Guiding at the End of the World

Patagonia is one of the world’s most beautiful places that is often labeled as its 8th wonder. This fierce and unruly location is a big drawcard for visitors who clamber traipse through at a staggering rate; 260, 000 tourists pass through Torres del Paine each year.  The sad truth that some of the National Park’s most well-worn trails, such as the W trek, are now eroding alarmingly fast, prompting appeals for help from non-profits such as the Torres del Paine Legacy Fund and Tu Mejor Huella.  I spoke with Felipe Sunkel, a long-time guide and former geologist, about the reality of living and working in Patagonia, as well as what prompted him to set up his own business, Madre Roca Patagonia.

At the End of the World: Interview with Felipe of Madre Roca Patagonia

21967672136_48ea3c048a_o
Felipe and his guests taking a break beneath some impromptu snow in Torres del Paine.       Photo: Timothy Dhalleine

1. What made you decide to become a tour guide?

I decided to become a tour guide when I was 24 years old. I had a great job in the mining industry which allowed me to pay back my students debts, but I quickly realized that my passion for geology went against participating in non-sustainable activities. What I love about guiding is that I can share this passion with people from all over the world and spark their interest in a field that they don´t necessarily know about.

24902201053_4673529984_o
Scaling the side of Cerro Paine. Photo: Timothy Dhalleine

2. What makes a good guide a great guide?

A great guide should be a leader that never loses control of their group. They should be authoritative but also flexible enough to work with the conditions and risks associated with each trip. As well as knowledge, they should be charismatic with people and captivate their attention and interest easily. They should also be able to make decisions quickly and confidently under pressure.

21081846173_36c8d2af6f_o (1)
A good guide never loses control of his group. Photo: Timothy Dhalleine

3. What did you have to do to become a guide?

When I first started guiding many years ago in the Lake District, all that was required of me were English language skills. Things have changed a lot since then in Chile. In Torres del Paine, for example, the municipality asks you to complete a Wilderness First Responder course and keep it up to date. Additionally, they organize an online/oral test with CONAF park rangers that then gives you a guiding identification card to allow you to enter the park freely with a group of people. Personally, I have also been accredited by many international bodies of safety as I have worked abroad where the requirements are way more extensive.

22149714439_f0400ca39e_o
¨What I love about guiding is the ability to share this passion with people from all over the world and spark their interest in a field that they don´t necessarily know about¨ – Felipe Sunkel.  Photo: Timothy Dhalleine

4. What made you decide to set up your own business, Madre Roca?

Since I have come to work in Torres del Paine, I have noticed the number of tourists visiting the National Park every year increasing. With Claire, my partner, we aim to help decongest the park by orientating our guests to choose off-the-beaten-track excursions around the region. Patagonia has so much to offer but we want to specialize in unique, scientific experiences.

33626001286_82cfc9f3cc_k
For geologists like Felipe, each rock tells a story. Photo. Timothy Dhalleine

5. What sets Madre Roca apart from its competitors?

We offer multiple off-the-beaten-track excursions, allowing guests to explore some of Patagonia’s most unique landscapes and ecosystems away from peak-season crowds.  Moreover, we customize each trip according to guests’ specific interest. We specialize in scientific excursions to the geological and paleontological wonders of the region, as well as photography-focused excursions, fauna tracking, and bird watching, as well as mountain ascents.

DSC_0577
A view to beat all views. Photo: Timothy Dhalleine

6. What is your favorite Madre Roca trip?

Our favorite Madre Roca trip is a 5-day adventure around the Last Hope Province (Ultima Esperanza) called the Geo Paleo Crusade. It is a scientific-based journey that visits several geological and paleontological attractions, including a hike around the Milodon caves and cave paintings, a visit to the incredible (and barely visited) geo-paleontological park of Sierra Baguales, a day around the origins of the Paine mountain range, and the search for the ichthyosaurus fossil near Tyndall glacier.

We also recommend our Off The Beaten Paine option which is a 5-day program that lets you fully explore Torres del Paine National Park in peak season but well away from the crowds.

22420044005_12ea2d259a_k
This ever-reaching landscape is home to stunning geological gems like thrombolites (Lazo Weber Hike) and dinosaur fossils (see them on the Geo Paleo Crusade!). Photo: Timothy Dhalleine

7. What is a typical day in your life like?

A typical day in my life consists of sharing with people from all over the world, which is a bit like traveling to many countries in a day. Getting to know people and sharing ideas, cultures, experiences, and hiking stories is what I enjoy most about my job. One plus (of the many) about living in Torres del Paine National Park is that you get to experience a lot of Paine moments, which include puma sightings, hearing/seeing avalanches, or having a condor fly by your side as you climb Cerro Benitez.

44120739845_ba141c3352_k
A typical view of the mountains in Patagonia. Photo: Helen Cordery

8. Tell me more! What is so special about a place like Torres del Paine?

Torres del Paine is not “just” a National Park, but it is one of the 669 world networks of biosphere reserves by UNESCO. It is home to the Southern Patagonian Icefield, the third largest reserve of fresh water on earth which global warming is accelerating the melting of – what you see today is not going to be here tomorrow. Torres del Paine is also home to diverse flora and fauna, including the biggest concentration of pumas per surface area. Besides, the Paine Massif is one of the most beautiful mountains in the world.

31159244458_7822057551_k (1)
¨Here today, gone tomorrow¨ Madre Roca alerts guests to the fragility of the environment. Photo: Helen Cordery

9. When would you say is the best time of year to travel to Patagonia?

Autumn is unmissable – nature at its most colorful ever! The contrast between the color of the snowy mountains, green lakes, and the multicolor forest is amazing. Best of all, you avoid the crowds of high season by coming this late in the year.

27610569038_053c85601f_k
Photographers and wildlife lovers will love a visit off-season, such as in Autumn, when colors shine. Photo: Timothy Dhalleine

10. What wildlife can you expect to see on a day to day basis? Are pumas common? What is the ‘holy grail’ of wildlife sightings – is there anything you still haven’t seen yet?

You can expect to see Lama Guanicoe (Guanaco) and Vultur gryphus (Andean condor), as well as Conepatus humboldtii (Skunks), Zaedyus pichiy (Armadillo), Lycalopex Culpaeus (Golden fox), and Rhea pennata (Lesser rhea). The high concentration of Puma concolor (Puma) in the National Park makes them somewhat common due to the fact that they are protected and have food in abundance. The Hippocamelus bisulcus, (Huemul, or South Andean dear) is the “holy grail” of wildlife sightings but because of the multiple fires that have devastated the native forest as well as diseases transmitted by cattle, huemules are now critically endangered, and very few are left inside the National Park.

30263694323_c6f508ae8e_k
An endangered huemul tramples through the snow. Photo: Timothy Dhalleine

11. Torres del Paine is a fragile place and visiting it really drove home to me the fragility of our planet. What is the single biggest thing you see as a problem in the Park today, and how can we solve this?

The overselling of the W circuit is a significant problem. The trails are eroded and bathrooms in campsites are saturated. A good solution to that issue is to make other areas of the park and region better known and more attractive to the general public. Madre Roca was born with the idea to offer something different, customized and off-the-beaten-track in order to expand the tourism horizon in Patagonia.

30812522261_e1f54fead8_k
An Upland Goose, one of the many beautiful creatures that call Patagonia home. Photo: Timothy Dhalleine

12. How can visitors travel responsibly?

In order to travel responsibly, visitors can choose to travel with local companies that prioritize sustainable practices and offer alternatives to the more popular trails. They should also keep an open mind about the fragility of our planet and be willing to explore – and learn – about the role that Patagonia plays within. Adopting a leave-no-trace mindset is essential.

