So Long Chile (and South America)...


LAS PEÑAS/SANTIAGO DE CHILE:  January 20-28

Steve: Heading north from our resort hostel in Talca we weren’t sure what to expect during our next week as we WorkAwayed at a lodge several hours south of Santiago. All I knew the proprietor was a native English-speaker and that we would be in a remote location. After a brief stint at the terminal in San Fernando, the closest town—which also included bonding time with a street puppy we aptly named Fernanda, or Fern—we hopped on a rickety bus driven by an also aptly named Mr. Ferrari and made our way to the remote mountain town of Las Penas.

To our surprise we were dropped off within feet of the gate to Tumunan Lodge, our WorkAway and a sprawling property that despite its size only offered four cozy rooms. After ambling down the lodge’s dirt road, flanked by creeks, trees, wildflowers and forested hills, we were instantly greeted by one half of the ownership in Carolina, a beautiful and smiling Chilena. As she was attending to guests she took us to her husband William, who coordinates the volunteer help. 

Will, as he preferred to be called, is a British expat who fell in love with Chile and his wife while a fishing guide in Patagonia. Seeing as he was rather busy himself, he sent us on a hike through the property’s trails to familiarize ourselves with the layout of the land. Needless to say, the lodge is situated on a veritable national park replete with a river, trails, a vineyard, and acres of wildflowers (Leah: and more raspberry bushes and plum trees than we could believe, although sadly the former weren’t ready yet) . It could best be described as a trek through Southern California’s mountains fresh and green during the springtime—it provided a perfect mixture of familiarity with a longing for the land that I’ve grown up knowing.

Introductory trek complete we quickly set about on our first tasks which included scrubbing an algae-covered wood-fired hot tub as well as cleaning and organizing the rodent-infested tool shed. During the following week we would also find ourselves weeding and pruning the gardens, bushwhacking the overgrown trails, and generally just making sure the lodge looked its best. Whenever there were guests, which was pretty much only the weekends, we took dish duty and helped clean up the kitchen; this was an incredibly fair trade-off since we were often treated to the same meals as the paying guests…you know, herb-encrusted local salmon, roasted pork ribs, grilled scallops...you get the idea. During the week Will had a couple of visiting American friends who were “guests” but treated us like old friends.

Leah: Andrew and Dave were middle-aged divorced surfers who split their time between California and the surf town of Pichilemu in Chile. These two met Will and Carolina over a decade ago in Pichilemu and have all remained friends since, getting together at least once a year to swap gossip, fish and relax. Silver-haired Andrew in particular was a joy to talk to, especially since he had studied geography in college and maintained a keen interest in the related topics of world development, commerce, politics and culture. We sat there riveted learning all about this corner of the world-everything from how copper is king and driving the economy, to how the Costa Rican and Chilean police aren’t crooked and can’t be bribed because they actually earn a decent salary. But the clincher came when Andrew learned that I had worked with HIV/AIDS over the years- out of nowhere he divulged that his father died from AIDS in 1993, most likely due to unsafe encounters with other men. We chatted for quite a while about it and once again I marveled at he lives that have been (and continue to be) affected by the virus.

Steve: When not hanging out with the adults we kept an eye on Will and Carolina’s two children, Tomas and his little sister Laura, as well as their extended furry family which included beastly Bernardo—wait for it—a St. Bernard, Claudita the reformed-street-dog-turned-happy-cocker spaniel, two bunnies and two ducks…a very busy family to say the least (Leah: and speaking of fur, we endured more than one run-in with the local tarantulas, even once at night near our bedroom. I preferred them to the scorpions for sure!). There was a good balance between hanging out with the family and our own private time which we filled with swimming in the pool, reading and hiking around the property. On one sunny afternoon we hiked an hour north to a pristine thirty-foot waterfall and lagoon that sits on Will’s neighbor’s private property. We felt especially privileged as Manuel welcomed us (us being Leah, myself and Claudita since she tagged along for the trek) and waved us along his immense and beautiful property. I couldn’t even begin to imagine what land of this size and scope would go for in the States, much less Southern California.

With no shortage of work and fun things to do in our time off the week flew by; for me it seemed to be the quickest WorkAway we’ve yet to encounter. Before we knew it we were outside close to the gate of Tumanan Lodge waiting for the Ferrari bus that would take us back to San Fernando and on to Santiago de Chile for the last stop in our Latin American adventure.  By late afternoon we pulled into one of Santiago’s bus terminals and quickly found our way down to the Metro station. An hour ahead of schedule—Chile’s public transport is phenomenal—we made it to our hosts for the weekend, Leah’s former Semester at Sea roommate, Marivic, and her boyfriend, Zeb. They are currently living in Santiago for six months as part of an innovative program called Start-Up Chile which is aimed at bringing entrepreneurs from all around the world to Chile in order to spread their experiences and knowledge with Chile’s own fledgling innovators and businessmen. They received a grant to participate due to Zeb’s new website renthackr.com which is getting established in the New York marketplace but is definitely poised to spread across the U.S. and abroad (check it out, it really is a great idea).

With only about a day and a half to spend in Santiago before moving on to New Zealand we did our best to make the most of our time. We found ourselves hiking up a local hill for a stunning view of the city, visited several beautiful and FREE museums (the Museo de Artes Visuales and the Museo Nacional de Bellas Artes), and even watched the filming of a Lipton tea commercial destined for U.S. television. The highlight would have to go to the impromptu roof-top barbecue thrown by Mar and Zeb—an unanticipated number of Start Up Chile friends showed up for a night of food, drinks and plenty of conversation.

As we chatted it up with folks from Mexico, Brazil, Portugal, Germany and the U.S., I found myself with a new-found appreciation and awe of these people with great ideas and the gumption to take risks and follow them through. We were so high on life (and maybe a lychee martini or two for one of us) that we even took part in an international ballet session.  It was the perfect end to a whirlwind trip to Santiago and cemented the fact that we will have to come back one day—especially considering its immense size it was a charming city filled with a unique character and friendly faces.

It seems like only yesterday that we were boarding a plane for Guatemala and really giving this whole world travel thing a shot. The past seven months have had their ups and downs but as I sit here typing all that comes to mind are the good times that we shared during our time in Latin America—beautiful sights, new and old friends and irreplaceable experiences. I can only hope that the next leg of our journey—New Zealand, Australia, and ???—offers even half of the treasures that we found south of the U.S. Wish us luck and we will see you all from the land of kiwis!


Leah: And for the curious (or because I’m a geek like that and had to know for myself):
$10,696.54: Total spent in Central/South America
209: Total days in Central/South America
110: Nights of free lodging (Couchsurfing/Workaway/overnight buses/gifts/promos)
$51.20/2 people: Total daily average



CLICK HERE FOR PICTURES OF LAS PENAS AND HERE FOR SANTIAGO
CLICK FOR CHILE BUDGET SYNOPSIS

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Zeb January 30, 2013 at 5:12 PM

Awesome post! It was great to have you visit. Bon voyage!

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