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

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.

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.

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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.

¨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.

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.

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.

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.

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.

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¨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.

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.

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.

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.

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!

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.

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! 


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!

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.


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.

The beaches around Cayenne! The leatherback turtle was massive (I went to see it with the lovely family I mentioned)
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.

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.

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.

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.
Navigating the waterways by pirogue
At Saul, rainforest village only accessible by air
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View from Sentier du Rorota, near Cayenne
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.

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.

In Saul, only accessible by air
Blackish Nightjar
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Great-Billed Hermit
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
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.

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The whip spider!


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Horned Toad.


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!¨

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.

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


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.

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.

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.

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.

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.

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.

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.

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.

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.

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




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.


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!

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.

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.


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.

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.

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.


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.

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…


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  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.


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.


Superior Domes

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


Suite Domes

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


Loft Dome

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


Yoga Dome


Community Domes

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


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.


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.


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.


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.



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

Meet Ramonas: Shoes with an Edge

What is it about shoes? Such simple, necessary things that have the power to make our lives misery and to make an outfit complete? I´m a kiwi girl at heart, which means I have a thing for wearing jandals in all the wrong situations and a penchant for forgoing shoes all together, but even I will admit there is something about the creations of this Chilean small business that set my tootsies wriggling to get in to a pair. Maybe its the fact that Ramonas seems ahead of the trends, boasting stylish designs with a gloriously rock and roll edge, or maybe its the fact that their Instagram is a thing of shoe-fetish glory, whatever it is, Ramonas has fast become my favorite shoe company this side of the equator.


Ten Questions with Ramonas/ Diez Preguntas con Ramonas

Who is Ramonas and why start the business/ Quien es Ramonas y por que empezaste la tienda?

My name is Natalia and I am a commercial engineer from the Universidad Tecnica Ferderico Santa Maria. I started my brand around a year ago when I commissioned a pair of shoes that I had in mind and which I couldn´t find anywhere to buy. At the time I had an Instagram account that I used to sell clothes, and I published a photo of these shoes I´d designed. Suddenly I had lots of orders for these shoes and my label was born, though at the time it had no name. I had a hard time coming up with a name that represented the style I was going for. One day I woke up with a song stuck in my head ´Hey ho – lets go!´ and that was it – Ramonas it was.

