In which we start calling our hiking boots work boots on Campo El Laurel just outside of Pucón, in the north end of the Chilean Lake District.
Cast of Characters:
Chris: Chris calls El Laurel her homestead. She is a 70-year-old environmentalist and artist who moved here with her now-deceased husband 20 years ago. When they bought the land, it was logged and destroyed by cattle. They worked hard planting trees, creating water conservation systems, and building the things they needed. Chris is Chilean, but from Vancouver, Canada. She’s ruled the roost for so long that she has her ways of doing things and doesn’t approve of variance. Within only a few days of getting to know her, she is funny and generous and much more trusting. Chris lives in the big house – beautiful spacious rooms with large windows facing out over the Lago Villarica and the valley. She has an aesthetic that reminds us of J’s mom Martha’s house – the house is crowded with pleasant sitting spots surrounded by interesting installations, old metal artifacts and twisted knots of dried wood.
Pamela: A full-time worker on the homestead who lives in a cabin at the back end of the land. Pamela is a hilarious and expressive hippie in her early 50s. Pamela is also Chilean, but lived for a long time in Tahoe, USA. She moved in and began work the same day that we did, and has hit the ground running making the place her own, reclaiming the garden and greenhouse, fixing fences and gates, and planting her own little weed garden.
Clara and Juliette: Volunteers at the homestead who work 25 hours per week in exchange for room and board. Originally meant to be here just two weeks, they’ve now signed on for another week since they like it here so much. Clara and Juliette live in Chris’s art studio above the workshop. It is a large studio-style apartment with a wood-burning stove, a small kitchenette, and lots of light and art installations.
The Animals: 5 dogs, 2 horses, 6 sheep, 2 ducks, 1 cat, 4 kittens, 1 newly born litter of kittens not yet found (number unknown).
C & J’s cozy home.
The big house.
We work 6 hour days, 4 days per week, with some variation. We spend our days doing farm maintenance:
- In the juerta (garden), weeding, pruning, cleaning and clearing.
- In the orchard, picking plums and apples.
- In the kitchen at the big house, cutting plums and apples for drying or plucking dried herbs for teas.
- In the backyard doing pool maintenance, keeping the firewood baskets full, doing the heavy lifting and wheelbarrowing for Chris and Pamela, and mowing, weed whacking, raking and cleaning.
- Everywhere, waging war on the blackberries (J’s specialty).
C, unloading firewood into the shed.
J fighting the good fight with the blackberries.
J, putting skills to use by giving injections to the sheep.
Since Chris was here alone for a few months before the three of us all arrived at the same time, there is also a lot of repair and bigger projects – replacing rotting boards on bridges, fixing the greenhouse, fences and gates, rebuilding archways for the roses and refitting sagging doors.
We’ve also done a couple of side trips to an amazing local cider press run by a 94-year-old man probably stronger than I am who built the whole thing himself out of enormous wood beams, scrap machinery and bicycle parts.
Don Osvaldo showing off his hand-carved scoop.
The Time Off:
In the afternoons, we lounge in the sun, play with the dogs, swim in the pool, and read from Chris’s extensive library. On our days off, we go hiking around Pucón – a spectacular region of volcanoes and lakes. We have not yet climbed any of the larger volcanoes, but we’ve certainly swum in an impressive number of lakes.
Huerquehue National Park (pronounced where-kay-way).
Relaxing at El Cañi.
Estacion del Silencio at El Cañi. A landmark written up on the map where we stop to listen to the woodpeckers.
The view of Volcán Villarica from anywhere, always, in and around Pucon. Villarica has erupted 4 times in the last 70 years, including in 2015. It smokes constantly, called “breathing”, which glows red at night.
Araucania Trees, an evergreen native to Chile, has thick, reptilian branches and can live to be 1,000 years old and are sometimes described as living fossils. The leaves, which are broad and thick, have an average lifespan of 24 years. The seeds are large and edible (similar to pine nuts) and are an important food source for the local Mapuche people, as well as being sacred.
J making friends with Nico, her new favorite boxer.
J in the Llancalil valley.
Lots of love!
C & J