Santa Bárbara & Concepción

At the beginning of this adventure, we wrote that we were most excited about meeting new people, particularly locals. Of course, we love meeting fellow backpackers and sharing best hostels, hikes, and tales of mishaps and muggings but you can’t beat spending time with people who hail from the countries you’re striving to become culturally immersed in.

We spent a week with the Escobar-Flores family, in Santa Bárbara and Concepción, in the Bíobío region of Chile. Their son Pablo (yes, his name is Pablo Escobar) is a friend of Tim’s from New Zealand and we will forever be grateful to him for putting us in touch with his beautiful family, who took such great care of us.

We were picked up from the bus station in the town of Los Angeles by Freddy and Dariela, Pablo’s parents, and driven to their cozy home in Santa Bárbara. Even though we’d grabbed some completos (Chilean-style hotdogs) at the bus station, on arrival at their house we were presented with a delicious 3-course dinner. It was 10:30 pm but that’s a normal dinner time in South America!

We instantly felt at home. It was lovely staying in a real family home after weeks sleeping in hostels.

Freddy Escobar sells gas cylinders from the house, through the office window which is also the living room window. I loved these signs on the front gate.

Everywhere in South America, we saw shrines like this on the side of the road called animitas. Here’s one in Santa Bárbara.

Some are erected to worship saints or popular figures but most are to commemorate a family member or friend who has died under tragic circumstances. This can be a traffic accident (the most common) an attack, suicide or other accident. People will come and leave a gift at the shrine and at the same time will ask for help with something in their life, like financial trouble or illness. Some of these shrines are adorned with many gifts and become quite “famous” and others are just simple crosses with a few flowers.

Pablo’s family took us on a trip to the family farm, around an hour from Santa Bárbara, along bumpy roads through the countryside. It was set back from the road, secluded and surrounded by thick forest. It was quite a magical place; simple living at it’s best. We couldn’t help thinking what a great place it must be to play as a kid where you could get lost in the acres upon acres of land for hours on end.

We were at the farm for a traditional asado (BBQ), Chilean style. Other family members were there too. David, Pablo’s brother, had driven over from Concepción and spoke really good English, so he was our translator for the day. But, despite the language barrier with the others, we felt so welcome and comfortable with them all, helping out preparing the food. The main plate was the meat. Off the boys went with the wheelbarrow and returned 30 minutes later with a lamb for the killing.

Vegetarians…stop reading now.

We watched with trepidation as the lamb was killed, skinned, gutted and prepared on a spit for roasting. We were quite surprised to see that the lamb wasn’t in any distress when it was killed and in fact, it’s probably the least cruel way to get meat on your plate…I think. 

Ugh, I may be turning vegetarian now though. It certainly brings to light all that getting meat on your plate entails.  

A delicacy we tried, before the lamb was roasted, was ñachi. The blood is caught in a tray containing lemon juice, coriander, and spring onion. It’s immediately stirred and after a few minutes begins to curdle. Then you dip in some chunks of crusty bread and enjoy. Or, if you’re really hardcore, you drink it straight from the tray like Daniela. Warm, slightly metallic and sweet; it actually wasn’t too bad.

The ñachi, some cold beers, and fruity wine quelled any hunger while the lamb roasted and we simply relaxed in the sunshine.

After the delicious feed, we went for a drive to a nearby swimming hole. David said they used to come here when he was young. It was packed with locals, picnicking for the day or camping over the weekend. It was so simply beautiful. It also reminded us of animals around a waterhole, trying to stay cool in the summer heat. 

Back at the farm, we headed over to another family members house for some more beer and a late afternoon treat of sandia con harina tostada (watermelon with toasted flour). It sounds weird but tastes surprisingly good. As you can see, we liked it.

Sleepy from the booze and food, we headed back to Santa Bárbara.

We went on a wee adventure the following day, to find Laguna el Barco. It took a while to get there but the drive was beautiful, with sweeping views of lakes, rivers, and dams along the way. 

F0r the rest of the week, we were in Concepción at David’s place. Concepción is one of the largest cities in Chile and is predominantly a university town. Pablo went to university here to we wandered through the campus to have a look at his old buildings. I love places of study (nerd alert!); they’re full of youth, innovation, and creativity. This campus was pretty cool with graffiti art and murals on the walls,  trendy students studying at the cafes, playing sports, or lounging on the lawns smoking the green stuff because it’s not illegal…apparently.

When he wasn’t at his dojo practicing Karate, we hung out with David, visiting some attractions in the city, lounging on the beaches and trying the local cuisine. He made sure we got to try all the traditional Chilean food like empanadas (with Orange crush – an Escobar-Flores tradition), chicken and avocado paste sandwiches and the best Chilean wine.

We also learned a lot of Chilean words from David. My personal favourite…Timoteo which is the name given to a transvestite at the circus. 

We went to Chiflón del Diablo, an old coal mine that’s now a regional tourist attraction. As well as a tour down into the dark tunnels and galleries of the mine, run by ex-coal miners or their family members, you can visit the Pueblito Minero, a re-creation of the old miner’s town. The conditions they lived in were pretty horrifying. 

The tour took us down into the mine for about 2 hours, weaving through the damp, dark tunnels. We felt very claustrophobic at times. It’s hard to believe that the miners worked 16 hour days down there in horrendous conditions, both men and boys, some as young as 8 years old. 

Emotion exuded from our tour guide who shared with us the stories of his Grandfather, who had died in the mine.

There’s a beautiful, English-style park in the same town as the mine, which was a gift from the coal-magnate, who owned the mine, to his wife. It was spectacular and luxurious but kind of sad to think that the park was funded by the back-breaking work of the miners, in slave-like conditions.

It was such a great experience staying with the Escobar-Flores family, especially with David in Concepción, who really went out of his way to show us the real Chile.

We left them all with heavy-hearts, hopping on a bus north, back to Santiago de Chile. This time Tim wouldn’t be sick and could actually explore the city with me!

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