Fifty years ago the Queen embarked on an adventure in Chile ... here’s what happened
Commemorating the Queen and Prince Philip’s 1968 visit to South America, a new exhibition recounts her unusual experiences in southern town Pucon.
As a head of state, Queen Elizabeth has visited countries all over the world — but few of her overseas engagements can have been as adventurous as a two-day visit to Pucon. The Queen and Prince Philip explored the small town in southern Chile as part of a week-long trip to the south American country in November 1968, 50 years ago. During her time in Pucon, the royals stayed at Hotel Antumalal, a family-run business still in operation today.
Former Pucon resident Iberia Torres Abelaira was so intrigued by the visit, she spent five years amassing images and anecdotes for her book, Pucon, Asi Era Mi Pueblo, 1883-1969. Now some of those extracts are on display at an exhibition in Santiago, Chile. Here, she shares some of her more extraordinary discoveries.
How did the Queen end up in Pucon?
“When the owner of Hotel Antumalal, Guillermo Pollak, learned the Queen was coming to Chile, he wrote a letter to the foreign minister inviting the Queen, the prince and the protocol people to stay at the hotel free of charge. The excuse was for the Queen and the prince to see the beauties of southern Chile. I think it was clever marketing because they spent two nights there.”
What special arrangements did they make?
“Pucon is a small place in the middle of the mountains. In those days it had only 4,000 inhabitants. Even the access was difficult. They didn’t want the royals to sleep on a second-hand mattress, so they ordered new ones. But the delivery truck didn’t have a roof and it rained, so they had to put them on an open fire until they dried out.”
What happened when the royals arrived?
“When they arrived in Santiago, it was very, very formal. But Pucon was chaotic. It was an airfield, not a proper airport, and they built a tower just for the occasion. When the plane approached the airfield, they realised there were pigs running around. Some people told me the pilot took the Queen closer to the volcano. “Tito, who was managing the hotel at the time, told me she was a very simple person. Just like any other ‘gringa’ that came to the hotel. Everyone who saw her remembered her as a beautiful person and very slim.”
What activities did they do?
“The first day, the prince went fishing with some representatives, but they didn’t catch anything, so they went to have some pisco sours. “By the time they arrived at the hotel, the Queen was having dessert, so they had to prepare a small table in the corner of the dining room. They were behaving like naughty boys. The Queen was very cross. “Another day, they prepared a barbecue. They wanted to do something rural Chilean. When I saw the pictures I was flabbergasted — how could they bring the Queen to this? It was very basic.”
Did the Queen enjoy her stay?
“She sent a cable when she was flying back and there is one paragraph where she mentioned Antumalal. Now there is a legend about this visit.” For more information on Hotel Antumalal, visit www.antumalal.com
ROYAL VISIT: The Queen and Prince Philip on their tour of Chile. Below, at Hotel Antumalal and their cavalcade in Santiago