Southern Comfort

The skies are gray and overcast in central Chile. Which makes sense, when I think about it, as I’m getting into the latitudes south of the Equator that roughly correspond to the areas between San Francisco and Seattle on the north side. I’m not going to verify that claim, so feel free to dispute it if you like.

It’s a weird feeling to be going south and experiencing colder climates. Disorienting, almost, thanks to years of experience in the United States, where south means hot summers and mild winters.

My trusty guidebook has not led me astray yet, but it didn’t exactly deliver a rousing success on my trip to Constitucion. I took the Ramal from Talca–a buscarril, a two-car train that more closely resembles a schoolbus. It’s a long, slow ride along the Rio Maule that stops in a few small villages along the way. All in all, it took about three and a half hours to get to Constitucion. It is not a trip for those in a hurry–the bus ride home lasted about two hours.

I am anything but in a hurry, so I took the train. I just happened to pick a day with morning fog and low-lying clouds. The scenery that I got to see was gorgeous. And the fog created an eerie effect with the trees and mountains disappearing into the mist.

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Constitucion is a small fishing town at the mouth of the Rio Maule. I became enamored with this trip after seeing a painting of the area–though I can’t recall in which museum I saw this painting, as they are starting to blur together. Unlike the rivers and streams I’ve seen to this point, the Rio Maule is a wide, imposing river that seems undisturbed by the developments around it.

I was told to expect a resort town, and I did see many cabañas–cabins–for short stays. I was also told there would be many small restaurants on the waterfront, but I only found one. The ceviche was excellent; the price, not so much.

Memory is a funny thing. It was just six years ago that this region was decimated by an earthquake. Not that I needed to be reminded that this is an active fault zone–one look at the geography told me that. But the earthquake is recent history, and I had forgotten all about it until I got here. I went on a wine tour where the guide showed me a tank that had been crushed under a fallen beam. In Constitucion, a marker indicates that the tsunami was 2 meters high, a few blocks inland.

I liked Constitucion as a quiet town on the coast, just as I’ve enjoyed appreciating all the places I’ve visited for what they are. Chile has adapted itself well to its unique landscape. There is so much to see and do, but the winter weather hinders some excursions. I’m almost convinced that if I came back in another season, I would see an entirely new place.

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