22420274065_5aa59d9cd8_o
Felipe with one of his past guests, enjoying the small-group tours that promote the ¨leave no trace¨ philosophy. Photo: Timothy Dhalleine

13. Are there any must-haves you recommend that visitors bring to Patagonia?

Visitors to Patagonia must come well equipped to face the always changing weather of the region. Sun protection is as important as snow gear around here. Good, breathable, wind and waterproof trekking gear is essential, as well as a good camera to immortalize your adventure.  And don’t forget to bring a big smile!

44312350854_ba95e573c3_k
Come prepared for all four seasons in one day.  In summer that means rain, wind, and even snow and in autumn/winter dress in layers for the sunshine! Photo: Helen Cordery

14. Do you have any advice for would-be trekkers?

Come prepared, mentally and physically. A positive mindset and flexibility towards unexpected changes in the program are essential as anything can happen in Patagonia. Take your time; trekking is enjoyable as long as you make it so. Most importantly, please respect the leave-no-trace policy so you can leave the park in good condition for the next visitors as well as for the creatures that call this place home.

DSC03253
A positive mindset and flexibility towards unexpected changes in the program are essential in Patagonia. Photo: Timothy Dhalleine

15. What is next for you and Madre Roca?

Next season, we hope to be completely independent. We want to develop more products and, hopefully, guide across the entire network of parks in Patagonia. We hope to work hand in hand with environmentally and socially responsible companies who share our ideals and ultimately participate in the movement towards spreading sustainable tourism across Patagonia.

Madre Roca is comprised of Felipe, a former geologist, and Claire, an experienced guide and graduate of hotel management.  You can follow them on Facebook here and visit their website here for more details about their tours and custom itineraries. Please note: this post has not been sponsored – I’m just a huge fan! 

Guiding

Did you like this? Have a read about fully-sustainable dome hotel, EcoCamp Patagonia, or head on a Little North Roadtrip with me to Copiapo and Bahia Inglesa.  For a taste of rural Chilean life, indulge in some light reading with Rayuela, Christ & BBQ – enjoy!

Advertisements

Photos of Chile: A Look Back at 5 Years

Dear Chile,

Oh, how I have loved you. Your wrinkles, your bruises, your knobbly knees, and wild, uncombed hair. I’ve laughed with you and cried, despaired and prayed, been shocked by you and bewildered you in turn. I’ll never forget your kindness and vitality. Thank you for giving me my children, and for making my soul soar.

Forever yours,

Helen

45031919241_39c21c519a_k
The reality of a retreating glacier. Glacier Grey, Torres del Paine
43858812215_31ca878cd6_k
Dieciocho will forever be referred to as the ‘Cueca’ day in our house! A place where my kids sing along to El Costillar es Mio alongside the Star Wars theme song and Taylor Swift.
23864032378_f2e4e19004_k
Making friends, no matter how small, in Chile’s Little North
25815821628_7c68a99bc8_k
Sunset in the Chilean ‘campo’, or beautiful countryside. Discover ‘rayuela’ here

 

37460018890_fb1415faf7_k
Desierto Floridoa phenomenon that took my breath away.
24693852078_644c79f90a_k
Somber faces reflected back in these photos of the original inhabitants of Patagonia and Tierra del Fuego.
37454118350_fc3b2ac185_k
One of Chile’s first cities, La Serena is a mecca for history lovers.
28359862608_8222b79f04_k
Learning all about beekeeping and small producers in the Casablanca Valley
37634044174_9318e09c64_k
Becoming friends for life at Vitacura’s annual open day at the Aerodromo (Santiago).
37662730186_d8c3988892_k
A flower by any other name … Elqui Valley.
37662316026_06d3208765_k
Poring over the great expanses of the Atacama Desert.
37679209142_aaec50aed3_k
Finding our own windswept corner of the world, Punta de Choros
37946423744_c871a10e32_k
The cake to end all cakes: the Jeezy Limon at Pasteleria Lalaleelu, Ñuñoa (Santiago)
42356739402_ec269cf238_k.jpg
Taking a break from the city by visiting Veramonte
42673425361_0ec829e3f1_k.jpg
Moment of glory for Punta de Lobos’ endemic cacti
41954519885_9c72f5fdf4_k
A brush with snow in the Cajon del Maipo

 

37717223161_8a2abaa3a3_k
Sunset in Pisco Elqui
42676880294_f1fbf5e3a9_k
Icicles for days in Valle Nevado
42186574602_25fe8cb7f8_k.jpg
Running, running, running through the Casablanca Valley
538980_10150781895640097_1086639485_n
Houses on stilts in Chiloe
33117960076_b798ac748a_o
Cueca like no one is watching. Vichuquen
@zilla.photography
Weekend away in a hotel made entirely from upcycled shipping containers in Valparaiso @zilla.photography
37453152920_dc4db961cd_o
Manjar-filled delight from La Ligua

 

Thank you for coming on this journey with me. Please take a look through my previous blogs to find out why I have loved living in Santiago so much. I recommend that you start here:

Querida Recoleta

Santiago’s Children

 

 

 

 

French Guiana: A Place of Jungle & Birds

Several years ago, I remember having a heated discussion with some Latino friends over the existence of Suriname, Guyana and French Guiana, three South American countries that seem to have escaped the backpacking trail and – evidently – common mainstream memory.  So when I found out that my colleague, Guillaume Doerig, used to actually live in French Guiana, my travel senses began to tingle and I just had to wrangle him into sharing his stories.  This overseas department of France is roughly one-third the size of Ecuador with a human population of just 200,000 on land that stretches for 84,000km2. If there was ever a place to put on your 2018/2019 travel list, it should surely be French Guiana, the land of jungle!


French Guiana with Guillaume

Hi Guillaume! French Guiana is a place that I know almost nothing about, speaking as a New Zealander, so I am curious to know what made you leave Australia and why you chose French Guiana?

It stems from a personal reason. I was at uni in Melbourne, studying zoology, and I just found it so boring – I just wanted to get out.  I was a bit ´anti-institution´ a few years ago and I just thought, ¨I’ve got the whole world to choose from – where can I go?¨  I have a  British passport as my Mum’s English, a Swiss one because my Dad is Swiss, and a French one as I was born in France. So France used to be a big empire, with colonies all over the world, and I thought ¨what about French Guiana?¨  It’s in the Amazonian rainforest and the birds are drop-dead amazing, so I saved up and bought a 1-way ticket. This was in 2016, when I was 19.

36027549_998294516995572_8865787387800715264_n

That is amazing! So you went to Cayenne, the capital. What was it like?

I was in Cayenne from March until the beginning of November. It was unlike anything I had known before, coming from Melbourne, and it was the first time I’d ever set foot in South America. Guiana is a department of France that has been neglected by the State a bit, and that is reflected in the infrastructure.  Physically the climate is tropical and just heavy with moisture, with a warm ocean. They don’t have four seasons either, just the wet and the dry.  Everywhere was so green – because its jungle, you know? It’s a place of crossroads.  It has a metropolitan French influence, a Brazillian/Latin influence, and a Carribean influence because there are lots of people living there from the Caribbean islands. Its a unique mix but also very westernized. It’s also really small, so I could go to the top of the hill and see all the edges of the city.

