Monday, 2 November 2015

Vamos a Valdivia

Valdivia' from the river.
With Spring in full swing here in Chile, I thought it would be time to get out and go away for the weekend. The thought of another overnight bus trip sent shivers down my spine, but there is no cheaper way of doing it. Chile is a very long country, 4,300kms from North to South and only an average of 180kms wide, so everywhere you go is up or down, and a long way. I love hot sunny weather, and to top that off would be an ice-cold beer (or three), so why not go somewhere they make beer! The decision had already been made - Valdivia it is! Roughly 600kms south of Concepcion (which is about 600kms south of Santiago), sits the little city of Valdivia - the place all the Chileans I know say is beautiful but have never been there. I went to check it out for myself.

Pedro de Valdivia - Father of Chile and founder of Santiago, Conce (Penco) and Valdivia.
Founded in 1552 by Pedro de Valdivia, it was then the southernmost city in the Spanish Empire. Valdivia founded Santiago, moved south, built Concepcion (which was Penco at the time, then it was moved and renamed), and went onto secure the south too - a very busy Conquistador! The city sits on the 3 rivers, Calle Calle, Valdivia and Cau-Cau, making it easily defensible, which was very important at the time as the native people of Chile, the Mapuche, weren't overly happy with the Spanish marching in and taking all of their land. A fort was built, and the town fortified, but the Mapuche people attacked and burnt the city a few times, and even after Valdivia's death (at the hands of his Mapuche manservant Lautaro), the War of Arauco continued with leaders such as Caupolican and Colocolo - now street names in every Chilean town and city (along with Spanish leaders like O'Higgins and Prat), and also one of the most popular football teams in the country. By 1684 the city was fortified properly and made secure, and was then used as a base to explore and conquer the south.

A seal at the fish market.
Vultures also waiting to be fed.
The view from he fort in Valdivia.
Today it is famous for it's beauty, wildlife and beer! I arrived early in the morning, and found my hostel really easily - it's a small town and only took me 10 minutes from the bus stop, then 5 more minutes to the waterfront. At 6am I wasn't expecting too much activity from a city this size, only 127,000 people, but it was at the Feria Fluvial (Fish Markets) where I found the action - in the form of Sea Lions. These enormous animals, which I have seen at zoos and aquariums before, really amazed me. There is nothing like seeing an animal in it's natural habitat - but these creatures were also living side-by-side with people and both parties seemed to be benefiting from it. The fishmongers were setting up shop, cutting up and preparing their fresh produce, while the seals were setting up shop too, just behind the workers - waiting for scraps. One creature was within a metre of a man preparing fish, but instead of barking at him (yes, they bark) or even being aggressive, he sat their waiting patiently. These South American Sea Lions were the biggest I have ever seen - longer than a man is tall, and easily weighing as much as 5 rugby players. Yet, they did not bite, weren't aggressive, and were actually quite cute. They were also quite happy to sit and let people take photos of them too. A local mentioned to me that last year they were seen wandering the Plaza - 500m from the fish markets. Wow!

A man multi-tasking at the Feria Fluvial (Fish Markets).
I want my dinner!
Drive through seafood restaurant.
The town itself is small as I've said before, and it has a slightly different feel to it than Concepción and Santiago. Part of this is due to the early Spanish colonisation, and the big German influence in the mid 19th Century too. There aren't many old or historic buildings to be seen, and this is because of the earthquake in 1960. The Great Chilean Earthquake, as it is now known, registered 9.5 on the Richter Scale and lasted for 10 whole minutes. It is still the largest quake ever to be recorded. It's such a sad thing to see all around Chile - so many things have been destroyed by quakes or tsunamis here, it's a wonder why people keep building things back up. Wandering around town, there is a boat-building industry here, but everywhere you look are trees - the forestry industry basically keeps the region running. Something to be seen down here too is the new bridge that spans the Cau Cau River. I love bridges, from The Sydney Harbour Bridge to Tower Bridge and also the tallest bridge in the world in France, The Millau Viaduct, but I wanted to see this one for a different reason. It is Chile's first ever drawbridge, and was due to be opened already, but sadly the construction has been delayed due to a major 'technical error' - one half of the road has been installed 'up-side down.' It is a laughing stock in this country and everyone knows about it - you say you went to Valdivia, and people will ask you if you've seen 'that' bridge. I guess you can laugh about it as a Spanish company built it, but still it was a big waste of $30m!

