Sea lions heaped upon the docks, ranging from hound-sized to bear-sized.

Sea lions heaped upon the docks, ranging from hound-sized to bear-sized.

It started with an ordinary night out to eat at one of the very few restaurants in tiny Rainier. I stepped out of the Jeep in the parking lot, and was awash in the sounds of barking, growling, and moaning. Sometimes I can hear sea lions barking while standing on my porch, several miles away, but this sounded more impressive. Before going into the restaurant, I walked down to the beach in the dark, following the sounds, and came to the Rainier Marina. I could barely see the docks, but I could hear that they were occupied. I took this video for the sounds. Even after hearing it twenty times, it makes me smile!

The next morning was partially sunny, so I took my camera back down the hill to see what the scene looked like in daylight.

I wasn’t the only one with this idea, because other locals were parked on a hill overlooking the docks. I was armed with my Nikon and a zoom lens, and got some really fun shots.dsc_0007-2dsc_0009-2dsc_0012-2

Hey! Remember I had camera problems starting during my trip to Chile? At a camera store, before sending it off for repairs, the technician suggested a couple of ways to trouble shoot. One of his suggestions was to try a different lens. I had been almost exclusively using the Tamron lens because it can use the autofocus on the Nikon, and it goes from 35mm to 270mm! So convenient. I tried the 18-35, and also the 70-300, and viola! Problem fixed. It means my Tamron is dead, but not the camera. Yay!

It's a little blurry, since I have poor distance vision and the lens has to be manually focused. But what a great open maw!

It’s a little blurry, since I have poor distance vision and the lens has to be manually focused. But what a great open maw!

This one lunged along, on top of the others, to find a new spot.

This one lunged along, on top of the others, to find a new spot.

Look at these howlers!

Look at these howlers!

I chatted up one of the men in a truck, who turned out to be a local fisherman. He was very unhappy about the sea lion situation. He explained that the local fishermen view them as a menace because they eat the fish. Smelt populations wax and wane, but since the year 2000 their numbers have been so low they were added to the Endangered Species list as a threatened population. The huge sea creatures were gobbling up a lot of what is available, leaving even less for the humans. This is also a problem during salmon runs, with salmon populations already threatened by human activity like dams on the river. From an anthropologist’s perspective, I see it as a way that the fishermen respect the wild animals, and I think the rivalry is almost touching. People curse the seals and sea lions as though they are equal rivals for a limited resource, and it draws them together and highlights what they have in common. I recognize that I have the luxury of using this perspective because I don’t depend on fishing for food or for income.

Still, I had to bite down to keep from commenting to the fisherman in his truck, that while he professed to hate the sea lions, here he was, among other crusty old fishermen on the hill, having his lunch break with his windows down, listening to and watching them.

Cover up in enough blubber, and nap in a pile with your buddies, and I'll bet February becomes a lot warmer.

Cover up in enough blubber, and nap in a pile with your buddies, and I’ll bet February becomes a lot warmer.

Rainier sits on the Columbia River right across from the mouth of the Cowlitz River. This  year, like last year, a one-day, five-hour net fishing season was open on February 25th. People stand on the riverbank with nets and scoop them up. Reports are that no one got a fish this year on the Cowlitz. I imagine there will be even more cursing about sea lions now.

There are enough smelt to bring their wild hunters 45 miles inland from the sea, however.

In hopes of protecting our Marina, workers went out in January to build barriers to keep the beasts off the docks. The combined weight of hundreds of massive sea lions will sink the docks. Wooden fences were constructed, and lined with bright orange plastic netting, to make the fence seem more intimidating. The sea lions said a collective “Whatevs,” and pushed the fences aside and lounged on the docks anyway. I’m afraid the already-poor city of Rainier will have to build new docks, or at least do some significant repairs, when all is said and done.

Looking downriver toward Astoria, and the Pacific Ocean. That is the Lewis & Clark Bridge, joining Longview, Washington to Rainier, Oregon

Looking downriver toward Astoria, and the Pacific Ocean. That is the Lewis & Clark Bridge, joining Longview, Washington to Rainier, Oregon

The other thing I saw down there were the signs of commerce and industry. I know it’s factories and massive machinery and big dirty ships, but I have a childlike joy when I see it all. The lights at night (as you can see in the video at the top) are nothing short of beautiful to behold. The exhaust from the pulp mill is like a scene from a science fiction movie. Everything is huge! The factory towers, the ships, the bridge, the enormous docks across the river at the Port of Longview, in Washington. All of it delights me.

Sea lions have overtaken the Rainier docks. A pulp mill at the Port of Longview is across the river.

Sea lions have overtaken the Rainier docks. A pulp mill at the Port of Longview is across the river.

This ship's size is almost made modest beside the big sea creatures.

This ship’s size is almost made modest beside the big sea creatures.

The very end of the docks here still have their fences intact. I took the photos a couple days ago, and wonder if these fences have been wrecked too.

The very end of the docks here still have their fences intact. I took the photos a couple days ago, and wonder if these fences have been wrecked too.

Singing for their supper.

Singing for their supper.

For comparison, I took a second video with my phone, to give you a better sense of the whole view.

 

All images in this post used with permission from Portland Center Stage. https://www.flickr.com/photos/portlandcenterstage/sets/72157671722653471

All images in this post used with permission from Portland Center Stage. https://www.flickr.com/photos/portlandcenterstage/sets/72157671722653471

I live 47 miles from Astoria, Oregon. It’s a lovely town at the mouth of the Columbia River, sheltered a couple miles in from the Pacific Ocean by a serious sand bar and Cape Disappointment (

There are three stories I want to tell you. 1) The story itself: the real life nation-building story. 2) The play about the story, which somehow totally works! 3) The Armory, the building hosting the play.

The overland party, looking ahead and realizing their destination remains far away.

The overland party, looking ahead and realizing their destination remains far away.

The wicked Captain Thorn gazes to the horizon from the deck of his ship.

The wicked Captain Thorn gazes to the horizon from the deck of his ship.

I entered the theatre with a virgin understanding of the journey about to unfold. That is, no understanding. I had learned, in the course of reading a brief synopsis while buying my tickets, that the man who financed the expedition to found Astoria was John Jacob Astor. And in that way, two weeks ago, I learned how the town got its name. That should illustrate the level of not knowing the story I’m talking about.

Over the next 3 hours I began to realize it’s a *monumental* story of how my part of the North American continent became the United States instead of Russian territory, or British, or Canadian. Before the play I could tell you more about the founder of the McDonald’s franchise than I could about the early explorers of Oregon, because we are products of what we’re fed through media. Why oh why aren’t we fed the good and healthy stuff?

The play is based on the book by the same name, written by Peter Stark. It’s set mostly in 1810. Astor was a wealthy German immigrant who wanted to become more wealthy by capitalizing on the fabulous otter pelts that rumor had it were there for the taking on the Pacific Coast. From his home in New York City, Astor arranged for two separate approaches to the Columbia River: one by land and one by sea. Back then, the sea route was by way of Cape Horn, Chile. Remarkably, the sailors got there first. The time pressure is a plot point, since whomever establishes the first trading post will control the fur markets on the west coast and will certainly have access to the most wealth. Astor is constantly fretting about news that the French might beat him to the prize.

Early in the trip, future sailors of the Tonquin maneuver a smaller boat.

Sailors from the ship maneuver a smaller boat.

One night around the campfire with the overland party.

One night around the campfire with the overland party.

Hundreds of people joined his expeditions, including men from Scotland, Hawaii, Quebec, Ireland, and England who joined the original Americans on the teams. And original, original Americans (indigenous people) contributed further to the survival of those who did make it to the destination. Because yes, many people died along the way, including the two Hawaiians who froze to death trying to cross the bar into the Columbia River. They were not the only men who died at the bar, in the shadow of Cape Disappointment. Remember I said “foreshadowing?”

What’s remarkable, and irresistible, about this story, is how much went spectacularly wrong. Many people died by accident, and some were killed. Two went insane. Often people fought with each other, and hated each other. Miraculous are the repeated incidences of survival in the snow, survival from starving, survival from drowning, from raging ocean storms. Though catastrophes don’t always result, there was always a threat: of mutiny, getting lost, scalped, abandoned.

