This past week, I had the opportunity to do a three day “estudio de pueblos” project in a small town called Puerto Saavedra with four of my fellow study abroaders. What is an estudio de pueblos you ask? It’s where you take a bus to a random tiny town in Southern Chile with no plan, equipped with only a small backpack and two huge bottles of potable water, with the intention of learning all that you possibly can about the culture of the village. Then when each small group returns from their respective pueblo, they present all they know about their village in a 25 minute presentation. It’s a pretty neat idea.
Puerto Saavedra is a small town with about 8,000 people total, about a two hour bus ride from Temuco. Our first task once we arrived was to find a place to stay. Luckily we made some new friends from the office of tourism who walked us to a hostel down the street. We stayed there both nights, and it was very comfortable.
Our next task was to find food. Luckily Puerto Saavedra is on the ocean (and also has a salt water lake and a river), so the sea food was delicious. On our walk to the “gastronomic center” where all the good restaurants are located, we got to explore the city a little more.
After lunch, my friend Alec and I decided to go back to the office of tourism and ask our friends where we could find out more about the history of the city. It turned out that there was a man who worked in the office who loved history and took some time to teach us first hand what he knew. After telling us about the conquest of the land from the native Mapuche people who were here by the Chilean state and the battles between Chile and Spain, and with Argentina, Peru and Bolivia in the War of the Pacific, our friend decided to make the lesson a little more exciting. He walked us to the top of a hill a few blocks down the street and we sat in the shade under the trees as he pointed out to us where all of the important shipwrecks, battles, and tsunamis happened.
It turns out that in 1960, the largest recorded earthquake in the history of recorded earthquakes took place in this region that ranked 9.5 on the Richter scale. This changed the entire geography of the city; before the earthquake there were sand dunes next to the ocean, but the “marremoto,” the combination of the earthquake and tsunami that followed, made the lake that is now a prominent part of the city. As he explained this, our friend pointed out where the wave came from (it came in a “u” shape around the city from both sides), and how the river shifted its path. He also told us the story of what his grandfather was doing when the earthquake happened.
One other fun fact we learned is that the famous Chilean poet Pablo Neruda, although he lived mostly in Santiago, loved to come to this tiny town in the summers as a child and young adult, and he wrote many poems in this very city.
That night, after we had spent about three hours learning about the history of Puerto Saavedra, everyone in our group was hungry and we embarked on our next adventure: dinner. What we didn’t realize was that this town doesn’t have open restaurants for dinner because everyone eats at home since few people live in the city. After taking the micro (small bus) outside the city, we realized that all the restaurants were closed. We had the phone numbers of a few big hotels a little farther outside the city that we tried to call to see if they had food, but we then realized that we didn’t know the area code for this part of Chile so the numbers did not work. There was no one in sight, except for one woman at the bus stop and a few stray dogs. So we decided to ask the woman if she could tell us the number of a taxi (with the area code) so we could get back to the hostel.
When we told her we were trying to look for a place to eat, however, the woman told us that she worked at one of the restaurants in this district. She then got up from the bus stop, and told us to follow her. Not knowing exactly what was going on, the five of us followed her as she unlocked one of the darkened restaurants, turned on the lights and music and put on an apron. We tried to explain that she didn’t have to do this for us if she had other plans, but she told us that she loved meeting the travelers who come into this city, and told us to order anything we wanted. Her name was Nancy, and after she made us empanadas, we all talked about where we were from and why we were here. It seems like everyone in this town is incredibly nice, and they have all been very eager to help us not only with our project, but also with everyday things like dinner. When we asked for a number for a taxi to get home after we had finished, she told us that her son had to pick her up anyways and they could give us a ride home as well.
My three days and two nights in Puerto Saavedra not only taught me about the culture of this small town, but it was also a great adventure. I not only learned about the history and art of the city, but I also experienced first hand the incredible generosity of new friends who had been strangers just moments before. And we survived, the five of us, speaking only in Spanish and finding everything from a place to stay to a place to eat in a new town where none of us had ever been. I am happy to report that the Estudio de Pueblos was a great success.