Mi nombre en Natalia, soy ingeniera comercial de la Universidad Técnica Federico Santa Maria. Empecé mi marca hace un año más o menos, mande a hacer un par de zapatos que tenía en mente, no lo encontraba en ninguna tienda así que me lo mande a hacer. Cuando iba en la Universidad tenía un Instagram donde vendía ropa, y publiqué la foto de este par de zapatos. Tuvo aceptación y empecé a vender mucho. Así partió la marca, que en ese tiempo no tenía nombre.  Me costó encontrar un nombre que realmente representara el estilo que tienen los zapatos y accesorios que hago. Un día desperté pegada con una canción de Los Ramones “hey ho let’s go!” Y ahí salió el nombre “Ramonas”.
What is your bestseller/ Cual es tu bestseller?
That would be the ´bien rockero´ shoe. We use lots of metal accessories, dark and vivid colours, to make it an aggressive style. These ´Ramonas´ shoes make any outfit transgressive.
El estilo de los zapatos es bien rockero. Usamos artos accesorios de metal, colores oscuros y brillantes, para un estilo agresivo. Usando solo basicos y un par de zapatos “Ramonas” logras un look transgresor.
What is the process to create a shoe/ Cual es el proceso a diseñar y producir los zapatos?
The process is complex. From the initial idea until the physical shoe is finished, each design takes severals goes until it´s perfect.  Each part of the shoe needs to be designed and has to work with the other pieces. In addition, the selection of material is extremely important because we don´t only sell style but comfort and quality too, and we want that our customers come to recognize us for that.  Once the design and materials are all approved, it is time to think about the accessories and choose colours and patterns. It is a long but beautiful job.
El proceso es bien complejo. Desde la idea de un par de zapatos hasta tener el zapato físico, hecho y que haya quedado tal cual lo imagínaste hay que hacer varias pruebas.
Cada pieza que compone un par de zapatos es un diseño, todas las piezas tienen que calzar. Además la elección de materiales es otro tema muy importante. No sólo vendemos estilo, también calidad y comodidad. Así logramos que nuestras clientas se identifiquen con la marca y nos escojan una y otra vez.
Cuando el diseño y los materiales son aprobados, viene el diseño de accesorios, escoger colores y patrones. Es un trabajo largo pero hermoso. 
What has been your best moment so far/ Cual ha sido el mejor momento de tu carrera, con la tienda?
The best moment is today.  We are only a young brand but already we have positioned outselves in the market. Initially we started out just doing internet sales and now, a year later, we have gone retail. I love this project and I hope that we take this even further.
El mejor momento de mi carrera es hoy, es una marca joven, pero en poco tiempo nos hemos ido posicionando. Esto partió exclusivamente por ventas vía Internet y un año despues ya entramos al retail. Amo este proyecto, y espero llegar muy lejos con la marca.
Why shoes? How many pairs of shoes do we really need/ Por que zapatos? Cual zapatos todas las mujeres debe tener?
Why shoes? I don´t know, it was so casual. I never thought about design before, I always saw myself as a manager, working in human resources as part of a giant company, which was always my goal until two years ago.  I come from a family of shoemakers but it had never caught my attention until I made that first pair of shoes that got so much interest.  That moment opened up a whole different world for me and today I can´t imagine doing anything else.
As for how many shoes, fashion is like a chameleon and is constantly changing. Right now every one should hve a pair of slippers (babuchas). They are very comfortable but also very stylish and versatile
Por que zapatos? No se, fue muy casual. Nunca pensé en el diseño como una faceta, siempre me imaginé como gerente del área de recursos humanos de una empresa gigante, esa era mi meta hace dos años atrás.Vengo de una familia de zapateros, pero el rubro nunca me llamo la atencion hasta que hice este par de zapatos para mi y que al publicarlos muchas los quisieron comprar. En ese momento se abrió el mundo para mi, y hoy no me imagino haciendo otra cosa.
En cuanto al par de zapatos que toda mujer debería tener…la moda es camaleónica, estamos en constante cambio. Hoy todas deberían tener un par de babuchas. Es un modelo comodo, que estiliza y es muy versátil.
What are some other Chilean businesses you like/ Cuales negocios chilenos te gustan?
Bestias is a Chilean shoe company that I like a lot, and I refer to them in a certain sense. They are really cool! They do a fantastic job.
Bestias es una marca chilena de zapatos que me gusta mucho, son referentes para mi en cierto sentido.Los encuentro secos! Su trabajo es maravilloso.
What is your favorite restaurant in Santiago/ Cual restaurant es tu favorito en Santiago?
My favorite is Abtao, in Barrio Bellavista (Dardignac 0185, Providencia). The concept is Chile, all their dishes and drinks are inspired by different parts of the county (I should know – I have tried their whole menu!). It is just delicious. I also really like Bar Mañio (Pasaje el Mañio, Vitacura), which is a really great tapas bar.