Patiently waiting to be fed, even though this seal weighs more than 5 times this man.
Vultures soaking up the sun.
The 'Broken' bridge - Chile's first drawbridge.
A place where you can see the big German influence in Chile is the Kuntsmann Brewery down here. 5 kms from the centre of the city, it's a big tourist attraction, and probably my main reason for visiting. In 1850 Germans came to Chile, fleeing from political persecution, seeking a better life. The Germans also fled to America and Australia at the same time, bringing hotdogs to the States and their wine-making skills to Australia. When they arrived in Chile, they turned their hands at making beer - God love the Germans! It was set up and run by the Anwandter family, and the beer was made to the strict Bavarian recipe from 1516 which was a standard to purification - and uses 4 ingredients and nothing else, those being hops, barley, yeast and water. The Duke of Bavaria brought this law in, making this beer different from ale, and less likely to get a belly ache. Sorry England, but you're drinking bacteria! The brewery was passed down the generations and made beer until 1960. Guess why? Yup, that earthquake. The factory was lost and was only rebuilt in 1991, but hasn't missed a day of making beer since then! The tour was interesting, and they still have the original recipe book, along with many glasses and bottles of the different beer they've made over the years, but one thing that was amazing was a crate of a dozen beers. Back in the good old days, beer in Valdivia was delivered to your door in crates of 12, just like milk not that long ago, and they still have the last remaining bottle, still with beer in it, to have survived the quake. On the tour you can also east the barley they use - blond, caramel and toasted. All with a different taste, all yummy, and even more so with beer! Needless to say, beer was drunk that day too - lots of it.

The last bottle from 1960.
Welcome to where the beer is made!
Valdivia is a beer drinking town, and the brewery runs a yearly Oktoberfest in town. They hold beer drinking competitions, and two Chileans currently hold the record for the fastest litre downed - the male champ did it in 4 seconds and his female counterpart holds the best time at 6 seconds - wow! One of the owners of the Kuntsmann brewery, which is still all family controlled, comes in once or twice a year to concoct a special brew. No records are kept of his creations, it isn't bottle or mass-produced, and is only served there - once it runs out, it's gone. Must be a mad uncle. There are numerous bars around town too, but I managed to find a cool little cider place, a pub that was recommended by the locals too. You can bring your own jug to get filled up and taken home, or just sit at the bar, drink the 6.5% strength goodness, and try not to worry about the stagger home. This little place was called 'The Growler,' and I enjoyed a nice pint of cider there. The owner brews his own stuff too, and so I asked about if he bottles it or not. The lovely barmaid said he tried, but tends to drink all that he makes before it gets in the bottle. Awesome!

Don't do it! Street art in Valdivia.
I did a fair bit of walking around, and there is quite a lot to do. Numerous boats leave from the marina on tours of the rivers and surrounding wetlands, and there is also an iceberg tour. I didn't do any of these, but instead just wandered around town, seeing what I found. I came across a submarine which you can go in and see for $4, a German cemetery dating from 1851, and also the fort. The fort was free to get in, and although not much to it, was still interesting. Right at the mouth of the river, it has a commanding view, and there is a smaller fortification on the other bank as well - no wonder this spot was chosen a defensible position. Something that you probably wouldn't know about unless you had local knowledge, or go drinking with locals, is that there is a boat sitting out in the reeds that used to be a nightclub, but has now fallen into disrepair. So many more things to do here, but no time - bus back to Conce for work the next day!

The fort at Valdivia.

Birthday Weekend

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