36041964_998295500328807_4434454081288798208_n
The beaches around Cayenne! The leatherback turtle was massive (I went to see it with the lovely family I mentioned)
36087849_998293613662329_92488208004153344_n
On the beach of Rémire-Montjoly, a suburb of Cayenne

How did you support yourself?

I’d had hopes of working in conservation, as part of a project, but I couldn’t find any.  I did manage to do a few excursions with GEPOG [the Study and Protection for the Birds of French Guiana] but I found nothing paid and nothing was stable.  So I hopped on my bike and gave my cv to all the restaurants, and found a job as a waiter in Bar des Palmistes, which was a hotel/bar. I made some great friends there and I am still in contact with two of them.

36052226_998295230328834_6065410101684994048_n
Place des Palmistes

Where did you live?

My first month I was in an Air BnB.  I also found out that my Dad’s ex-colleague’s daughter lived there, so I got in touch with them.  They were the most loving family – the best – and I lived with them for a little while. I would have broken without them.  After that, I moved into a flat and shared with my landlord, Jean-Philippe. who was actually from Guadeloupe, which is a French island in the Caribbean. He had a little cat called Bagheera and that little guy was like my salvation, my best friend. He was the cutest little cat in the whole world and I miss him dearly, and I hope I get to see him again. You know, I really miss him – I’ve never felt a connection to an animal as strongly as that, so I think it’s worth mentioning.

35113966_998295633662127_8852547966427201536_n
Bagheera the cat!

You are bilingual, with your first languages being English and French.  How did you find the language there?

The official language is French of course but – and this is a big but – a lot of the people speak Creole.  To my ears, I didn’t know anything that they were saying.

What was the food like?

There was a lot of seafood and a lot of classic French cuisine. There is a huge market in Cayenne where they sell things like fruit from the jungle.

The jungle! Did you manage to get out of Cayenne and into the jungle?

I went on a few occasions! Out in the jungle is where you find most of the Amerindian people, living as they always have, and their main method of transportation is this long, motorized canoe called a pirogue.  They go by the water because some of the places where they live, like Camopi and Saint Georges, are only accessible by water.

35882217_998295146995509_2855090522312146944_n
This is how we slept at night! It’s too dangerous to sleep on the forest floor because of the bugs, so hammocks are necessary, along with a ‘bâche’ to protect from the rain.
35954979_998294320328925_6203605029530632192_n
Navigating the waterways by pirogue
35989450_998295003662190_3696689746215436288_n
At Saul, rainforest village only accessible by air
36188149_998293786995645_6427602026581983232_n (1)
View from Sentier du Rorota, near Cayenne
36224269_998294490328908_7167496656844226560_n
Pure jungle.

What was is lt like?

I went to Savane-Roche Virginie and Inselberg, which is literally a big rock that goes above the canopy. When I went there I went with a group of people who were studying there, and we put up these big nets to catch all the flying insects and birds for their study.  We caught them, ringed them (which is where you tag their legs so other people know they’ve been studied) and measure them before releasing them.  It is untamed jungle – like a David Attenborough documentary.  Ever since I was a kid I would watch those programs and I’d hear this bird call when Attenborough was in the Amazon like this [imitates bird call].  That’s a Screaming Piha, this grey and drab bird with an amazing call, and when I heard that sound for myself it made me really realize where I was, and was one of the highlights from my trip. Also the howler monkeys at dawn, I was woken up by them and I remember thinking ¨Oh my god, I’m in this amazing place that few people ever see, waking up when the stars are still in the sky – this is what I live for!¨ Amazing that two of my highlights were just sounds.

36041280_998295436995480_7054534915265658880_n
Saül airport (it’s tiny, the runway isn’t even paved!)

Everyone who knows you, Guillaume, knows how much you love birds. How did you find birdwatching in the jungle?

In the jungle, birdwatching is actually so hard.  You have to rely on your hearing, and close your eyes to finetune your senses. Bird species that I was most delighted to see would be the Great-Billed Hermit, Guianian Warbling Antbird, Cream-Coloured Woodpecker and the White-Headed Marsh Tyrant.

34984141_998295550328802_1070306043436728320_n
In Saul, only accessible by air
36064295_998294313662259_2625816573822107648_n
Blackish Nightjar
36176155_998295250328832_4946918193089216512_n (1)
Great-Billed Hermit
35159274_998295273662163_1008720679178076160_n
I was ecstatic to be able to hold a Blackish Nightjar that was caught in the nets we put up to monitor and record data on the fauna around Savane-Roche Virginie
36064763_998294813662209_3236132667829256192_n
Band-Rumped Swift

What about birdwatching in Cayenne?

Cayenne is a small, tropical town with some good parks, so I saw a lot of birds. Highlights would be the Blue-Grey Tanager, Great Kiskadee, Tropical Kingbird and the Black Vulture.

What else did you see in jungle? 

Oh, lots. Snakes, Great big Whip Spiders (amblypygi), big toads, massive flies, really big insects – everything is so big there because the eco-system is so rich.

35922673_998294670328890_8360022763557093376_n (1)

35927071_998293326995691_6741100184962334720_n
The whip spider!

36041308_998294363662254_7327445362115870720_n36064112_998295600328797_7424223937506050048_n36087146_998295563662134_7519270623168692224_n

36176168_998293296995694_4596166935787339776_n (1)
Horned Toad.

36199814_998295590328798_7714253166220410880_n36200337_998294856995538_7162172048448421888_n

Did you ever feel afraid?

I had some pre-conceived ideas about South America, but in general, anywhere you go you should keep your wits.  I was a waiter, finishing late, and one time I was walking home alone when someone came up to me and asked for the time. So – and I can only laugh about it now – I got my phone out and said the time. The guy said, ¨It can’t be – are you sure?¨ so I got my phone out and was like ¨here look¨ and he grabbed it! He ran and jumped on the back of a motorbike and I ran after them in my flipflops [jandals/thongs].  i just remember shaking my head afterwards and saying to myself, ¨Oh nice one, Guillaume!¨

36229387_998293640328993_3525201906928451584_n
Beaches around Cayenne

What advice do you have for people thinking about going to French Guiana?

Be prepared for a 100% tropical climate.  In the jungle, everything gets really wet. I had my passport in my pocket and it got completely soaked – it’s like being in a sauna permanently. Also try to learn some French before you go, because people don’t speak English and only a few know basic English.

36062891_998295270328830_8327704564878802944_n
View from the plane on the way to Saul – an ocean of trees.

Did you like this? You might be interested in reading about Emily H’s adventures in Bariloche, Argentina and Emily C’s experiences here in Chile! Above all, if you enjoyed this please give it a like and remember to subscribe to my blog to stay up to date with new posts (I have a newsletter now, too!).  If you have any interesting story you would like told, please send me an email to helen@queridarecoleta.com

 

All you’ve Ever Wanted to Know about Dinosaurs in Chile

If you come to my house at 8pm each night, you will see three heads huddled over a hard-backed book with several ripped and sellotaped pages thanks to overeager small fingers.  You will likely hear my youngest son babble with excitement at certain pages, while the turning of (the majority of) others prompts my oldest to recite something like the following with perfect diction:

¨That’s Micropachycephalosaurus,¨  He will say (and I’m checking closely – he’s right!), ¨He’s really small and he eats plants and his name is the longest!¨

Sometimes I cannot believe how wondrous children are, the way their brains soak up information like ever-expanding sponges, and the remarkable ability they have to remember intricately the things that interest them (and seemingly not hear other things, like when its time to brush their teeth, tidy their toys away or leave me alone because I’m on the toilet!).  Children have that beautiful ability to find something amazing in the smallest things, like in a pile of freshly-fallen autumn leaves or a great big muddy puddle, and with so many of us in a constant battle against the dreaded clock, we could all take a leaf or two from their book.

