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

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The reality of a retreating glacier. Glacier Grey, Torres del Paine
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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.
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Making friends, no matter how small, in Chile’s Little North
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Sunset in the Chilean ‘campo’, or beautiful countryside. Discover ‘rayuela’ here

 

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

 

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Sunset in Pisco Elqui
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Icicles for days in Valle Nevado
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Running, running, running through the Casablanca Valley
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Houses on stilts in Chiloe
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Cueca like no one is watching. Vichuquen
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Weekend away in a hotel made entirely from upcycled shipping containers in Valparaiso @zilla.photography
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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

 

 

 

 

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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.

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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).

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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).

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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.

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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

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!

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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.

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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.

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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!

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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.

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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.

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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.

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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.

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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.

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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.

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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…

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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.

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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.

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Superior Domes

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

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Suite Domes

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

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Loft Dome

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

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Yoga Dome

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Community Domes

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

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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

Patagonia Magic

At the risk of sounding cliche, Patagonia is magic. Where else can you see skies this vast, glaciers this ancient, wildlife this stunning or a mountain vista so dripping in otherworldly power that it transfixes you and makes it impossible to look away?  Eyes just are not big enough to fully appreciate the spellbinding qualities of this isolated, wild spot hanging off the edge of the world at the bottom of Chile and Argentina.

 

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Photo: Cascada Expediciones

 

Just getting here to Torres del Paine National Park has been a mission. A three hour flight to Punta Arenas followed by a five hour transfer – while comfortable – takes dedication. Perhaps this is a good thing, as the park already sees traffic of some 250,000 people each year and trail erosion, habitat destruction, waste and water contamination have been some of the tourist residue affecting the UNESCO Biosphere Reserve.  

 

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Guanaco. Photo: Cascada Expediciones

 

Tourism in the area is a contentious topic, with local economies thriving (including that of Chile – Torres del Paine is the country’s number one attraction), but the reality is that park visitors have dramatically affected the park´s landscape.  Three devastating fires over the last thirteen years have destroyed 1/5th of its total area, an area that the critically endangered huemul (South Andean Deer), puma (mountain lion), guanaco (a type of camelid), skunk, along with 23 other mammals, 118 bird species (like the comical rhea), and a wealth of fauna types all call home.

 

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Black Faced Ibis. Photo: Cascada Expediciones.

 

The park itself is a fragile ecosystem, battered by 80km/h winds and 1000-3000 mm annual rainfall and freezing winter temperatures. There are four distinct areas: Patagonian Steppe, Pre-Andean Shrubland, Magellanic Deciduous Forest, and Andean Desert, as well as unique wetlands of the type found nowhere else in the world.

 

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Andean condor. Photo: Cascada Expediciones

 

The park´s most famous sight, the Paine motif, are granite towers formed from 13 million-year-old magma and glacial forces. The Cordillera del Paine mountains are sliced by valleys such as the Valley of Frances, and forests of lenga beech, pumilio and scrub.

 

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Torres del Paine valley. Photo: Cascada Expediciones

 

It was originally settled by the Kaweskar, a nomadic people who occupied all of Western Patagonia for 6000 years, who originally built dome-shaped movable houses that allowed the volatiles winds to slide off. Inside, they would gather around a central fire whose smoke would disperse through a hole in the roof. They had a rich language with different dialects and a strong preference for storytelling, and they lived in small family-based groups. They hunted deer, scrounged for eggs, and used canoes to hunt for sea lions and otters, among other things.  In 1959 NASA was interested in developing a way for their astronauts to survive if they crashed on a frozen planet, and made some studies on the Kaweskars ability to withstand Patagonia´s extreme cold. They discovered that the human body is able to withstand and adapt to various conditions, such as in the case of the Kaweskar. Unfortunately, there are only 5 Kaweskar left that still speak the language and follow the culture, living in the small fishing community of Puerto Eden.

 

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The Kaweskar.  Photo: Cascada Expediciones

 

While there are various trekking outlets and hotels (mostly owned by Kusanovic family), given the many issues that face the park it makes sense to opt for a business that has sustainability at its heart.  Enter EcoCamp Patagonia, an award-winning hotel/glamping hybrid situated in the Torres del Paine park itself Based on the original dwellings of the kaweskar, their domes were the first of their kind in the world, in 1991 setting off the wave of geodesic accommodation that can now be found worldwide.  The camp is also fully sustainable, attaining the fist ISO14001 certification in Chile (and the only in Patagonia) and follows this eco philosophy across every aspect of its function. It has composting toilets and a full recycling program (it sorts its waste all the way in Punta Arenas and sometimes in Puerto Montt), and sources 98% of its energy from solar and hydro sources (it is registered carbon neutral).  So-called ¨black water¨ from toilets are treated to become compost, while the ¨gray water is filtered and used again. Refrigerators are the Camp´s biggest energy sucker, and so to keep their environmental impact low they forbid the use of electrical appliances such as hairdryers and heaters. The domes were built on wooden platforms to make for easy dismantle and contain no concrete – even the walkways are raised.

