Thursday, October 15, 2009

Pelequén, or the town we never meant to visit. Getting happily lost in Chile

For weeks, an idea has been brewing in my mind. And that idea can be summed up in one word: wickertown. Chile (or maybe all of Latin America) has a funny way of clumping together all the stores of the same kind and of nominating various towns as the birthplace or capital of a specific item. My store clump was to be wicker, and the capital of wicker in Chile, as everyone knows, is Chimbarongo.

The idea of going to Chimbarongo was born of several people mentioning the town to me. There was Waldo, in whose house I saw a wall hanging from Chimbarongo, Claudio who had recently gone to see some friends, even Cynthia, who had the sheet next to mine the last time I was selling stuff on the street (should I tell this story?), who used to live there. Chimbarongo it was. Not out of a great love of wicker, but the desire to get out of Santiago and go someplace different. Oh, and to take the train.

estacion central desde adentro

Well, with Abby in tow (or maybe she had me in tow), we certainly did do something different. The plan was to meet at Estación Central, and from there take the commuter rail (metrotrén) south, past Rancagua, all the way to the end of the line, in San Fernando. It was picturesque, it was. Unfortunately, photos are nonexistent, as the windows (plexiglass, as a friend of Abby's pointed out, so that people don't break the windows when they throw rocks (which they no longer do, it would seem)) were stained and scratched. But still, endless swaths of orange California poppies lined the train tracks, and jaggedy snowcapped peaks punctuated the view. So great was the view, and so pleasant the trip, that Abby and I twittered (no, not that twittered) away for hour after hour, and for 1700 pesos (about $3.25), it seemed to have a great peso-to-to hour ratio, even if the announcements were sparse.

Which is how we ended up here:

(notice pretty swaths of orange California poppies, or golden thimbles (dedales de oro) as people call them here.

People with great vision will notice that this is, in fact, Pelequén, not San Fernando at all. Hmmm, tricky that. Lucky for me, Abby is an optimist, and the people on the train were incredibly enthusiastic that we go see the oddly onion-domed church that dominates the town. So there at the second-to-last (not last!) stop on the train, we got off to poke around. Abby tells her version of the story (which jumps to the chase and actually takes you to wickertown, which this blog entry does not).

So, off we trudged, through a completely unattended train station, and ghost town (it was a holiday), and approached this cray pas meets Russian-themed (?) church named for Santa Rosa de Lima.

church in pelequén

The church was vacant, lovely, and dark inside, like you'd expect a church to be. It had some luminous, geometric stained glass windows:

stained glass detail, pelequén

And some old black and white tiles that seemed terribly goth for such a stately construction:


And a gorgeous garden outside with trellised wisteria and roses, and a pretty fountain, which you can see at Abby's post, and palm trees, one of which you can see here (wisteria in foreground):

church, pelequén

And then one palm tree which mysteriously proclaims 1. place of prayer and 2. don't walk on the grass. Which makes them seem related, which I'm sure they're not, and of course we didn't.

signs in pelequén

And then, quick like gringas, we zipped up the pasarela (pedestrian overpass), past two women, mother and daughter, most likely, who were heading over the highway with us, to take a photo that reminded me of geometry class and fish eye lenses, and how I miss having one, but not the other.

geometry, pasarela pelequén

One more look over our shoulders at the off-plan church that made its way onto the itinerary anyway:

church in pelequén

And then, just several hours late, we stood by the highway with several of our closest friends until a bus came along that when I said "Chimbarongo?" They said, "Subense!" (hop on!). And we did.

More soon, but the moral of the story here is multiply-branched.

-When you are traveling with me, you should be alert, as I have a smite of the spacey sometimes, and may stay on the train until it reverses direction, though I'm not sure I will make that particular mistake again any time soon.
-Abby is a super travel companion, and also unerringly (but not annoyingly) optimistic.
-Patience is a virtue, as is not forcing the plan you thought you had.
-People in small towns in Chile eye two snaphappy gringas with curiousity, but not enough to bother actually making eye contact or talking to us.
-Chile, as previously suspected, has more beauty than could ever be captured on digital media.


Margaret said...

Yet once again- the pleasures of off-the-beaten path and the importance of not getting too hung up on the plan! Getting there is sometime more than half the fun!

Annje said...

I love your pics too. Especially of that church. I am not religious, but I love the beauty of churches. There was a cathedral in Cuenca, Ecuador that I fell so much in love with that I considered converting just so I could worship there (but I digress).

It looks like you had beatiful day and nice company (that Abby does seem optimistic--which can only help in a situation like that)

I'd have been a little more anxious "We have to get to wickertown" I think I am much more destination oriented then journey oriented--someone should knock some sense into me.

Bystander said...

We must take you further afield one day. Just have to find the day! Even I have not been to Pelequén!
The California poppy actually came to Chile via the railroads. They introduced it to help shore up the dirt embankments along the side of the tracks. Whether it helped with that I don't know, but it added colour and beauty all over Chile.

Anonymous said...

Once again, your posts make me want to visit Chile. Also, oddity of oddities, I met a Chilean woman in Casablanca this week! Naturally I thought of you, since she asked what I knew of Chile and aside from 70s politics, your blog was it. Her English is poor and her French non existant but we hit it off anyway.

Eileen said...

Margaret, I know you're right. Lucky Abby was there to remind me it was an opportunity, not a snafu!

Annje, I know that cathedral. With the eggshell-blue cupolas? I used to live in Cuenca. Did we know we had that in common?

Bystander, invite away! I'll pretty much go anywhere, especially if it's quiet, active or photogenic!

Nomad, I was so confused for a second, because there's an area not far from here called Casablanca. I couldn't figure out what you were doing here! I don't mind being your key to Chile, you're definitely mine to Morocco!

Marcelo said...

I really liked your story about Pelequén. I worked as a doctor there for a short time about 2 years ago, it was quite an interesting experience!

I also took the train the first time to get there, and was surprised to see a couple of gringos arriving at the tiny station (they were headed to an old Hacienda that works as a hotel nowadays).

Being myself a chilean, with some prior contact with our rural world, did NOT prepared me completely to work daily in such a little town. I still remember with a warm heart the time I spent there.

The church is somewhat oversized for the town, but during the Fiesta de Santa Rosa (de Lima, not Perú) thousands of people come to town, and for a few days the church is actually to small to serve its purpose well. Since childhood we frequently drived near it with family coming or going to the South for vacations or visiting relatives (as you saw it's right next to the road), with the strange copper onion drawing attention. Until I went to town to work I wasn't actually able to visit it, and that first time inside was memorable, a real challenge for a shy person like me, so much that I wrote the story for my colleague-friends to read and I was the laughing stock for a few days.