I am writing now from Trevelin, the little town about two hours south of Cholila where my grandmother grew up. It’s an interesting little town, with a huge Welsh population, and I’m still not exactly sure how my Swiss-Argentine family ended up here. So, yesterday morning, I set off into town with the goal of finding El Fortín, the farm where my grandmother and her two sisters grew up and where my aunts spent all of their summers (and where my mom spent a summer, too). I visited two museums, one in a building that housed an old mill, and looked for all traces of the last name Tschudi or any other names that sounded familiar. I made friends with the owner of the museum, who let me play an ancient organ that they had there, and then walked around with me looking for anything donated by a Tschudi. Finally, on a list of donors, I spotted Elsy S. Tschudi, my great grandmother, but we never did find what she donated.
I continued to walk around and ask everyone if they had heard of El Fortín. Around midday, I had a Welsh tea in a teahouse alone (soliciting pitying looks from a table of older women nearby). However, I was quite happy with my toasted brown and white bread, my plate of five different types of cakes or pies, my scone with quince and currant jam, and my black tea with cream and sugar. What luxury! At the end of the tea, I decided to ask the woman who worked there if she knew anything about El Fortín. Yes, she told me, her great-grandfather owned El Fortín! I couldn’t figure out if he was related to the Tschudis or if he owned the farm before, but she knew my family and gave me the location of the farm.
So, I set off in a taxi with a nice driver who would stop for me each time I wanted to take a picture. We drove off down a gravel road and quickly left the radius of the town to enter el campo. What a beautiful area. The same calm, majestic hills with rock formations that lined the valleys in Leleque surrounded the acres and acres of farmland – mostly pasture, for cows, horses, and sheeo – that we drove past. We drove up to a gate with a sign declaring it El Fortín, and found the gate locked. So, I we left the taxi there, and the driver accompanied me over the fence and up the road that led to the main houses. After making friends with the dogs and finding nobody at all on the property, I walked around freely on the property, taking pictures and trying to absorb every little detail of the place where my grandma and my mom have so many memories.
The buildings didn’t look like they had changed much in a while, as they were all made of brick. The main compound was fenced in, but had a couple of buildings set up around a sort of a courtyard. Nearby, the farm had a couple of wooden sheds, and a rusted water tank elevated off the ground on a metal structure. I walked through an orchard with quince, plum, apple, and pear trees, eating a pear as I went. On the other side of the orchard, I greeted a herd of turkeys, a pig, and two horses grazing in the shade. The stream that my mom had described as the place where she had sailed little wooden boats still ran through a grove of cypress trees behind where the horses grazed. Surrounding all of the vegetation and trees around the main complex of structures, pastureland filled with tall, dry, grasses stretched towards the foothills in all directions. I walked through the main complex and towards the other buildings, where I found a storage barn for hay, more dogs, and a gate opened to a road out to more pastures. I looked in the door of a brick barn, which surely had been there since my family owned the farm, to see beautiful wooden stables with the late afternoon light flowing in through the cracks between the panels of wood. Saddles hung from the ceilings, and a stack of hay bales lined the wall to my right. I took as many pictures as possible and tried to imagine what it must have been like to live there sixty years ago.
Just as the fact that I was walking around without the owners knowing I was there started to make me nervous, the taxi driver called me to say that a truck was at the gate. We walked out and found someone else simply looking for the owner, so no problem there, but decided to leave anyways. We stopped at the Escuela Nº 18, the school that my grandma must have gone to as a girl growing up on the farm, which is now a historical monument of sorts. We returned to Trevelin, and now I have only a few more hours here before returning to Cholila (only one more week in Cholila before slowly making my way north for my Wildnerness First Responder course in Santiago de Chile!).