Chris Coleman, the artistic director, pulled off magic with that stage. One set, mind you – with occasional backdrops – conveyed a ship on the open sea, or a wealthy fur-merchant’s home, or a frontier fort, or a camp in steep mountains, beside a creek. We got up close and personal with four people rowing a boat, we listened to quiet conversation among the bunks below deck of the ship, we huddled close to the fire and tried not to feel hungry while a trapper told a story, we gasped in despair when three provisioned boats smashed and were lost in a river, and we watched while travelers reluctantly slid from their horses to continue on foot. All one set, and it worked. Like I said: magic.

Scenes with all actors on the deck of the ship were convincing partly because everyone swayed in unison with the waves. We soon learned that tables can be anything, often boats. I enjoyed the artistic creativity throughout, such as when Astor meets with three potential leaders of the excursions. All three are on stage at the same time, in points making a triangle. As each one leaves the meeting with Astor, they rotate until another is before Astor.

More magic: 16 members of the cast! Just imagine how many people you would need to portray the multiple journeys (one by sea with all the crew to run a ship, the overland party split into two, and still Astor remained in New York), and then imagine only 16 people bringing it to life. It’s a tribute to the quality of the actors that they were able to pull this off, switching back and forth between dramatically different characters, such as when Leif Norby starts as John Jacob Astor but becomes a crusty, bearded Frontiersman Edward Robinson, and back and forth. DeLanna Studi is introduced as Astor’s elegant wife, then becomes a pregnant Indian woman, then switches back. The accents switched from thick Scottish to Kentucky backwoods to prim English to French to German. Wow! I’ll interject my only criticism here: impressed as I am by the ability of the actors to do this, it was distracting to look into their faces and recognize other characters. This was amplified because I was in the front row and so close I could discern crow’s feet. I think at a distance it would not have been such a problem for me.

Antoine and Joseph consider the finer qualities of distant mountain peaks.

Antoine and Joseph consider the finer qualities of distant mountain peaks.

Action never stopped, and even the slow moments were tense or foreboding. In real life the years-long journey was a grueling series of hardships day after day, but on stage the successes and catastrophes rode each other’s heels, barely allowing an audience-member’s heart to settle in between. Amidst the hardest times in life, humans manage to find a way to laugh at their circumstances, and thus we had a not insignificant number of funny moments, such as when a couple of Frenchmen gazing at sharp mountain peaks began comparing them to breasts (“Grand teton” is large breasts, in French, and we can only imagine our travelers must have been in Wyoming about then).

Surprisingly, there was a lot of singing, though it was not a musical. I found this to be very effective support to enriching the scenes, helping us to be back in time with the actors, and helping us to understand the cultures blending on stage. One funny example was during a scene with many people rowing a boat and singing to keep the cadence. It was one of those classic tunes that multiple countries claim, with their own lyrics, and the rowers from different lands were competing for which was the “correct” version of the song, with good-natured and rowdy aggression, singing louder and louder like sports fans arguing over favourite teams.

Robinson and McKenzie face off.

Robinson and McKenzie face off.

At long last the overland parties reunite and find the Columbia River (though not yet its mouth). Captain Thorn sends enough sailors to the bar that eventually some of them live to find the entrance into the river. And that’s the end of part one! We have to wait until Portland Center Stage presents next year’s performances, to find out what happens in the end. In the meantime, I’m going to read the book.

I mentioned earlier that the performance was about 3 hours, but that includes a nice long intermission halfway through. Before the show I had admired some of the structure of the old brick building, called the Armory, and at intermission I investigated further.

The brick structure appears castle-like from the street, but it’s hard to get a good look at it because it’s downtown in the Pearl District and surrounded by tall buildings. Inside, I saw that the entire expanse is open: no support beams the length of it. There are two levels, but the second level is merely a balcony, a mezzanine level, that surrounds the open lobby with places to sit and chat, or look out the window. So I looked out the windows, which are bonafide rifle slits – glassed in and wood-framed, ha ha – leaving no doubt about the military origins of the building. I walked right up and put my hands on the bricks. Something about touching something helps me connect to the proper time and place to understand it.

So many bits were intriguing to me that I had questions about its construction, and sought out the concierge. I asked for an information brochure.

“We have a book, if you want,” he said. “It’s a regular, bound book, all about this building. We give them to people who are particularly interested.”

It was the most serendipitous outcome of a random question that I’ve had in some time. The man walked off, and returned moments later holding a large, gorgeous, illustrated, full-colour, 192-page book about how a crumbling and abandoned former military armory became a modern theatre. In fact, that’s the name of the book: “Voices of the Armory: A Chronicle of the Transformation of a 19th century icon into a 21st century theater.”

“Here you go!” he said, obviously pleased to hand it over. “It’s free! I think you’ll love it. I have one and I love it.”

This beautiful book was more than I could have expected.

This beautiful book was more than I could have expected.

A peek inside, where there are hundreds of photos of the restoration of the Armory.

A peek inside, where there are hundreds of photos of the restoration of the Armory.

The show was originally supposed to run through February 12th, but was so successful that the run was extended. If you are in Portland, you can still see it, and you should! Look for it at https://www.pcs.org/ Tickets are available through February 19th.

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Before the show starts is often the only time we are allowed to take photos.

Somehow, the culture people of Portland got my email address, and now I’m at their mercy. I get periodic emails that show up with special price offers at irritatingly convenient times, like Just In Time For Christmas Gifts!

I’ve mentioned before that Tara is crazy about Broadway shows. I sent them a text last Fall. “Hey, Finding Neverland or RENT?” The response was 19-year-old appropriate: “Duh.” I should have guessed that they would want the classic show inspired by La Boheme.

“Classic” sounds kind of funny, because I actually saw RENT not too long after it came out, and that wasn’t terribly long ago. Right? Ahem, the RENT 20th Anniversary Tour is what we went to see. Apparently, I’m old enough to be classic.

The first time I saw the show was in rural Arcata, California, in the late 90s. I remembered that the storyline addresses AIDS, which was still a national scare in those days. And racy for the time and location were the homosexual relationships on stage. Most of all, I remember Angel, the dynamic cross-dresser who was the voice of love and reason for the group of young, desperately poor New York singles.

Arcata is a college town, but most of the audience was made up of patrons of the arts in their 40s or older, who didn’t know the story. And don’t forget that I said “rural.” The audience first sees Angel dressed in masculine clothing, when he meets and falls in love with Tom Collins. But soon comes the big entrance as *Angel!* with glitz and glitter and makeup. Angel pranced out on stage in a white and silver skin-tight costume, ruffles, high heels, red lips, and a dazzling smile that lit up the theatre. She came right up to the edge of the stage – so close I had to tilt my head – and struck a pose.

You could hear a pin drop.

I think I could actually hear people snapping their mouths back shut when they realized they were gaping. There was no cheer, no laughter. Total paralyzed silence. Maybe a muffled sneeze in the back. I had been just about to give a “whoop!” but then realized something was wrong and held it in.

This time the show was different for a few reasons. Notably, I’m in Portland, which is like a baby San Francisco, for all the tolerance we’ve got. And furthermore (it’s apparently 20 years later, and) concepts like homosexual love, drug use, diseases that kill you, and breaking into empty buildings because you’re homeless are not as shocking to find on the stage anymore.

This audience was fully on board. No, not just on board, but cult followers or something. The scene when Angel comes out in drag was preceded by raucous cheers before I even knew what was happening. The outfit was different this time, but the people went crazy for it!

The production still uses telephone answering machines to bring in missing characters (like parents) and to make connections in the story line. And it still works. The difference is that the first time I didn’t pay it any mind, and this time, it caught my attention every time. Answering machines! I remember those!

The first time I saw RENT, there was one relationship that carried it for me. The interactions between Angel and Collins are lovely at every stage, from the joy in the beginning, to their successful negotiations to unite their friends in times of trouble, to the heartbreaking hospital scenes when Collins takes care of Angel. Their love is pure and immense – big enough for all of us.

This time the relationship that carried it for me was between Roger and Mimi. He’s a musician struggling to be true to his art. However, his bigger struggle is with self-worth. He doesn’t really believe he’s good enough to be a musician, so he never finishes a song. And then he and Mimi fall in love and he suspects he’s not deserving of her either, so they break up. She’s an addict and really really wants to quit, but just can’t admit to herself or to Roger that she is weak, and she wants to be loved and forgiven despite that. They wrench apart, and fall together, and wrench apart again.