Mi favorito se llama Abtao, queda en el barrio bellavista (dardignac 0185, providencia)
El concepto de ellos es chile, todos los platos y tragos que ofrecen están inspirados en distintas partes del pais (he provado toda la carta!) . Es riquísimo y además super conveniente. Otro restaurante que me gusta mucho es Bar Mañio, queda en el pasaje el Mañio, en vitacura. Este es un bar de tapas, es riquísimo Y super ondero!!
Where is your favorite spot in Chile/ Cual es tu lugar favorito en Chile?
My favorite place in Chile is Santiago – I love this city!
Mi lugar favorito de Chile es Santiago – me encanta esta ciudad!
You sell your shoes in the fashion store, Paes. How did you come across them/ Tienes zapatos en la tienda Paes – como la descubres la tienda y diseñador?
I first started selling my shoes in the store, Paes. I first met [owner and designer] Paola Escobar at an entrepeneurs fair, where she told me that she had some space for me to physically sell my shoes . Her clothes are beautiful and she trusted my work enough to let me have a space in her store.
Just recently we have begun selling our shoes at Paris in Parque Arauco. This is my first foray into retail and you can find the shoes in the ¨monqitas a la moda¨ section.
Mi primer punto de venta fue tienda Paes. A la Pao (dueña de Paes) la conocí en una feria de emprendedores, ella me dio el espacio para poder vender mi marca en un lugar físico. Su ropa es muy linda, y ella confió en mi trabajo y me dio un espacio en su tienda.
Hace una semana Ramonas esta en tiendas París del Parque Arauco, en el sector de ´monjitas a la moda´. Es mi primera incursión en retail. 
What´s next for Ramonas/ Cual es proximo para la tienda?
To keep growing. In the short term, we want to be in Paris in the Costanera Centre and Alto Las Condes. After that, we want to have a physical presence across all of Chile.
Seguir creciendo, como meta en el corto plazo es estar en París del Costanera y alto las condes. Para algún día tener presencia física en todo Chile 

The Nitty Gritty

Tienda Paes: Candelaria Goyenchea 3820, Local 206, Vitacura

Tienda Paris: Mall Parque Arauco, Av. Presidente Kennedy 5413, Las Condes

Whatsapp orders: +56954255033

Facebook here

Instagram here


Meet Hello Kiddo: A Small Business Supporting Small Minds

It is nearly Christmas! I hope you are all ordering your homemade pan de pascua (traditional christmas cake) and getting ready for the big day. Who else is trying to support local and small businesses this year? Please check out my shopping guide if you need some ideas.

If you have small children, you might want to pay attention to this article. Introducing Hello Kiddo, a small venture run by Natalie (Australia) and her Chilean husband, dedicated to selling only the best items for little ones (and from where M´s Christmas present is from this year!). Read on to learn a little it more about Natalie and Hello Kiddo.


Who is Hello Kiddo?

Hello Kiddo is our little family business, between my husband and I. He has a day job but is helping me out in his free time. I´m Australian and my husband is Chilean. I came to Chile for love and have lived here for almost 8 years now. I am a stay at home mum to my 22 month old son and have been itching to start a little business on the side from home.

Why did you decide to start Hello Kiddo?

Hello Kiddo started just 10 days ago launching our first product called PLAYON CRAYON. My mum brought a box of Playon Crayons from Australia when she was visiting us when my son was born. I hadn´t opened it until a few months ago when my son was only 18 months old. He was going through a very stong ´mamitis´[attachment to mother] phase, I was kind of tired and felt like bringing out a new toy for him to concentrate on for a little bit and not just me. When I gave him the box, he didn´t look at me for 40 mins. There are mums out there who know the feeling! He was concentrating on the colourful crayons, stacking them into towers. They would fall, and then he would try stacking them again. He had no idea then that you could draw with them too. From then on, I became a big fan of this product, I was convinced that this was a product that all kids could benefit from here. We are now the oficial distributors of Playon Crayon for Chile.

Photo: Hello Kiddo

What is the Playon Crayon?

PLAYON CRAYON is a box of 12 crayons that come in 2 different sets, (primary and pastel colours).

These sculptural crayons transform coloring into a playtime adventure. They’re still the go-to tool for your children to create fantastic, colorful pictures, but instead of the usual stick shape, they take the form of hollow cones with a bulbous end. Not only is the shape great for easy gripping by little hands, but the crayons are fun to stack into towers, or arrange into patterns. They dance on fingertips like puppets, and can be threaded onto twine for a rainbow necklace. They are a great tool to play with and teach your child about colours and even adding/subtracting when they are older.

