2017, Aisén, Coyhaique

Coyhaique: An Urban Intermission

The weather looked like shit most everywhere. Piedra Parada seemed nice enough, but nice weather and no partners lost out to friends and poor weather in Coyhaique.  And Pablo had graciously offered me a place to stay, a true bonus.

Pablo and Gaby are gone for the morning, but prior to departure, we have sipped the mate and eaten huevos, pan y queso. Outside the rain falls heavy and hard on the metal roof, finding its way through, only to be stopped by a myriad of pots, buckets and containers. It runs down the streets in rivers before finding a storm sewer blocks away. The falling water and thick clouds offer little hope to this climber. The dishes have been washed, more tea has been drank, the internet perused and my room organized. My mind wanders, back to the internet, to the facebook, to news. I can’t help but wonder what the fuck is going on in the United States, so I look again, read more and vow to write my congressmen and representative, despite knowing their direct opposition to my thoughts and ideas.

Coyhaique from the side of Cerro McKay
Coyhaique from the side of Cerro McKay

I walk outside and turn left. The heavy droplets run off my shoulders, down my back, soaking the back of my legs. I walk nowhere in particular. It is exercise, it is something do. It lets me move away from the internet, it makes me feel like I am doing something. I step off the curb into the river, soaking through my shoes and socks. I keep walking. I am darker today, grayer, my drab colors blending more into the local apparel. I walk for hours, around and around. I buy a completo, then pan, paltas, y tomates at a minimercado. The rain subsides and I trudge back up the hill, toward the yellow house on the corner, toward the dog that will bark at me when I enter, and toward more tea, manjar and sandwiches with avocado and tomato.

“Maybe we get a ride with people going at four” Pablo says looking up from his phone after it buzzed his attention.

We are on the couches in his living room. In front of him a laptop plays a live streaming feed of an ice climbing competition, with absolutely no ice. I stare in amazement at what has become of the sport that first brought me into climbing.

“Or maybe Manuel drive us” he adds as his fingers type out a text. “Muralla China will be driest. You don’t mind climbing sport? It is not what I want to do, but it will be quick.”

“No, not at all, sounds great” I reply without pulling my eyes from the “ice climbing” happening on the screen. “This is fucking ridiculous” I say without much pause, quickly returning to our prior topic of conversation.

“Manuel can go with us at three” Pablo says thirty seconds later.

We load our packs, and toss them into Manuel’s Mitsubishi Pajero SUV when he arrives. He punches it down the dry, one way street, only to have Pablo rapid fire Spanish to him, before a quick swerve right and a loop back around towards the weatherbeaten house with the blue front door on the corner of Bibao and Las Quintas, where a guy with a beard jumps into the back seat next to me. “Jared, do you know Juanjo?” Pablo asks. “He was an IIT with NOLS.”

“Nope” I say just before sticking out my hand. “Soy Jared” I say using one of the only Spanish phrases I know.

We charge south down Ruta 7 before hanging a left. Manuel takes the SUV through some gates and across some fields, but only after a quick stop to secure some permission from the landowner. The wind and light rain buffets us as we hop out. It is Patagonia though and this is the norm. We hop a fence and trudge along the cliff top, before dropping down to the base through a break in the limestone. We are the first ones there. The routes are long, the holds slopey, the climbing engaging.  It is not long before there is a crowd though, mostly young and all friends.  Some faces are familiar from our trip to the climbing gym a day or two ago.  As Pablo says, there is only ten climbers, so you always see the same folks at the crag.  Up high on the rough, well textured face Pablo fights hard for one, grabbing the draw before taking a large vueleto with a good audience looking on. The language is different, but the scene the same. Contigo, dale, venga are all shouted up with encouragement. Mate is passed, shit is talked and the moist, windy conditions are braved till almost dusk, when we bail and make our way towards cervezas y comida.


