Tales from Valparaiso (and beyond) No. 14

I'm sitting on the deck in front of Eva and Ricardo's Swedish-style wooden house here at the farm near Pinto – outside Chillán in the South of Chile. Ann and the other “wwoofer”, Beth, have headed into Chillán to make enquiries about buses, buy hats etc. etc. and all is quiet here. The countryside here is maybe like summer in rural France, but about twice as lush.

We have been blessed by the Americans we've met on this holiday – the two mid-twenties “wwoofers” here being no exception. It felt somehow dreamlike to walk down, the four of us, across the cut cornfields to the river to swim after our day's work picking blueberries in the hot sun – or maybe it felt as if we were living out a distant memory of something we had done as children. Laura and Beth, along with the two Chilean boys, familiar to Laura from previous visits to the river, and who were already there, chatting over a small fire they had lit on the river bank, climbed the steep bank to jump from an overhanging tree into the deep pool – trying various twisting techniques as they leapt. Ann swam, while I floated on my back, watching the branches above as the current gently took me.

Beth has been a picking partner of Vicente, one of four siblings who work here. The two of them have been hilarious together – listening to his iPod (which has a little speaker) she singing along stridently and dissolving into laughter every few moments. She, in very recently acquired and incipient Spanish, has been keeping up a constant dialogue with Vicente, asking him about his tastes, his friends, etc. etc. (“Ann – how do you say Super-bowl party?”) In between times they pelt each other with unripe berries, or, at one point today, water. Today he nicknamed her “la loca del huerto”. Laura, the other “wwoofer” who runs a professional bakery with her mother in Wisconsin making cakes, spent much of her time working in the kitchen preparing pies, cakes and jam for the café. She left yesterday to head down to another farm further South. Quieter, but with a wry sense of humour, we were immensely sad to see her go. I envy the girls their language – and at one point wondered aloud to Ann if I might not manage to slip a phrase like:” I was like Oh my God!” into my conversation. Ann was not encouraging: “Wrong sex; wrong age-group”.

The music that Beth and Vicente listen to and talk about is familiar to them both – although some of the songs are in Spanish versions – not covered by other singers, but recorded in Spanish by the original singer – for example Beyoncé. Vicente tells me he likes “English” pop singers, amongst whom he includes Aerosmith, along with Elton John, Bryan Adams and Phil Collins. He claimed, to Beth's amazement, not to have heard of the Beatles, but immediately recognised Ann's rendition of A Hard Day's Night.

Every evening Ricardo drives the boxed pickings of the day into Chillán to their “exporter”, who inspects them, marking them for their colour and quality. Scores 1 and 2 get shipped for sale as fresh fruit. Lower categories get “individually quick frozen” and are shipped for use in cooking or other products. The lowest category gets used for juice. The result of the inspection arrives here by e-mail a couple of hours after Ricardo has dropped them off – last night, to Ricardo's surprise (because some of the berries were robbed of their bloom by the wind last week) the category came in as 1. We toasted the result in beer as we tucked into spanish omelette and salad here on the deck outside, while dusk fell and the peewits wheeled, shrieking, infuriating Eva and Ricardo's border collie, Lampiao, who makes it his responsibility to keep a keen eye on any intruder, be they human or animal.

Now the day is cooling, Ann and Beth will be back in an hour or so, Ricardo has just arrived back from today's drop-off with bags of shopping and it's probably time for me to make myself useful helping to prepare some food – let's see what he's got...

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