But I digress because while this post could easily be about the wisdom of children (!), it is actually about the focus of my kids’ obsessions, specifically dinosaurs in Chile. Did you know Chile is some kind of palaeontological paradise?!  Honestly, it’s amazing so keep reading.

I encourage E’s love of dinosaurs. I think it’s wonderful that he can name 45 species, and it opens up a great discussion around geography, life/death, the circle of life, and the place humans – and all creatures – occupy in the grand scheme of things. I also love that it is his interest that is making me learn so much more about this amazing country, as well as the history of Earth itself, and I am incredibly excited to see where this goes.

30582109_10156257453615097_2478117982862049280_n

Let’s Begin! The Incredible Truth about Dinosaurs in Chile

(Paraphrased from this article in the Scientific American)

What once walked these lands? Mapusaurus was a carnivorous predator over 10 metres long that likely hunted in packs, and was named in honour of the Mapuche people. Two types of sauropods in the same family of Diplodocus have been discovered in Chile, as well as the footprints of the predator Giganotosaurus, bigger than T-Rex and the 2nd largest meat-eating dinosaur discovered anywhere in the world (beat only by Spinosaurus).  Carnotaurus (you may remember him from the Dinosaur movie and the soon-to-be-released, Jurassic World: Fallen Kingdom) once lived in Calama, while Coelurosaur remains have been found at the site at Pichasca (Limari Valley).

It's Take Your Dogto Work Day

Right at the bottom of South America is one of the most important sites in South America for fossils. Here you can find the El Puesto excavation site, a place where the dirt crumbles underfoot beside hundreds of fossils. You might find a piece of rib cage here, a femur tip there, while further down whole skeletons have been uncovered.  This zone famously contains a 7km field of hadrosaur (duck-billed herbivore) remains that indicate they were partially burned in a bizarre wildfire. This site, along with others in the area such as Las Chinas and Cerro Guido, provides an unprecedented view into the world of 72-66 million years ago, a time which previously little was known.  What has been discovered in this area is gobsmacking. Titanosaurid sauropods, unique flowers (some perfectly preserved and 72 million years old – a feat considering the fragile nature of the petals), the oldest fossilized leaves in South America (including oak, lenga, and coihue), 40 types of plants, marine creatures, pollen, wood … A few steps to the left and you may come across marine reptiles, a few spots over you may uncover land mammals of the Cenozoic period.  Did you know that the forests of the Cretaceous period that once flourished in Antarctica were almost the same as the forests you can see today in modern day, Valdivia? 

Here scientists have also been able to study the effects of climate change during the end of the Cretacious period, including the 25m fall of the sea level over under a million years which allowed a bridge to form between South America and Antarctica.  Experts have noted that these bridges were important areas of evolution, giving rise to the new notion that climate change is the unique catalyst of new species.

Sites such as these are being studied by international teams funded mostly by Chile’s National Commission for Scientific and Technological Research (CONICYT).

30530390_10156257426890097_8488152276630765568_n

Introducing the Amazing, Chilesaurus, also known as the Missing Link

Chilesaurus diegosuarezi is its official name, but most of us will probably remember this unusual dinosaur because of the fact it was discovered in Chile – and the fact that this herbivore is so bizarre that it has been named the missing link between the evolution between herbivores and carnivores.

It’s a befuddling creature from the Jurassic period, the size of a small horse which once populated Patagonia 145 million years ago. It is also one of the most important paleontological finds in history, believe it or not, with four almost complete and 8 partially complete skeletons discovered. In 2004 seven-year-old Diego Suarezi discovered the bones while out with his geologist parents near General Carerra Lake, close to the site of breathtaking Marble Caves.  What is interesting about Chilesaurus is that it is a theropod, part of the same family as Carnetaurus and Tyrannosaurus Rex, but bizarrely vegetarian.  It had a beak, for starters, and flat teeth for plant-eating – curioser still it had fingers rather than claws, while still bearing the famous short arms of carnivores.

31936569_10156323852240097_6810121911431856128_n.jpg

Where to Get your Dino Fix in Chile

Until E fell in love with those Cretaceous critters, I had no idea there were so many dino-related excursions in Santiago.  There really is something universal about dinosaurs that kids love, isn’t there?

If you are happy to make a day of it, you can drive/bus/train out to Buin Zoo, a wonderfully-kept zoo about 45minutes from the city centre.  Unlike the widely criticized National Zoo over on Cerro San Cristobal, Buin Zoo has large enclosures, well-maintained grounds and excellent facilities for the whole family.  We love a trip here, although on our most recent trip we didn’t see a whole lot as we barely left the Dino Zoo.  Yes, fellow parents of the dino-obsessed, there really are a place where you can take your child to see life-sized models, and although it’s small, your child will absolutely love it.  Expect to see all the classics AND a giant sandpit to hunt for fossils in!

Closer to home and Santiago has two events on a limited run. The Santiago Planetarium has a showing of Dinosaurios al Atardecer, which explores the history of dinosaurs around the world (Spanish only) followed by a fun group activity.  I was pleasantly surprised by the Planetarium – it isn’t London or New York but it’s fun and E loved it (M did not so sit near the door if you go with small children in case you need to make a swift exit) and the activity was enjoyable for the whole family (we had a hard time getting Luis to leave).  There is a small toy shop with dinosaur/space related trinkets and it wasn’t expensive.  The Planetarium is just a short work from Estacion Central metro station right beside the Universidad de Santiago (USACH) but it has its own entrance.  This film runs until July 1st. NOTE: Do take care of your belongings around this metro station as it is extremely busy and be aware that this metro stop does not have a lift or escalator.

At the other end of town within the gorgeous Parque Araucano park (beside Parque Arauco Mall) you can find Big Bang Park + Chilesaurus, an indoor dinosaur extravaganza that is set to stay until September.  This is the perfect place to take your child to see huge replicas of their favourite dinosaur, including a dino dig and other fun activities. Star of the show is the moving, lifelike Chilesaurus, who your child will love.  Well worth it!

Further afield, in the 6th region to be exact, is the Route of Dinosaur Footprints (Ruta de las Huellas de Dinosaurios). At around 100km from Santiago and 70km from its nearest city (San Fernando), this is an endeavour for the obsessed or the adventurous but no matter who you are you will be left amazed by the visible footprints left by dinosaurs some 150 million years ago. Standing here, it is hard to imagine that the mountains you see before you used to be sea and that the 500 or so footprints dotted about are visible only due to the ash left by volcanic eruptions all those millions of years before.  The 2010 earthquake, one of the largest in world history, actually unearthed even more footprints, and the result is a spectacular journey back in time to a Chile that was very, very different. Promaucaes Outdoor leads guided tours around the area, lasting about three hours (around CLP$10,000), and the trip can be easily combined with a visit to the Termas del Flaco hot springs.  NOTE: both the tour and the hot springs operate only between October and May as the area is inaccessible in winter; you also will need to bring cash.

The Monumento Natural La Pichasca is the culmination of a gorgeous drive over azure reservoirs and past miles of grape-laden hills in the Limari Valley, just on the outskirts of the mining town, Ovalle (45 min from La Serena).  Here the fossils of ginormous Titanosaurus’ have been unearthed (not displayed in the park), as well as petrified forest, pre-Colombian cave paintings  NOTE: Pichasca is a long way from anything, so check opening times before you leave.  It also gets hot and sunny so pack plenty of water – enjoy!

