Many pleasant and interesting daytrips were possible from Valdivia, a riverside city in the south of Chile. One popular daytrip was to visit Corral, a small port community located on a bay at the head of the Valdivia River.
My trip to Corral started by taking a rickety local bus from Valdivia to a small boat dock near the town of Niebla. Private boats ferried passengers from this dock and across the bay to Corral. I jumped on a little wooden ferry boat carrying around 15 passengers and cargo of food, beverages, wood, and fuel.
The boat puttered into the middle of the bay, slowly cutting through the dark water. Across the water I could see the little town of Corral, a collection of homes set along the bay and surrounded by lovely hills covered by a forest of dark green trees. After around 30 minutes we reached a long wooden pier in Corral. I disembarked and set out on foot.
The first places I went was an old Spanish fort built to stop invading ships from entering the bay. The fort was little more than a collection of old stone walls built upon a grassy patch of land overlooking the bay. The view of the bay from the fort was excellent. I could see clear across the bay and out to the Pacific Ocean. Grayish-black clouds had formed and hung low over the dark water. The wind had grown strong and lines of waves rolled and crested in the bay. I imagined Spanish soldiers stationed at this stone fort, spending hours gazing out into the bay, compelled by the natural beauty to write lengthy, poetic letters to their loved ones at home.
I walked from the fort to a shoreline area and came across a mother and her two young sons harvesting seaweed from the shallows of the bay. The mother directed her sons to spread out the heaps of black seaweed along the sandy shore to begin the drying process. I spoke briefly with the mother to learn about what she was doing. She told me that she sold the dried seaweed to companies that turn it into thickening agents and extracts for cosmetic and personal care products.
Immediately opposite from where the mother and her sons were harvesting algae was a huge, smoking pile of woodchips. My curiosity piqued, I also questioned her about the woodchips. She told me that woodchips were big business in the community. I learned that the woodchips were sold to Asian companies for use in making pulp for paper production. Huge cargo ships from Japan and China regularly moored in bay to take on thousands of tonnes of woodchips.
The return trip on the ferry was a little dicey, as the stiff onshore wind was sending sizeable ocean swells into the bay. As we crossed the bay the little boat was buffeted by deep, dark rolling waves. The captain did his best to navigate the swells, but at times the boat rocked considerably. Everyone was wearing life a vest, and some passengers laughed nervously with the pitching of the boat. Thoughts of the boat sinking and how to survive in the cold water crossed my mind. I was sure that my life jacket and swimming skills would keep me afloat. But I feared that the cold of the water would get me in the end.
Of course, the boat did not sink, and the daytrip to Corral was well worth it. I was happy to have learned some things about Chile’s seaweed and woodchip industries, and to have experienced the quiet, close to nature life of a small bayside community.