Most who pass through Puyuhuapi, Chile, a sleepy town of about 500 on the Carretera Austral, the highway through southern Chile that traverses 1,200 kilometers of Patagonia, will remember it for its laid back nature, its warm hospitality, the calm shores of the Ventisquero Sound, and its proximity to Queulat National Park.
I’ll also remember it for the half hour I spent observing a funeral from the fringes and another half hour spent strolling the modest cemetery grounds.
I decided against photographing the ceremony and service themselves; I didn’t know what was customary about photography at funerals in this part of the world but the fact that nobody else was taking photos was reason enough to not be the odd-man out and respect the funeral-goers privacy. But I did return a few hours later to take a closer look when I had only one grieving grandmother for company, albeit of the distant sort.
You can learn quite a bit about a community and culture from the way they respect and honor their dead, which is one reason I enjoy visiting cemeteries. They’re quiet, which is another. And they firmly root the present to the past. What you find in that link, when you find it, is what’s telling.
Puyuhuapi’s cemetery is very European; given that the town wasn’t founded until the late 1930s by German and other Central European immigrants, that’s not surprising.
What was somewhat “local” was the use of wooden frame house-like mausoleums by some families — stonework can be expensive, and most families here are of modest means. Flowers covered nearly every plot but they were mostly made of stiff plastic. Those stand up better to the elements and don’t need to be replaced nearly as often.
Nor do the tiny stuffed animals left on children’s graves, carefully wrapped in plastic to keep damage from the sun, wind and rain at bay.
I walked by one such grave as a woman was sweeping some dirt, twigs and dry leaves away from a stone. When she was finished, she placed a small stuffed dog back against the stone.
“It’s my grandson,” the woman replied after I asked whose grave it was. Every year on his birthday she returns with a new toy to replace the one from the year before. The old one, she said, she always takes home.