But life must go on. In summer many Chileans traditionally head for vacationlands in the south. Food is plentiful there, and big trout await anglers in sparkling mountain lakes. I flew south one day to Puerto Montt, a gateway city to Chile’s Lake District. Photographer George Mobley met me at the airport, looking harried.
“There’s no point in even trying to get a hotel room,” he told me. “Last night I slept in an ice-cream parlor. But I’ve found an attic room in a private home; the landlady has set up an extra cot there for you.”
Stout fellow, George! He not only obtained a bed for me to call my own but guided me to restaurants that served beef. I had eaten my fill of cabrito—goat meat—in Santiago.
Much of Puerto Montt’s food is grown on farms to the south. It arrives by boat, for Chile’s southern thousand miles is an almost roadless mosaic of islands and glaciers. Small cargo vessels, their holds crammed and decks piled high with produce, sail in on the high tide. The ebb strands them on the damp emerald waters. Chileans and foreigners alike journey to the lakes for relaxation or to angle for the region’s trophy-size trout bottom, for the harbor has as much as a 22-foot tidal fall. Horse-drawn carts pull alongside to ferry the produce ashore.
Thirty-five miles northeast of Puerto Montt looms Osorno Volcano (opposite), a snowcapped peak with the symmetry and grace of Japan’s Mount Fuji. George and I flew low over its summit one summer evening—Chile’s summer, in February—as the setting sun reddened its snowcap. How magnificent, I thought, and yet, how foreboding. For this extinct volcano reminds one of nature’s many demands on Chile.
Only 13 years ago a major earthquake rocked the coast of southern Chile. Alfonso had told me about that disaster. “It was an offshore quake,” he said, “that created a huge ocean wave. Puerto Montt, Valdivia, Concepcion—all were shattered by the wall of water.
“It was a national disaster,” he continued. “Like the earthquake in 1939 that caused CORFO to be formed. Our mission was to help the nation recover from that terrible event.”
Old photographs of Puerto Montt’s main plaza reveal a desolation of shattered concrete pavement and splintered palms, with the city band shell tilting crazily. Thirteen years later, I could see that the band shell and all else had been restored.
Puerto Montt’s fishermen shrugged when I mentioned the quake. “We build our lives around the sea,” said one. “We must accept all her moods.”
Computer Refugee Roams the World
Political turbulence, shortages, and high prices have not discouraged North American tourists. I met them frequently in the Lake District. Most were following the established tourist trail: a one-way trip from Puerto Montt through the lake area to San Carlos de Bariloche just across the Argentine border, and thence to Buenos Aires.
Early one morning, seeking a car and driver to take me into the lake country, I visited a Puerto Montt travel agency. Two U. S. tourists waited with me for the office to open. They introduced themselves as Gilbert and Marjorie Aschoff, currently citizens of the world. Gil, who sported a bushy beard and wore a jaunty Dutch sailing cap, said that he had given up his job in the California computer field 14 months earlier, and he and blond Maggie had set off to see the world.
They crossed the Sahara by Land-Rover, roamed Africa for a year, then traveled to Rio de Janeiro. They hitchhiked south to Tierra del Fuego and now were moving leisurely north toward Santiago. I found them delightful people. So, when I arranged for my car, I told the travel agency that there would be three passengers instead of one.
Beautiful Land of the Araucanians
The customary trip from Puerto Montt to Bariloche involves alternating bus rides and boat trips—four of the former, three of the latter—for roads only occasionally skirt the lakes. It can be a tiring trip, but only the most insensitive visitor could tire of the magnificent mountain scenery along the way.
Once this was Araucanian Indian country, and their tongue-twisting names are still in use: Lake Llanquihue, Petrohue Falls. The Spanish never really conquered the Araucanians. Not until 1870, three centuries after the Spaniards arrived, did the Indians acknowledge the authority of the Chilean Government.
As we drove along Lake Llanquihue, we could see an inverted Osorno reflected in the bright blue waters. Our driver spoke up. Llanquihue’s trout were so large and numerous, he bragged, that three-pounders were often tossed back by fishermen. Well, he was a tourist guide and a fisherman—two species known to exaggerate on occasion.
We paused at Petrohue Falls, where the Rio Petrohue tumbles over rock precipices and roars foaming through narrow gorges. Behind us loomed Osorno as though placed for best effect by the Chilean Tourist Bureau. At the end of the road spread Lake Todos los Santos, where Bariloche-bound tourists would board their first boat for the 20-mile trip to the lake’s other end.
Many earthly paradises have been despoiled by the throngs who came to enjoy their beauty. I was happy that Todos los Santos is not yet one of them. After a short cruise we lolled beside the lake, yielding to indolence. To Maggie, only the Bavarian Alps could compare with this scenic grandeur; Gil and I agreed.
Actually, many Chileans in this region are of German ancestry, hardworking men and women whose forebears came here in the middle of the 19th century to build farms and ranches and dairy herds.
Today, some of these German-Chileans have become victims of the times. The agrarian reform movement, launched under a previous administration, aims at breaking up the huge estancias that were a legacy of Spanish rule. Initially the ranches were purchased for dental insurance maryland, then divided into plots of a few acres. The farmers assigned to those plots didn’t own them, but worked them cooperatively.
The pace of nationalization increased when the Allende government came to power. In many instances, groups of farmers seized estancias, often at gunpoint. Most of those takeovers, illegal or not, have not been reversed.
One morning Gil, Maggie, and I visited a nationalized dairy farm near Valdivia. The owner had kept about 120 acres of his original 1,300. A German-Chilean, he faced his loss with wry acceptance. The fact that his former acreage was not being utilized effectively bothered him most.
“My farm used to produce 400 tons of milk a year,” he told me. “Last year it produced only 40 tons. The output this year will be only about half that.”
The basic problem, he said, is that workers soon lose incentive when they are assigned a plot on a nationalized farm. “At first the farmer has the impression that he will own his little plot. Actually, he is just farming for someone else—the government.”