The cone shape also means that instead of rolling off the table and underneath the sofa, they spin around in playful circles. They are certified non-toxic by the Art & Creative Materials Institute, USA.  The packaging is 100% recyclable.

On the box it is recommended for ages 2 years + however I gave it to my son earlier and he still loved them.

Photo: Hello Kiddo


What is your favorite thing about living in Chile?

The mountains that I see everyday from my balcony! You would never get this beautiful view in Australia!

The mountains (in winter)

Do you have a favorite restaurant here?

I love Quinoa (the restaurant) in Vitacura. Its a cool, healthy, vegeterian cafe/restaurant that serves high quality food. I love having brunch there when possible. I used to go more before I had a child.


Is there a particular place you love in Chile?

Anywhere that is outside our norm of Santiago life. The south of Chile especially!

Photo: Yorka Abarca

Many of my readers are mums, or mums-to-be, and would be interested to know how it went for you giving birth here. Can you tell us about that?

Yes I gave birth in Chile. Even though It was a long 18 hour labor at the clinic, I had a very nice experience. The doctors and midwife listened to my needs and complied to the birth plan I discussed with them months earlier. It was exactly what I imagined my birth would be like.

Max with his crayons! Photo: Hello Kiddo

What is next for Hello Kiddo?

Our wish is to bring more useful kids products and even make things ourselves from home in Chile. My background is in design, so I want to design and make my own baby/kids products. We started with the Playon crayons to test the market and practise what it is like having a small business in Chile. So far so good.


How can people order your products?

You can order your box of crayons through our website

Photo: Hello Kiddo

More Information

Instagram here

Facebook here

Did you like this? Check out these other small businesses I love:

Kids clothes from Ñirre Bebe;

Fun leggings and printed clothes from La Pituka;

Economical books for kids from Editorial Dansema;

Books in Spanish and toys from Pajarito de Mimbre.


Prefiero Chileno: Local Shopping Guide

This year, I made a conscious effort to buy local, and I would say that about 80% of my Christmas shopping this year ended up being gifts made in Chile.  This drive to support small has been all over the internet lately, particularly on Instagram, where a whole movement has started using the hashtag #prefierochileno.  To read why to support local, read my Directory of Local Businesses where I whip out a few facts to convince you.

Check out websites Bendito and Creado en Chile to browse an assorted collection of locally made gifts, and don´t forget to use the hashtag when you share your photos!  You can also visit markets such as Mercado Mastica and places such as Barrio Italia (my favorite place in the world) and Pueblito Los Dominicos.  The following list of my favorite businesses are either ones I have personally bought from or that are on my radar, and all meet either made in Chile, designed in Chile or based in Chile criteria.

Let´s Go Christmas Shopping!!

  1. Painstakingly intricate maps, cushions and other trinkets handpainted by dedicated local artists at Mappin.
Chile Urdido by Cote Bobillier. Photo: Mappin
Nuestra Casa by Michelle Lasalvia. Photo: Mappin

2) Beautiful scarves, socks, bibs for adults and children by Vuelvo al Sur.

Gloves featuring the Chucao. Photo: Vuelvo al Sur
Mug featuring a huemul. Photo: Vuelvo al Sur

3) The LeoLibros book set, a varied collection of short stories in Spanish that seek to encourage a love of reading that will last a lifetime, by Editorial Dansema.

how to take betterfamily vacationpictures

4) Stackable crayons made for little hands that are non-toxic and won´t stain (or permanently mark your walls)? Sounds like an amazing gift for the whee ones!  Visit Hello Kiddo to get your hands on a set of Playon Crayons. Photos by Hello Kiddo.

5) Beautiful furniture made in Santiago by Blom and made with local materials including Lingue, Coigue and Encina. I am coveting everything especially their headboards. All photos by Blom.

