When our surf coach and Chilean tour guide extraordinaire, Ismael, offered to show us local artisans at work in the countryside near Pichilemu, we jumped at the chance. We hopped into the van and headed inland, down the dusty dirt roads that dominate this part of Chile. En route Ismael told us more about the history of Chile and pointed out the native flora and fauna, like the Chilean palm tree, Jubaea, with its delicious miniature coconuts and the curious Araucaria, or monkey puzzle tree. Apparently most of this area has been reforested with non-native trees so it was fascinating to imagine what it must have looked like before Europeans arrived.
Our first stop was the famed salt flats of Cáhuil, which I’ve written about previously. From there we ventured further off the beaten path toward Pañul, an area known for its rich clay soil and pottery production. We visited one family’s pottery workshop and farm, where Ismael gave us a step-by-step walk through of how the pottery is made — from the collection and refinement of the local soil into smooth clay, to the moulds, pottery wheels and the wood-fired ovens. We witnessed each step of the production and enjoyed getting our hands dirty in the process. The pottery is given an ‘unglazed’ sheen by rubbing a local stone onto the clay before it goes into the oven, resulting in the smooth surface and natural lustre we found so pretty. We wished we could buy everything they made but settled for a few small pieces we thought we could get back to London unbroken.
We then hopped back into the van and drove fifteen minutes further into the woods to visit another local artisan, Julián Muñoz, and his historic working watermill, the ‘Molina de Agual de Rodeillo’. The water-powered mill, the second and newest in this family of millers, was built by Julián’s father in the 1950s. A masterpiece of carpentry and tribute to human ingenuity, it is one of the last working watermills in the country. Julian uses the mill to produce several varieties of flour: quinoa flour (‘harina de quinoa’), toasted wheat flour (‘harina tostada’), traditional white flour and others. We were there as he ground a warm batch of freshly toasted wheat. The smell was divine and the children could not stop eating the warm and toasty kernels he invited us to sample.
After touring the mill we walked back to Julián’s house to try more of his family’s locally made produce—Chilean Papaya jam, Chilean coconuts and local honey. The favourite, at least for the kids, was the traditional Chilean drink, ‘ulpo,’ made by mixing ‘harina tostada’ with water and sugar. They made cup after cup, trying every combination of flours on offer.