Tuesday, November 17, 2009

Begin with November, and hope Spring really arrives

Spring weather in this part of Patagonia has surprised me and confounded me. Just when DO you plant a garden here. People have gardens, I've seen them. But October and up through this week has been alternatively warm, sunny and breezy, then cold, relentlessly rainy and snow. Despite the weather, some things have sprouted though I suppose it will be hard to figure out how to survive on radishes and basil. Hmmm.

I am sitting on a walnut-brown rug in front of the wood stove (brown being my final choice for rugs and other home decoration for pioneer living) and wonder just how I can't remember this Spring weather, or why it still seems a bit "trying" to make a go here. I guess I still need to shed my "call a repairman" thinking. It started with the hydro-electric intake debacle which cannot be fixed, repairman or not, until the river recedes. So, out of electric, we purchased a generator and agonized through the whole wiring a 220V plug to the house and figuring out the Chinese-made generator with the Spanish manual. But we did it. Then, having had no electric for almost a month, the laundry had piled up a bit...but now we had the generator and it worked fabulously! It was a glorious day when we turned on the electric and started up the washer with the first of many filthy loads of laundry. What would you wash if you knew you could only wash one more load to last the next TWO weeks? Well, I didn't know, and I washed stupid stuff...dish towels and socks, a small load. The washer quit agitating, and that was that.

We pulled off the back, looked. Looked some more. Lots of little gadgets encased in nifty plastic boxes, stuff, doo-dads and whatchamacallits. We made a few trips to town and inquiries for washing machine repair and got blank stares, wry looks and out-right laughter. In Futa? Jajajajajaja (Spanish for Hahahaha).

In the meantime, we are enjoying a few hours each night of electric. Greg watches Deadwood on DVD, I make dinner and read or crochet. I bake bread. Then, I notice that there is a sooty film creeping up the wall behind the propane stove, and it finds it's way onto my lovely loaves of bread. Thinking that something has fallen down under the bottom plate, I finally decide to take it apart and investigate. The entire inside of the stove is layered in soot and under the bottom plate I find a quarter inch of caked on hard, black powder. But there are no food particles or spilled grease so it is a puzzle to me how all this black soot got in my stove. I spend four hours cleaning, scrubbing rinsing and drying out the stove and put it back together (not to mention cleaning the wall. Just as I am done, I decide to shake out and clean off the mat beneath the stove. I pull it back and find a partially burned portion of the wood floor. Thankfully, we had a large sheet of sheet rock under the house and we cut it to size and install it under the stove. But what caused this??

See, I have no clue. We went to town to get on the internet to look for answers (also no gas stove repairman in the area). My first ten hits on Google are alarming! If your gas oven produces soot, the most likely (and this is the alarming part) that your oven is producing potentially deadly carbon monoxide gas. Stop! the first site says, "and call a certified repairman". Another site graciously goes on to tell me the three most common causes and solutions but also urges me to call a "certified repairman". So, it is by the grace of the internet that I am still here, writing this. We will take the stove outside, try the most likely solution, and knowing that bright yellow flames are the warning sign, not move the stove back in to use until we have fixed it, or gotten a new one.

I hope you enjoy the pictures of recent snows in my neck of the woods.

(Snowed all day November 6)

Monday, October 19, 2009

New Clothes

Wednesday, September 30, 2009 (So cold in the house this morning that my computer touch pad is having trouble recognizing my finger as something other than a cold piece of clay...I will start a fire before I start in...)

Have you ever stopped by someone's house and caught someone in their "ratty" clothes...the once white t-shirt now stained, torn and gray with "Bart's Air-Conditioning Service" screen-printed on the back? Tatty gray sweatpants cut off just below the knees and little balls of white fuzz all over them. And you wonder if this person either never throws away anything, or do they dig through the Goodwill Car Wash rag bag for things to wear? It's one thing to be frugal, and comfortable, but it's another thing to be a plain slob. But my neighbor Nono has never chastised me for my choice of clothes, and I love her for that. She did stop by last week with a message from town for us, wearing jeans and a t-shirt with paint on them. To her credit she had actually been doing some painting that day in town at her daughter's house. I looked down at my sweatpants (described above) and realized that my ensemble looked much worse than hers and all I had done all day was make bread and build a fire in the wood stove.

My husband was always a classy dresser. Tailored suits, button-down shirts, and silk ties for work. Even for home and in casual settings, and fishing off the beach, he always looked like he walked out of advertisement for an upscale men's clothing store. He wore clothes so well he actually did some modeling at one time. This was a guy who would put on his Tommy Bahama shorts, a nice shirt and deck shoes to take out the trash. After all these years of traveling, and two years now in Patagonia, I have corrupted him.

Yesterday, as I sat downstairs watching the sky lighten, drinking lukewarm instant coffee (using hot water from the tap because the gas tank for the stove ran out and I and still hobbling from the broken foot and can't drag in the other one from outside) I heard him stirring upstairs. A few minutes later, he comes down the stairs in long johns, tri-colored wool socks and a sweatshirt that looks like it came from the prop room of a horror movie. He slipped on his rubber boots and went out to get wood and change the propane tank. To dress for the day, he pulled on a pair of bluejeans now washed to a faded baby blue, splashed with old varnish and a color of paint I can't place, and went to the neighbors to get a tank of gasoline we have stored there.

We "refresh" our clothing supply every year when we go visit family but this year we are well past the one-year point and it shows. We do each have one set of "goin' to town" clothes but even those are showing signs of wear and tear. Gone are the days when my husband would dismiss a t-shirt because it had a small stain somewhere on the sleeve, or toss a shirt because he thought the cuff was frayed. Gone are the days when he would reject something even though I would point out that no one would know the bottom button on a shirt was missing because he would tuck in his shirt anyway..."I would know", he would say.

It is time, though, to retire some of our clothing. Things that are so hideously worn and stained from our days camping and building and painting and varnishing, torn from pushing through brush, caught on nail heads, or threadbare from volcanic ash that I wouldn't even cut them up to use as car wash rags. Then we will traipse into one of the Ropa Americana stores and start again. This time I will steer towards clothing in the black color scheme.

Mahjong stats: Games played- Games legally won- 200

Thursday, October 15, 2009

Backhoes and Toasters

(Written in September...)
In the US, you wait for the cable guy. Here in "el campo" we wait for the back-hoe guy. I am currently waiting for BH guy to come and scoop and level the parking area at the top of the ridge where we now carefully manuever our pickup truck in between boulders pushed there by previous BH guys doing road repair. It will cost us 28,000 Chileno Pesos for one-hour.

Ismael, the neighbor has tried to convince us to widen the path by a couple of meters so we can drive our truck down to the house. But we can see that with the topography of the land, specifically where the path would have to be widened, we would create serious problems next rainy season. Without intelligent engineering, the improved road would be washed out or buried in landslides. We choose not to go down that path.

Other tidbits:

I am posting a picture of something that everyone will be jealous to acquire. A wonderful new-age innovation. Below, behold, my toaster!

I have been thinking of doing an Infomercial with this wonderful device...Needs no electricity...Goes from gas (or electric) cooktop to campfire...Rinses clean with river water...Lasts a lifetime or we replace it for free!