 

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EcoCamp Patagonia. Photo: EcoCamp Patagonia

 

There are 33 domes, the cheapest being the Standard which makes for the deepest immersion into the park´s nature. These rooms have no electricity and rely entirely on the patterns of the sun for light (bring a torch if you plan on some night-time reading!), created with the intention to keep the guest as in-tune with nature as possible.  The Superior domes are larger and have heating, while the Suites are créme de la créme, perfect for relaxing after a long trek.

 

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EcoCamp also promotes inclusive travel.  Photo: Cascada Expediciones.

 

In terms of outdoor activities, Torres del Paine is one of the most beautiful spots in the world to interact with nature. From EcoCamp you can track wild horses or pumas, take a photography tour, trek the famous ´W´ or ´O´ circuit, or go for longer, more intense programmes that include sea kayaking, mountain climbing; they also promote all-inclusive travel, with special assistance for blind or wheelchair-bound guests.

 

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Puma. Photo: Cascada Expediciones

These are the kind of trips that happen once in a lifetime. That´s why you should do it right, go for sustainability and quality over price, and see it from the perspective not of a tourist, but as a human being, an Earth animal going back to its roots away from the trappings of wifi, social media and work stresses.

The Nitty Gritty

For more about composting toilets, read this.

For more about EcoCamp, visit here.

To watch a video about EcoCamp have a look here.

To see some of the amazing tours in Patagonia, take a look at this.

Did you like this post? Go on – give it a ´like´ and take a look at some of these other posts that might tickle your fancy:

Hotel and wine at Winebox Valparaiso;

Roadtrip to see the Flowering Desert and Bahia Inglesa;

Ghostown of Sewell;

World famous Alpaca Farm;

 

Rayuela, Christ & BBQ

I have surprised Manuel. His eyes don´t really believe me, his mouth forming a perfectly round O, followed by an exhalation of confused air.

The question had been a simple one, and my answer was nothing unusual, just a simple ¨no, I do not miss my home country because I feel at home here in Chile.¨ That is completely true – I love living here – but it always seems to catch the Chileans I meet off guard.

¨What about your family? ¨They always inevitably ask, followed by an exclamation of ¨But New Zealand is paradise! ¨.  But nothing I say ever convinces them, so I just change the subject quickly.

The day is a Saturday and I am in the small community of Calpún, four hours south of Santiago and an hour from the nearest city, Curicó.  Calpún is a blink-and-you´ll-miss-it sort of place, a scattering of houses that line a winding road in a tumble of colors.   Chickens squabble on the roadside and dash from passing cars, their clucking joining the whirring of tractors and scraping of shovels.  The wind blows fiercely east from the sea and causes wind dials to spin all morning and night in a cacophony of creaks and moans.  The afternoon – which it is right now – is made of summer sun and gentle breezes and, combined with the smell of the barbecue coals, makes for a moment of pure bliss.

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Calpun birds eye view

I have come to Calpún because it is the home of my partner´s family. Manuel´s son, David, was baptized today in the small church that dominates the village skyline.  Despite the countryside setting, we are all dolled up in our dresses and high heels, the men in suits and the children in bow ties and ribbons.  Chile is a predominately Catholic country, thanks to the arrival of the Spanish conquistadors in 1541, and baptisms are still a big deal.  Family from all across Chile have come today, arms piled high with presents wrapped up in blue paper. The ceremony itself is short and sweet; David barely makes a sound and his parents have been wearing smiles that light up the room (or at least rival the camera flashes).

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We are now in the house of Manuel´s brother, Tio Lucho.  ´Lucho´ is a common nickname for Luis, and part of a naming tendency that envelopes the whole country.  Fernando becomes ´Nano´, Francisco -´Pancho´, Felipe – ´Pipe´ … They join a whole host of diminutives that call attention to characteristics, such as ´Negra´ (black) and Flaco (skinny).

Lucho´s house is large with thin walls and naked of any furnishings alluding to grandeur, save for a few religious statues and dangling rosary beads.  In fact, as my mother-in-law Paola tells me, ¨the people don´t really care about that.  Our lives are spent outside¨.  This is, after all, primarily a farming community and a place that irks its living directly from the land.  The sauerkraut dripping all over our choripán (hot dog)? Homemade with cabbage from the garden.  The mayonnaise? Made just before using eggs from the chickens.  Even the salt comes from nearby Cáhuil, a group of ancient saltpans that are a blindingly vivid array of yellow, orange, brown and white.

