We had a wonderful month volunteering. Located in Raul Marin B. (just south of Puertto Montt, and east of Chiloe Island), is a piece of land that Thomas purchased 20 years ago. Piece is somewhat of an understatement, since he has over 700 acres. It is embraced between two mountains, and right on the shore of an estuary. Before I get into the month there, I will explain how we were able to actually arrive. It was a combination of taking buses and ferries from town to town, but the last spot was Quellon, which took us to Raul Marin. Since we would be in the middle of no where for the month, we had to say Merry Christmas and Happy New Year to our families prior to departure, which was extremely difficult. But, knowing how much they support us, and how much fun we were going to have, we knew the month was going to fly by. And did it ever!
Thomas is somewhat of a character himself. He looks like a combination between the talking trees from Lord of the Rings, mixed with the dwarfs beard. Always accompanied with a smile, though.
Arriving in Raul Marin around 1pm, we had to wait until a friend of Thomas's, Jaime, got off work to take us. Walking around town, we stopped for a bite to eat and got ripped off. Too much money for undercooked salmon. We were en route about 6pm, and it only took about 10-15 minutes to get to Thomas's land with Jaime's speedy boat.
Upon arrival, it was way more developed than we expected. Since he has been there for 20 years, he has built 4 greenhouse, a house for himself, a kitchen with pots, pans, and every utensil, a shower, and every tool you can imagine. All he his missing is internet! Stepping out of the boat, there is a clear trail walking to his "front yard". Now, picture your attic. Picture your attic tripled, with every tool you can think of, combined with shovels, rakes, plastic tarps, and wood piles randomly scattered in a giant circle... Welcome to Thomas's land, or "Cagalandia" as he calls it. He literally had everything you can think of. He also had an issue with finishing projects, so there were axe's, firewood, and plastic tarps everywhere you looked. It's amazing how much he has gotten done given how busy he seemed!
The first couple days he showed us where we got firewood, as well as other projects we needed to consider. They could have been simple, or complex as ever. For instance, we needed to add more gravel (which we got from the beach - pretty handy!) to certain areas because it had gotten muddy over the rainy days, and he needed solid ground. So we followed him around, admiring his dedication to making this land the best it can be.
After about a week and a half of us being there, Thomas left and went to Japan. He has a son and "other obligations", as he put it, so we were on our own. There was another volunteer, Bjorn, who was from Holland. He had had an office job for the last 13 years in construction and was sick of sitting behind a computer. Incredibly smart guy; knew the best and fastest way to build something so he was handy to have around. And, he loved to cook - something Nate and I definitely benefited from. Even taught us how to make a few new recipes, including homemade bread we made everyday, that we can't wait to make at home!
Nate and I took on a project of building a base for a tent. Thomas has tons of tents that he has the volunteers sleep in, but they are placed on a platform (about a foot off the ground) with plastic tarps for the rain fly. The tent we found was 18ft by 10ft - massive! It could comfortable fit a family of 4 inside. So we gathered tree trunks that were 9 ft long, and hauled them over to the spot. Then, we filled in the rectangle of the base with other branches, gravel, and stones until it was level. We then placed hug pieces of card board on top, then the tent. It sounds a lot more comfortable than it seems! Over it, we hung huge pieces of plastic to prevent rain dripping in. We were happy to complete the full project!
Thomas said he has always dreamed of having a Tee Pee. A spot to sit around the fire and enjoy a cup of hot coco, and just talk. So, we cut down 8 trees (Nate taught me how to use a chainsaw!), and lugged them over to the spot. At times, it was hard being the only girl. It was very much a mans land, but that didn't stop me from stepping up and proving that I can do more than just paint the tools. I definitely hopped into opportunities, and Nate 100% backed me up saying I could indeed lift something.
Christmas and New Years were spent a little bit differently than normal... We made a delicious dinner, had wine (that we brought in from Puertto Montt), and brownies and cookies for dessert. Almost every hour, we were glancing at the clock saying "ok what is your family doing now!?" - keeping the memories alive.
Thomas had a few pets as well. Chickens, which we learned how to care for, and we loved having fresh eggs almost every morning. Bjorn grew up on a farm so he taught us everything. 11 chicks hatched while we were there! There was also the wonderful, lovable, playful Beethoven. Truly the perfect dog to have in Cagalandia. Followed you around, hopped in the canoe with you, and just wanted to be by your side. He loved playing with the birds - constantly barking at them and thinking he could attack them from behind. Highly entertaining to watch.
A special treat we will miss is the king crab, mussels, and fish we could easily catch whenever we wanted. Crab the size of a large dinner plate, and mussels galore covering the nearby rocks. Thomas made a crab trap that you canoe out to and pull it up from the bottom of the estuary. The trap is connected to a long piece of rope, which is attached to a bottle at the very end, letting us see the floating object when we canoe out. They were so tasty!
Leaving was bittersweet. We formed a friendship with Bjorn (and of course Beethoven), learned a lot, but were also anxious and excited to talk to our family and friends. We left New Years day - when Thomas left for Japan, he contacted Jaime and told him we wanted to be picked up then. Spent a short time in Raul Marin, then took a bus to La Junta where we quickly went to an Internet cafe and were thrilled to know all was well in the real world. From La Junta, we took a bus to Coyhaique where we spent 2 days. Enough time to get caught up with everyone and research our next stop. Up next was Chile Chico where we spent the night, to catch a bus the next day to Argentina! Short trip to the border, and very simple to cross.
We made our way to Perito Monero where we were incredibly fortunate with our hostel choice. Camping Raul was easily the best place we have ever stayed. Not only were we greeted with a cup of coffee, but within minutes he asked us when we ate dinner, and pulled out 2 lamb legs from the oven! It didn't stop there, we had beef stew, tasty wine, and a visit that we will never forget. He was truly marvelous. Welcoming, generous, and overall an amazing host.
From Perito Monero, we hitch hiked! After only 5 cars passing, the 6th car pulled over and gave us the trip of a lifetime. Patricia is a policewomen near Buenos Aires who was traveling in this part of the country, so we couldn't have had better luck! She helped us with our Spanish, bargained prices for us (foreigners here usually get charged double, and she didn't want that for us), and told us if we ever needed anything, she is only a phone call away. A true blessing. We arrived in El Calafate, hugged Patricia good bye, and booked our bus to Puerto Natales, our current location.
With a little big of back and forth between the two countries, we are anxiously planning our hiking trip through Torres del Paine. It should be about 7-9 days, and are so excited for the views and stories we will have at the end of it.
Picture to come soon!
Maddy and Nate