I know what Mom is getting for Christmas!

I have many other innovative items that I use here in Patagonia on a regular basis. My bamboo and cuphook clothes dryer. My iron-ring fire-cooker which is adjustible by pounding it into the dirt over the campfire with a piece of left-over construction lumber. My in-river beer cooler made from chicken wire (adjustable in form for proper rock-wedging) and my ecologically sound mop (an old towel with a hole cut in the middle to fit over the broom handle).

I grew up with Hints from Heloise, so I completely appreciate Patagonia innovations. I appreciate not buying so many things that I can fabricate myself with things that most people discard or disregard. A few examples would be window cleaner (water, vinegar and a few drops of dish soap), pot scrubbers crocheted from net bags (my Aunt in Ohio actually does this) or using paper egg containers for sprouting seeds, bisquit cutters from tin cans. I have a wonderfully functional smoker which is simple but too complicated and boring to explain here. I use it to smoke meat, fish and dried aji and ajo for my famous, much sought-after merken mix.

That's all for now. Don't be jealous...but I'm working on my business and marketing plan, and soon you may see them on The Shopping Network.

Note: Being frugal and cheap is somewhat difficult in Patagonia as almost no one discards anything. There are no flea markets, second hand stores (except for the Ropa Americana shops which frankly are not cheap compared to Goodwill) and any broken machinery, building or contraption can, and is, taken apart and used to make something else. Scavengers have no future here.

End note: After noon, and still waiting for the backhoe guy.

Friday, September 18, 2009

Sept 17, 09

Written September 17, 2009

It's been a wonderful week in the country. Sunny, longer days, a small morning fire, days to dry vegatables and rearrange the furniture in the "spring-summer" formation (couch and chairs moved further from the woodstove) and a few vases (preserves jars) of freshly cut evergreen sprigs set around.

The fat cat provides much of our entertainment since we are still not up to full power so we don't watch movies at night. We still use candlight to read by, not out of necessity now, but because it's pleasant and relaxing, even as the cat attacks our feet under the comforter.

I spied some fresh parsley on a recent trip to town, and snapped it up along with some decent tomatoes, thinking of my unopened bag of quinoa purchased in Temuco. I don't remember if tabuoli (tabuli?) is supposed to be made with quinoa or with bey, or what, but it works well. I barely cooked the quinoa, let it cool, finely chopped fresh garlic and parsley (lots), and diced a tomato. Adding a little fresh-squeezed lemon juice and olive oil (salt for me) and we gorged ourselves. As a side experiment, I threw a pinch of the raw dry seeds in a planter. Just to see...

With my diminished physical capacity, I enlisted Greg to go buy the new mattress for my mother's room. One plaza y media. A little bigger than a twin, not quite a double...that's the size for the bed that Ismael made for us last year, and which we put in the spare bedroom. He bought a good mattress, not the cheap foam things that you find generally down this way. He paid handsomely, but as I told him, for a mattress (as well as other items) you get what you pay for. He roped the thing in the bed of the truck, wrestled it down to the house, then upstairs to the bedroom. I cut off the thick plastic cover and something didn't look right about it. I flopped it over onto the bed frame and dear lordy, he bought a twin mattress. I looked at it, then at him. I said, "Did you not ask for a "plaza y media"? "Yes", he says, "but they only had the size that fits our bed, and bigger." "So, why...why did you buy a mattress that clearly isn't what we needed," I continued to bitch, as I looked at the 10-inches or so of bare bedframe. Why, indeed.

"If you sent me to buy a 17-inch tire for the truck, and I came home with a 15-inch tire, would it make sense to you if I said that all they had were the 20-inch tires and the 15-inch tires, so I bought that one?" "No, not when you put it that way," he says looking at the mattress. Now...my Grandmother always said, "Everything happens for a reason, even if you don't see the reason right away." And she has always been right. The old, cheap foam mattress sat against the window. I looked at what we had here. We could tape up the plastic on the new mattress, Greg could wrestle it back up to the truck the next day or so, return it, and order a "plaza y media". I sat down on the sheepskin rug and thought. Then it came to me. This small, but charming room with a view of Tres Monjas and the forest could be more than just a bedroom. It could be a Guest Room. I rocked myself back up on my cast, grabbed the foam mattress and shoved one side down behind the back wall behind the bed, folded it over onto the bedframe between the single mattress and the sideboad, and created a lovely day bed. Covering both mattresses separately, I then made up the bed with the patch-work quilt and feather comforter, pillows agains the back.

Greg was downstairs, quiet, humbly feeding the evening fire in a state ofcontrition. When I finished making up the bed, I lit a candle, put the nice bottle of white wine I bought for my mom on the bedside table, shook the basket of herbs hanging on the wall to disperse the aroma and summoned him up to check out the room. I felt pretty rotten for being such a snark about the whole thing.

"Come on, snuggle in and see what you think." I didn't want to say "sorry for being a bitch," but he knew I meant that. I pulled back the covers for him and he slid into the "day bed". Fifteen minutes later, he was snoring to the odd music of the Rio Azul. He had felt badly about messing up, I had felt a little rotten about being harsh, and here we ended up with something much lovelier than I imagined. Mom will be charmed with her room.

Around 10, or 11 this morning, the house jumped. Not the normal truck hitting the bridge span up by the road, but a hard, quick shake. It's two in the afternoon and another quick shake. With our experience in May 2008, and again February 2009, our first thoughts always go to Volcan Chaiten. Did it blow again (though it's never really stopped) or did the dome collapse? Did a tree fall? Was it just a quake? Though we don't feel quakes here like we did in Panama...real shakers that would set the rocking chairs and light fixtures in motion and cause us to get downstairs and open the front door. `I watch the sky and am keen to the light, which if the volcano acts up and the wind is right, will darken, and plunge us into mid-day darkness, as it did on those previous two occasions.

The day has grown eerie, gray, and calm. A road-side hawk is screaming up above the tree tops. The Rio Desague has dropped and calmed somewhat...just enough that our hydro power is diminished, but not enough to retrieve the tube ends and reconnect them. We will come to a "tipping point" where we will not have enough power, but still too much river. Then, when the river drops enough, we can reconnect the two ends of the tube, secure it and be back to full power. Before, during and after, our lives will not be much different. We will have lovely meals, enjoy the warmth and smell of the wood fire. Watch the goofy cat hide in a cardboard box or stalk imaginary prey in the "tool area", read by candlight and watch the rivers below, the sky above and just having a fucking blast...living in Patagonia where Nature rules, and we are never at a loss for reasons to stay despite ourselves.

Later in the day I stand in a spot of afternoon sunlight, warming my feet, and I listen to a song, Simple Man, on the computer from "Live: Crosby and Nash. 1977." The year I graduated from Highschool. "I can't make it alone," it goes. And then, after a lovely interlude and other lyrics, "Like the last time. Just want to hold you...Don't want to hold you down." And it occurs to me, that is what we are doing here. Holding each other. And the sun streams in the window. Greg is readying for a "going to town" trip. He sings the words to the song. I write. The cat sleeps on the chair, her long "pelo de gatos" drifting in the sunbeams, tickling my nose. We are never at a loss for reasons to stay despite ourselves.

