Tales from Valparaiso (and beyond) No. 13

Our taxi driver in Chillán today told us that he was a nephew of Violeta Parra. We were transferring from one bus terminal to another after a night's journey from Frutillar. After two weeks travelling by air, ferry and bus, seeing fjords, glaciers, whales, volcanoes, albatrosses, condors – all at very close range – we were on our way to an organic farm here a few miles outside Chillán where we're “wwoofing” for two weeks. Our hosts, Ricardo and Eva, are, respectively, from German and Swedish backgrounds, which gives them a similar family history to young fellow-wwoofer Laura, whose family moved to Wisconsin four generations ago from Sweden.

Our decision to volunteer on an organic farm was to avoid the superficiality of being a mere tourist for such an extended period of time. After an hour of picking blueberries I started to wonder if being a mere tourist might, after all, be alright. At half-time we were called for a drink of delicious raspberry juice with our fellow-workers, which was a refreshing moment. Our other workers are all locals, mostly quite young girls.

“This is Robert and Ann – they're from Scotland”
“You know - where men wear skirts and play bagpipes?” - explained Ann.
“And make a very famous drink – anyone know what?” quizzed Ricardo.
“That's right – which is a sought-after quality drink as wine is here” - added Ricardo.
“And there's a famous film...”
Corazon Valiente!” volunteered another girl
“That's the one!”

This led on to discussions about Scotland's relationship to England, the United Kingdom, minority languages and much more – and comparisons with the identity of the Easter Islanders and the Mapuche culture [Ann and I had, a few days ago, briefly, heard Mapudungun spoken in the indigenous area of the National Park in Chiloe].

The farm here, famous originally for its jams, was founded by Eva's mother, Brita, who was a member of a family of Swedish missionaries. A building and camp site beyond the bottom of the farm is still used for childrens' summer camps. For much of the afternoon the sound of happy teenagers playing drum kit and bass guitar was the backdrop to our labours; the other intermittent sound that of the peewits in the next-door field. We pickers spoke little, trying to keep up our speed, but also trying not to pick under-ripe berries, not to rub off the natural wax etc. (“...the Americans like the wax”). An hour or so after we finished Ricardo was off to Chillán to deliver the blueberries to his exporter. I suppose they'll be in the shops in California sometime tomorrow!

I think both Ann and I acquitted ourselves well, each picking two and a half baskets in three hours – more than might have been expected of us on our first day, from what Ricardo said. Tomorrow we may be doing a full seven hours – which will be more of a test, though Laura says that the cooler mornings make for pleasant picking.

A companionable evening – Laura and Ann put together a lovely salad for the five of us – bright stars outside and the sound of the River Chillán beyond the childrens' camp – yes, definitely more alright than being a mere tourist!

Previous Next


A fiennes.org site

Mr McFall’s Chamber is a registered charity: SC028348

Design by fogbank.co.uk