with one exception all in their early Twenties, with some I spoke. Later, there was to be an Asado (BBQ), but I’d already eaten in the café, was very tired, and wanted to go to bed relatively early. A mistake, as it turned out. Around 11pm, the party started – lots of alcohol, loud music, and all the time something bumping loudly. My bedroom shared a thin wooden wall with the living room, and there was no chance for sleep. Briefly, I considered joining the party, but the problem was: First, I didn’t really understand them, and second, I wasn’t that interested getting plastered until the small hours with a bunch of young people whom I couldn’t talk to.

And until the small hours it went, getting more and more loud and drunk. Around 5am, my room mate stumbled into my room and against the wardrobe, taking the door with him. I was tired and irritable, we got into a little bi-lingual dispute, and finally I threw him out of (his) room. And then I lay awake, adrenaline running high, and thought: WHY do I do these things? What do I have to prove? Why do I live in a pigsty, with a bunch of people I have nothing in common with, and with whom I can’t talk? Yes, working in the café was fun, but to live here? I really would like a certain minimum standard in my life. No furry things in my fridge (unless I produced them myself). And under no circumstances whatsoever toilets such as these. Yes – because I’ve seen so much poverty in the last months, I do suffer from bad consience whenever I am not happy with my living conditions – there are billions of people worse off, so how can I complain about a bit of dirt. But – does it change anything when I make my peace with furry food? It’s like that old argument: Will people in the third world be better off when I eat all the goodies on my plate? Isn’t it enough when I appreciate that I am (normally) the lucky person with full plates and clean fridges?

With these insights I decided that I wouldn’t need to feel too bad about not wanting to live in a pigsty. So I left also this beautiful place behind, with a tasty lomito sandwich lovingly prepared by Luis and Nieta and their warm wishes -they now told me that they’d never thought I could live in that house.

Someone from the Parque-organization tried to convince me to stay, they would clean everything and not have any more parties. I had a vision of being the subject of filthy looks while everyone was on their knees, scrubbing and polishing, and in the evenings sitting on the sofa and reciting the bible – not. I politely declined. They drove me back to Valdivia, where I had difficulties finding a room – Valdivia is very popular, and it was high season – but finally I managed to find a small hostal, and it was clean and quiet. I was happy. Perhaps middle-class, but happy.

I had to leave this hospitable place again after three days because of overbooking, and they placed me next door in something that suspiciously looked like a halfway house for people with mental and other problems (not that I would know from own experience (yet), but that’s what they looked like on TV – and no, I don’t think they wanted to tell me something). After 2 days, I had enough again, pulled out my credit card, and moved into one of the better hotels of the city, where I soothed my frayed nerves at the poolside. From there, I left to meet up with a friend in Santa Cruz, and then began the trek northwards to the Atacama desert. And I am pleased to tell that I had a great journey in a backpaper bus, finally here some pictures as preview.










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