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Chileans are very kind welcoming people, and in far removed rural Patagonia, their hospitality is heightened even more. As we sat inside listening to the pouring rain on the first day of 2014, our host at the Hospedaje Giselle, Maria (Giselle we learned is a granddaughter), invited us to her daughter’s house for a traditional New Year’s celebration, called an asada.
We walked fifty yards across a wooden boardwalk to one of Tortel’s many hillside homes, and entered as five; Nicco and Elizabeth from Santiago, Tyler and Lisa from los Estados Unidos, and grandma Maria, from across the boardwalk. A living/dining/kitchen room was dominated by a centrally located stove. In a corner was a small sink. Two teenage boys sat on a bench to the left, their ball cap bills shaped in severe curves. A reserved teenage girl in a red faux-leather jacket sat in the corner next to a tall fair skinned grandfather. A massive boombox pounded out Latino tango beats. We were offered a clear sweet wine, with canned fruit filling the bottom of the glass. Lisa squeezed onto a couch behind the stove. I sat on a wooden chair beside a rotund garrulous fellow who smiled often, revealing very few teeth.
The grandpa wasted little time asking young nose-ringed Elizabeth for a dance. They stepped across the room in patterns, a welcome diversion for those of us who struggled to make conversation with our limited Spanish. Lisa took the floor with the elder next. A short time later, she produced grins all around with her non traditional individual boogie, opposite one of the young nephews. Later, my wife and I were coerced onto the floor together. Despite our ugly incompetence with swing dance, the locals demanded more, and we struggled through a contemporary Chilean song that seemed to have no end.
For much of the evening, I lingered outside near the slow fire-cooked lamb, or cordero. Splayed open and pinned to a cross, it leaned over a bed of hot coals until 10 pm, when a shout went out to the neighborhood. Several more of the extended clan crowded into the house, making the obligatory rounds of handshakes and cheek kisses. As the cordero was laid on the table to be unhitched from the cross (“very meaningful” explained Nicco), I counted 19 people filling the fifteen by fifteen room.
I sat in the back with a plate of tasty greasy meat, lettuce, and bread with pobra—a Chilean salsa—as a bota bag of red wine began to make the rounds. We made our exit around midnight, when the dance floor was again seeing some use, and the music was back up to unnatural levels. I surreptitiously closed the room window from outside, trying to contain the thump thump thump of Tortel’s New Year asada. We had an early morning ahead.
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