And so it goes.

[Majong stats: Games played: 658 Games won: 154]

I've posted two posts today, so if you are interested, read below for other mundane news.

September 8, 2009

Written September 8, 2009 - Forgive the spelling and other errors..no time.

It happened. We woke up and it was Spring...if only for the day. I flung open the front door to let out the cat and for the first time in months vapor crystals did not freeze in my lungs. The kind of day in town that people find themselves digging under mounds of long underwear and wool sweatersin their dresser drawers for a t-shirt, which they will wear, walking down the spiffy, rose-bursting streets of Futa, unable to bear another day in a winter coat. I will have to dig in cardboard boxes, but it's the kind of day that having no dressers or closets cannot dampen my spirits. Nor can the fact that the waterline to the house is clogged and the hydro not at full power crush my Spring Fever emotional upswing.

Foot-in-cast aside, it's been a beautiful couple of weeks. Rains stopped, stars came out at night, and one evening the moon was so full and bright as it crested over the ridge behind the house, the opposing mountain range lit up, covered with glowing snow. We turned around in the bed so we could lay staring out the window until we feel asleep. Beds are the same one way, as they are the other, so I wonder why it feels so odd to sleep opposite? I woke up that morning at 5:30 a.m. feeling like I'd been camping out, and hobbled down to stoke the morning fire and make coffee. The cat was happy for the company, and wildly enjoys the toys I made for her from sticks, goose feathers and masking tape last week (I was bored out of my mind). I've also been carving pumice stones I collected on Santa Barbara beach in June when we were stuck in Chaiten for a day and a half (the volcano rumbling just 8 kilometers away).

Greg has finished chainsawing, splitting and stacking all but one of the fallen trees Ismael hauled to the woodlot with his amazing oxen. I always wonder when I see him working them how the term "clumsy as an ox" came about because them seem incredibly graceful, though huge and a bit scary to me.

Nono sent down five new pairs of her signature wool socks. I was a little dismayed to realize it would be stupid to wear just one new sock (I love a new pair of socks), and that got me to thinking about how when you wear socks, after a while it always seems that ONE will get a hole in it, but never both. I spent an afternoon sewing up holes and managed to salvage a few old pairs, but the happy spot in the afternoon was realizing that I could still utilize the orphan socks left over from unpatchable, unrepairable pairs. As my Grandmother always said, "Always a reason for everything...we just don't always know at the time why". She was a wise woman who also often lamented while shaking her head, "Vicki Jo...What WILL become of you?" She was right again on that point. No one knows.

I'm trading my refridgerator for having my floors finished and sealed. It's an energy hog (both the fridge and the floor). I'll look for a smaller, more efficient one. Greg traded a used alternator for Ismael's oxen work. Ismael and Nono brought back 70+ pounds of flour and several gallons of cooking oil I ordered from Argentina where it is half the cost of buying it in Futa. I'm back making bread and pizza dough again. Greg is happy.

We get enough power to listen to audio books each evening, and to turn on the bathroom light in the middle of the night and not trip over the mounds of laundry that are impatiently waiting to be washed. When not listening to bedtime stories podcasts, we read by candlight and Greg pretends to go downstairs to put a log on the fire but I know he's sneaking a piece of bread with peach jam. We are done dog-sitting, and will miss Chon, the big sheepdog. Inexplicably, the yellow Collie disappeared the day Greg brought home 25-pounds of dogfood. Minky is queen of her castle again.

Tomorrow it might rain, and the temperature drop to a two-pair of socks, fleece jacket day. But for today, it's Spring, and lovely.

[Other ways I spend my time: Majong Titan. Statistics: Games played: 445. Games honestly won: 86]

Monday, August 31, 2009

And how Did August Play out????

Coming up on two years in Patagonia. I read back through a few of old posts and it dawned on me that anyone reading them, then coming to Chile might think I was writing the blog from a mental institution in Arcadia, Florida. Certainly not the Chile that most people see and experience. Maybe unconsciously that's why I called the blog Futalandia, instead of "Fools in Chile", or "Pioneering in Patagonia". The fool part would fit, but still, here, this...us...it's no one else's experience but ours. Uniquely ours.

Writing on paper, by candlight again because the hydro tripped and Greg is in town this evening (I cannot climb down the hill with a cast on my foot - and more on that later) it occurs to me that there is still so much to do, learn and prepare for. Uncertainties and inevitable things.

The first cast...split to accomodate the swelling. That is Chilean Eucalyptus I cut and skeins of yarn in the background.

But how to strike a sensible balance between flapping in the wind, and spending all your waking moments fearing and preparing for every possible scenerio and disaster? Shelter. Heat. Water. Food, Medicine and First Aid. That would be Tier One preparadness.

So what is tier two, three, four? How far do you go? To what lengths? Is it possible we could both end up injured and some weeks or months later someone will find us crawling on the floor burning furniture to keep warm, eating raman noodles dry from the package, gaunt and dirty, laying on the couch cushions while the cat has gnawed off our toes????

The China Cabinet - Empty

Who will check the mail no one ever sends us? Or the electric bills we don't have, so no one will expect them to be paid and a meter reader will never come to shut off the electric and smell our rotting bodies?

Nono and Ismael! They are who will save us! As they did recently when one morning I was daintily slipping down the stairs and missed a good, firm step down, slid, left foot catching between the two stairs while the rest of my middle-age cellulose plunged forward and I broke all the bones on the top of my left foot. Once I was done screaming, I waited for Greg to quit screaming (he realized that his life would be substantially different for some time after this fall). Nono and Ismael had to help him, help me up the football-field lenght path that leads a hundred and fifty feet up to the road to the truck. Off to the hospital in Futa.

Minky waits for Greg to come in and clean her litter box.

With a temporary cast and xrays and excellent pain meds, we drove back home. But something was wrong. How to get me back down. And the short story is that ...in the pouring rain...in the dark, with a @%$?@* flashlight that quit, Greg had to go down to the house and bring up the wheelbarrow, after which we had an argument about "face forward", or "face backward". Facing forward, I slumped painfully into the now pooling ice-rain in the wheel barrow, and holding a small pen-light on his key chain, we made the trip down to the house. Where the hydro had tripped again. And we had to grope around for candles, and dry matches. Then start the woodstove.


[Note: When having a cast put on, be sure that your blue jeans will be able to be pulled over the cast, or have a good pair of scissors to cut them off.)


Ok. To be honest, I wasn't that pissed off. I had too much pain medication in me, but it those thoughts did run in a loop in my brain. God bless him, he did cook for me, though I found myself craving dry macaroni instead. And he put up with me asking for this and that, and something else. He ran up and down the stairs, and on top of everything...the water tube for the hydro separated and we have been without electric from the second day after I broke my foot.

Patagonia will do this. Test you.

Patagonia says, "So! You think you want to do this?"

"What?" we say, starry-eyed at the screaming rivers and snow capped Andes and salmon the size of third-graders!

"This," Patagonia says. "With all of this beauty, pristine and stunning nature comes hardships. Keep that in mind."

"Ha!" We say!!!! What could Patagonia through at us. We survived the volcano. The winter with rains, and rains, and then it rained. But then it froze, and snowed and the volcano blew again."

