Unlike the norther half of Chile, home to the world’s driest desert, many of Chile’s southern regions receive a lot of rain, especially coastal areas. Southern coastal regions receive so much rain as to support lush temperate rainforests. While staying in Valdivia, a city in the south of Chile, I had the opportunity to visit a marvelous swath of mature temperate rainforest.
There were many natural treasures to visit outside the city of Valdivia. One such treasure was Parque Oncol, a private wilderness area which protected 754 hectares of gorgeous rainforest. The park was owned by ARAUCO, a large forestry company. A private concession offered rides to Parque Oncol on a shuttle van from Valdivia. Tickets for the shuttle van were purchased at a tourist booth along Valdivia’s waterfront.
A long, bumpy, and at times narrow, dirt road led to Parque Oncol from Valdivia. The day I visited the park was overcast, foggy, and drizzling. The white shuttle van pitched and swayed with the rough contours of the earthen road. There were about eight other passengers in the van, mostly Chilean nationals visiting one of their countries many natural wonders. While Parque Oncol was only about 29 kilometers from Valdivia, the trip took over an hour due to the slow going on the rugged dirt road.
Once at the park, the driver told us what time the van would leave to return to Valdivia. He then said that we were free to do whatever we wanted to. I spent a little time looking at a map of the trails before heading down a path leading to an overlook of the Pacific.
The trail took me through a forest of trees covered with moss and colonies of bromeliads, whose many thin, pointy leaves hung in the air like the legs of a spider. Mist hung in the air and drifted through the forest; dew formed on my face and dripped down my forehead and cheeks. The moist air carried a fresh, green, woody scent.
The trail climbed slowly, eventually emerging from the forest and out onto a windswept promontory covered with low vegetation. Angry gusts of wind blew in from the ocean, carrying dense fog across the promontory. The trail ended at a wooden deck serving as an overlook. I knew that the Pacific Ocean was out there somewhere. I could smell it. But all I could see was dense fog.
I stood on the observation deck hoping that I get a glimpse of the Pacific. The temperature was maybe 15 C, and with the rampaging wind, it was chilly. Luckily I was wearing a rain jacket and rain pants, which cut the chill of the wind. Eventually my patience paid off, and I caught fleeting glimpses of the ocean between breaks in the fog.
I headed back to where the trail began, ready to get something hot to drink. The visitors’ center housed a little café. I went inside wanting to buy a cup of tea. A group of three Chilean women were working behind the counter. As I approached, a young Chilena behind the counter said hello and asked what I wanted. I told her, “Quiero té” — “I want tea.” Her cheeks reddened in embarrassment as she responded awkwardly, “I don’t speak English.” I was confused. I was speaking Spanish. I repeated myself, “Quiero té. Tienes té?” — “I want tea. Do you have tea?” Her cheeks flushed deeper with embarrassment, and she responded, “No entiendo. I don’t speak English.” — “I don’t understand. I don’t speak English.” I felt frustration welling up inside me. An older Chilean woman behind the counter approached and asked me, “Quieres pan?” — “Do you want bread?” I thought to myself, what the fuck?
I then looked around the café and saw a man and woman sitting together at one of the wooden dining tables. The man was drinking a cup of tea – I saw the paper label of the tea bag hanging from the string coming out of his cup. They did have tea. Determined, I turned to all of the women behind the counter and said while pointing the man drinking tea, “El hombre alli esta tomando té? No hay mas te?” – “The man there is drinking tea. There is no more tea?” All I received was perplexed stares from the three women.
By now nearly everyone in the café was staring at me. Great, I thought, now I have an audience. I try not to get angry while travelling. But the language barrier can be aggravating, especially when you are using the local language to no avail. In this case, the aggravation I felt compelled me to keep trying.
The older woman behind the countered offered me bread again, this time also telling me, “tambien tenemos galletas ” – “we also have cookies.” I told her, “No quiero pan y no quiero galletas. Quiero té!” — “I don’t want bread. I don’t want cookies. I want té!” Still no understanding, and now people were looking at me as if I were a loon.
Still, I persisted. I took a couple of moments to think of a gringo Spanish language structure that they might understand. I decided to group tea together in a sentence with coffee, hoping to form the association in their minds. “Té. Quiero té. Como té y café. Café y té” — “Tea. I want tea. Like tea and coffee. Coffee and tea.” I could tell from the faces of the women behind the counter that they were digesting this information to extract meaning. I waited for one of them to say something. The older woman said, “Ahh! Quiere café!” — “Ahh! You want coffee!” I let out a heavy sigh of exasperation. “No Quiero té,” I responded, this time putting as much emphasis as I could on that accented “é.” Finally, my persistence paid off, as the older woman picked up a tea bag from below the counter and held it up, asking me, “Quiere té?” I smiled and responded, “si. Una taza de té, por favor.” – “Yes. A cup of tea please.”
I went and sat at one of the wooden tables, waiting for the cup of tea I’d fought so hard for. When the older Chilean brought the tea over, I held the tea bag up in my hand and asked her, “como se dice este?” – “How do you say this?” She respond, “té.”