It was just awful, watching their pain, and knowing we so often bring our pain upon ourselves like that. We are happy or satisfied or loved purely based on our perception of who we are. Arggh, humans!

The ending is sad and hopeful, and Tara and I were still wiping the backs of our hands across our cheeks when the actors bowed. I wonder if art is supposed to make its audience find a truth? Maybe that’s why the same story hit me two different ways at two times in my life. When the artists don’t use direct words, we have to give it our own meaning, and then, it has a distinctly personal message for the most dramatic impact. Oooh, those artists. So clever.

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Thousands of people, one message: we are all one.

I am proud to say that I was among them.

I’ve had the edited photos sitting on my desktop since the evening of the 21st. Waiting to be posted, and shared. Waiting to spread that energetic joy and solidarity. I began an effervescent post that day, in my heady, giddy evening, finally thawed and dry again. I was too tired to finish it that night, but this is part of what I wrote:

“I joined what event organizers estimate was 100,000 people who turned out in the cold rain to support inclusivity of all people, and mostly women. I saw thousands of Pussy Hats (on men too!), which I had never even heard of prior to arriving, but soon enjoyed the joke with everyone else. I got totally soaked and my fingers became so frozen I couldn’t even operate the camera function on my iPhone anymore, and missed some good shots, and through it all, I was laughing. And the men and women next to me were laughing. And the police were smiling at us. And the bystanders on the sidewalks were smiling and waving, and some of them were singing to us. Singing! Women’s voices lifted in spiritually bolstering sounds of protest songs.

Downtown Portland was jammed. Shoulder to shoulder, and you-could-poke-an-eye-out with that umbrella, jammed. When it was time to start the march, at noon, the police escort vehicles could not get from the organizer’s stand to the front of the crowd to begin the march. Their lights flashing, they inched forward and people smooshed aside, and we did not begin marching till 1:00pm. There were so many people that when I was all done marching, and in the Jeep running the heater to get warm and dry again, people were still under the Morrison Bridge, waiting for the press of people to thin so that they could begin their march.”

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I loved this sign not only for the message, but because it’s a reminder of the rain, rain, rain.

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Walking along the waterfront to the main gathering area.

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I’m sort of too refined to laugh. Almost.

…and on January 22nd, the wind was knocked out of my sails. And I was so angry I began a second post, which still sits in my WP drafts folder, filled with damned good reasons why I’m angry. Because I, personally, have been attacked by my own President (because I’m female, a veteran, mother of a transgender child, a person with disability), and then explaining how all of us were not only ignored the next day, but shown an enormous orange middle finger. Not only was the administration working as fast as possible to repeal a plan to reform our nation’s health care system, but the President’s immediate reaction to our exquisitely clear message (i.e. women’s issues are important to many, many of us, and it is so important that we need our country’s leaders to know it), was to wipe out U.S. assistance to overseas organizations that provide healthcare and counseling to include family planning. Read: women’s health issues.

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People line the Morrison Bridge to look down onto the crowd. Once I spotted this, I wanted to get up there with my camera so badly! But the crush of people was impossible.

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I love: his T-shirt, and the Prince umbrella!

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Signs: Oregon Nurses Make A Difference, Dosvedanya Donald, Rise UP, Health Care For All, Resist, Stop the Lies, Yes We Did Yes We Can

No attempt to acknowledge that there were millions of us asking for the total opposite. No explanation for why we were ignored. And just to make it perfectly clear, an executive decision that was a resounding slap in the face. “Here’s what I think of women’s issues, and of your opinions, bitches.”

After an event that manifested into so much more than promised, after it spread not only to all parts of the U.S., but to places around the world, our movement should have been undeniable. The polite and democratic – and LOUD – message from men, women, and children of America should have been undeniable. That is, undeniable to anyone whose finger is on the pulse of current events; anyone who realizes that leaders are supposed to reflect the voice of the people. And the one man we were trying to poke doesn’t have those qualities, apparently.

Though I use this blog to post my soapbox rants periodically, that day I didn’t. I was seething, and I do not want to spread that nasty energy out into the world, so I couldn’t post. My anger turned to sadness and disillusionment with time, and I still did not want to send that out. I love you. I want to share my perspective, but I do not want to stir up your darkness just because mine is stirred. Yes… sometimes I do it anyway… but I like it best when I can cool off first before spouting off.

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I heart immigrants and a big bird-ish thing. Don’t ask me…

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This is NOT OK. I Stand With Planned Parenthood.

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Laws off My Body. Outraged. Oregon Nurses Make A Difference. In Our America: Love Wins. And note: the handmade Hillary handbag.

See look, it might be relevant background information to know I just finished reading Herman Wouk’s War and Remembrance. Wouk methodically tracked, month by month, the devastating sweep of dictatorship in WWII. The gradual shift from one man’s delusions of grandeur to his psychotic reign of terror. The hesitant but acquiescing actions of first a political body, then a nation, and then the neighboring countries of Europe, remorsefully handing over their citizens because it was easier than pissing off Hitler. I saw how possible it was then (and could be now) for so many people to help him with his goals, and how many of them had facts right in front of their faces, but instead yelled about lies spread by the opposition! I’m telling you, I was freaking out. I sort of still am.

But the people of the world are shining their light and it turned me around. This is 2017, not 1941, and maybe some of us remember history. The day that turned it over for me was January 27th, when the President signed another executive order, banning entrance to the US for anyone from seven specific countries. Almost immediately, lawyers were rushing to airports, actively looking for people in need, pro bono.

I lifted my head and realized that a lot of people were still just as loud about human rights today as they were last month, or in November, or last summer. People are on fire, and the fire is not going out!

There is organized opposition to the confirmation of various people selected to run our government, particularly Betsy DeVos for Education Secretary, and Scott Pruitt for Environment Secretary. Acting Attorney General Sally Yates declined to support Trump’s immigration ban. And was fired. When the administration enacted a gag order on the Environmental Protection Agency, halting all action on projects in progress, removing information from their website related to climate change and emissions, and banning all communication with outsiders, memos were leaked, and staff of the EPA began immediately sharing their stories on a personal level to make sure the information got out anyway. Local activists on the city level began using Tea Party tactics as a guide to mount a different resistance. These are just a few stories off the top of my head.

I don’t know the facts of all of these issues, so I can’t endorse the arguments of the opposition but I DO endorse the opposition itself. I am not in the let’s-give-him-a-chance camp. Not one bit. The buffoon has already made it clear that I, Crystal, have no value to him, and so my response is in kind. When my leader proudly announces that he refuses to lead me with honor to the best of his ability, then I owe nothing to that leader. Our job, as democratic citizens, is to watch his every move like hawks. And to come down hard when something is illegal or counter to American values that we are famous for: freedom from religious persecution, equality for all citizens, progress, and engagement. And when we can’t fight him directly like Sally Yates did, then we will have to settle for annoying him and jamming sticks into the spokes of his demagogic mechanisms.

I do have a little hope now. Maybe you do too. Please enjoy these photos from the march. It was *pouring* rain the whole entire time, and it was so cold. If it had been a little colder, it would have been snowing, and then we would not have all been soaked to the core. But despite the wretched weather, spirits did not seem dampened at all! There were thousands of women, and thousands of men, and people with no gender at all. There were people using wheelchairs. And people on prosthetic legs, and people who couldn’t see. And people who didn’t speak English. People who weren’t old enough to talk yet, and people so old they had seen this all before, a hundred times, and were responsible for some of the rights we hold today. People were holding BLACK LIVES MATTER signs, ACLU signs, and people holding signs in Hebrew and Russian and Arabic and Chinese, that I couldn’t read. One in Spanish I could read: Somos Uno (We Are All One!).

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We are all one. You don’t have to believe it, but it’s true.

Half of them were wearing Pussy Hats, which I had never even heard of before that day. I could tell the hats looked like they had cat ears, and I got it right away, because my President was caught on camera joking about grabbing women’s pussies. When told it is offensive, his response shows that he thinks we’re overreacting. Basically implying that boys will be boys. So it turns out, zillions of people found the knitting instructions online, and made these caps in all colours, but mostly in pink, and men, women, babies, and police officers, and group organizers, and everyone was wearing them. Many people held signs that said, “Pussy Grabs Back!”

Two favourite signs of the day: Babies Against Bigots! It was pinned to the coat of an infant being carried in a backpack on her father’s chest. The other said “I know signs. I make the best signs. They’re terrific. Everyone agrees.”

