With great anticipation my travelling companion, Luke, and I arrived in Puerto Natales, the entry town to the famous Torres del Paine National Park in the South of Chile, Patagonia. We planned to get things ready for a ten day trek by spending two days in this town to gather the necessary supplies and get everything organized.
The night before we headed into the park, we toyed with the idea of eating out at an established restaurant (a rather large decision with the budgets we had designated) as opposed to a street vendor. Puerto Natales is jam packed with inviting, fancy, and good looking eateries to entice the hungry backpacker who want a great meal pre or post hike. As we walked around we looked in a few restaurant windows and read a few discouraging menus that seemed overpriced. We came across one restaurant where you could see through a window to the grill piled high with absurd amounts of beef and lamb parts, making us gawk in our steps. We both left reality behind for a moment, even forgetting the cold wind that was whipping at our necks, in order to imagine the joy of chewing the succulent, juicy, red meats. We quite literally would have had to slap ourselves back into the reality that this establishment was obviously much too expensive, when we heard a voice calling.
Thinking the voice was directed at someone else, we turned to walk away. A Chilean woman who had just finished her shift working, approached and yelled to get our attention again. “The food is really good,” she said in Spanish, “you should try it out.” “We would love to, but the prices are a little higher than we can afford,” I said in Spanish. The woman proceeded to invite us (complete strangers off the street, who actually looked like bums, and were probably glossy eyed from staring at the meat) over to her home to have coffee. With no plans for the evening we accepted her offer and were soon in a taxi on our way to her family’s home.
We walked in the house and were greeted with great hospitality by her parents, a pair of her son’s, and a couple of friends that had been visiting. We took off our coats and attempted as best we could to converse with the family. The sons were engaged in high school mathematics homework to which they had a few questions. Straining my mind, I was able to somewhat explain fractional mathematics, a distant memory, and in sub fluent Spanish.
The mother began to set the table and pour hot water into cups for us. We sat at the kitchen table as we drank our coffee and were waited on. Without warning, the mother fried some eggs and brought bread, cheese, tomatoes and ham to the table and we were motioned to start indulging. We were hesitant and did not want to eat all the family’s food, but when we had finished our first portion, we were given more and more till we were completely filled.
After the satisfying meal, we tried our best to answer a few more math questions and explain a little to the family about what we did in our lives. It was getting late and we were set to hike in the morning so we bid our farewells and expressed our gratitude in the best of Spanish that was feasible. “Wait,” the mother said as she handed us each a plastic bag, “here is a lunch for tomorrow.” We thanked them immensely and hugged them all as if we had been long lost friends or relatives, and set back in the icy night towards our hostel.
Without any attempts, we found ourselves in a real life situation in Puerto Natales, away from the main touristy drag of the town. We were able to converse with new friends and learn new things about their culture and the way they lived. This thoughtful Chilean family opened up to complete strangers and offered a refuge for two stray American hungry wonderers. The family, though they didn’t have a lot, shared what they did have with us. This kind act of graciousness from their hearts is something that will be forever remembered by us. I can only hope that we were able to fully express our thankfulness and that we too would be as kind to people visiting our home country.
As I ate one of the packed sandwiches the next day, I realized that the meal and conversation was a lot more valuable than the piles of meat in the restaurant.