After a less than ideal border crossing (I read the Chilean customs form incorrectly, filled the form out wrong, or according to the customs officials, lied. And then to top it off, I forgot to ask for my passport back, but luckily our very kind minibus driver picked it up for me on his way back from another border run.), we had a very pleasant afternoon and evening in Chile Chico. Chile Chico is really small, but apparently big for this sparsely populated region of Chile. This is looking down the main road into the urban area of town.
Since it was early on a Sunday afternoon, almost every single shop was closed until later in the day, so to pass time we walked around town. The streets were practically empty of any other people besides myself, Matt, and Reuben, a German kid we met who was just finishing up some public service in Argentina, and now spending some time travelling. We walked down to the lake shore and soaked up the beauty of the crisp blue waters surrounded by snowcapped Andes. It looked like an ocean captured by the mountains. Eventually we got hungry and headed off in search of food. Although the atm didn’t accept our card, and the bank was closed so we couldn’t exchange money, the main grocery store luckily accepted credit cards. (The wide use of credit cards in Argentina, and now, apparently, Chile has been quite handy…in Asia we were rarely able to use one.) So we stocked up on food for dinner as well as snacks for tomorrow. Back at Casa No Me Olvides, we hung around the friendly kitchen with its crackling woodstove and I made dinner as we all hung out with Maria, the owner. Maria has lived in Chile Chico her whole life and has been running the guesthouse since 1992 when she met an American travelling through Chile into Argentina. They had met on the boat that goes across the lake and Maria invited the American woman to stay at her house. The woman suggested opening a guesthouse (there aren’t many now, and I’m, sure in ‘92 there were even less). We listened as Maria told us stories from the early days of the hospedaje, or guesthouse. She said that when it was first opened, in those days, tourists didn’t speak much Spanish, their level was that of a toddler, so she said with a hearty laugh. Casa No Me Olvides had made it into a guidebook, Footprints, I think, and people would come to the house asking about lunch. Maria would look at the tourist and ask, “Launch?” and point down the road to the boat docks. Eventually, with the help of her husband, they realized they were asking about food. The name, No Me Olvides, came from the words of a song her husband wrote her before they were married. The house was always named this, before it was a hospedaje. Sometimes the hospedaje was very full and though there were no beds left, she would still let travelers stay if they wanted. People would be sleeping in the hallway, on the wood chest, etc. One of her sons especially liked meeting the travelers, and one day he offered to take a horse-cart down to the lake to pick up customers. The tourists got a kick out of the cart, which he told them was used often for transportation (though he left out that it was for transporting goods, not people, and Maria got a kick out of the fact that the tourists though it was fun to ride in such a cart. Her son would show the tourists around the area, and Maria told the tourists that if her son got obnoxious to just pull him by his hair. Maria told us about the first doctor in town and how he would help people even if they couldn’t pay. He helped organize a boarding house for patients, as there was no hospital yet, so that they would have a place to stay while they received treatment. Eventually he helped to open the hospital in Chile Chico. She pointed to the picture on the wall from the grand opening. Other pictures brought other stories, and some she just remembered with a laugh as she told us, and we had a fun evening. Nowadays it seems that Maria lives by herself. Her husband has passed away, and (from what we could gather) her children live in other areas. It seemed sad that such a lively and caring woman should have to live alone now, but she has her travelers. For a night we felt like family as she told us stories, showed me how to cook a sausage (and then washed the greasy pan while I wasn’t looking), and she even took my shoe from me and got her fingers black and sticky as she cleaned off the tar I had stepped in earlier in the day. It was definitely a casa we won’t forget.