But I never imagined the humiliation of being transported in a wheelbarrow (because I had to, not because I was drunk), or having to pee in a bucket during the night because I couldn't walk to the bathroom. Hardest of all has been teaching Greg to cook. When he honestly says, with humility, "Where's the ham?" I almost want to double dose my pain meds and wake up when he figures out we don't keep it in the bathroom.

NOW I know I can live and survive anything here. Ismael brought me this awesome walker he made from bamboo. I no longer have to pee in a bucket, and actually stumped over to the counter and made bread and pasta yesterday and we sat in front of a warm fire, with the sun turning the Monjas brilliant rose. And this too....is Patagonia!

A dog we are sitting. He looks like a cross between a giant mole and a Panda. He's a huge sheepdog who didn't tolerate the leftovers he ate and added to Greg's domestic clenaup duties the day after I broke my foot.

Late Post on End of July

Post July 30, 2009 (This post wraps up July, and I am just now getting to somewhere with internet access, and have the time to post. I will follow it with another post tonight which updates, and explains why it's been so long since I've been here...until then....)

Inching along, wrapping up things at our rental cabin in town, we dragged our refrigerator and washer back home down the several hundred meter path to the house. Will the fridge be salvageable? Time, soap, bleach, vinegar? While we were in Temuco for a month and a half, the landlord shut off the electric, which was supporting the fridge, which held packages of frozen meat, fish and vegetables, etc.

Other fascinating news:

It's been wildly sunny the past week, yet has rarely gotten above freezing, even mid-day. The chainsaw is repaired and it's owner now has the correct gas-oil mix straightened out. Apparently it makes a difference. We've discovered that the cat enjoys shredding toilet paper, and totally unrelated...we are still dipping water from the river. Since the pipes don't appear to be frozen, possibly we have an air lock of the neighbors oxen have broken the line (anywhere from the house or along the 1500 meters to the source).

How I've been spending my time:

Ignoring the stacks of boxes we've dragged from the rental house, I've focused on more important tasks. I received a panicked email from friends in Temuco...they've run out of Furken, my Futaleufu version of the much-loved Chilean spice mix called Merken. It starts with copious amounts of chopped aji peppers and many heads of garlic, peeled and sliced, all of it dried, then cold-smoked, then finish-dried in the oven, ground by hand and funneled into spice jars. Nothing special but for the nutty, smokey garlic and the hot, but not brutal bite of the peppers. Merken has comino in it, which makes it less desirable for fish and some other dishes. I stuck with the simple garlic and pepper mix. So, I'm making Furken this week...drying screens on racks, piles of aji seeds littering the cowskin rug as I sit in front of the fire cleaning peppers. Gathering a pile of the right kind of wood for the smoke fire. With all the end pieces of aji and garlic, and a recipe from my homesteading book, I will attempt to simmer up some tangy hot sauce.

I also needed some celery for chicken pot pie, and the only celery available at the produce store was massive bulk packages. What I didn't use for the pot pie, I chopped and added to the drying racks. Cocho came down to paint the high ceiling in the living room and with his ladder, knocked an entire tray of drying celery off the wood stove. I couldn't save it from the cowskin rug, had to take the whole thing outside and beat the rug many times over to get it clean.

The snows on the mountains are still substantial, but the locals say it's not as much as earlier years and they are concerned about water levels for the coming summer season. The Azul and Espolon are both extremely low, yet the little Desague here is deep and wide. Barrels of chicha are showing some imbibing and getting a little vinegary. The Azul Valley is sparsely dotted with little wooden houses puffing smoke from wood stoves. Socks are being knitted, haylofts are emptying out, and there are some new lambs being born. I thought that only happened in the spring, but just saw four new babes on our way home yesterday.

So, that's about it from this neck of the woods. For my panicked friends in Temuco, the Furken is in the works and I will notify you when it's shipped.

post script...the Furken caught fire when I failed to monitor the smoker. All is lost.)

Monday, July 27, 2009

Sunset in Futa

Above: View of Tres Monjas from home in Azul

Above: We ventured into town to check mail (it comes every Thursday and we missed last week) and this was the scene coming into town looking east towards Argentina.

The past five days have been freezing...water lines frozen, ground frost not thawing even though the sun has been shining. We are getting water from the river, warming it on the stove to wash. Cold and plumbing problems aside, we had some great home-made deep-dish pizza two nights ago, and chicken pot pie last night. Inclement weather and remoteness never dictates our culinary enjoyment!

In other exciting news, I gave Greg a haircut so he no longer looks like the Unibomber, while I continue to look like a cross between Calamity Jane and god knows who.

Somehow my blogger edit program switched to Spanish, so if I misspell, it's not my fault, I'm just lazy.

Nono brought fresh milk again yesterday so I made some more yogurt. The rennet I have doesn't seem to work for me...or I'm not being patient enough. I dragged in the 35-kilo bag of potatoes Greg bought and we must get to eating them...I'd asked him to get a sack of potatoes in town two weeks ago and he came wobbling down the path with a wheelbarrow loaded with a
"sacko"...35 kilos. Too bad when I ask him to buy beer he doesn't think big, huh?!?!?!!

So, we are off now...back to the homestead, watch our podcasts tonight, draw more water from the river tomorrow, paint a little in the house, Greg will chop wood, I'll bake some bread, chop and dry peppers and garlic to smoke and re-dry, and then find some useless things to take up time....write letters back home.

Tuesday, July 14, 2009

Pink Snowy Mountains and Cookie Monster

[These posts are not necessarily posted on the days they are written...I write offline out at our place where we have no internet or cell phone service, then when we do come in town, I post them. I am also horribly bad at knowing what day it is - not only when I post them - but when I write them. And then, it doesn't really matter.]

I am having my morning coffee in bed, gazing out over the tops of the trees that hug the Azul and Desague gorge. Above them, a sun-pink, snow-covered mountain ridge stretches and a morning half-moon hangs overhead. Had it been raining, as it had for over two weeks prior, we could have kept the heavy curtains drawn and slept till noon if we desired. But when I cracked open an eyelid, I spied a sliver of blue and that flash of pink and through open the curtains.

I grabbed Greg's big, warm robe and slipped down the stairs to stoke the morning fire and set the kettle on. Out the window at the bottom of the stairs, in a morning mist on the eastern side of the house, the sun has not risen over yet, but fired the frozen air around the far sides of the Tres Monja spires, an other-worldly scene.

With only one robe between the two of us, and my chores done (fire-stoking and kettle heating), I climb back under the covers and toss the robe to Greg. He climbs down the stairs, checks the view, adjusts the flue on the wood stove and makes our morning coffee. We put a Tapestry of the Times podcast on my computer and talk about the day. We are excited that two days have passed with sunshine, and the fallen trees might take a chainsaw now. I will coax Greg into cutting some long, straight selected branches for my bathroom towel shelf project though it's entirely possible I might force myself to wash up the stack of dishes on the kitchen sink. It is the kind of day that looks as if we could throw open windows and doors and let a warm breeze blow through the house, but it is not yet 35 degrees outside.