What did women achieve that day? (And men. Do me a favour and skim all those photos and notice the men in every one) Oh gosh, I just don’t know. What was it all for? Were we only preaching to the choir? At least I spoke up, but it doesn’t seem enough. And I feel too small to do more. But my hopes are up again, and I still have my voice, and I’ll continue to use it.

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My snowy home on a hill.

I keep leaning toward complaints, but then I simply can’t follow through: this snow is spectacular.

I live in the Columbia River Valley, just 45 miles from the Pacific Ocean. This tends to keep my little piece of Paradise green, even in the depths of winter. But Mother Nature has been on a cold bent lately. Well, heck, I can’t even say “lately,” because it’s been cold and snowy for a couple months now. I’ve lived in very snowy places most of my life, and so this doesn’t compare, but I am still enjoying it.

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Jamie and Phil after the big snow, when they were still interested in it.

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The ladies have had enough snow and are running for shelter.

My chickens seem to be fine with it, but they do not like being cold. They hide in their little home most of the day rather than walk around in bare feet in the snow. They don’t eat much, leaving the chicken feed to the chipmunks. I expect to see some pretty fat chipmunks in the Spring. I need to go out each day, dump out a chunk of ice from their bowl, and refill it with water. They have also figured out that they can eat the snow.

They also aren’t laying, and I do not blame them one bit! Who would want to produce a massive egg once a day in the freezing cold? Not me.

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Looking past the apple tree into the neighbor’s yard.

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Beaver Creek burbles along gaily with no interruption.

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The sun came out for a few days, brilliantly lighting it all up. Those are my tracks in the foreground. I just can’t stay indoors when it’s this pretty out.

My photos aren’t as good as I would like. My camera is still fried from my trip to Chile. I haven’t made it to a camera doctor yet. The weather has been so rotten that roads are sketchy, and it hasn’t been worth an hour+ drive into town. Also, I’ve been sick, sick, sick. Feeling much better now, but annoyed by this lingering cough to clear out my lungs. Sounds like I have COPD.

Anyway, my iPhone camera is picking up the slack. I hope you enjoy the photos. It’s been pure winter deliciousness here.

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Our gorgeous Christmas tree!

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Tara balancing new sketchbooks.

 

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Evening sun making the treetops glow.

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I rarely need to, so I do not own a decent shovel.

I found out that a blogger friend of mine was  shorthanded on, as she put it, “young energetic people,” and I answered the call. Luckily it was pre-major snowstorm, and though cold, we did our work on a beautifully sunny day. The van was parked at the storage unit and we spent the whole day emptying the storage unit and filling the truck. It was windy, and when the sun dropped we nearly froze our patooties off, but we got the job done and went home elated and satisfied. It was discovered the next day that the truck had been loaded beyond legal weight and it had to be dismantled. That day I had to work and couldn’t help.

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TS inside the moving van.

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These tracks just melted my heart.

I’ve got a little good news that’s probably exciting only to me, but I’ll share it anyway. I mentioned in November that I have posttraumatic stress disorder (PTSD) from military trauma. I’ll explain more about making disability claims with VA (The US Department of Veterans Affairs) later, but for now I’ll just say that I made a claim in 2008. The claim was denied in 2008 and again in 2009, so I appealed it in 2010. My appealed claim has languished for some reason. It’s still pending. I finally lost my patience and contacted my Congresswoman to stir things up a little, and it worked! Next week I will attend examinations in support of my claim. These consist of super-quick health evaluations not designed for treatment, but to assess the problem, then make an educated medical opinion on whether that problem could be related to military service. Then I wait around for someone to make a final legal decision. I’ll give it another year and then contact my Congresswoman again if necessary. Honestly, I think it has been long enough and my impatience is not out of line. If my claim is granted, any medical condition found by VA to be related to military service is then covered by VA for free. All doctor visits, medications, procedures. There is also a monthly stipend based on any loss of function determined to impact my employability. It would be a help.

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World made black and white.

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Playing with the sepia feature.

 

Sunshine glistens off the water of Beaver Creek on my property.

Sunshine glistens off the water of Beaver Creek on my property.

After the heat of Santiago, I arrived at the airport in Portland to the winter season once more. In a few hours I was home in Rainier, where a thin layer of snow still covered the ground. Over the week that followed, more snow fell. It’s not a lot of snow as far as snowy places go, but for our area it is unusual. And just in time for Christmas!

Winter is not so bad when it's this pretty.

Winter is not so bad when it’s this pretty.

Looking along a different stretch of the creek.

Looking along a different stretch of the creek.

Snow collects on the top of the frozen pond.

Snow collects on the top of the frozen pond.

Chicken tracks.

Chicken tracks. When I arrived home, the chickens were lose and running free through the snow. They missed me and were glad to be led home.

Kitty covering her nose for warmth.

Kitty covering her nose for warmth.

Deer don't mind snow much.

Deer don’t mind snow much.

The view out my home office window. Having a view like this while I work makes me grateful in so many ways.

The view out my home office window. Having a view like this while I work makes me grateful in so many ways.

Tara and I bought a $5 tag from the U.S. Forest Service and went up into the mountains to collect a tree. We didn’t find much in the way of trees, but we had a great adventure. Soon after we entered National Forest land, we came upon a couple of young men trapped in a little car on an icy bridge. They had tried to cross the bridge the night before and became high-centered on the snow berm in the middle, and couldn’t get any traction on the ice. They had spent the night out there and were SO glad to see us! I towed them off the bridge with the Jeep and we pushed the car to help them turn it around and get them out of there. They looked in pretty good shape, but were ready to eat and get warm again.

Waterfall in the forest.

Waterfall in the forest.

Tara bundled up.

Tara bundled up.

Things turned violent.

Things turned violent.

We made it home with a tree from a U-cut tree farm instead.

We made it home with a tree from a U-cut tree farm instead.

front of the old note

front of the old note

back of the note

back of the note

In the chill, it’s obvious my thoughts keep going back to those warm days such a short time ago. I’m still peeling from the sunburn, but the mosquito bites are all healed. Yay! I’ve got the stamps on my passport to prove it really happened. I was gathering some of the money together to send to my brother, who collects foreign currency as I do, and it occurred to me that my Uncle Sean was a missionary for the Mormon church in the 1980s and did his mission in Chile. He sent me a 100 CP note back then and I still have it. The currency has de-valued, and Chile doesn’t even *make* 100 peso bills anymore.img_2697

 Merry Christmas everyone and have the happiest of New Year’s celebrations! My long, annual Christmas missive is delayed, obviously, but I’ve had a really productive December. I spent two weeks on vacation, I finished the Mt. Hood Cherokees newsletter this morning, and sent it out to everyone on the mailing list. I’ve got all Tara’s presents wrapped. The tree is up and simply gorgeous. Santa comes tonight and we are all very excited about it!

My favourite volcano of them all was back home in Oregon. Here, Mt. Hood rises from the clouds as we approach Portland.

My favourite volcano of them all was back home in Oregon. Here, Mt. Hood rises from the clouds as we approach Portland.

Margaret and I got up early with intent to blast out of the Barn and Puerto Varas by 7am. Vicki had insisted she would be up to wave goodbye, and sure enough she greeted me on my last scramble down the stairs. Hugs and kisses (Chileans kiss once, on the right cheek) and I found Margaret waiting in the rental car with the motor already running.

It had been a stressful night for her. For some unexplained reason, her phone access to Internet had stopped working. This was bad news for a person who was planning to be in South America for another month. She has an Android, and I don’t know how those work, so I was no help at all. Everything looked fine. It just wasn’t connecting to the Internet. So, while there was the initial stress of trying to get M to the bus on time (the next bus would leave 12 hours later, so we really had to make the right bus), there was the pervasive stress of how to communicate during the remainder of the trip.

We had poured over maps the night before, and also asked directions of Vicki, because in Chile our phone GPS was not working. Roads looked easy to identify on the map, and intersections looked distinct. As we zoomed through the countryside past a little green sign with a “590” and an arrow, a quiet voice in me said that was our road. Bless Margaret for being able to have faith in her navigator. She was already turning around by the time I located the road directions I had jotted down and confirmed that 590 was the road I wanted. The way we remembered directions was different, and this time we were in such a hurry that it made us doubt ourselves. But viola! Out we popped right at the aeropuerto.

