The Musician and the Con Artist


I forgot to mention yesterday about the music shop. Before dinner, after returning our rental bikes, we took an unfamiliar street and found it: a store that sold musical instruments and jewelry (can’t avoid the latter). Grinning, I dragged Sophie inside. On display was more copper jewelry (copper is a huge part of the Chilean economy) and local instruments: flutes, rainsticks, recorders. I began speaking with a female worker about them — she spoke in a thick French accent and directed me to a Chilean man sitting in the corner behind a work desk. He was making jewelry and happily gave me a demonstration of the recorder; a wooden tube about two feet long with large fingerholes and only a round slice in the top that you blow across to produce the sound. What a beautiful sound! It was breathy, woody, and warm, like the stove fires that keep you cozy during the Chilean winter nights farther south.

Once I told him I was also a musician, we struck a deeper chord. He pulled out a small pink rock, about the size of a pocketwatch, that had been carved into a whistle. The sound was piercing, but with a beautifully pure tone like an eagle’s cry. He changed the pitch with his thumb covering and uncovering a hole on the side, and altered the sound by rolling his tongue.

“¿No se venden?” pregunté. They’re not for sale?

“No, lo siento,” dijo. He explained that they were meant for rituals, and in respect, he couldn’t sell them.

“Entiendo,” dije.

The one he played is in the right. The larger one was unfinished.


Back to the present.

This morning we packed the last of our things in San Pedro. While looking up the address  online of our next hostel — “Terramar” — in Ancud, Chiloé, Sophie found a curious thing (Chiloé is an island — the second largest island in South America — off the coast of Chile in the 10th Region, about a 2-hour plane ride from the extreme south).

Turns out, the owner has cheated some of his guests.

Turns out, the owner has traveled around South America doing that.

Turns out, our next hostel was owned by a con artist.

According to several comments on a hostel website, he had offered tours to his guests for exponential prices. There was an entire blog post about him, with a picture, known pseudonyms, and places he was known to scam. With only ten minutes until our van came to bring us to the airport, and a day of plane rides ahead of us with no internet connection, we had to make a decision.

The website we used to make the reservation, Hostel Bookers, said we could possibly be charged for our entire stay. At $6.000 a night, or $18.000 overall for each person, we didn’t want to risk losing so much money. Also, all the scamming reported on the website had to do with the thours, while other comments claimed to love the hostel and its friendly environment.

Against everything our mothers taught us, we decided to proceed as planned, with extreme caution. We arranged our spiels: we already planned all of our touring, and we weren’t going to share any details about it. However, we would keep it in the back of our minds that at any time, we could find an excuse to leave.

“What if,” said Sophie, “we got there and it’s closed? Like, the police have shut it down?”
“Then we wouldn’t have anywhere to sleep.” 

For the rest of the day on our flights, from Calama in the desert to Santiago, then from Santiago down to Puerto Montt in the green south, then on the bus rides from Puerto Montt to the island of Chiloé and the town of Ancud, we tried to make the best of the upcoming reality that we were about to do business with a Chilean con artist.

Arriving in the south gave me some time to forget about it. My first few hours has given me a great impression. Seeing trees and grass again is like a refreshing drink of water for my eyes. The desert was a wonderful experience, but I don’t think I’ll be able to permanently live away from flora, fauna, and particularly, water. Our bus drove us onto a ferry to get to the island. Ancud is a port town, I believe, and the seafood is supposed to be incredible.

Chiloé. Something like the midwest.

So, after seeking out directions from the bus station to our hostel (around 10:30 pm), we walked along the beach and found it nestled halfway up a hill, at the curve of a road. It was later than we had told the web site we would arrive, but we didn’t think there would be a problem. Only the con-artist part.

I rang what I thought was the doorbell. Nothing. We knocked. Nothing. I tried to call them. Voicemail, no dial tone.

“What’s the deal, Terramar?!” asked Sophie, knocking loudly.

A voice called to us out of the dark. From the neighboring house, a dark Chilean woman was leaning out the window with a dab of white shaving cream on her chin. The hostel was, in fact, closed.

“¿Por siempre?” Forever?


She told us, though, that they also ran a hostel-type function, called an hospidaje, and she could help us out by offering rooms.

A young woman, probably in her early 30s, answered the door. We explained our confusion, and she said they had rooms for $7.000. We said yes.

The hospidaje is beautiful. It’s a huge European house with gorgeous furniture and a dog wearing a sweater in the kitchen. We tried to pick her brain (the woman’s, not the dog’s) about Terramar, but we only learned that it closed last summer (the North American winter).

Maybe our new hostel owners are con artists too, and maybe not. But the hosue is old and cozy, with the right amount of creaky floors and musty odors. Instead of avoiding it like we would have at Terramar, I am excited to eat breakfast tomorrow and talk with the owners and other guests before we head to Castro, towards the center of the island.