So you Want a Dinosaur Birthday?

Eventosaurio, a small outfit inspired by their own kids’ love of dinosaurs, is all you need to make an original birthday party children will remember.  What child doesn’t want to meet a real, walking baby t-rex?  If you book Eventosaurio to your event, Rexy (and his handlers) will come for a visit – there’s no need to be scared because Rexy is fed beforehand and is only keen to play! You will learn all about dinosaurs during some fun activities before Rexy is unleashed on the partygoers (cue screams!) for some fun and games. Eventosaurio is not a cheap birthday rental and Rexy has some big dimensions, therefore needs quite a bit of space to move around, but if your child is dino-crazy like mine, their ecstatic faces make it all worth it.

Follow them on Facebook here and Instagram here.

Hope you enjoyed this dino-tastic article! If you are new to my blog, please feel free to have a nosey through – I may get a bit honest at times but hopefully you find something that strikes a chord. If you want to read about some other fun facts about Chile, have a read of this article, or for ideas about what to do with kids in Santiago take a look here. As always, if you liked what you read please give it a ´like´ and don’t forget to subscribe to my feed to keep up to date with new posts. I am always looking for new content, so if you have an idea for a story please send me an email to helen@queridarecoleta.com

Writer Emily & her Life in Bariloche

I recently had the pleasure of meeting freelance writer, Emily Hopcian, through work and was intrigued by her stories of life in Bariloche, Argentina. A blog article must surely be on the cards, I thought, and luckly Emily thought so too  Hope you enjoy my first article about Argentina and stay tuned for more.

7070670829_344f6316b8_k.jpg
Fitzroy Skyline.  Photo: Cascada Expediciones

Who is Emily Hopcian?

I’m a writer and content producer with a focus on outdoor adventure and social and environmental impact storytelling. I was born and raised in Michigan in the U.S. I have a love for most things water, cats and stories that are told well, especially character-driven stories with impact. Most recently, my hunger for travel, outdoor adventure and new challenges brought me to Bariloche, Argentina, where I’m developing a passion for and knowledge of this beautiful, story-filled region; the people who live, work and play here; and the plentiful adventures to be had here.

7070669919_7680e988de_k
Cordon Fitzroy Sunset. Photo: Cascada Expediciones

Why Argentina and why Bariloche?

I’ve had a desire to live outside the U.S. since I studied abroad in Bath, England in 2010. I held onto that dream, and in 2015, I started to seriously consider what living internationally would look like for me. Where did I want to live, and why? And what did I want to get out of living in a place outside the U.S.?

I wanted to learn Spanish. European countries felt similar to the U.S. in many ways, and I knew I wanted to challenge myself. Since I planned to continue working remotely for the company I was with in California, I set my sights on Latin America. Patagonia had been on my list for a while, so I honed in on Argentina and Chile. After talking with some acquaintances in Buenos Aires — yes, they were a bit biased 😊 — and being sold on the idea of a “European city in South America,” I decided to make the leap to Argentina.

I lived in Buenos Aires from November 2016 to May 2017. In short, the city was too much for me — and kilometers and hours, even by plane, from Patagonia. Craving a more natural landscape and the promise of outdoor adventures, I bought a one-way ticket to Bariloche, fell in love with this city and the Patagonian region as a whole and haven’t looked back.

EJH-Bariloche-APR2018-1
Photo: Emily Hopcian

How have you found living in Argentina?

I’ve experienced plenty of ups and downs in living here, but I also think that’s an ingredient for life no matter where you’re living. Landing in Buenos Aires, not knowing anyone, not speaking Spanish and navigating my own way were all significant challenges for me. I’ve been taking steps since day one and figuring it out as I go along. I learned a lot while living in Buenos Aires — castellano, what I need in my daily routine, good places to meet people with similar values, etc. — that helped me hit my stride here in Bariloche much faster.

I find the people and culture in Bariloche to be warmer and more welcoming than Buenos Aires. I think Bariloche attracts people with a more laid-back lifestyle. Which is not to say I didn’t meet great people in Buenos Aires. I did. Some of my favorite friends are from / still live there. Bariloche, as a whole, simply has more of what I’m looking for in my life.

For me, the biggest downside to living in Argentina is being so far from my family, who I’m very close to. Modern technology makes it easy to communicate and even see each other, but there are definitely moments when I miss the comforts of home, the things that are familiar to me — and my family is a big part of that. Suddenly losing my 10-year-old cat and watching my sister undergo brain surgery have been two of the toughest events to navigate from afar.

What have been your favourite travel experiences so far in Argentina?

My favorite travels have been in the Patagonian region, primarily El Chaltén. For me, Patagonia is everything I’d read about and so much more. The wild, remote landscape and simpler, richer pace of life are tough to come by in our world. Perhaps it’s the Michigander in me, but I like that the challenging weather is a defining characteristic of this region. Patagonia makes you work for your adventures.

In Bariloche, I love the plethora of opportunities for getting outside. I don’t have a car here and still find it incredibly easy to walk out of my tiny house and be up in the mountains hiking and camping overnight at one of Bariloche’s refugios (mountain huts) — a must-do if you come to visit — or near this region’s many lakes.

EJH-Bariloche-APR2018-12.jpg
Photo: Emily Hopcian

What are your favorite things to do and places to eat in Bariloche?

I enjoy hiking and camping in the mountains, and I’ve been learning to rock climb, which is a lot of fun and a great challenge to learn something entirely new in a foreign language. In terms of Bariloche’s refugios, Refugio Frey and Refugio Laguna Negra are my favorites. Cerrito Llao Llao is a great, quick hike with amazing views.

Cerveceria Berlina at Km 12 is one of my favorite places for beer and food; I usually get pizza. Cerveceria Patagonia has great brews and views. Delirante Cafe and Vertiente are two of my favorite cafes. Bellevue, Meiling Casa de Te and Chiado are cozy tea houses with great views. Rapa Nui is easily a favorite for chocolate and ice cream — as is Dolce Rama, which is right in my neighborhood.

31297373700_2964bb83e0_k.jpg
Grey Fox. Photo: Cascada Expediciones

How would you describe the local culture?

I feel as though the local culture is diverse here — meaning that it is what you make of it. For me, in many ways, the culture is reminiscent of a mountain town in the U.S. I lived in Jackson, Wyoming, for a short period of time, and while Bariloche feels and is bigger than Jackson, I see similarities, mostly in terms of an outdoor lifestyle. People are drawn to the mountains and outdoor activities.

That said, the influence of Argentine Patagonia is felt here. Asados in a friend’s jardín or el campo. The tradition of sharing a mate, conversation and time with friends is alive and well — be it in someone’s house, on one of Bariloche’s many beaches or up in the mountains at a refugio. For me, these two things — asados (barbeque) and mate (herbal drink from Patagonia) — reflect the slower, more easygoing pace of life here. There’s something about Bariloche that makes life feel a little simpler.

EJH-Chaltén-1.jpg
Photo: Emily Hopcian

You recently spent some time volunteering with the Torres del Paine Legacy Fund. Can you tell us about this experience?

