I was lucky enough to ride the 1930s-era German-built sleeper train from Santiago south to Puerto Montt in the early 1990s, before the train was taken offline. My former husband and I were celebrating a sort of luna de miel (honeymoon) on a 6-month trek through various South American countries. Our end goal was to scout out land for our vision of starting a farm very “far from the madding crowd.” And that is a story for another day (and a novel in progress).
Chile is the string-bean country, and the train from Santiago was about 550 miles south to our destination at Puerto Montt, the south end of Ruta Cinco (like our I-5). We scored tickets on the beautiful wood-panelled vintage train that would take us overnight through the Lakes District into the southern regions of fjords and islands.
Stepping onto the train, we felt like time travelers with our hiking boots and dusty backpacks, as a gracious porter in immaculate uniform and cap stowed our luggage and escorted us to our own small compartment. Gleaming inlaid mahogany cupboards concealed the bunks we would later sleep on, but for the afternoon departure we lounged on upholstered seats to watch the vineyards and small towns flow past the windows. Dinnertime, and the porter escorted us to the elegant dining car to enjoy Argentinian steak and Chilean red wine, as we toasted our luna de miel to the sunset sky rushing past.
When we returned to our compartment, yet another amiable porter with a huge key unlocked the overhead cabinets to reveal our two narrow sleeping bunks made up with fresh linen, and pulled heavy curtains behind us for privacy.
The soothing rocking and rolling down the tracks lulled me quickly to sleep, but sometime in the night my husband joined me, and glimpsed out the window the Southern Cross in the starry sky. We woke to sunrise blazing over the perfect snowy cone of Mt. Osorno across the blue waters of Lake Llanguihue. Bienvenidos al Sur – welcome to the South.
Later, writing a novel about my adventures – “strikes and gutters” as the Dude would say – in that land, I inserted a passage about the train trip as my character Claire reflects on her journey:
Santiago was all flat grid streets, engineering feat of German immigrants rectifying the Spanish disorder, now sprouting new plastic and neon malls. A layer of gray smog was all she could see from the top of the tram ride to the famous Hilltop Virgin who gazed out over the capital. Military police in pairs, jackbooted, in peaked caps Nazi-style, patrolled the streets and the downtown faces carefully indifferent to the not-so-distant echoes of the Pinochet regime. When a bomb exploded a block from their hotel, no one looked surprised or commented. Everyone had relatives or friends who were desaparecidos – the “disappeared.”
Claire’s intense relief surprised her, as she and Scott finally escaped in the 1930s-vintage sleeper train south to Puerto Montt. In the faded elegance of the dining car with its white-coated porters and scuffed inlaid mahogany, they toasted their honeymoon luna de miel with the robust local Cabernet. Cradled in worn linen sheets of the fold-down bunk, they rocked with the clickety-clack into a star-filled sweet oblivion, awaking to a vision of the perfect volcanic cone of Mount Osorno, snowy slopes blazing in the sun across blue blue Lake Llanguihue.
“Is it real?” Claire blinked, dazzled by the reflected lights off the waves.
Sara Stamey’s romantic suspense novel Islands is described by reviewers as “an intellectual thriller” and “a superior suspense novel….a stomping vivid ride.” A new eBook edition is available from Book View Café, and BVC will soon publish her new metaphysical thriller set in Greece, The Ariadne Connection. For more information, visit www.sarastamey.com