6) 7 Colores is a recent discovery, and one of the finds that has most impressed me during my time in Chile. This small shop is in Barrio Italia and is the most beautiful treasure trove of handpainted gifts, all featuring Chilean flora and fauna. Staff are incredibly passionate about animals and they even publish their own wildlife magazine (in Spanish only); their goal is a simple one: to introduce Chile´s creatures and plants to the people and inspire their love and respect.

7) OBOLO chocolate have just opened their store in Barrio Italia, and here you also can see them making their delicious organic creations through the window that peeps into the factory. OBOLO, which is the creation of Mark Gerrits (USA) and his (Chilean) wife, is a wonderful example of how a business can create opportunities and deliver an excellent product; OBOLO is winning awards all over the world and produces only 70% cacao creations, sourced from small-scale growers in Peru that Mark has worked with for years.  All photos by OBOLO Chocolate.

8) One of my favorite businesses of all time would be Karun, which designs sunglasses made recycled jeans and fishing nets cleared from Chilean coastlines. Read more about their business here.

Jeans y anteojo
Photo: Karunworld

9) TTANTI watches made from fallen trees in Patagonia. These are luxury, quality timepieces that suit both men and women.


10) Ñirre Bebe is the work of a mum from Southern Chile, and her clothes for children are stunning. E is now completely in love with the zorro/ñirre/fox.  Read my interview here.

11) La Pituka is my favorite business in Chile. I love to exercise in their leggings, I also love to go to work with them on, and I love that now they are offering Chile-themed designs as well. They also make tshirts, underwear, sweatshirts and socks – kids included.

12) Apicola del Alba is my go-to for Made in Chile (in Curacavi!) skincare.  I use the face moisturiser every day and also their chamomile-based shampoo. They make various things including aromatherapy oils and vitamins.

13) Ramonas are beautifully-designed shoes for women (how I´d love a pair of their boots, Santa!) that are sold in Paris (Parque Arauco), the local fashion store Paes (Centro Comercial Lo Castillo, local 206) and via social media. These are cult favorite shoes so get a pair now! Photos: Ramonas

14) La Coetzina   you may remember from my blog the other day, but Adel gets another shout out because her things make me drool, seriously. I can´t wait to get my order in time for Christmas next week!! Photos by La Coetzina.

15) Attilio & Mochi is a small, independent vineyard located on the way to Tunquen and the creation of passionate winemakers, Angela and Marcos. Their range of wines perfectly encapsulate the spirit of the area and they also do tours and tastings if you want to make an afternoon of it.


Photo: Attilio & Mochi

16) Kruz Toca Madera is where I am (pretty sure) my Christmas present will be coming from this year. These products are made in Chile using wood from fallen trees, they don´t use any plastic and plant a tree for every tree they use as part of their endeavour to make Patagonia clean and green.  Photos: Kruz Toca Madera.

17) Olive oil from Oro de Torca, a small family-run farm based near Laguna Torca, makes for one of the best gifts for foodies – they are even classed as the best fine olive oil in the Southern Hemisphere (Sol DÓro gold medal winner).  As an aside, they are also hosting Camp MakeMake which looks to be an amazing experience for kids this summer!

Photo: Oro de Torca

18) Hubbard & Smith sausages are made with love and care by Kate Smith. She follows traditional recipes and offers Cumberland sausages, Hot Italian, English Breakfast and more, as well as bacon and ham. Photos: Hubbard and Smith.

19) RM Arte y Deco is a store that I stumbled upon in Barrio Italia and just loved. Staffed by the artist, Raul Montecino himself, there are beautiful paintings, laminated copies and tshirts he has stamped with his designs.


20) Pajarito de Mimbre creates stories, toys and gifts based upon the animals of Chile. In our house we love El Large Viaje del Pequeño Pudu, a book that is as much educational as it is fun. Photos: Pajarito de Mimbre

21) Last on the list but equally deserving of mention, is Woligu, a new venture of handmade leather straps for cameras and guitars. Send a WhatsApp to: +56991377445

Photo: Woligu

Did you like this? Give me some love if you did!! Please share your photos to Instagram using the hashtag #prefierochileno and don´t forget to let me know of any other businesses to check out! Finally have a WONDERFUL Christmas – thank you all for reading!!