The hydro popped off last night for no apparent reason and Greg is now well enough that he felt his way down with the flashlight and reset it. Twice. Speaking of last night...yes, last night I found I had a cookie monster in the house. Hydro reset, but candles going instead of electric lights, I was reading in bed while Greg watched an episode of Deadwood on his computer downstairs. I felt a craving for one of my raisin, crushed peanut shortbread cookies. I had made over three dozen just a week ago.

"Hey, Baby? When you come up would you bring me a cookie?" Silence from downstairs.

"There aren't any left," he says without shame. Three dozen shortbread cookies in a week? So much for eating healthy.

I finished my mother's room. It is actually the only room in the house finished. I took a bunch of pictures of the tiny, sweet room, but now can't find my camera cable so she'll have to either wait, or just come visit. Aside from a few books and the sheets and an inferior mattress, there isn't anything in the room which didn't come from very basic handicraft. The bed was made from saplings by Ismael. The pillows are stuffed, hand-pulled wool (by me), the basket that holds balls of Nono's home-spun wool...I made that from Sauce branches sitting down by the Rio Desague when the temperatures reached 80 degrees and I thought I'd faint from the heat. The clothes rack is rough wood with hand-whittled dowels, scrap from the wood pile. A quilt. Dried red and white roses from a walk around Futa. A punched-copper lamp shade, by yours truly. A couple pieces of odd driftwood from Rio Futaleufu and an old broken, weather-gray ladder Ismael left after some work here leaned against a wall to hold throws and an extra blanket, an old camposino doll my mother got at a junk sale and some hand-woven throws top it all off. I tossed a white sheep-skin rug on the floor and pronounced it finished.

I can't hardly bear the thought of going to town today. It's just too peaceful and lovely...and considering town is a place that shuts down for a four-hour lunch and has a population of about 2,500 now, that says alot about the level of serenity out here. I would be more enthusiastic if I could find the camera cord to email photos of Mom's room to here, but without that, I have no desire to go anywhere but into the kitchen to punch down a loaf of bread or make another batch of shortbread cookies...which I will hide.

Tuesday, July 7, 2009

Margaret's Calendar Trap!

Margaret's Cachando Chile blog is always excellent, and entertaining. Her latest post, the Calendar Trap is a MUST READ if you live or work in Chile. At first I felt a little dense that I did not know this subtle language trip-wire, but then I remembered that Margaret has been in Chile for 18 years. I secretly study-up on Chilean Culture via Margaret's blog any chance I get. Cachando Chile is one of ( if not The One) best blogs on living in Chile and navigating the culture.

Monday, July 6, 2009

Unfit for Civilization and a Rat Trap Idea

I have so little time now in the world you all know...with cell phones, and internet and TV, that when I do get to a connection place (Futa), I am manic to sign on, catch my mother online, read headlines, skim forums and blogs so that I am exhausted in two hours time. And I find my patience is thin, and thinner as the short time flies. I write snarky comments on a couple of forums where I find posters asinine and braggadocios. I punch at the keyboard until a couple of keys are fragile and one popped off. I think, I murmur, I start getting aggravated and start punching harder at the keyboard...I type..."Don't you KNOW that the world is not about YOU", or I shrill at someone on a forum.

I am not fit to be in civilization, actually. I don't fit in, and to be truthful, I'm not too traumatized by this realization. I am appalled by the fact that people think it's "crucial" to wash towels after every use, or to flush the toilet after tossing snot paper in it. Same goes for dropping a pan of boiled potatoes on the floor and throwing them away...Hey! Pick them up, run some water over them and eat them! I wonder sometimes how the hell people survive when they have to figure out how to squeeze out a mop. God life is tough.

Anyway, coming to town and having any significant time online just raises my blood pressure about 50 points, and that's not good. But I have no self control, so I will continue to come into town, fire up my computer once every ten days or so, and ... fume over things. Sarah Palin, the Patriot, QUIT? Good! That's a good thing! Ann Coulter gams about what a great gal and patriot Palin is because she QUIT? Good. The RW (The Grand Old Party...aint' they Grand) thinks it's great that Honduras used the military to overthrow an elected president because he allegedly violated their Constitution? Oh that's priceless. Where was his Justice Department and Memo Writers when he needed them... The fury over health care reform? Gold! Loved the thing about the SC Gov and his Argentinian mistress. And how blowing off the tops of mountains in Appalachia will continue? Man, I need a few doses of river watching and twig whittling to counteract that.

Meantime, a good friend stopped by and showed us how to make a Chilean mouse trap. You need a tall, deep bucket, two, slim (3-4 inch wide) piece of thin wood the width of the bucket, a sharp knife and some lard (or peanut butter, or slimy cheese). Whittle the wood slat back on each end about an inch or little less so that it sits on the edges of the bucket, the wide middle over the center of the bucket. Fill the bucket halfway with water. place the whittled piece of wood on the rim of the bucket...centered. Directly on the center of that plank, smear a nice lump of lard, or peanut butter on each edge of the plank. Place the second piece of wood like a ramp, so that it leads up to the whittled wood. The theory is this...the mice will come up the plank, delicately move onto the plank centered over the bucket, move to the edge to partake in the treat...the plank will tilt, and the mouse will fall into the water, and well...it's a shame, but that's how it's gotta be. Photos of this experiment in "el campo" pest control will be posted later. For now the mice are drowning before they even get out of their nests!

In other news...it's raining.

Rain Rain Rain

I walked out into the spongy yard outside the house to get some logs for the fire. Ten days now? Fifteen? Rain. And more rain. Then I walked up to the road to get a bottle of wine we left in the truck on Friday. On Friday, I thought it was June 28th, but then found out it was July 3rd? So that means yesterday was July 4th, but maybe I'm wrong and today it the 4th.

The house stays warm now, except for the spare bedroom...I finished painting the ceiling yesterday, and once again, the paint labeled latex is actually oil-based and stunk so badly I had to paint in five-minute intervals. We set up the rustic bed Ismael made for us, and I tried out the electric drill to make a coat/clothes rack for the wall, set a small table against the opposite wall, and threw a sheep skin on the floor. An old weather-gray ladder leaned against the wall holds the extra blankets for the bed. After I varnish the window panes and door, I'll have one room finished. That's all. One room. I like it so much that if the fumes weren't so bad, I'd be in there writing this, watching the rain out of the window into the forest.

A young sage of the Azul Valley stopped by yesterday to check on the hydro. He had ridden his horse into town the week before instead of driving his truck, and it was a great ride, he said. "The ride made me think...People are so busy these days, hurrying to get everywhere and do so much, they don't have time to think anymore." Yes. Even here. We rush to town, race around trying to catch stores open, pull our money out of an ATM machine, drive around to the post office, the internet. Race home. To be sure, things are slower here...the time it takes for bread to rise, or yogurt to set, or the fire to catch. Stacking wood, clothes drying above the wood stove. But still, we have now filled our lives with movies, music, electric tools. Definitely less time for the mind to contemplate the quietness and roaring sounds of here. With the glorious addition of electricity, I have music on CD's now, instead of the eerie river songs we used to hear.

