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Puertecillo - A weekend on the Chilean Coast


There is a small Chilean man driving a small white SsangYong jeep, loaded with surfboards, tents and rucksacks. His nickname - Huaco - means 'man of the countryside' here. To the left, as he drives south - the Andes – to the right (west) are the less aggressive, lumpy hills which we will soon cut through to get to the sea. He drives slow and smooth – much like one would in the dead of night - not wanting to wake the villagers. Maria sits next to this back-capped man and jabbers excitedly in heavily accented Spanish. She cannot wait to reach Puertecillo: she is enchanted by the place. The man speaks slowly and elongates his high pitched vowels, he is relaxing, and tells of how he just sold two of his horses. This saddened him. He owns a small-scale organic farm on the outskirts of the small valley town of Gultra.

Before the journey in the small white jeep we had visited Maria's cousin, an energetic young man with a swiftly progressive beer belly and a child of 18 months. He spent most of his time attempting to convince his child to eat rice and apples, but to no avail. 

Hauco's eyebrows wear a constant smile in the rear-view mirror – he has three days off and he will spend them at the sea, by a fire and under the stars. A field of yellow flowering crops fills the car with the familiar smell of Suffolk rapeseed – but nobody can confirm the identity of the plant. Most of the wooden constructions are sheltered by rusty corrugated iron as well as the odd tiled roof for the more organised looking lots. Small holdings and vegetable patches line the stinking, freshly tarmacked road.

We pick up the rest of the group in a small town with a plaza full of the sound of drums: San Vicente, two and a half hours south of Santiago. The small white jeep is now full of people, surfboards, more tents and more rucksacks. The road soon turns to a dirt track and stays as such for the next two hours. Huaco manoeuvres his jeep with the experience his name dictates. Cacti and stunted trees fill the vast green plains. Dust clouds follow and warn us of oncoming traffic. Finally we reach the edge of the grasslands – and slowly rumble down the steep switchbacks towards the ocean. The sun was shining the beginnings of a sunset onto the Pacific, casting a dull light over the black sand and cliffs. 

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Puertecillo from above

A fire was lit and jackets donned, the spring sun tricking us into a false illusion of warmth. An Arab-Chilean chef arrives with a table, a bag of flour, freshly prepared pizza dough, and a very loud mouth. He sets about ordering the Gringo (me) to help him prepare the dinner. He is bad with names so calls everyone his 'amor', especially his children to whom he is totally devoted. His wife left him and he shows such intense enthusiasm for his children that one almost wonders what he is making up for – or that he is afraid to lose them. He and the four children have matching tattoos of their family name in Arabic, they are beautiful to watch together. Once the pizza is consumed, he slaps huge pieces of beef onto the crudely constructed grate and throws on hands full of salt to crackle in the flames. Red wine and borgoña (cold red wine with strawberries) are drunk from bottles and buckets. The traditional Chilean asado involves letting the fire burn low until there is not much smoke being produced, then the meat cooks slowly with lots of salt.

The evening ended wrapped in a bivvy bag under the stars, the cold wind blowing in off the Pacific. A huge dog grey and white dog, Omero, sounded the morning alarm with licks and sniffs, and when the sun finally came up from behind the hills I was warm again. All the while a particularly painful ingrown hair swelled and pulsed in that inaccessibly tight skin just to the right of my Adam's apple.