Interview with Editorial Dansema

As someone who loves to read, I have always felt discouraged by the high prices of books here in Chile.  The unfortunate effect of those prices has meant that books are not a common gift and seen as more of a luxury item, buffeted even further down the scale of desired items due to the popularity and ease of phones, computers and the internet.

Coming across Editorial Dansema, then, is something of a revelation. Well-priced kids books made in Chile? Umm yes please! Here I chat with Maike Pakroppa, the force behind the small business.


Ten Questions with Editorial Dansema/ Diez Preguntitas con Editorial Dansema

Who is Editorial Dansema/ Quien es Editorial Dansema?

We are a family company, created by parents thinking of their children. We know that, as parents, finding well-priced and good quality books in Chile can be a difficult job.  The Leolibros format is very popular in Europe and has supported the reading of generations, and we though that by bringing it to Chile we could do the same here, showing parents that buying good books needn´t cost clp$5000 or more.

Somos una editorial familiar, creada por padres pensando en sus hijos. Sabemos, como padres, la difícil tarea de encontrar libros que sean económicos y de buena calidad. Vimos que los formatos de los Leolibros son famosos en Europa, y han aportado el gusto por la lectura a muchas generaciones. Nos gustaría que en Chile los padres vean que para comprar un libro entretenido no tienen que gastarse 5 mil pesos o más.



How did Editorial Dansema begin/ Como empezo Editorial Dansema?

I spent a lot of time cuddling and reading with my eldest son after he was born. We´d always read a book before bed and talk about it together. I have always loved to read and grew up with lots of books at home, so when I had children I wanted the same for them, something that could be fun for them as well as educational. My husband didn´t have the same interest in books as I did as he grew up without them, but eventually his enthusiasm for them began to grow as he witnessed us, and soon we began fighting over who would read the bedtime story! He would then read in Spanish and me in German, though I was always at an advantage because it was easy for me to find good books cheaply overseas, whereas he would struggle finding the same in Chile.  From there the idea came to bring books in Spanish to Chile, so we acquired the licence to sell PIXI books here.  PIXI is an integral part of German culture, something which nearly all Germans know.  We want to offer the same extensive range of children´s books here, in the reach of everyone so that all children can grow up loving to read.

Cuando nació nuestro hijo mayor yo siempre disfruté leerle mucho. Pasamos mucho tiempo abrazados leyendo y conversando sobre los libros. Antes de acostarse siempre le leí una historia. Desde que fui niña siempre me han gustado los libros y siempre teníamos muchos en la casa. Quería pasar la misma pasión a mi hijo y además de ser un pasatiempo entretenido también es un pasatiempo educativo. Mi esposo no tenía la costumbre de leer por diversión, pero se dejó llevar por nuestro entusiasmo y  empezamos literalmente a pelearnos los instantes de lectura por ejemplo antes de acostarse, él leyendo siempre en español y yo siempre leyendo en alemán. Pero yo siempre tuve la ventaja de tener una abundancia de libros buenos a precios muy alcanzables y mi esposo siempre terminó frustrado de su búsqueda de libros a cierto presupuesto en Chile. Es ahí cuando surgió la idea de llevar a Chile libros entretenidos, variados, coleccionables y a un buen precio. Adquirimos la licencia de los libros PIXI alemanes, que son ya parte integral de la cultura alemana y donde casi no hay alemán que no los conozca. Queremos ofrecer una extensa variedad de libros infantiles en este mismo formato, en un español latino y al alcance de todos, para que los niños puedan descubrir esa pasión por la lectura desde chiquititos.


Why do you think reading is important and why should it be promoted in Chile/ Por que es importante a leer y por que necesita ayuda en Chile?