The ships aren't running from Puerto Montt to Chaiten now. The only way to the north is through Argentina, and even then, the pass is threatened with closure due to snow and bad weather. The only way to get out of Chile from this area now is Buenos Aires, Argentina.
Chile and Argentina are in a usual tit-for-tat about Swine Flu...Futa now sporting a flu epidemic and one reported case of Infuenza Porcina. All epidemics and disasters go only one way across the border, depending on which country you ask. A bus coming from Chile to Argentina was attacked a month or so ago by Argentinians who were angry that the bus was carrying a man who reportedly had symptoms of Swine Flu. Argentina claims Chile has more cases than Argentina, and Chile claims that Argentina is under-reporting cases. A young English backpacker succumbed to Hanta Virus several months ago, and each country claims the other was the source.

So while health and natural disaster officials in both countries trade barbs, zingers go back and forth about who has better lifestyles, and countries, we sit happily in our rain-drenched valley, trying to find some balance between old ways, and new ways.

Friday, June 26, 2009

A Quiet Rage Quashed and Thwarted

Afternoon of a June day, 2009

Today is a quiet day raging. We have those days from time to time, and they involve the secret which is not really a secret but which nonetheless is not something Greg advertises, and would prefer wasn't discussed.

If I had to pick one word to discribe this, it would be the big Mystery. Epilepsy. What is epilepsy, and how, and why does it happen? The truth is for every known, there are a thousand unknowns. What causes it, what sets it off, what stops it, or lessens it?

Greg has had gran-mal epilepsy for forty years, this year. He's beaten the odds. Epilepsy shortens life spans, stunts lifestyles...and thwarts dreams and aspirations. But not my guy. He graduated high school, went to college, lived large, went to graduate school, built a successful law practice, traveled, raised a daughter and two step-sons. And, to use a phrase my father uses, in betwixt and in between, he was knocked down often, with horrific seizures, leaving him battered and exhausted and ashamed. And each time he picked himself up, fixed the broken bones, bandaged the wounds, had a rest and got right back out there in the business of life.

Then, (was it 13 years ago?) in a tumbling series of events, he had a seizure that lasted 45 minutes and left him on life support in an intensive care unit, in a coma. What it did not leave him with, was his memory. He forgot law. He forgot people and names. A fork was a spoon, blue was green, sugar was white, so therefore flour works like sugar, water was sprinkles; we had a new vocabulary that stretched reasoning. Everything he worked for all those years was gone. He couldn't read and remember.He didn't know what his favorite foods were and couldn't walk up and down steps. His seizures increased in frequency and were increasingly dangerous. Without getting into the long, long, hard road back to an assemblance of normalcy for him, I will only say that this is a guy who, despite all he had lost, had not lost his determination to live life with gusto.

A year later, Greg chose to undergo a procedure to implant a "pace maker for the brain" in the chest; a wire runs under the skin from the implant, up the neck and is clamped onto the vagal nerve. The VNS implant by Cyberonics. A long-shot with a 33% success rate, it was one-third more of a chance for a new life than not trying it. It didn't bring back his memory, but it lessened the seizures and he rebounded. After all this time, he can now read and remember what he's read. He can walk without falling down. He feels good almost all the time and except for the seizure he had after his latest surgery, we can't remember the last time that happened.

But once in a great while, he has a bad day. He feels off. He feels jumpy. I make the house quiet. I shoo away the world. I give him a little extra medicine, and he uses the magnet that comes with the "machine" to pass it over the device and set it off twice as strong, and twice as long. Rebooting, we call it. And after rest and quiet, he is defragged, and rebooted, and we pick up where we left off.

Epilepsy still strikes fears in bystanders and carries with it stigma. I wish it didn't. I have considered writing about Greg's epilepsy a hundred times or more, but didn't because of what other people still think of it and what he thinks of people knowing. But then I read on some forums the posts of young people who are diagnosed with it, and how they feel like their lives are over. "Who would want to date me now?" or "I wanted to be a ....but now I have epilepsy." or "What do I have to look forward to now?" And I think that Greg, with all he's been through, and all he's done, and our adventures, is a testiment to the fact that epilepsy does not have to define who you are or how you live your life. It is simply another aspect of your life.

Here we are. In Patagonia. We have our adventures, our foibles, and our past, present and still...our future. Epilepsy never stopped him, or us from anything. Greg is nestled in front of the wood stove. He took his extra medicine, and swiped his magnet. He is sleeping. Patagonia raging outside, and epilepsy raging inside. But I think we have quashed and thwarted the Mystery for today. His practice of law is far behind him, but it's there. He did it. He has nothing else to prove. He has three wonderful children, a grandson. Me. He picked coffee in Panama, snorkled on coral reefs in Costa Rica, cut wood in Patagonia, fought with his wife over tire chains, slept in stinky hostels, and is ever struggling with learning Spanish. Tomorrow he will be back on his game, and the back porch needs organizing and there is a fallen tree to cut up for firewood. And that is life with epilepsy. It's nothing to be ashamed of.

[a post script: Three countries and a thousand adventures ago, a well-meaning person asked me what the hell I was thinking dragging my husband, with all his medical issues, to third world countries, so far from modern health care. First of all, I thought..."I did not drag him, HE DRAGGED ME!" And second of all, and more importantly, if we lived a safe, practical life, where we could cross the street to have emergency care... What kind of life is it? What kind of life is it if you live immediately for every eventuality? I think I speak for Greg when I say that I would rather have every morning we had in the highlands of Panama with the Mono Congo monkeys howling in the mist over La Amistad International Park, or every evening we had with the sun setting on the Pacific Ocean as we slipped into our sandy sleeping bags to avoid the sand fleas while we watched the sun set, or every stunning star-lit night with the river raging below as we fed a voracious wood stove in Patagonia, than a safe little apartment or house across from a hospital, or in congested city or town with emergency services at the end of a touch tone phone. We have our "druthers" and we like it.]

Next Day:

This post has received Greg's Stamp of Approval. I asked him to read it and let me know if it was okay to post it to my blog. He's come a long way from the guy who would rather someone thought he had a hangover, than let them know he had a seizure. I'm really proud of who he is, and how he plunges head-long into life.

Today is the other kind of day we have. The kind of day where yesterday is far away, and not even a memory...simply a fragmented, encapsulated event that doesn't define our lives. Today Greg is cutting up the downed tree out back. His chain saw buzzing, a little sun warming the frost on the ground, I will slip out the back door and take him a cup of coffee. We will sit on a log and look out onto the mountains and think how lucky we are.

Sometimes I wonder if adventure is something we do as a distraction from the Mystery, or because of it. It doesn't really matter why we are doing this adventure, just that we are.

A Hydro tour reminds me of a Kayak Adventure.

Today (June 20?)I am going to give you a quick tour of our micro-hydro system. I know you are sooooo excited! First I have to charge the camera batteries and dry out my rubber boots which I left on the front porch and it rained in them. No, first I have to let the ice in them thaw, then I can dry them out. In the meantime, I have to dig around in the bags of crap, backpacks, boxes and computer bags to find the battery charger. Don't worry...we'll get this show on the road.