“What do we need?” I ask as Pablo pulls the borrowed Mitsubishi SUV up next to the Peter Pan Minimercado. We are just back from an afternoon at Salto Chico, a crack riddled cliff south of town. Good climbing, ten pitches for me, and for a change, decently sunny weather, at least in the afternoon. Gaby has a plan and we are getting the supplies. Rumor has it a Chilean dish is in store. That means fanchops (a mix of Escudo (a Chilean beer) and Fanta (an orange soda)) too.

“Thirteen potatoes” Pablo starts the list as we walk in the door. “Salchichas, aciete, huevos, avacado, some meat…” he trails his bi-lingual list off. “And yes, that too” he smiles with approval as I hold up Fanta and a six pack of Escudo. “Fanchop.” We can’t quite get everything we need, so in traditional Patagonian style, we make another stop, this one at a carniceria.

I brave the loud, aggressive, but fenced in, dog as he barks and growls while I open the gate. We gather the groceries and head down the steps and in the back door. “Hola, ¿qué tal?” I say as I greet Gaby with the traditional cheek kisses and plop the items on the table. I go for the glasses while Pablo and Gaby talk.

Chorrillana is the plato especial for the evening and Gaby has friends coming over too. So we set to peeling potatoes while Gaby cuts the beef, onions and sausage. I take on the job of fry cook and fill a NOLS fry bake full of oil, strike a match to light the burner and let it heat up. We work with fanchops nearby. Potatoes, meat and vegetables are piled on the wood stove in the corner of the spacious kitchen, while beer, cheese and vegetables being chopped grace the table.


It takes six different batches before all the fries are done, so the golden, fried potatoes are ladled into a cardboard box and placed in the oven to keep them warm. With all five folks here and the fries ready I start scooping them onto the plates. I dole them all out before Gaby starts pushing the bife y cebolla onto the top while the eggs fry quickly over a high flame. Pablo puts the good beers, mayonnaise, salt and forks out on the coffee table and we gather around the small table and dig in.

I am put at ease the moment I step out of the car. Señor Veda greets me with a warm smile and a handshake. “Welcome to my home” he says in halting English. Señora Veda the same, though her English is smooth. A few days earlier, Gaby’s brother had told me she was an English teacher; of course I thought about that, when earlier this morning, Pablo had let me know of the invitation to lunch at Gaby’s parents house. I eagerly accepted, knowing it would be a fun learning experience with good people and food. I was not wrong.

We sit outside on and off the porch in the now standard, light sprinkles. Señor Veda is a mecánico and various white vans and other colored SUVs in various states of repair are parked in the sloping, grassy yard. We are high on a hill above northern Coyhaique and can look down on verdant pastures and a winding river and across it to snow capped peaks.  Talk swirls around in Spanish and English and her dad plies me with Escudo after Escudo as he pounds nails on the porch he is building while also tending the asado. Like a good guest in Chile, I just sit there and enjoy what is given. Food is hospitality.

Though I try, the Spanish comes hard, the understanding, the pronunciation. Señor Veda spends most of the day trying to say my name; I spend almost as much time trying to get his last name right. But there is much smiles and laughter.

The meat done, we make our way inside. Gaby’s brothers are there too, and some with friends, so all told nine of us gather tightly around the dinner table. Plates of food, stacked with potatoes and meat are served. We add in choclo, pan y ensalada and they get even more full. More Escudo, then vino, then Frenet y vino dulce, all of which serve to loosen my tongue. The señor and I talk trucks, Toyotas in particular, and about family and his grandparents and their history, and somehow, I understand it. The señora and I communicate more easily, as do one of Gaby’s brothers and I, and the coaching is useful. We talk of politics and music and I get them to play some George Strait.

Later, after most are dispersed, Señor Veda pushes more food on me, huevos fresca and pan con rosa mosqueta. He asks me if I think latinos are distant or cold. “¿Comparado con los Norte Americanos?” I ask. I think of the kindness I have recently received from complete strangers, both here and in Chaitén. “No, no way”; my vigorous shaking of the head needs little translation.


And then I got on the bus and headed back north, but not before more jolgorio, escalando, and adventures in learning Spanish.

Featured Image: The view from Salto Chico.