The Legacy Fund is leading thoughtful, innovative projects in Torres del Paine and in the surrounding communities. It was a great pleasure to join them on trail and conservation projects earlier this year — and to spend more time in such an incredible national park. One thing that’s really struck me about the Legacy Fund is that they’re working collaboratively to address local priorities — true partnerships with public and private stakeholders, both local and foreign, and park authorities. My experience with the Legacy Fund was educational and also a great chance to meet like-minded individuals from both Chile and the U.S. and swap stories and ideas with them, while contributing to a more sustainable future for the park and the communities surrounding it. In particular, I think it’s pretty neat that, as a volunteer, you play a role in positively contributing to the future of Torres del Paine. It’s an experience that is far different from that of your everyday visitor.

What are some of the pressing issues you see affecting Bariloche right now?

I think Bariloche is facing issues of continued expansion and development. In speaking with friends who grew up here, it’s my understanding that the population has grown dramatically in the past 20 or so years. Most people living here did not grow up in Bariloche. Many are from Buenos Aires and other cities in the north of Argentina. There’s obviously also a group of expats, like myself, here. There are other current events here — one having to do with the Mapuches who are native to this land and another having to do with Cerro Catedral, the ski mountain — but I don’t know enough about those events to explain or comment on them.

EJH-Bariloche-APR2018-13.jpg
Photo: Emily Hopcian

You are a freelance journalist. Can you share any tips for people looking to get started in the industry?

In terms of freelance writing, know who you’re pitching to. Know the publication or brand. Know their departments and campaigns. Know what types of stories they feature and what tone of voice they use. Do your research. Search online for pitch or story submission guidelines. Follow those guidelines. When possible, reach out to a real person — not just a general email. The best way to do that is by reading through mastheads or web pages that list employees. Social media can be a good tool for connecting with editors or making contact to then follow-up via email.

I’ve found sending three story ideas — sample headline + a story idea with the who, what and why now baked in — to work well. It gives editors a menu of sorts to choose from. I also mention whether I have photos, have access to photos or know a photographer who can capture photos for the stories I’m pitching.

6924646252_aab3c49a76_k
Photo: Cascada Expediciones

What is next for Emily?

At the end of January, I stepped into freelance writing and storytelling full-time. I’m navigating the challenges and victories that come with such a move. I’m starting my own creative agency with a focus on character-driven stories in outdoor adventure and social and environmental impact — especially stories local to Patagonia — told via writing, photos and videos.

In living, traveling and building community here, I’ve realized that there’s a gap in the outdoor and travel industries’ storytelling. We often tell stories of Americans and Europeans traveling and adventuring in foreign spaces, like Patagonia, but we don’t often share the stories of locals adventuring in their own backyards. I believe there’s a missed opportunity for cultural — and, quite simply, human — connection and to encourage all of us to think about / see places and our role in them differently as we explore. So I want to share the stories of locals in their own backyards, starting with the Argentines and Chileans in Patagonia.

Beyond Patagonia, I’m also working on bringing a mid-length documentary to life about a Nepalese female mountain guide in the Himalayas.

I plan to continue living in Bariloche, making a home and community for myself here — and would like to rescue a cat later this year.

AG-UMED-20170311-1
Photo: Emily Hopcian

Keep up to date with Emily’s adventures in Argentina by reading her blog. You can also follow her on Instagram and on Twitter

 

 

 

Food Tour of the Casablanca Valley

Luis and I are so happy to report that our new tour to see where our food comes from was a success!  The Valley Tasting tour takes families to cuddle and bottle-feed baby goats, try goat cheese, learn about beekeeping and try honey, don beekeeping gear to see the hives up close, and sample Attilio & Mochi wines (along with other local products). Here are some photos from our May 19th inauguration – everyone had a blast!

IMG_5702IMG_5777IMG_5790IMG_5813IMG_5815IMG_5835IMG_5851IMG_5854IMG_5858IMG_5860IMG_5862IMG_5875IMG_5879IMG_5888IMG_5899IMG_5906IMG_5916IMG_5918IMG_5923IMG_5926IMG_5929IMG_5932IMG_5935IMG_5940IMG_5951

If you would like more information just send me a message to info@milesandsmiles.cl or have a look at our website here.

Hand in Mine

Your hand is sticky in mine. I want to let it go, so I can stretch my legs for a bit, but I can’t bear the thought of waking you, so calm you finally are.  Your eyelids are moving restlessly, your breath tiny puffs of air that disperse with a small sigh into nothing amongst all the other sounds.  I hear them because I hear only you, you who lay before me so fragile and innocent, all chubby cheeks and tiny teeth. You don’t belong here, in this world of harsh sounds and bright lights. These people do not love you.

*

The first time I met you was when I became your mother.  I stared into your eyes and thought ¨I want to sleep!¨ There was no great moment of awe-inspiring love, no instant connection that all the baby books assured me there’d be.  The only thing I felt was a pain between my legs and across my breasts that drummed its way into every thought and each nano-second of sleep. I craved you instinctively, but it wasn’t until later that that all-encompassing love began.  At some point I woke up and just saw you differently, noted each eyelash and fingernail as miracles, and realized that I was completely and hopelessly in love with you.

I remember the way you’d grasp my finger and gaze into my eyes while you nursed, full of cooing sounds and gentle burps. Then there were the times when you’d vomit down my back or release a brown-coloured explosion  (occasionally at the same time, always in public).  I remember how proud I was when you began to move on your own, and how my heart pounded as you took your first steps before toppling over. Your smile was – and still is – a beacon of pure joy with the power to infect me with happiness, while your kisses would work their way through my skin and all the way to my heart.

If it sounds like Mummy is a bit silly, the truth is – I really am! My son, being your mother is the endeavour of a lifetime; an all-consuming train ride (albeit one where the driver has no idea what they are doing). I spend my days second-guessing if you are warm enough, running through a tirade of incomplete thoughts, and tripping over dinosaurs.  Before I sleep, I think of you.

One day you will become a man and you won’t need mothering like this. You’ll push me away and tell me to ¨stop it¨ and ¨just act cool¨, and by then I’ll have forgotten saying those exact same words to my own mother. You won’t feel the binding us mothers feel, not until you welcome your own child – that’s if you become a father at all.  One day it will be me who needs help, and if I live to be old and frail I will consider this a life well lived.

*

Sorry, I have woken you.  I know it is hard; the noise here is unrelenting. They have marked your skin, and I can see a trickle of blood falling from your hand. It has swollen up; your fingers are now purple and look like a plump Christmas ham.

It feels like so long ago when you stopped breathing and convulsed in my arms. How many times did I picture this moment when I was a new mother, so terrified of every little thing, so fearful you’d be taken away from me? I always thought I’d fight like a mother lion protecting her cubs, baring my teeth at the onslaught of danger and refusing it passage. But when you turned blue all thoughts flew from my mind and I was helpless. My magic didn’t work for you, not this time.

Sleep easy, my son. The people in this hospital will be your heroes, they fight for you.

 

And I am here.

31959344_10156326831790097_3272341758985371648_n

This was written during the time of M’s hospitalization, again at the public hospital, Roberto del Rio, and also for seizures, just like the time E was hospitalized for the same at the same age. While this time round things were greatly improved, the service and medical advice were not what I would consider good, and again it was a difficult and slightly traumatizing experience. 

The Expater: Meet Luxury Lifestyle Blogger, Nina

A luxury lifestyle blog for expat women in Chile? Yes, please! This week I interview travel extraordinaire and journalist, Nina Hobson, on her successful foray into the blogging world to find out about her experiences moving to Chile and her advice to anyone looking to do the same.

20171028_141505.jpg

1) Who is Nina Hobson?
I grew up in Yorkshire in the UK and I’ve lived as an expat most of my life now, in Europe, the Middle East and Africa.

