Thursday, November 25, 2010

Thanksgiving in Espelon

Today's activities were strangely appropriate for Thanksgiving. I traveled by boat to a sparsely populated place where people live off the land. There, I observed native traditions and then sat down to enjoy a meal with the local people.

The destination was the rural town of Espelon, at the end of a lake that bears its name. There's a cattle trail that runs along the side of the lake, but the best way to go is by the barcasa (ferry). It's an hour and a half to Espelon, but the views from the barcasa are incredible, especially on a beautiful day like today.

Espelon isn't so much a town as it is a school and a community center serving a few hundred people in the surrounding campo (countryside). These people make their living off the land, primarily raising sheep or cattle. The school has, I think, 12 children, some of whom arrive on Monday by horse and stay until Friday, when they head back up to their homes.

The reason for today's visit was the Teleton, supposedly inspired by the Jerry Lewis Telethon. It's a country-wide campaign to raise money for children with disabilities, this year with the slogan "Chile, un solo corazón" (Chile, one heart). The local schools are doing their own small programs, Espelon's being today. There were music and dance performances by children from Espelon and Futa, as well as a local traditional music group. The most unique component was the cueca, the Chilean national dance that reenacts the courtship of a rooster and a hen. It involves whirling handkerchiefs and fancy footwork as partners circle each other before eventually ending up arm-in-arm.

After the Teleton performances, everyone headed over to a nearby farmhouse where we ate cordero, or lamb cooked whole on big metal skewers over a fire. The cordero was brought out and laid on a wooden table, where men with large knives cut it up into reasonable-sized pieces. Women eat off plates and men eat with their hands, or so I was told. The cordero was especially good with a homemade chimichurri sauce and some fried bread.

Though I missed being with family and having traditional Thanksgiving food, spending the day in Espelon and experiencing local traditions was a wonderful experience. Feliz dia del gratitud!

Pictures are below:

La barcasa

Me on the barcasa

View from the barcasa

View from the "port" of Espelon

View from the "port" of Espelon

In Espelon

Niños in their school uniform

School children dancing the cueca

Carving up the cordero

Cordero remains - note that I don't recommend Patagonia for vegetarians...

Sunset from Futa #1

Sunset from Futa #2


  1. I think Anne and I would be willing to give up our vegetarianism to visit a place this beautiful...Happy Thanksgiving, amigo

  2. Looks terrific, bud - beautiful day to cross on the barcasa, and good fun w/ the program in Espelon. I know you wanted to dance the cueca - but the question is, did you?