Bust of O'Higgins I couldn't resist because his is the most popular and wholly unexpected name we saw during our trip in Chile.

Bust of O’Higgins: the most popular and wholly unexpected name we saw during our trip in Chile.

A Toyota auto parts store made me think of my brother, who visited me in Japan, mostly to see the cars.

A Toyota auto parts store made me think of my brother, who visited me in Japan, mostly to see the cars.

We dropped the keys at the car rental counter at 7:30am, this time more used to the circadian rhythms of Chileans, so we didn’t expect that a car rental employee would even show up for two more hours. We then looked for a taxi, and realized…it’s 7:30 am in Chile. There are no taxis, even at the airport. I went to check my bag at the LATAM counter while Margaret summoned a taxi. My plan was to go play in Puerto Montt until my flight left, 7 hours later. By the time I got my boarding passes, Margaret and the driver were waiting for me.

We had a hard time explaining where we wanted to go. “bus estación” was apparently not enough information. We tried and tried to get the message through, and finally Margaret said she was trying to get to Chiloé. The taxi driver immediately brightened up. “Ah, Chiloé?!” With total confidence he drove us half an hour into Puerto Montt, and out to a remote, industrial part of town. The minutes were ticking to get Margaret into place in her itinerary, and I was relieved to see a row of busses parked at this interesting and very very quiet building. We stopped, and the taxi driver checked in with us one more time “Vas a Chiloé?” and we replied yes. So he proudly gestured to the building. We paid and went inside, and our transportation drove away. Inside was quiet, and clean, and attendants stood in uniforms. What kind of bus station was this? We stood in line and watched the clock inch ahead. Margaret eventually absorbed enough visual cues to become convinced there was a problem. She showed her already-purchased bus ticket to one of the uniformed attendants, and he assured her that all was well and to get back in line. When we finally reached the counter, the woman looked at the ticket and said, “No, no, no. You have a ticket for the municipal bus line. This is a tour company.”

A wooden church in Puerto Montt.

A wooden church in Puerto Montt.

The empty morning streets of Puerto Montt.

The empty morning streets of Puerto Montt.

A home I would readily expect to find in Portland.

A home I would readily expect to find in Portland.

While M frantically tried to ask the woman to place a call for a taxi for us (the woman had to ask a co-worker for a number, and the first number didn’t work, and…), I glanced outside and saw a miracle: a lone taxi was pulling up to the tour building. I went outside, armed with the proper words this time “estación de bus municipal?” Si, he answered, and I grabbed M and jumped in. She managed to express that we were in a hurry, and the sweet man understood immediately and got us to the right bus station pronto. M checked in and had her ticket confirmed and we were pointed to the right bus. We went outside of the (disheveled, loud, busy, confusing…i.e. a proper) bus station, found the driver of our bus and loaded M’s bag. Success! With 14 minutes to spare.

The view of the sea from the municipal bus station in Puerto Montt.

The view of the sea from the municipal bus station in Puerto Montt.

“Should we just wait here?” I asked her. “No, I saw a phone store,” she answered, heading back into the building.

Get a load of that woman! In all the craziness, of taxis and hauling our bags and running through the madness of the municipal bus station, Margaret had another part of her brain still working on the broken phone problem. We found the phone store, and an employee that spoke English! (angels singing) He poked around with the phone for 5 minutes and said, “It’s fine. There’s no problem.” M tried a few things, sent and received some email, and confirmed that her phone was indeed working perfectly. We don’t know if the man fixed it, or if it fixed itself, but it didn’t matter.

We shared hugs and kisses and many thanks to each other for the companionship of the past 10 days, and M boarded the bus and off she went.

Birds roost on the pilings beneath a restaurant on the water.

Birds roost on the pilings beneath a restaurant on the water.

Looking downhill to the sea. Nope, nothing interesting up here either.

Looking downhill to the sea. Nope, nothing interesting up here either. But check out the bike-and-pedestrian friendly paths.

The municipal bus station in Puerto Montt is in the city, and not in some remote warehouse industrial area, like the tourist office. It’s right on the shores of a bay in the Pacific Ocean, so my hopes were high for a lovely diversion until it was time to go back to the airport. Instead, the skies were grey, and it was cold and windy. So cold my fingers were frozen. I walked up and down the streets briskly – partly to try and get warm, partly to look for something interesting – and found very little that captured my attention compared to the wonderful places I have been in Chile. I had to keep my head bowed to avoid the blasts of wind, even along the backstreets away from the waterfront. I did take photos on my phone (the broken camera was packed in my luggage), and those are what you see in this post. Tip for travelers: spend as little time as possible in Puerto Montt.

A memorial in Puerto Montt recognizing the German families welcomed to settle by the Chileans in this area.

A memorial in Puerto Montt recognizing the German families welcomed to settle by the Chileans in this area. I see two interesting things: the dog is obviously patted more than any other part of it, and the height of the people is proportionate: Margaret and I have found ourselves distinctly taller than most of the people here.

It was still too early in the morning for commerce or activity, but I chanced upon a bakery with the lights on, and bought the best cheese empanada outside of the fish market in Santiago. It was warm and flaky and perfect, and gone too fast. I threw in the towel, went back to the bus station, and bought a ticket back to the airport. I paid $23 to get onto an earlier flight to Santiago. In two hours, I was sweating in Santiago. What a difference!

I found the same bus Margaret and I used on November 30th, paid for a ticket, and hopped on. We had been on the red line subway so many times, I was pretty sure I would remember the name of the stop. I watched out the windows, and easily got off at the right place, where the bus station is co-located with the metro. I went underground, bought a subway pass (using up handfuls of 10 peso coins, in an effort to get rid of them), and popped up above ground again in downtown Santiago at the stop for Universidad Católica. I was warm and knew my way around. It had been the correct decision to leave Puerto Montt.

A week earlier I had left my book at Angelo’s place, and used that as an excuse to come back into town on my long layover. I arrived at the apartment building and was buzzed through the gate into the reception area on the ground floor. Though Margaret and I had seen the same attendant every single time we passed through the foyer, for three days straight, wouldn’t you know it that a totally new person would be there this time, ensuring that her building was safe. I had such a poor grasp of Spanish I knew there was no possible way for me to explain the situation. This does not come up in English-Spanish phrase books: Hi, I’m an American, yes, but I do know Angelo and Evelyn on the 22nd floor, and they know me. I’m here to pick up my book, that I left here last week. I’ll be gone soon and I do not pose a threat to the tenants.

I opted for confidence. I waved “Hola!” at the desk attendant and headed for the elevators. The woman asked me something I didn’t understand, and even stood up behind the counter, trying to get me to come back and engage. “Ventidós,” Twenty-two, I said with a comfortable smile, and pointed at the elevator, “Es bueno.” She said something else to me, and again I pretended all was well. The elevator opened and I stepped on, punched a button and waved at her, saying once more, “Es bueno!” I watched out for security in the halls when I stepped out, but apparently my ploy had worked and there were no carabineros waiting there to take me down.

Evelyn let me into the apartment with a gracious smile and hugs and kisses and she made me feel genuinely welcomed. Oh how I wish I had this skill of grace and hospitality that comes naturally to some nations. She asked me to sit down and poured me a drink of water right away because I was parched. Imagine that, after a morning of frozen, shaking fingers numbly pawing at an empanada to get at its warmth. I offered to leave a couple times, but Evelyn seemed confused, and again I admired her hospitality. In the US, so many of us would be eager to extricate ourselves from a meeting with an AirBnb client who spoke another language and only stopped by to get her book. I know that some of us are able to genuinely put strangers at ease, but many of us would be looking forward to the end of it. What a lovely lovely human being she is. I stayed for an hour. Neither of us speaking the other’s language, but knowing a few words and supplementing with pantomime.

I pulled up photos of Tara to show off, and she showed me her sister and parents. Evelyn pulled up a translator app and we were able to ask each other more complicated questions. I asked if there were tensions with Indigenous people, as there are in the US. She said yes, especially in the south (as I had noticed) “they fight for their land.” Wow. It really is the same story all over the world. I thought it would be a good time to talk about the recent success of the Standing Rock Sioux tribe – with the help of so many other Nations – in preventing the oil pipeline crossing their land. But that was too many words, and I kept it to myself.

I tried to leave as graciously as I could, and I hope I didn’t cause offense. Evelyn insisted that I wish a happy journey to Margaret and I said I would, and completely forgot to do the same for Angelo. (Evelyn, if you’re reading this: tell Angelo I send my love and hugs and thanks!!) ❤

One of my many tickets to get somewhere today.