I’m blessed with two fabulously active kids, aged two and four and I’m expecting number three to arrive sometime around August.

With a background in luxury travel, I simply adore travel and good hotels. For me, there’s something about good hotel breakfasts in particular. While having kids has made me adapt my travel plans somewhat, I’m always out exploring with or without my troop.

Things not everyone might know about me:
* I’ve been arrested, detained and narrowly avoided a deportation. What can I say, when in Africa…oops.
* I have a thing for tea and have certificates to back up my tea tasting obsession.
* I nearly joined a sect, or rather I was nearly signed up to one. My father signed me up for volunteer programme in India, but it turned out to be a rather shady sect. I guess this is why they say ‘always trust your mother’ and not your father!

20180104_222850.jpg
2) What brought you to Chile?
My husband was working in Nigeria and while the initial plan was for me to join him in Lagos with the kids, for various reasons we decided against the move. He secured a few other job offers, one of which was in Chile. Coincidentally I already had a few friends in Chile and I thought it seemed like a good place to live, especially with young children. Oh and I really, really like Chilean wine.

3) What lead you to create The Expater?
Ever since I was a child I’ve loved to write. I was considering writing a novel, but found it hard to dedicate myself to such a huge project. As a mum of two with a husband working in a very demanding role, I found that I couldn’t devote myself to a regular 9-5 office job and needed something more flexible to keep my brain ticking.

I also got annoyed reading travel blogs that so often missed the mark and found that lots of information for expats was rather boring, dry or just plain wrong. I saw a gap in the market for a luxury lifestyle blog for women like me, that is expat women who move around lots and enjoy life to the full despite often very challenging circumstances.

20170916_120706.jpg
4) What are your best tips for those looking to get into blogging?
Just get started. Like any project, it can be easy to get bogged down in the minutiae, in the finer details, and then it can be hard to get going and actually make a start. Your blog will no doubt develop and change as you go, but the main point is just to give it a go.

Having said that, I think it’s useful to think about whom your blog is for, to really identify your target reader and write for that person in mind. Whether you’re writing a personal password protected blog for close friends only, or looking to create a monetised blog to earn a living, it’s good to define the purpose of your blog from the outset.

20180202_200253.jpg

5) What are best tips for those looking to work in travel PR or magazine journalism?
Travel and write. It sounds straightforward enough, but basically, I mean that it’s important to demonstrate your passion for travel and/or writing. Starting a blog is one great way, or compiling a photographic bibliography, for example.

Good contacts are also essential and you might be surprised who your friends know. Don’t be afraid to go out and put the word out. I’d advise against getting too stressed about networking though. More often than not it’s an informal chat which can turn into a paid commission or job.

20180207_203544.jpg
6) How have you found living in Santiago?
Our flight here was a bit of a disaster – missing bags, missing flight details and very messy bureaucracy. The move into our apartment was no easier, with flooding, sick children and a pregnancy scare making it one week to remember.
However, these setbacks never made me love Chile any less. On the contrary, I think Chile is a fantastic place to bring up children. The standards of medical care are fantastic, the infrastructure is very good on the whole and the people are very friendly. Oh and the weather definitely beats the UK.

20180501_170416.jpg
7) What has been the hardest to adjust to? Any tips for future expats contemplating a move?
I’ve lived abroad in so many different countries, that my transition to Chile was actually pretty easy, to be honest. The biggest challenge was securing nursery and school places for my children while suffering from morning sickness. The school admission process here is crazy and I wouldn’t wish it upon my worst enemy!

My husband is also from Spain and while my Spanish is definitely not great, I can at least get by.

In terms of advice, I’d recommend learning Spanish. While some people do speak English here, it’s rare and having just a basic level of Spanish helps so much. Some clinics provide translators, but none of the doctors I’ve seen speak very good English and we always revert to Spanish in the end. For everything from shopping at the market, to sorting bureaucracy, it’s so useful to have some basic vocabulary at the ready.

DSC_1181.JPG

8 ) As a mother, what are your favourite things to do with kids here in Santiago?
For me, the concept of play cafes is totally new and such a good idea. These cafes which are specially adapted for children with toys and games and good coffee and food for parents are a godsend. They’re so much nicer for parents than the sweaty, dark soft play centres I was used to in the UK.

The weather is much better here in Chile than in the UK so we’ve also enjoyed going to the parks lots too. I love the Parque Bicentario with its flamingos and fish, the Botanical gardens with their amazing views of the city and in the height of summer Parque Araucano with its musical fountains is also a big hit with our kids.

DSC_0587.JPG
9) Food – where are your favourite food spots?
OK, I’ll be honest I’m an extremely fussy eater and I’ve yet to find a restaurant here which I truly adore. I’ve heard very good things about 040, 99 and Borago so these are on the list for the next time my husband and I get to go on a date night.

As for cafes, I love the food and ambience at Quinoa. In fact, having lived in Chile just three months I’ve already been there four times.

10) What is next for Nina and the Expater?

Now in Chile, I’m focusing a lot on the life here, so readers can expect a lot more local reviews – spas, restaurants, cafes and so on. I’m also planning to squeeze in a little travel before baby number three arrives and I’m looking forward to sharing my tips on places like the Atacama desert and Valparaiso. Watch this space on my Instagram…

I’m also developing my Facebook page, where I’ll be looking to bring together more expat women from around the globe as well as in Chile so we can learn from each other’s experiences and share ideas.

Finally, I’ve got a few expert interviews lined up – a child psychologist, a mindful eating life coach and a wildlife expert to name but a few. Stay tuned…

DSC_1052.JPG

The Nitty Gritty

To read Nina’s blog, have a look here

To follow Nina on Instagram, look here

Don’t forget Facebook! Follow through here

If you would like to feature in the Spotlight On series, please send me an email to helen@queridarecoleta.com.  I would love to hear your stories and share them with other readers. And if you liked this, please give it a thumbs up (it keeps me motivated!).  Coming soon: dinosaurs!!

 

 

EcoCamp Patagonia

Wind swirls. Birds call. Sun shines.

Days are solitary steps, dripping water and mirror lakes. Nights are shared meals, laughter, and endless stars. Sleep is deep, dreams are heavy.

There are no words.

41319805921_52f1e90612_k.jpg

Patagonia is magic, as I have already said. But so is this place – EcoCamp Patagonia – 33 domes that rise from Torres del Paine National Park like the rounded backs of ladybugs. This completely sustainable and eco-friendly hotel/camp hybrid has won plenty of awards and has been frequented by familiar faces such as Amyr Klink (Brazil), Laura Lisowski (UK), Ramon Navarro (Chile) and  Paz Bascuñán (Chile).  They sing its praises, all of them citing the deeply transformative experience that such a deep connection with nature (and such a forceful severing from modern technology) brings.

Standard Domes

Compact but comfortable, these tiny spaces have been designed to shade you from the harshness of the Patagonian elements while still making you feel as though you are outside.  This achieved through the sounds and air that move through the pods, through to the complete lack of electricity and mod-cons that so clutter city life. Shared bathrooms, perfect for solo visitors.

15524805964_e62110842d_k.jpg

Superior Domes

The spacious upgrade up from the Standard, with private bathrooms and heating.

27872672620_450125ef77_k.jpg

Suite Domes

A luxurious space featuring a low emission wood burning stoves for heating and private bathrooms.

27538432174_f43038ba67_k.jpg

Loft Dome

The best option for families, these two-storey domes feature private bathrooms and private terraces.