Children, in general, love to read, and the more they do so, the more a love of reading will continue as they get older. This is something that is still little understood by adults here in Chile, and which should be promoted by the government, the educational sector and by businesses. Reading to children contributes, not only to a lifelong reading habit, but to the emotional development of the child. If you can spend quality time with your children, reading and discovering stories, you allow them to see from things from a different perspective. It has been proven that children who read often do better after they leave school, because their reading comprehenson has helped the to be more creative and with better memory skills, and able to acquire knowledge in a more natural way.  This has been proven the world over in various studies.

A los niños, en general, les encanta que les lean. Esta actividad contribuye en gran medida a la tarea de fomentar el gusto por la lectura en los niños. Pero falta crear conciencia en los adultos en Chile. Es algo que debería ser promovido por los gobiernos, el sector educacional, incluso desde las empresas. Leerles a los niños contribuye, no solo a crear un vínculo y hábito en los niños que les servirá para toda la vida, sino que aporta al crecimiento emocional y a la relación con ellos. Se puede pasar tiempo de calidad juntos con los niños y a través del contenido del libro, mostrarle la propia perspectiva y otras por supuesto.  Está comprobado que los niños a los cuales se les lee constantemente les van mucho mejor después en el colegio, porque su comprensión de lectura aumenta considerablemente, y esto ayuda a adquirir el conocimiento de forma más natural. Se fomenta la creatividad en ellos y la memoria. Todo esto, no solo lo decimos nosotros, sino que lo respaldan estudios en todo el mundo.



Which is your favorite book from the collection/ Cual libro es tu favorito?

Our first collection is a mix of very different and entertaining stories, and it is difficult to choose one. My children love the classic ¨El Lobo y los Siete Cabritos¨ – all generations love the classics! My eldest son lost his first tooth recently and so loved to read ¨Maxi y el Diente Suelto¨.  My two-year old twins always laugh a lot with ¨Jan y Leo: Pelotos Locos¨.  Jan and Leo really want to play with their ball, but they have a very grumpy neighbour who does let them play until something very funny happens (read it to find out what!).  I was born in a small town but I still learnt something when I read ¨Descrubre la Granja¨.

Nuestra primera colección de mix de historias tiene historias muy distintas y entretenidas. Es difícil elegir uno. Actualmente a mis hijos les encanta el clásico “El lobo y los siete cabritos”, parece que generación por generación los clásicos nunca fallan. A mi hijo mayor se le cayó su primer diente hace poco y encantó leer como pasó esta misma etapa Maxi con su diente suelto. Y mis gemelos de dos años siempre se ríen con Jan y Leo: Pelotas locas. Jan y Leo tienen unas tremendas ganas de jugar a la pelota, pero tienen un vecino que no los deja jugar hasta que sucede algo muy divertido. Yo nací en un pueblo chico, pero todavía me asombra aprender por ejemplo cuántos huevos pone una gallina en el libro “Descubre la granja”.


What is the publishing process like/ Como es el process para publicar libros?

So far we have only published the stories that we loved in German, which we have translated into Spanish and published in the special format of 10 x 10cms.  We know that there are many more marvellous stories still to edit and bring to children, so we hope to work on publishing Chilean authors and 2018.

Estamos recién empezando y hasta ahora hemos publicado solamente las historias que nos encantaron en alemán y las traducimos al español en este formato especial de 10 x 10 cms. Pero sabemos que hay muchas historias maravillosas para editar y poner al alcance de todos los niños. Esperamos poder trabajar con editores, escritores e ilustradores chilenos y publicar sus ideas, a partir del 2018. 


How has reception been in Chile/ Como ha sido la recepcion en Chile?

Right up until now we have had a very good reception. We know that this year (2017) has been particularly difficult for the sector, but the good price and quality of our books has helped with that.  Each week we are improving our sales points and slowly we are becoming more recognized.  Already we have sent out books outside of Santiago, purely by word of mouth alone.

