After hiking in the foggy mountains of Parque Quelat, we were soaked to the bone and a hasty change into fresh clothes in the car did little to dispel the deep-set chill.
Not quite knowing what to expect, we drove 30km along a mist-shrouded valley towards the small town of Puerto Cisnes. The road was a surprise, well-kept and paved, of all things. The foliage was dense and brilliant green, the nalca leaves bigger than umbrellas at the roadside.
We arrived in Puerto Cisnes as dusk was setting in. The town appeared sleepy, like many of the others we had driven through, with not a person in sight. We scanned wood shake houses, looking for lights and signs. There were a few sad looking buildings that sagged into their plots with weathered signs proclaiming them hosterias or hostels, but we drove on, hoping for a more welcoming place to spend the night.
We passed through the town center, admiring the quaint (and surprising) Roman-styled library, and turned onto the costanera which ran along the Seno Venisquero, the fjord bay. At last, a friendly light caught our eye and we were relieved to see a sign for a hotel and restaurant swinging in the evening wind. Little did we know at the time that this would be an auspicious moment in our journey.
The next morning, after a restful night, we drove back through town in search of a camping heater. We had been looking for one of these propane-powered heaters for days now throughout our travels and so far had no luck. But our luck was about to change. At the hardware store, we not only found our prized camp heater, but we also made friends with the owner Maria Teresa, who gave us several good leads on local chefs, one of which happened to be associated with the very hotel where we were staying, Lafquen-Antu. Maria Teresa also directed us to the municipality building where we were told to ask for Homer who could tell us about camping nearby.
Once Homer heard about our project, he readily offered us the unlimited use of a local park across the bay. Upon returning to Lafquen-Antu, we engaged our hostess in a conversation about food and soon discovered a fellow foodie. Marisol, the owner, informed us that she was hosting a cooking class the following day and invited us to join. The chef that we had been directed to seek out would be arriving the next day to teach.
We ended up staying a week in Puerto Cisnes and got to know many of the locals, a regular group of whom hung out at Lafquen-Antu every night. The chef, Alonso Barraza Saez, turned out to be a celebrity chef from the popular Chilean show Recomiendo Chile. His class was part of a bigger program, called Litoral Patagonia, a capacity-building cultural program headed by Paul Gomez-Canchong from the Universidad de Concepcion.
Litoral Patagonia brings together local artisans, chefs, and business owners in an effort to educate and create sustainable cultural capital for the Aysen region. For a more in-depth look at this remarkable program, click here.
As such, it was the perfect opportunity for us to get to know the local food scene. The first day of classes revolved around discussion of sustainability and customer service. During the second day of class, Chef Alonso demonstrated various ways to cook various types of fish.
During our week in Puerto Cisnes, we ate well. With all the chefs in the mix, we were treated to a lot of local fare. Mark even chipped in by making fish tacos one night at the week’s end. Despite nights plagued by our leaking trailer tent and endless nightly storms with pounding rain and howling winds, each day was met with the warmth of friendship and comradery. Friends, and comrades, we would remain in touch with throughout our stay in Chile.