Tumuñan Lodge was my destination, it was the first time in over 9 months that I would be working. I had however swapped an office in Derby, England to a luxury tourist lodge in the Andes, Chile. I took the final bus from San Fernando, the local city, to Las Peñas and explained to the bus driver where I was trying to get to. He was a friendly chap who as well as driving the route several times a day would also bring groceries out to the locals. An hour or so later he dropped me off at the gates where I was immediately greeted by Bernard and Clarita, the two dogs, and also by Nicola, another volunteer.
After getting the tour and meeting the other volunteers I settled into the cabin. After a long time on the road I was surprisingly happy to be able to unpack my rucksack and sleep in the same bed for more than one or two nights. Sometimes it’s the small things that count! There were four other volunteers there when I arrived although they were all leaving two days after my arrival. Only Graham, an American chap, would be returning after a 10-day break. Fron the little I got to know them before they left, they seemed good people and luckily it was Graham who I got on with best, particularly as he liked table tennis!
I settled into life at the lodge doing a range of maintenance work. The majority of my day was spent in the small vineyard they had strimming back the weeds. I say ‘small’ which is a comparison to other vineyards. There were still over 60 rows with many measuring over 200 metres! Still, I had no problem and in fact enjoyed the physical labour, enhanced by the beautiful surroundings I was in. The first weekend arrived and Al was on his way up north from Puerto Montt. He decided to come and visit for the weekend which fortunately I wasn’t working for. My deal with Will, the owner of the Lodge, was that I would work 8 hours a day, 5 days a week. In return I would receive free accommodation and food.
Al arrived just as I returned from the vineyard, I think he was a little shocked to see me covered head to toe in grass, complete with strimmer harness and safety glasses. Naturally we consumed many a beverage that evening. One of my favourite things about the lodge was the view of the stars and we spent time seeing different things up there in the magical solar system and also getting some photos. I took Al on a tour around the property which stretched up the valley and included a mirador which gave views for miles. That evening was a little more relaxed, we joined Will for a glass or two of red before I gave them both a lesson at pingpong. Monday came round quickly and Al decided he would leave on Tuesday instead. This time it was definite that I wouldn’t see him again until we were both back in England. It had been a really fun weekend and although I’d been on holiday with Al several times, I think this was the first time we had travelled together. It had been bloody good fun and I hope we get the chance to do it again. He now had a great journey to take up to Ecuador. I wished him well as he took the bus back to San Fernando and then it was back to the vineyard for my strimmer and I.
I enjoyed a few days on my own before Friday rolled around where I was expecting two more people. The first, Graham, was returning from his break to continue working and the second, Sonia was coming to visit. I had met Sonia back in Bariloche at the hostel and she had mentioned she wanted to move to see a new place. She was on her way to Cajon del Maipo where she had friends she could live with. It turned out it was only an hour away so she spent the weekend at the lodge. The Friday night the three of us caught up on what we had been doing and enjoyed the cheap yet fine red wine. I was off work again on Saturday so I took Sonia around the property on the same route as Al. This time we continued beyond the Tumuñan estate to visit a waterfall. It was a beautiful spot in a shady natural pool. I jumped in but within seconds was gasping at how cold it was. We didn’t last long in there and soon made our way back down to warm up. The rest of the weekend was a relaxing one and on Monday Sonia left to start her new adventure. Now it was just Graham and I but luckily we got along well.
The next week or two were fairly uneventful in comparison to the previous nine months. As well as more strimming I also did weedkiller spraying, painting and helped clear brush/forest where Will is looking to sell off smaller plots of land. I’d be lying if I said it wasn’t good fun using the chainsaw for a few days (sensibly of course…). In my last week or so a German girl, Elisabeth, arrived. She was there to help with the marketing side of things but was a bit surprised by the temperature and the remoteness of the place. I was a little surprised by this because it was almost winter in the Andes…I remember she asked what we did in the evenings and I probably didn’t inspire her with the answer…’Well, we drink quite a lot, there’s a shop about 20 minutes walk away so sometimes we go there, he’s not always open though so you have to ring the doorbell and an old lady comes out…’. Anyway the three of us got on and had a good laugh and Elisabeth left later that week. She had decided to travel overland up to Ecuador rather than fly which I like to think was mainly because Graham and I bored her with our travel stories. In my last couple of days I finished my master work of painting. I hadn’t really done a great deal before but I just wondered how hard could it be? Turns out not very and they were happy with the job. I also took a load of photos of the place for Will, some of which are below.
My last day Graham and I went for an afternoon hike in the mountains. It was quite surreal that we could be in such an amazing place and see no other buildings in just a few minutes. Along the way we passed by a rodeo, we weren’t totally sure if it was abandoned or if it was just not in use because it was winter. Either way it was a very strange location for it, a few kilometres up an unpaved road where it joined another unpaved road! That evening we had a few drinks with Will and his wife Carolina before Graham and I left for our last night in the cabin. After some more drink and food, before we knew it, it was well into the early hours. I had a bus to catch at 8am so after some rational thinking I decided it was better to just not go to sleep. Graham sensibly supported this decision, stayed up for moral support and we continued the festivities…Unfortunately, but perhaps not unsurprisingly, I missed the bus, but in my defence, I was close. I then had some time to kill until the next bus, 6 hours actually.
Eventually, I was on my way, back to San Fernando and then back up to Santiago. I had the weekend free before I started my next volunteer placement, which I will explain in a moment. First though, Sonia was now settled in Cajon del Maipo so I decided to visit her for the weekend. Cajon del Maipo is an area just south of Santiago, far more rural and surrounded by mountains. We took the bus to a small town called SanJose where she was staying. We arrived shortly after Chile had beaten Australia in the World Cup group stages. There were people celebrating in the streets, all the cars driving past were beeping their horns and we quickly joined a party of a friend of Sonia’s. Most of the evening was spent there before we returned to the house where Sonia was staying.
We hiked both days of the weekend, firstly along a nearby river and the second day through some valleys and on the sides of some mountains before ending up back in the centre of SanJose. On Sunday evening I took the bus back to Santiago. It was a fairly lengthy journey with all my stuff. A bus and three different metros before arriving back at the bus terminal. I realised I’d come a long way from my time in Venezuela when I never would have considered taking public transport through a capital city on a Sunday evening, talking with some of the people along the way about my trip and checking I was going in the right direction. I found my bus to my next and more or less final destination on my journey. I was off to Villarrica, a town in Southern Chile and back into Patagonia. My last job/volunteer post was to be as a dog sledding guide working on the slopes of the most active volcano in South America, Volcan Villarrica. After a good night’s sleep I arrived early morning, was collected by Konrad, the German owner of the dog sledding company, Aurora Austral and arrived at his house. I will be here until early September and will next post some details of what I’ve been up to here so far.