 

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Gathering the salt in Cahuil.

However, despite the fertile abundance of the land, Calpún is struggling. My partner´s family would love to live here but there is no work and competition is high.  Instead, they live in Chile´s capital, Santiago, where they earn meagre pesos as a taxi driver and housekeeper (referred to as a nana). Many of the relatives attending the baptism, including Manuel himself, have also left the area to follow work opportunities elsewhere, including to the mines that dominate the northern desert.

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These fields supply Santiago`s markets.

¨When I was a child, there were two Calpúns.¨ My father-in-law is telling me now amidst a row of bobbing heads ¨Upper and Lower.  There were lots of people then before everyone left for Santiago, and the wealthier people lived in the Upper part while we lived here, in Lower Calpún.¨

¨Yes,¨ Tio Lucho agrees, ¨and Calpún was known as the place of the Blue-Eyed People – it was unusual to have blue eyes because of our ancestral ties with the Mapuches, who are traditionally dark.¨

 

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The river beside Calpun

Mapuche is the collective name of the indigenous people that historically occupied the areas south of Santiago until Patagonia. They are famous for withstanding the advance of the Spanish in the Arauco War, and today are a marginalized group.

 

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Mapuche mural from Curepto.

 

¨I had sixteen brothers and sisters¨ A woman I don´t know by name joins the conversation, ¨I don´t know how my mother did it because I have two kids of my own and I can´t imagine having any more!¨

There is a moment of laughter than my father in law says, ¨I played with my ball each and every day – it went everywhere with me! And I remember Paola, even though she was just a girl then, and she was always running, running everywhere with that light hair flying behind her.¨

My mother-in-law smiles shyly. ¨I loved to run and walk.  One year I was chosen to enter a big race, all the way in Curepto.  I was so nervous because I thought I wouldn´t be very good, but I WON!  I got a huge ribbon and I got to be in the summer festival that year.  It was one of the happiest moments of my life.¨

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Family antics in Calpun.

 

The conversation continues for a while and then turns to rayuela. Rayuela has been declared the national sport by two Chilean presidents and is traditionally played during las fiestas patrias, the celebration of Chilean independence that occurs the week of September 18.  This is the date when Chile united to seek independence (but not the date it formally received it, which was February 12, 1818).  According to the Chilean National Library, some 80,000 people choose to play the game in their free time, and there is even a national Rayuela Day, which occurs each year on July 19. To play the game, teams take turns throwing a metal tejo, which weighs around 1 kilo, onto a line drawn in an inclined clay box. If you hit the line you get double points, and the game can go on indefinitely. Lucho sets this up now and, using a piece of string and a stone, the game begins.

 

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At Tio Lucho`s house.

 

A few hours later and it is still going.  The wine has also made its appearance, a full-bodied red hailing from the nearby Maule Valley.  This valley is the largest wine producing area in Chile and grows excellent grapes thanks to the Mediterranean climate and varying soil compositions. Many of the wineries are organic and have a sustainable focus, the most characteristic varietal being carmenere, a grape once thought to have been extinct worldwide after a devastating plague swept through Europe in 1867.

¨Out here in the country, we prefer to drink red wine because it is the wine we have always drunk,¨  Lucho is telling me, ¨for Catholics it is associated with the blood of Christ¨.

There is music now too, courtesy of a live band playing an eclectic mix of Chilean cumbia, Mexican rancheras and traditional cueca. My father-in-law takes the hand of Paola as a song they love begins, and as their knees knock together they sway to the sound of their own laughter. The air has also thickened with smoke, the barbecue mingling with cigarettes (the World Health Organization reports that 34% of the population smoke).

 

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Dancing the cueca in Vichuquen.

 

¨Si es Chileno, es bueno¨ Manuel appears beside me, If it´s Chilean, it´s good. ¨Do you really not miss your country? ¨

I pause for a moment, then shake my head. Right now, beneath the crystal clear stars and beside these wonderful people, the moment is pretty close to perfect.

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If You Go:

Stay: at the Casa Roja in Lilco, 5 minutes from Lake Vichuquén and ten minutes from the Pacific Ocean.  This is also the site of the Oro de Torca olive grove and olive oil press.  From here you can make daytrips to the surfing town of Pichelemu, the salt flats of Cáhuil, the city of Santa Cruz, and the wineries of the Colchagua and Maule valleys. Birdwatchers can head to Laguna Torca.

Book your stay through Airbnb here.

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Birdwatching at Laguna Torca

 

 

Did you like this? Please have a look at my other articles and give this a `like` – that way I know someone is reading!

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.

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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”.
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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.
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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.
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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.
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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.
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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!!
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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!
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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. 
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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 
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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

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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.

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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.

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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.

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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!

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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!

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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.

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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 www.hellokiddo.cl.

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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.