In other news, I didn't want to do anything today. I mean I didn't want to do anything away from the house. Didn't want to go anywhere. Maybe stack wood, figure out what is leaking under the sink, wash some underwear and t-shirts out in the tub, shake out the cow-skin rug and dance around to some music on the computer. But we've been invited to a cook out, and who can refuse a meal cooked by someone else? And anyway, who am I kidding. I won't get anything done today except give a pictoral tour of the hydro set up. I have to wait until Greg gets up because if I fall down the hill taking pictures of the hydro, he won't miss me until he gets hungry. That reminds me of a similar episode, back in the day...

It was a warm, overcast day on the island we lived on. We had a droopy little beach house looking out on the Gulf of Mexico. Must have been a Sunday, everyone was home, sleeping in. I woke up, got my coffee and went to sit on the deck. The gulf was glass calm. Sitting on the sand in front of the house was our brand new, 18-foot ocean going kayak. A sleek yellow water toy. Hhhmmmm. I could see pods of bait fish popping out around a bouy and thought, "I should take that thing for a spin out around the bouy and back."

I finished my coffee and grabbed the life vest and paddle, shoved off onto the calm, warm gulf. No waves whatsoever, and the water was so clear I could see the white-sand bottom as I eased out and started paddling towards the bouy.

I paddled away, nice easy strokes. Gliding. Peaceful. Nice kayak! Ten minutes later, something seems off, not quite right. The bouy is way to my left,then farther to my left, then behind me to my left. I try to turn the beast of a kayak but I can't. I can't make any headway. I notice the feeling of wind, but there are still no waves and the shore is getting really, really far away. I realize that I am caught in some weird current, and there is, just my luck, some bizarre cross-wind just on the surface pushing me further and further out. Now I'm panicking, and paddling like a mad woman! Turn it around, get the nose into the wind. But I can't. I hate this fucking kayak. Now I can't see the bouy at all. The house is a speck on a sliver of beach. Far, far away.

Strange things go through my mind. Did I bring my cigarettes, 'cause I might be out here for a long time. At least this thing is yellow, someone will see me, maybe? Jesus, I wish I had a beer!

I ease one leg into the water and use it like a rudder, and paddle hard, trying to turn myself into the wind. Now, had I been a thinking person, I would have just unbuckled and physically turned my body around on this freaking ridiculous toy. But who can think when you are on your way to the Yucatan Penensula in a giant bobbing bathtub toy? The muscles in my arms are burning.

What did we pay for this thing anyway?!?!?! I pat my t-shirt pocket under my life vest. Nope. No cigarettes. What a shame. I drift. I try the leg-rudder thing again. WHERE IS MY FAMILY!??? They won't even miss me until they want food! And by then I will be out in the middle of the fucking Gulf of Mexico. Won't that be embarassing? "Where's Mom," the boys will say. "I don't know, maybe she went to the store," Greg will say, not bothering to look and see that both cars are there and the kayak is gone. "I hope she gets back soon, I'm hungry," they all say.

Then the wind shifts, and while I lose a few more meters of gain time going sideways, the kayak finally slips around and I am pointed towards shore. Two hours after pushing off for what should have been a ten-minute paddle, I drag myself up the beach, up the stairs to our house. Sweating, red, blotchy, and raging, I open the door. There they are. My family. What are they doing? They are eating pretzels and playing some assinine video game, Greg included.

"Hey! Want some coffee," Greg says. He glances away from the video game, "What are you sweating for?" After a mini-screaming fit, they pretend concern and I make pancakes and sausage and we have a brunch before they take off to go fishing, leaving me with a sink full of greasy dishes. It was the last time I took the kayak out.

Now...to the hydro...below are pictures of the simple system that provides me the electricity to write my emails and posts offline. Originally, a welder in town fashioned what he thought a turbine should look like. Crude, a good effort, but wholly not workable. It is too heavy, not balanced, and just plain old inefficient. A friend installed a Pelton, and some other gadgets I can't name. The mice had a field day while we were gone a month and a half, and while I didn't want to put out poison, after I saw the damage to all the electrical down in the hydro house, I felt I had no choice. Our friend set up a pan of water with a couple of heating elements to draw excess electric when the batteries are charged. So far, and until we do some re-arranging of equipment and ramping up, we run this computer, the TV, DVD, keep a kitchen light on all the time, and flip on bathroom, or reading lights as needed. I am sorry to the techno folks, but I don't know anything more specific except I can flip on a light and not have to drag a candle around as I cook in the early darkness.

Update on Pig

"So, What happened with the pig," my mother asked, truly concerned. "I've been worrying about that poor pig having nothing to eat," she says.

The pig-trade confusion was a simple misunderstanding. Ismael saw the produce guy in town and produce guy told Ismael he wasn't coming to get the pig. So when Ismael got home, he sent Nono and the pig to my house to let me know that, and that the pig was hungry and had no food. What the produce guy meant was that he didn't have a truck to come and get the pig, and that he was going to ask me to bring the pig in. I guess Ismael didn't think it was his business to ask WHY produce guy wasn't going to come get the pig, and so he didn't. Hhhmm. (Don't worry, Mom, we scrounged food for the pig in the meantime.)

So, Tuesday (or was it Wednesday) morning, Greg and I drove the truck up the road to Nono and Ismael's farm. Nono lured Ms. Piggy into the front yard with a pot of pig slop saved from the night before and Ismael, all 78 kilos of him, lunged and grabbed the hind leg of 80+ kilos of pig. Holy Shit! What a scene! Who knew pigs had such big mouths with frightening teeth. I didn't know. Hideous squealing and gnashing of teeth! Ismael dragged her backwards, twisting until she fell on her side kicking like mad and Nono swooped in and leaned on her backside while I grabbed and front leg and leaned with a knee on her shoulder. Ismael struggled to bind up her back feet, then with Nono controlling the pigs back legs, Ismael moved around and got a noose on her flailing snout with bone-crushing teeth snapping and throwing froth. I'm still on the right front leg and shoulder at this point and my legs are doing that involuntary shaking...fear and adreneline pumping and I'm afraid I might pass out before Ismael gets the snout and jowls secured. Nono is laughing. The pig is thrashing, trying to kick and squealing like a, well...like a stuck pig. Only we didn't stick her, just wrestled her down and tied her up.

The pig finally secured, it takes all of us to get her to the back of the truck. Ismael hops in the bed, reaches down and drags the pig up into the truck. Whew! Nono and I have a quick cigarette. Then off we go to town over the frozen gravel road, swooping down around Lago Lanconoa, along Rio Espolon and finally into Futa. No one thinks it's odd to drive into town with a squeeling pig in your truck. Folks walking along the street stop to admire the pig, the produce guy is grinning...he likes the pig and promises me the pick of the litter when the time comes. I'll have to think that over. A fairly peaceful custody transfer takes place in front of the store. Produce guy gives me a jug of chicha. He's so happy, I realize I should have asked a higher produce price for Ms. Piggy. Oh well, live and learn.

Then, in all the excitement of the day, we get back home and I realize I forgot to get vegatables. For dinner I have no meat, one cucumber, two potatos, one onion and a pimento pepper at the house. Thankfully, Ismaels fisherman friend from Chaiten stops by with his truck overloaded with coolers of fresh fish...salmon, merluza, long strings of smoked mussels, abalone and bags of cholgas. I bought two whole merluzas (a fish that looks like a snook, but tastes like grouper) and a string of smoked mussels. I hung the mussels over the wood stove and one of the fish on the front deck to freeze. A neighbor has seen a puma lurking in the area so I don't want the fish out back as an invitation.