One of my many tickets to get somewhere today.

Right below the apartment is a supermarket, and I went in for some miel (honey). I had counted and recounted my pesos, and had enough to get gifts for someone back home. In the store I found a jar of the exact same miel I had tried on the day of the rafting trip! I was very excited and spent all my surplus pesos to get it. Thus, I could not do any more shopping. I walked across the street to the base of Castillo Hidalgo (mentioned in a previous post, and one of my favourite places in Santiago already). The park is landscaped with both grass for lounging, and with flowers and bushes to appease my love of plants. The stone walls and arches are pleasing, there is lots of shade, and benches. Though an afternoon on a Thursday, there were many people in the park, skateboarding through, smoking on the grass, napping, talking and laughing. I stripped off my outer layers of clothing (it was so warm!), and laid on the grass with my head on my backpack for an hour and a half reading my newly-retrieved book, and most of the people there when I arrived were still there when I left. It was a comforting and happy atmosphere.

I walked back to the metro, bought another ticket to the bus station. At the bus station, bought another ticket to the aeropuerto. (You may be wondering, with all these tickets I was buying, traveling back and forth all over the place, how much I was spending. I spent about $6 total in all my trips for the day, with the exception of the flight and the $23 changed ticket fee. Tip for travelers: use public transportation.)

Many uncomfortable hours in a coach seat in a couple of airplanes later, I emerged from my vacation world to a startlingly snowy Portland.

This is panoramic view from my phone shows Lake Todos los Santos with pumice gravel in the foreground from a 2015 eruption.

This is panoramic view from my phone shows Lake Todos los Santos with pumice gravel in the foreground from a 2015 eruption. Click to get a better image.

At long last the rain dried up and the clouds parted. I woke up feeling great despite having food poisoning the previous afternoon. We were on our way around the south side of Lake Llanquihue by 8:30am. Our first foray off the main road was in search of Vicki’s other farmhouse. She had described the location and thought it might be fun for us to try to find it. Her farmhouse is on the slopes below volcano Calbuco. That one erupted April 22, 2015 and is responsible for all the pumice gravel and sand that we had been seeing in the area. Locals enthusiastically described how the area looked like a moonscape just after the eruption, and are amazed at how green and lush everything is already. We got very close, but the place we finally decided was probably hers, turned out not to be hers in the end. We did see some of the clearest evidence of the recent eruption, with wide swaths covered in volcanic gravel. We also saw fenceposts buried about two feet in the gravel, and we could see where snowplows had plowed the gravel off roads, and today the red and black pumice rock berms remain.

Volcano Calbuco behind flourishing foxglove.

Volcano Calbuco behind flourishing foxglove.

Volcano Orsorno from the foothills of volcano Calbuco.

Volcano Orsorno and volcano Puntiagudo from the foothills of volcano Calbuco.

We drove through Ensenada and closer to volcano Orsorno, which we could finally see in its full glory now that the clouds had cleared. From multiple angles the peak is close to symmetrical, and rises to 8,730 feet. We made our first real stop at the waterfalls called Saltos del Petrohué. These falls are on the very river that we rafted on two days before! So look at the lovely aqua colour and you can imagine what a pleasure it was to have that water smash you in the face. 😉

This view of the waterfalls is truly beautiful. After I posted on facebook, a friend asked me "Are you in Eden?!"

This view of the waterfalls is truly beautiful. After I posted on facebook, a friend asked me “Are you in Eden?!”

In the video, you can see Margaret with her black coat draped over her shoulders, in front of volcano Osorno. Behind the falls is Cerro la Picada. Cerro means “hill,” but in this case it’s a 4100 foot hill.

On the short walking trail we found a tiny lake where we stopped for a picnic lunch. There were trout in the lake, which connects to the river. I took tons of what should have been great photos, but… more camera problems. Everything from the moment when we entered the park – and for the rest of the day – is dreadfully overexposed. I must have accidentally changed the settings to make all the photos totally washed out to almost uselessness. The photos I have posted are a result of drastic photo editing. I just don’t know what happened and I’m really disappointed, because it was so great to have a sunny day again and all the photo advantages that come of that. Drat.

Me in front of volcanoes and waterfalls.

Me in front of volcanoes and waterfalls.

Cascadas (waterfalls) on the Rio Petrohue

Cascadas (waterfalls) on the Rio Petrohué

Small pond near the waterfalls where we ate our picnic lunch.

Small pond near the waterfalls where we ate our picnic lunch. On the ridge are Coihue trees, the most common found in Chile.

Our destination was Lagos Todos los Santos, which the previous day I had read on two different websites is purported to be the most lovely lake in all of Chile. I thought it had to be at least pretty nice, considering all the lakes in the running. We had not witnessed an unlovely Chilean lake yet.

One arrives at the town of Petrohué on the lake in something of a madhouse, with tour busses clogging up every artery and troops of tour employees standing in lanes and parking areas, directing every single vehicle where to park without taking the time to figure out what your intentions are. An attendant waved us to a spot, and as we were about to pull in, another attendant frantically waved us to his area, so we continued on, shrugging apology to the first guy. It didn’t dawn on us till later that the attendants belong to competing tour companies, and want us to park close to their company so they can have the first crack at selling us a ticket to a boat tour. Margaret and I were as yet oblivious, however, and happily continued along the sandy lane, focused first on avoiding the gigantic double-decker tour busses, and second on finding a place to park now that we had left the attendants in our rear view mirror. First other vehicles followed us, then we followed them, all in search of elusive parking, but the trick was to go all the way to beach for copious free parking (estacionamiento gratis). We hailed a bus attendant and asked where “trekking” was (Strangely, this is the word the park officials have been using, so I did too.  Possibly another German holdover, since I am pretty sure trekking is not a Spanish word), and were pointed to the trailhead we sought.

At the trailhead we saw that Desolación Trail (named desolation for the effects left in the wake of volcanic eruptions in the past, so it was particularly apt after 2015) had two routes at the beginning: one along the lakeshore, and one that was inland. The two routes meet up at a single trail partway up the mountain. We liked the idea of the no-elevation-gain beach route, and struck out that way.

Walking along the beach at Todos los Santos.

Walking along the beach at Todos los Santos.

Todos los Santos with Cerro Tronador in the distance.

Todos los Santos with Cerro Tronador in the distance.

Pumice rocks on the beach.

Pumice rocks on the beach.

Scotch broom bursting in bloom at the lakeshore.

Scotch broom bursting in bloom at the lakeshore.

Volcano Puntiagudo

Volcano Puntiagudo

We went along the west shore until we could see that soon we would have to turn along the north shore, and with the map in our mind’s eye, we knew that would not connect us to the trail. We had not seen the trail since we hit the beach, but we had seen enough of the beach. We turned around and decided to go back to town and hire a kayak. In town, the only place that rented kayaks was down to one, and said if we came back in two hours he would have another one for us. In that tiny town there really was nothing else to do but go back to the trail and take the inland route.

It was a tough slog because the trail was entirely deep, soft, sand. Every step was work. But Margaret and I are determined women and we kept a good pace and trudged a couple of miles. Trudge, trudge, trudge and had gained about 20 feet in elevation after two hours. We were in the midst of a conversation about whether to keep going when we ran into some other Americans sitting in the shade of a tree having the same discussion. After we talked to them we went ahead on the trail for another half an hour and then gave up. The trail is 11.5 kilometers and we were hoping to get some elevation and get a view, at the very least, but it was not happening any time soon. After all that hiking, I took a final panoramic shot that is at the top of this post. We gave up and went back to Petrohué. By this time I was fully sunburnt, and our hamstrings and quadriceps were hollering complaints about the sandy trail. We did not go back to the kayak place, but headed back to Puerto Varas.

A final look at the volcano before we turned around on the trail and headed back.

A final look at the volcano before we turned around on the trail and headed back.