Hasta el momento hemos tenido una muy buena recepción. Sabemos que este año 2017 ha sido particularmente difícil para el sector, pero la relación precio/calidad de nuestros libros se presenta como una oportunidad en estos momentos.  Estamos semana a semana aumentando los puntos de venta y poco a poco haciéndonos más conocidos. Ya tenemos pedidos desde regiones y eso que ha sido sólo por el boca a boca.


What is the story behind PIXI books/ Cual es la historia de los libros PIXI?

The books were created in 1954 in Germany by Editorial Carlsen and are known as PIXi in Europe.  More than 450 million copies have been sold in Germany alone, with some 13 milllion sold each year.  More than 2000 titles and 200 series´ have been published, holding the Guiness World Record as the company with the most illustrated books sold worldwide.  They have been translated into Arabic, Albanian, Cantonese, Croatian, English, French, Danish, Dutch,  Finnish, Mandarin, Macedonian, Polish, Swedesh and Serbian, and now (by us), Spanish.

Los libros fueron creados en 1954 en Alemania por la Editorial Carlsen y son conocidos por su marca PIXI en Europa. Más de 450 millones de ejemplares han sido vendidos desde que salieron a la venta los primeros Pixis sólo en Alemania, y se venden en promedio 13 millones de ejemplares por año. Más de 2.000 títulos y más de 200 series se han publicado hasta el momento y está actualmente postulando para los Record Guiness como la serie de libros ilustrados más exitosa de todos los tiempos.  Hasta ahora los “Pixi-libros” han sido traducidos al: inglés, francés, holandés, danés, finlandés, polaco, sueco, serbio, albanés, árabe, chino, croata, macedonio y chino mandarín. Ahora, a partir del 2017 al español en Chile.


Now for something more general! Where is your favorite place in Chile / Donde esta tu lugar favorito en Chile?

I fell in love with Quintay at first sight. When I went for the first time you still had to go along a dirt road; it has changed a lot since then and not always for the better – it´s more popular and busy now but it remains a place that I love to escape to for the day from Santiago. We dream of having a house there one day, with a view of that marvellous sea!

Me enamoré de Quintay a primera visita. Cuando fui por primera vez todavía había camino de tierra para llegar a este maravilloso pueblo. Cambió mucho desde ahí y no todo para mejor, es mucho más popular y frecuentado ahora, pero sigue siendo nuestro escape por el día de Santiago y soñamos con tener una casa con vista al mar ahí algún día.

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Maike and two of her children.

Where is your favorite restaurant/ Donde esta tu restaurant favorito?

Unfortunately, my favorite restaurant, Alto Peru, closed while we were abroad and I still haven´t found a replacement! But, in general, I love the wharf at Quintay: fresh seafood, good service and the best view.

Lamentablemente, mi restaurante favorito Alto Peru cerró mientras estuvimos viviendo en el extranjero. Todavía no he encontrado un reemplazo. Pero, en general, me encanta la caleta de Quintay para comer: pescados y mariscos frescos, buen servicio y con la mejor vista al mar.


What is next for Editorial Dansema/ Que es el proximo para Editorial Dansema?

We want to develop the format of our books and include technology so that we offer something innovative, practical, functional, easy to use and collect and, above all, with attractive and well-priced content so that adults and children alike learn to love reading.

Queremos innovar aún más en el formato de los libros y vincularlos con la tecnología (específicamente la de realidad aumentada) para que sean innovadores, prácticos, funcionales, fáciles de llevar, coleccionables y sobre todo que tengan un contenido atractivo a un precio conveniente, para fomentar en los niños y sus papás la lectura por gusto.

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* Photos by Editorial Dansema.  This post has not been sponsored!



Need more great ideas this Christmas?  Have a look at

Beautiful kids clothes from ÑIRRE BEBE;

books and handmade creations from PAJARITO DE MIMBRE;

delicious cakes, pastries and meals from LA COETZINA;

handmade watches from TTANTI;

fun clothes for adults and children from LA PITUKA;

sunglasses made from recycled jeans and fishing nets from KARUN;