28119518756_c1436ba45a_k.jpg

Yoga Dome

16032743736_accda8bbb0_z.jpg

Community Domes

The heart of the Camp, these four connected domes comprise the Dining Domes, Bar Dome, Reading area and patio.

26667517208_7d2e0e41b4_k.jpg

What To Do

Trekking, puma tracking, horseriding, photography, kayaking … the list is endless.  All you need is an open mind and a thirst for adventure.

How to Book:

Check out their webpage here

Instagram here

Twitter here

Facebook here

YouTube here

The Person who Followed Love

In 2012 I left the small town I`d grown up in, boarded a plane for a country I`d barely heard of, and all for a guy I barely knew.  I had expected panpipes, ponchos, hip-shakers and spicy food, and what I got was cumbia, butt-hugging jeans, cahuins and cazuelas.  Santiago was – and still is – a city of potholes and bumps, impeccable highways and treelined avenues, with a soundtrack that changes with each neighbourhood.  I found love for my local barrio and its colourful houses streaked with peeling paint and the ubiquitous graffiti emblazoned wall, but I also hated it, its appearance and beating heart appearing so different next to the fertile plazas and lavish apartment blocks that my friends knew.  Santiago is a living thing, a city that heaves with the hopes, dreams and fears of millions, and I thought it would be a good idea to hear some of the different stories of immigrants like myself to get their perspective on life within Chile. This was the original purpose of the Spotlight On series, and now it is my turn!


Why did you come to Chile?

I came to Chile for two reasons. The first is because I was – and had been for a long time – restless. I wanted to get out and explore the world, and have always been completely obsessed with Latino culture. In 2012 I was a university student living with Venezuelans and my best friend was Chilean. It was through her that I met reason number two: a guy. I met Luis in his last month in New Zealand on a working holiday visa. We just clicked.  The opportunity to go to South America was a temptation I couldn`t get out of my head so I saved hard for four months and then came.

What was your first impression?

My first day in Santiago was a jetlagged blur of taxis, grey skies, a brief moment in the Mercado Central and sleeping. My second day I went to Valparaiso.  It was cold and windy. After that I went to stay in Puerto Montt, which was also cold and windy.  I remember being given a huge bowl of curanto and souvenir shopping in Angelmo, a whirlwind dash around Chiloe, and a spontaneous dip in the gorgeously clear lake of Puerto Varas, but mostly I just remember the extraordinary kindness of my hosts in Puerto Montt.  They were friends of my partner`s and I didn`t understand a word they said to me but sometimes you don`t words to feel happy. We visited the Petrohue waterfall and it was incredible – all of the scenery around the lake was beautiful.

 

Santiago has changed so much! How was it then in 2012?

In 2012 I easily found a job teaching English even though I had no teaching certification. Teaching was an eye-opener because I had never thought about what we say or how we say them, certainly never given grammar or verbs much notice. There were only two Indian restaurants – we spent a lot of money at The Majestic in those days!  I really loved Patronato because it seemed so exotic.  Then the clothes were cheap and stylish – a bit different to today – and there was also a really nice Arabic restaurant [now closed].  My local supermarket seemed to sell only aisles of milk, and I remember going in once and crying because I couldn`t understand anything or find anything I wanted.

How were you accepted into society?

I am white-skinned with light brown hair, so I would get a lot of comments if I was walking the street alone.  I struggled to make any friends and found the etiquette – especially with my students – awkward. The language was a big barrier, and parties were always embarrassing for me because I could not take part in any way.  Outside of the cities, the people are lovely.  At the end of the day, I stay in Chile because of the relationship I have with my partner`s friends and family, who accepted me from the first and are warm and welcoming.  Travel – life – is all about these connnections.

33003135562_9a01699719_k.jpg

What were the biggest challenges for you?

Feeling like I was different made me feel afraid for a long time. Having no Spanish was hard, and some people made no attempt to understand me or communicate with me, especially in official situations. Visiting any kind of bureaucratic place like the Council or visa office was almost painful because people were so unfriendly.  Worst of all was the hospital, ER in the public health system is one of the most trying places in the world, and every time my kids have been hospitalized in the public system has been the most awful experience in the world.

35960621795_31ef10eae2_k.jpg

How was the visa process?

Honestly? A nightmare, with endless strikes, endless queues, and an endless lack of communication and empathy.  It isn`t hard for New Zealander`s like me to get a visa BUT my own permanent residency visa was declined despite waiting a year and a half, and I still don`t know why.

How have you found the work situation?

For a good job, almost impossible. Most jobs have come to me via other expat mums and groups like Discover Chile: English Speaking Moms. I think it is necessary to earn a million pesos a month if you want a good lifestyle, but in my experience, these jobs have been hard to find.

How was your experience giving birth?

I had a beautiful natural birth experience using FONASA and the public healthcare system. I gave birth 40 minutes outside of Santiago in the small town of Talagante with two holistic midwives to guide me.  They gave me massages and did aromatherapy with me when I was in labour. I stayed for one night in the hospital and it was all an excellent experience. I saw these same midwives for each checkup. I went into labour at 26 weeks and had a terrible experience in ER at the hospital of San Jose in Independencia, however afterwards I was hospitalized for a week and I received excellent, comfortable care with nice staff. After this, I was labelled high risk, placed on bedrest at home and had to attend my following checkups (until 37 weeks) at San Jose, and this was not a positive experience. Luckily baby M stayed inside and I could then resume my arrangement in Talagante.

Did you ever go through a period of hating it here and missing your home?

About once a month in the first couple of years I felt homesick.   I would binge-watch How I Met Your Mother DVDs on the laptop.  For about four years we had no TV and only YouTube, and to be honest feelings of homesickness eased up once we were given a TV and Netflix.  Suddenly I could turn the TV on and here English, and it would be like I was back home.  Every time my kids have been really sick I have wanted to leave. Having financial difficulties was really hard – things like having no washing machine or hot water for 6 months was probably the most trying time for us, but I also feel that you learn a lot from those moments of `hardships`. I have learnt we don`t need a lot.

In 2018 what are your favourites things to do or places to visit?

Eat, and discover new local brands. I absolutely adore Barrio Italia.  I am a big fan of Bistro Silvestre and Casa Luz [restaurants], La Pituka, Taller 7 Colores and I love all the decor shops. Further afield, I really love the vibe and colours of Valparaiso, the eerie sounds of La Campana National Park. Travel is expensive here and its really boring to drive around Chile because it is so long, but I love the food of Pucon, the history of La Serena and the stunning Elqui Valley.

 

22366357_10155686740800097_65893811992699458_n.jpg
La Serena

What is Chile like for kids?

Children are welcome in every situation in Chile, even the ones that I used to think were unsuitable for children. We go everywhere with our young boys and people are very welcoming. People do take a very big interest in what kids are wearing – as in how many layers they have on because they don`t like the cold – and I`ve had a few tricky moments in public with strangers shouting at me for being outside with a small baby, or people trying to give my kids lollies when I`m not looking. There are quite a few things to do, too. We like visiting Buin Zoo, the Parque Bicentenario or Parque de la Infancia.

36149311290_75f66a3268_k.jpg

 

If you could tell your 2012 self one thing, what would it be?

People will always talk, avoid rush hour metro and it always gets better. Oh, and there will always be bread.


Did you like this? Maybe give it a `like` and share your own story in the comments below! I am looking to interview more people so if you are interested in taking part, send me an email to helen@queridarecoleta.com