The World’s Great Towns, June 1997
By the Editors
Number of McDonald’s: 0
Gestalt: Land of milk
Fess up, all you jaded, I’m-a-world-traveler types: You’ve never even heard of Temuco, Chile. Pity, because it’s a bit late to beat the rush. Germans and Swiss started migrating to this gateway to the glorious Lake District 150 years ago, and it’s now the fastest-growing burg in the country. But the place wears flushness well. The modest,
tile-roofed neighborhoods aren’t marred by traffic or smog, and the city’s hodgepodge of humanity commingles tranquilly — mestizos, Mapuche Indians, and natives of European descent (many blond and blue-eyed, with mix-and-match names like “Juan Braun”). Once your Spanish is up to par, the surface resemblance to Euro-American society keeps culture shock surprisingly low,
though disorientation might set in when you realize that though you haven’t seen a Peterman’s catalog in years, you have become quite adept at sleuthing out the freshest maracuyß fruit and sea urchin at the market.
What’s Out There
The Pacific shore is only 40 miles west. But gung-ho types head toward the Andes, where the volcanoes are huge, snowcapped, and often smoldering. Since Temuco sits well south of the equator, the Andean ski season runs from June through September, with the “summer” sports of climbing and mountain biking occupying the months after Christmas. Bring gear from home; local shops haven’t
caught on to the value of stocking high-end outdoor swag. New outfitters nonetheless pop up almost daily, most leading trekking or rafting trips into the Lake District, a spot favored by European royalty escaping the gloom of winter on the Continent. The price of adventure here remains refreshingly low: You can overnight for six dollars; $50 produces unspeakable luxury.
Multiculti ideologues could take a few lessons from Temuco, where cultural meshing has proceeded relatively painlessly for years. Sure, Spanish is spoken, as is German. But so is an unlikely pastiche known as Laguna Deutsch. Social life, as throughout South America, centers around the local f”tbol squad, which retains a Red Soxlike following
despite years of futility on the field. Fans drown their sorrows in echt-European fashion by communally quaffing beer or pisco, a wicked grape brandy. Local cuisine is an equally copacetic blend, everything from empanadas and ceviche to raspberry kuchen, with a side order of roasted armadillo, please. Chileans tend to be gregarious, often inviting
foreigners into their homes, though Mapuches keep more to themselves. The downside of the weather: It rains a lot. The upside: The hydrangeas out back are taller than you.
More Euro-Chile mix: Chalets butt up against casitas, and none are expensive. A four-bedroom Spanish-style stucco house in a middle-class neighborhood rents for $500 or sells for $125,000. Skip one bedroom and you’ll pay an enviable $70,000.
Nine to Five
Speak Spanish? Or passable German? Then you can probably finagle a job at a living wage, especially if you have skills in marketing or advertising, industries Temucans find both fascinating and vaguely hucksterish — and therefore perfectly suited to Americans. Tourism is also a good choice, whether at the slacker level (teaching diving) or the entrepreneurial (opening a
hotel). Those with sufficient capital for such a venture will encounter little resistance. On the contrary, it’ll be open arms and mucho gem’tlichkeit.
De hecho, ese es un precio mucho mejor, pero realmente no necesito una inguana. (“Indeed that is a fair price, but I don’t need an iguana.”)