This time it was Margaret’s turn to relax. I still had energy (possibly due to sleeping an extra three hours the day before), and took off to explore the town for the first time while M stayed at the hostel and rested. I was in search of something woven from alpaca or llama, but it was late in the day and I had a hard time finding anything open. I decided instead to just explore the town, and struck out for the top of a hill across from our hostel. On the way up, a happy stray dog bounded my way and took up my pace, right at my heels. I walked and walked, and the dog stayed with me. As I climbed the hill, I realized that I could not get down to the lakefront again because there was a cliff between it and me, and no egress. I would have to go back the way I came, or go forward far enough for the ground to slope back toward the shore again. Forward it was, and with my trusting companion, I hoofed it through Puerto Varas. I must have walked three miles, and at a really quick pace because I was trying to get back to my room eventually. The dog finally ditched me in a park once I made it downtown again, and I climbed a long long set of stairs up a pedestrian path back to the Galpon Aire Puro, and bed.

The town of Puerto Octay on the north shore of Lago Llanquihue.

The town of Puerto Octay on the north shore of Lago Llanquihue.

A headstone at the cemetery in Puerto Octay.

A headstone at the cemetery in Puerto Octay.

Lago Llanquihue is huge. It’s the second-largest lake in Chile, at 330 square miles. The scenery is magnificent, with five snow-capped volcanoes that can be viewed from the water’s edge, splashing rivers, thickly forested cliffs that rise right up out of the water in some places, and beaches and sloping farmland rising out of the water in other places. It’s located in southern Chile just west of the northern boundary of Patagonia, a region famous for its beauty. The lake basin was carved by glaciers and filled when the ice melted. Its name, from what I can tell in Internet research, is from the Mapuche language (the local indigenous population), and means “sunken place.” It’s pronounced Yan Key Way.

Margaret does vacations with intent, researching ahead of time to find a way to get the most out of each day. This morning she encouraged me to take it easy and work on the blog a little. The rest was much appreciated. 🙂 We got a late start under overcast skies and drizzle. Our hostess Vicki recommended a trip up to Puerto Octay, then a leisurely road trip back, along the shores of the lake.

On the way to Puerto Octay, a picturesque church beside the road.

On the way to Puerto Octay, a picturesque church beside the road.

Cemetery on a hill overlooking Lake Llanquihue.

Cemetery on a hill overlooking Lake Llanquihue.

Puerto Octay has a cute history to its name. From Frommers: “Puerto Octay was founded in the second half of the 19th century by German immigrants; folks in the region know it for its well-stocked general goods store — the only one in the region — run by Cristino Ochs. In fact, the name Octay comes from ‘donde Ochs hay,’ roughly translated as ‘you’ll find it where Ochs is.'” Over time the name was shortened to Octay (pronounced Oktai).

In fact, the German history around here is a big part of the tourist draw. After we found a cemetery on a hill over looking the lake, we explored the town and easily recognized the European influence on the local architecture. This region welcomed German families to settle here in 1850 and their descendants include many light-skinned, red-headed, blue-eyed Chileans. We visited one of many wooden churches, bought some local cheese (from all the farmland filled with cattle, cheese is inevitable), and left town for the most German city of our trip: Frutillar.

We bought cheese in a shop on the first floor of this lovely house.

We bought cheese in a shop on the first floor of this lovely house.

A view of the church in the center of town.

A view of the church in the center of town.

Inside the church were arches built of wood - the first time I have seen this structure in wood instead of stone.

Inside the church were arches built of wood – the first time I have seen this structure in wood instead of stone.

At noon the fire siren went off - a common thing I've seen in US cities - and four previously quiet stray dogs jumped to their feet and joined in song.

At noon the fire siren went off – a common thing I’ve seen in US cities – and four previously quiet stray dogs jumped to their feet and joined in song.

The farther south we travel, the more influence from indígena (indigenous peoples) I see.

The farther south we travel, the more influence I see from indígena (indigenous peoples).

We stopped for lunch at a fabulous barbecue buffet, called Rancho Espantapajaros that had been recommended by Vicki. The meal was a bit pricey, but it was our only real expense of the day, so we were happy to pay for the wonderful meal and atmosphere. Our first view upon walking into the place was a twenty-foot-long spit turning over a fire, holding beef, chicken, and lamb. They also served sausages and wurst, cold potato salad, beet salad and sauerkraut, sticking with the regional theme. We sat beside a window with a view of the lake and some llamas and ate a bit of everything, including fresh water mussels and salmon ceviche. It was here that Margaret tried a dessert that turned out to be the Nalca I mentioned in yesterday’s post. We climbed into the trusty rental car that had taken us so far already, and continued south along the coast, with stunning views of wildflowers and rolling green hills.

My first plate at Ranch Espantapajaros.

My first plate at Ranch Espantapajaros.

View out to the lake from Rancho Espantapajaros.

View out to the lake from Rancho Espantapajaros.

German immigrants arrived at the seaport of Puerto Montt in the 1850s, traveled across land to Puerto Varas, and then took ships up the coast of the lake to form the communities of Puerto Octay and Frutillar and Llanquihue. Frutillar is so German that Margaret and I began singing Edelweiss as we walked the streets. It’s a very pretty little town, with a German museum and a German club, and many restaurants serving German food. The most striking building is the theatre, on the shores of the lake, which is primarily a concert venue, but was deep into preparations for a ballet performance of the nutcracker while we were there. Kids arrived in baggy workout gear that I identified as most likely a warm cover-up for their leotards, and M and I watched Clara practice her dance for Christmas Eve night when she first receives the gift of the nutcracker. I wish Tara could have seen it.

The eye-catching pier in Frutillar.

The eye-catching pier in Frutillar.

Two of the omnipresent Ibis, their raucous laughter falling down to us below.

The omnipresent Ibis, their raucous laughter falling down to us below.

A version of seagull? Love that black head.

A version of seagull? Love that black head.

The theatre on the water in Frutillar.

The theatre on the water in Frutillar.

A restaurant in Frutillar.

A restaurant in Frutillar.

German-style hotel in Frutillar.

German-style hotel in Frutillar, next to the clock building pictured above.

A restaurant in Frutillar.

A restaurant in Frutillar.

You may recall I am not a dog lover, but the multitudinous Chilean stray mutts loved me. In every city we visited, dogs would seek me out, lean up against me for comfort, and trot happily at my feet as we walked. I never fed a one, but they remained hopeful. After one bounded up to me delightedly on the beach at Frutillar, I played tug-of-war with it, with a stick. A child watched me the whole time and then picked up a stick and went over to the next stray dog that showed up, but her momma shouted and took the stick from her hand. Ooops, guess I’m a bad influence.

We struck out once more, this time for the town of Llanquique. I mentioned to Margaret that I suddenly was not feeling so well. As prepared as any boy scout, Margaret deftly whipped the car into a pullout when I needed to get out and spew my lunch on the side of the road. And 5 kilometers later, again. And when we stopped in Llanquihue so M could get me a bottle of water to rinse out my mouth, again. Ugh. Three cheers for food poisoning. I admit I stopped delighting in the scenery and focused just on protecting the interior of the rental car. No more photos. We passed a Deutsche Schule (German School) in Llanquihue, but that was basically the only thing I noticed. M got me back to the hostel as quickly as she could, wincing in empathy as we bounced over the often-gravel highways. I went directly to bed and slept the rest of the evening away.

I woke around 8 pm and went out into the common room where M and Vicki were chatting. I felt remarkably better. We could not figure out the source of the sickness. The only thing that I had eaten that M did not was a taste of miel (honey) at a shop in Frutillar, where tourists had dipped out of the same jar. And the salmon ceviche at Rancho Espantapajaro. It could easily have been either. I drank more water, but passed on dinner.

A home outside of Llanquihue.

A home outside of Frutillar.

The countryside is filled with these beautiful and large farmhouses.

The countryside is filled with these beautiful and large farmhouses.

A lovely shot of the rental car dashboard.

A lovely shot of the rental car dashboard.

Yesterday afternoon – no doubt related to the wet weather – my camera went on the fritz. It stopped working completely by evening, to my dismay. The next morning, it worked again, but sporadically. For every 20 times I press the shutter button, it may actually work once. Now there is a blinking green light on the front of the body of the camera that apparently indicates there is a problem, but not the nature of the problem. The blinking green light drains a full charge on the battery in two hours, but at least the camera takes a shot now and then. I’ve decided to leave the battery out until I want to take a photo.

What this means for you, dear reader, is fewer photos. Instead of 200 to choose from like usual, this time I had 24 (that’s including the shots of the car dashboard and the gravel road, and other dumb stuff when I got impatient and just kept pressing the shutter button but stopped aiming the camera). Time for the Nikon doctor when I get home, wouldn’t you think?

