Day 108: Don’t Be A Gringo

Thur. 29th November 2012

With the locals on a fishing boat cum ferryToday was a day that we took the words of Miraslava (our host in Tulum all those weeks ago) to heart – she hated with a passion the tourist resorts and prepackaged tours in the Yucatan and was forever encouraging us with “Don’t be a Gringo”. Use local transport to get to sites and explore them yourselves.

At the fishmarket in ValdiviaValdivia is a pretty town that is on the intersection of 4 rivers and only just a little inland from the Pacific Ocean. My initial choice of t-shirt, shorts and sandals was (with hindsight) a little optimistic, whilst warmer than Punta Arenas, the warmth and sunshine we had felt yesterday on arrival in Puerto Montt was replaced by grey skies and a hint of rain. Armed with a fleece and waterproof jacket in daypack, we headed out to explore the town and the surrounding countryside.

Audience is not just tourists!First stop was the riverside fish market. As it turns out, we should have taken more notice of the names of the fish on display – it would have greatly helped in restaurants later on! Along with the locals and the tourists who filled the market, there were a crowd of gulls, cormorants and the odd pelican taking a keen interest. We were a little disappointed though as we had been told that we would also see sea lions there. Oh well, we had our fill of sea lions in the Galapagos.

Old lighthouse at the mouth of the riverRight next to the market was the Tourist Information office where they very helpfully not only provided us with a map of the town but told us how and where to get buses out to some of the tourist attractions. Janet and I had slightly different priorities – Janet was keen on seeing some forts further down the river and I wanted to go on a brewery tour. Fortunately they were both in the same direction and could be reached on the same bus.

Rowing boats in Niebla harbourWe splashed out CL$500 (£0.65) each and took a local bus out to the small town of Niebla which is on the mouth of the river downstream from Valdivia. It essentially is the demarcation point between the river and the Pacific Ocean – a much less wild and windy Pacific than we had seen only yesterday in Punta Arenas. The Spanish built a series of forts on both banks of the river and on an island in the middle of the river.  Niebla is the starting point to go and visit them. It is also a very quiet and sleepy little seaside town – I’d liken it to Groomsport to Valdivia’s Bangor, but I’m not sure the analogy will be understood by many people.

The fort at NieblaAs we walked around the fort, the only other visitors were groups of schoolkids being shepherded around by their teachers. Some things don’t change from country to country! There wasn’t a huge amount to the site – some walls that had been rebuilt; some rusting canons pointing out to sea; and a few signs pointing out some of the key aspects of the site. Still, as we had only paid £1 or so to get in, we could hardly complain.

Call this a ferry?There was no chance of a coffee (let alone lunch) in Niebla, so we wandered down to the harbour to see if we could get a ferry over to the other side of the river – another fort and another chance for coffee and or lunch. Who says I have a one track mind? In line with our theme for the day, we spot locals being herded onto what looks like a converted fishing boat and as we approach we are asked if we want to go to Corral (the town on the opposite bank) for the princely sum of CL$800 (£1 each).

You can see why they built a fort here.Corral was a bigger town than Niebla, but only in a relative sense (to continue my analogy that few will understand, think of Donaghadee). Whilst there were restaurants, most of them seemed to be shut. Unsurprisingly, when we did find an open restaurant, the menu was fish, fish or fish and here we wished we’d paid more attention in the fish market. Some names such as Salmón were self-explanatory, and we had seen enough Congrio to know that it was conger eel. Others were unknown. In the end, we both went for Merluza, which I thought might be cod (but we later find out to be hake). Anyway, it was simple fish and potatoes tasty and not overcooked like some other fish we’ve had recently.

Olly manning the canonAfter lunch, and after a quick walk around the fort in Corral, we caught the boat back and just about grabbed the bus that nearly waited for people to get off the boat. (I think we were short-changed on the bus as the signs seemed to indicate it was only CL$400 to go back into town – as opposed to the CS$500 to get out – it was hard to get excited about the 30p difference). We were dropped off opposite the Kunstmann Brewery and after working out where the restaurant ended, we managed to sign up for the next tour.

And very nice it was tooThe tour turned out to be fascinating – we learned as much about the history and culture of Valdivia as we did about the beer, so it was very worthwhile. For example, we learned that shortly after independence, the new Chilean government encouraged immigration and Valdivia was settled by Germans who kept much of their culture (and initially, their language). Whilst brewing started shortly after they settled, the factory – along with much of the rest of Valdivia – was flattened by the 1960 earthquake, centred on Valdivia, which at 9.6 on the Richter scale was the biggest ever recorded. It wasn’t until the 1990s that brewing started again. Even better, we got a free beer glass (which we don’t know how we will carry), and a sample of really excellent beer fresh from one of the steel vats.

Even Olly enjoyed the tour!In the evening, the sun came out and we decided to take a walk along the riverbank for the views and to find a restaurant (those in the centre of town didn’t look terribly inspiring). It was very pleasant to stroll by the river in the warm sunshine. This view seemed to be shared by the group of sea lions that we came across as they were stretched out on the river shore – another of the items on our ‘must see in Valdivia’ list ticked off. They were much bigger (and much smellier) than the ones that we saw in Galapagos.

Sea lions on the river bank in ValdiviaWe found our restaurant with good views out over the river and as we enjoyed our meal (more fish – Tilapia this time for me and salmon for Janet) we came to the conclusion that we had made a good choice in coming to Valdivia but are ready to move on again tomorrow. One and a bit days are enough here.



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