While the sun blanketed the late afternoon in warmth, we drove to Hualqui, to visit with a friend, and. to pick up an order placed with a woman who makes mouthwatering tortilla and fresh cheese. The tortilla, more correctly known as “tortilla de rescoldo,” is a flat wheat bread that is baked in the ashes of wood coals. The ashes are scraped off, leaving a thick crust all around the bread. The flavor is incredible, earthy with a bit of wood smoke. This dense bread, while best enjoyed fresh to relish the crusty outer texture, also freezes well, and is our favorite choice for breakfast with palta (avocado) or scrambled eggs. Although it´s a sad morning when the freezer has no more to offer, it´s a great reason for an excursion to the countryside.
The woman and her family live on top of a hill outside Hualqui. The narrow path that leads to their farm is deeply rutted from years of contact with wheels of oxen-drawn carts. Oxen, horses and manual labor are still the life-blood of most small Chilean farms. The modern age has yet to reach into the rural hills, and human hands still steady the plow as oxen drag the blade across fertile fields.
Although the family lives very poorly, they live richly in ways that only nature and not commerce can provide. The house is little more than a shack, with broken windows, gaping holes in the wood, and more peel than paint. The furnishings are meager, and that which is not rustically constructed, has more than outlived their intended service. Dust, dirt and debris hold reign around the house.
The garden, however, is something beautiful to behold. Neatly arranged beds of vegetables nestle into terraces carved away from the steep hillside, Rather than being just utilitarian, varieties of vegetables are intermingled with a potager´s ornamental grace. It is clearly as much a labor of love as it is of necessity.
Not surprisingly, our trek between the bountiful furrows always results in a trove to bring home. Instead of kitchen gadgets, cookbooks and baking wares, our green William Sonoma bags are packed to the brim with Jack and Beanstalk-sized lettuces, zucchinis, Australian cucumbers, oregano and cilantro. After a polite brief visit back at the house, the freshly baked tortilla and tubs of queso fresco (fresh cheese) are transferred to the last green bag. With our purchase completed, our Jeep makes the bone-jostling journey down to the valley.
Little excursions like this are among the best parts of life in Chile. Simple pleasures have replaced the mindless wanderings around malls. Gone are the days of trying to fill indefinable longings with fleeting pleasures from life-cluttering purchases. These days, our time is spent on enjoying moments and friendships that bring extreme satisfaction and memories to last a lifetime.