Dessert cookie

Dessert cookie

We woke up in our Villarrica hotel, got another fabulous breakfast and pinched some more hockey pucks with meat and cheese, and more of those positively sinful cookies. They’re like a whole dessert in a cookie and it’s enough sweetness to last a whole day. I think it’s layers of cookies, frosting, caramel and cream, and coated in a vanilla shell with a walnut on top. Margaret’s preference is the same type of cookie, only chocolate. Anyhow, in that way we secured another picnic lunch.

We hit the highways with a map we had picked up in Pucón a couple days earlier. I navigated and Margaret drove, and we cut through the gorgeous countryside from Villarrica and connected to the Pan American Highway, down here called Ruta 5, at Los Lagos. We drove for about 4 hours total, and reached our hostel in Puerto Varas at 1:30pm. Along the way we pulled over and got out lunch, and continued driving as we ate. We had an appointment at 2:30, and until we found our room were not comfortable taking a food break. We stopped in Los Lagos for petrol, which was a fun stop for me because a man working there spoke English and said he had become fluent when he spent some time at West Point Military Academy in New York. I told him I was also a veteran, and we talked military shop while Margaret stressed about getting the attendant to pump gas and then pay him (she had to break into my conversation to solicit for pesos). It was a bit of an abandonment of my traveling companion, so I tried to balance it out by pumping the man for ideas of what to see and do in the region, and he was happy to comply.

I tried to get shots along the way and my camera hardly ever complied. There were a lot of scenes like this.

I tried to get shots along the way and my camera hardly ever cooperated. There were a lot of scenes like this.

I can't get over what a beautiful country Chile is.

I can’t get over what a beautiful country Chile is.

The rivers and forests and mountains make for stunning scenery.

The rivers and forests and mountains make for stunning scenery.

We saw a lot of this today, but even Ruta 5 is beautiful in its way.

We saw a lot of this today, but even Ruta 5 is beautiful in its way. Margaret was impressed by the mostly empty highway, which made for low-stress driving.

We found our hostel in Puerto Varas with very little trouble, as the Air BnB hostess gave great directions from Ruta 5. We are staying at Galpon Aire Puro, a refurbished ginormous potato barn. It’s four stories, with shops in the first level, offices on the second level, the hostesses’ living quarters and guest rooms on the third level, and another guest room at the top. It is gorgeous. Our hostess is Vicki Johnson, a sparking, popping burst of positive energy. She showed us to our rooms, gave us tons of information about getting around town and where to find good food, then whirled out the door to meet a friend. We then had 30 minutes to wait for our scheduled pick up from the river rafting company.

The common room at our hostel.

The common room at our hostel looks out over the town of Puerto Varas.

Looking through the common room to the kitchen. Guest rooms above, and on all sides of the common room.

Looking through the common room to the kitchen. Guest rooms above, and on all sides of the common room.

The stairwell between all the floors of our hostel.

The stairwell between all the floors of our hostel.

The rafting company is Ko’Kayak, based in Ensenada. They sent a van to pick up rafters Jaime, Daniella, and Alicia and us. Daniella was doing the rafting trip as a birthday gift for Alicia who had just turned 15. Jaime was a Santiago transplant who came to live in Puerto Varas after visiting and falling in love with his novia (girlfriend). We met Michelle, our guide from Australia, who chatted with us during our hour-long drive to Ensenada and put us all at ease as much as we could be prior to a rafting trip. Margaret and Jamie had done this before, the rest of us never had and were somewhat nervous, not knowing what to expect.

The rain had been falling all day, from the moment we awoke, and we were wondering if the rafting trip would be canceled. But rafting in the rain turns out to be a great idea since you get soaked anyway. Michelle ran us through the safety speech, and then taught us how to paddle and which commands would be used. Then we changed into wetsuits, got fitted for helmets, and climbed into the van again for the ride to the river.

The rafting headquarters.

The rafting headquarters.

Getting ready for our safety briefing.

Getting ready for our safety briefing.

Margaret, me, and Jaime in our attractive rafting uniforms.

Margaret, me, and Jaime in our attractive rafting uniforms.

It was a small group and we all fit into one raft. Our first order of business was to get another safety lecture, this time from the man who introduced himself to us as our Angel. He was in a kayak and explained that if anyone went into the river, he would be the rescue crew. He explained what we had to do if we found ourselves outside the raft and floating down the river. Then we all climbed into the raft and practiced paddling. Michelle is fluent in Spanish and English, and switched back and forth with ease, giving instructions in both so everyone could understand. In fact, the command “forward!” got a little lost in the river noise, and I found it easier to listen to “adelante!” after a few minutes. (I think, for the next few years, any time I see the word “adelante,” I’m going to hear it in Michelle’s voice, shouted over wave noise.)

Before we knew it, we were in the Petrohué River in the Vicente Perez Rosales National Park and our first rapids were right in front of us. It’s apparently a category 3 river, but I am ignorant of category definitions. I can tell you what it means though: giant waves that smash you in the face! It was terrifying at first. I’m a bit of a shy person in new situations and with new people, so I hadn’t said much to anyone since the van pick up. M and I were placed in the front of the raft, and right out of the gate we were rocketing down cliffs of water and facing huge walls of waves that just came right at us. I had the presence of mind to notice the aqua colour, the triangle shapes of the waves, the way the water was so clear we could see the black rocks below, causing all the commotion, even though we were separated from the rocks by a lot of water. The only time I have ever experienced waves like this was surfing, so I noticed how nice it is to get a faceful of fresh water vs. sea water. And likewise, how lovely that the water was warmer than the Humboldt Coast ocean I have known. The Pacific Ocean off Trinidad California is around 52 degrees in the winter when the best waves are available. The Petrohué River was much warmer – maybe 65 degrees – but that’s a guess.

Anyhow, despite my shy quietness up to that point, and despite my ability to find the good in the experience, at first I was scared out of my mind and let fly some expletives. At one point I actually yelled at Margaret, “I can’t believe you got me into this!” I hollered, as I flailed with the paddle while the nose of the raft was airborne, and then squeezed my eyes shut as the next wave smashed into my face. I said to Margaret, “Yeah, I think I change my mind about going rafting,” and she thought I was serious. But…I had realized I was going to live after all, and I was just kidding. After two sets of rapids, I found that it’s pretty easy to stay in the boat. Also, Jaime was sitting right behind me and laughing his head off. I relaxed and began having a marvelous time.

My camera was not working anyway, so I had left it behind and thus I cannot show you the absolutely stunning scenery we saw from the river. Stunningly beautiful. The river was wide and warm (well relatively warm), there were birds and plants to identify. I decided to leave my glasses behind too, but was still the first person to spot a kingfisher. We had a long discussion about the hillsides covered in Nalca (Gunnera tinctoria), that apparently is delicious. {postscript: M and I tasted some later, and it does taste much like rhubarb. Though another name for this plant is “giant rhubarb,” it is not actually related. The plant has been introduced all over the world and in New Zealand and Ireland has created a weed problem.} I could not stop thinking of how the scenery at the river looks like Japan, with the steep lush mountains rising out of the river.

Our Angel circled the raft in his kayak, played in the rapids, and stationed himself off to the side to watch out for us every time we went through rapids, but there were no accidents and everyone had a great time. Eventually Michelle suggested that we could get out and float in the river (buoyed by our wetsuits), and Alicia, Jaime, and I did. Margaret used the rescuing skills that we were taught, and hauled us back into the raft when we were done swimming.

After only about an hour of rafting, we rowed to the beach and the crew waiting for us hauled in the equipment while we went to the van. During the long ride back, we all got pretty chilled in our soaked suits. We changed back into dry clothes with lightning speed, and met up again to share hot coffee and tea and empanadas. I had heard about Chilean honey, and thought that honey was honey. But Jaime insisted that I try Miel, and it turned out to be amazing! I wish I had the means to buy twenty jars of it as gifts for all of you, but my luggage was already full. Jamie explained that the flavor came from a particular tree that the bees flocked to. I shopped for the honey later and couldn’t tell how to ensure that a particular jar contained honey from the tree I wanted…since I imagine bees to be reluctant to take commands from beekeepers. After empanadas and miel on crackers and coffee in our bellies, we were all good friends despite the language barrier.

Ko’Kayak took us all home and M and I turned in for the night. Though we wanted to explore Puerto Varas, it had truly been a long day.

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