We built up the wood stove, had a nice dinner; baked merluza with my merken spices, sauteed onions and pimento peppers, a honey-mustard cucumber salad and roasted potatos. Then we curled up on sheep skins on the floor in front of the wood stove, covered up with a quilt and watched The Sopranos late into the night. It doesn't get any better than this.

End of Pig Story.

Tuesday, June 23, 2009

June 21, 2009

The snows on the mountains have made the views spectacular!

But the rains and slush have also made driving more hazardous than normal. Here is the back half of a double-trailer semi that was hauling cement on the road by Lago Lancanoa. The road was blocked for most of Sunday night, through early Monday morning. Or maybe it was Saturday-Sunday. I don't know.

I was all happy and feeling pretty smug with my pig-vegatable trade. I got the tools and stuff organized and stored neatly beneath the stairs. I made firestarter trays with cut up egg crates smeared with floor wax and stuffed with charcoal. I made bread sticks and roasted some chicken and made guacamole. I was feeling all happy and pretty smug. Then Nono came for a visit, with my pig, and said the produce guy decided he wasn't going to take the pig. And, the pig was hungry and needed food. She said there was no more harania left from the bag I had purchased.

There was the pig, out on my porch snorting, squealing, rooting around looking for food! I asked Nono why the guy changed his mind. She shrugged. She didn't know. But the pig definately needs food. I keep a coffee can on the counter where I throw in kitchen scaps, keeping them separate from paper or plastic or other garbage. I grabbed the can of scraps, and dumped it into a pan of cooked rice, mixed in a cup of cornmeal, some powdered milk, a cup of flour, tossed in some mushy bananas I was going to use to make banana bread, some pine nuts and poured in some warm water and slopped it in a bucket. Nono had to leave, saying she would check on another possible trader for the pig in town tomorrow after she got back from Argentina. I slopped the hog. I felt so bad that the pig had had no food for two days. She tore up the food bucket. She was so hungry she let me pet her, something she never allows.

I came back in the house and scrounged around for anything else...the dried cornbread cubes I was saving for cornbread dressing. A couple more bananas, another cup of powdered milk, a cup of oatmeal, a half a can of stale beer. I took the pot out and slopped the hog again. She finished, and grunted her way under the house, out of the rain. I gathered the pot and the bucket and came inside to scrub them up.

Later, it's dark out and we had a nice dinner, the fire raging, a movie in the DVD player. I cleaned and chopped some aji peppers and sliced garlic to dry on a screen above the wood stove. It was a nice evening, but the pig dilema was heavy on my mind and I burned my hand on the stove pipe turning the screen of drying aji and garlic..

June 22, 2009

Nono and Ismael were going to Argentina today, so as I was having my Queenly coffee served in bed, I heard someone at the front door. What the hell? "Greg! See who is at the front door!" (He was making my second cup of coffee downstairs)

I hear the front door scrape open (we've taken it off the hinges twice now to shave the bottom but it still sticks) and Greg hollers up, "You have a visitor!" Shit! I'm still in my long johns. "It's a surprise," he says. I pull my work jeans on over my long johns and go downstairs. Greg is standing in front of the closed door, grinning. "You won't believe who it is," he says. He opens the door, and there stands my pig. Grunting. Hungry. Good Grief! So I drag out a pig pot, make her some sloppy oatmeal, throw in the last of my precious cornmeal, some flour, two decent bananas, a package of whole-wheat crackers, a half a cup of powdered milk and some warm water. Breakfast for La Choncha.

I cannot wait for Nono to get back from Argentina and find a trader. I have to go to town and get her some food. And I realize that even if we were not going to trade her, I now could not have her butchered or eat her. She now has become something more to me than a commodity to sell, or trade. A creature with needs, a hungry critter who looks to me as a source of nourishment and comfort (which is one in the same for a pig, I assume). If the produce man really does not want her now, I wonder if I can breed her? Do I have what it takes to provide her the right kind of shelter? How DO you breed a pig? That would mean I'd have to find a guy pig. Does she go to him, or does he come to her? Really, how do you get an 80-kilo pig to a date with a guy pig? I'm getting ahead of myself though. Right now I just need to go get her some food, and figure out what to do later.

In retrospect, I needed a pig like I needed a hole in my head.

Saturday, June 20, 2009

Home, Sweet, Cold and Rainy Home...

June 18, 2009

I am so happy to be home, I've said it out loud a hundred times these past several days and thought it another thousand. Snow was predicted for the entire week but the weather hasn't cooperated and it's been rain, non-stop. Aside from being grateful to be home, just being home is happiness enough, I have electricity! That is how I can be sitting here writing this post, listening to music from Tapestry of the Times podcasts while outside wild Patagonia happens.

Greg has stoked the morning fire and brought me my coffee. The Rios Desague and Azul are raging monsters now, almost frightening to look at. There are aji peppers and garlic drying on a screen above the wood stove, and a pot of beans soaking on the stove. Later there will be bread in the oven.

Adding happiness to happiness, there was mail for me yesterday at the correos. A package I mailed to myself from Temuco with spices in it, and a letter from my Aunt Dorothy with news of her bowling team, weather and bits of news and thoughts from northwestern Ohio.

Later in the day, a neighbor from Azul clopped down on his horse, bundled in his traditional wool poncho to check up on the hydro operation. We sat around the kitchen table eating soft pretzels with honey and horseradish, and drinking mint tea while the rain maintained and the rivers rose. He is the angel who worked on the hydro while we were gone and got it up and running. He has installed micro-hydros for several neighbors out here and talked about how it felt to watch a 70-year old man in the mountains flip a light switch for the first time. An amazing feeling he said. But then he said he feels a tinge of sadness when TV's start appearing and direct TV comes. Things start changing, he said. He looked around and said, "Enjoy this now, because it's all changing," and I knew what he meant. When we become wired, when children watch commercials for breakfast cereals and tennis shoes along with their cartoons, when the outside world comes in, we are no longer the same. We start thinking we need what we in truth only want. Life and lifestyles change. Simplicity gets lost. Traditions become convoluted, or lost.

Dark by six in the evening, we settle in with some music and books. Even though there is electric, we light a candle for the soft feeling, and put some more wood on the fire. It is so very wonderful to be home.

June 22 ?

Ismael came this week and cut down a tree that had half snapped in the May snows and was menacing the house. I bought three new pairs of medias (socks) from Nono.

We hauled in wood, endured five days of rain and had an afternoon of sunshine. I wasted a few hours putting together a video of Chaiten for Youtube. Chorongo in Chaiten is a compilation of images and videos from before and after the volcano erupted. I added the soundtrack from a video of our friend Nick LaPenna improvising some music on a Chorongo while we sat in his tour van waiting for the bus to Futa.

The Youtube video, Chorongo in Chile is below.

This coming week will be busy (so it will probably snow, and the King still has not broken down and purchased TIRE CHAINS). He has been warned that this Gal will NOT be pushing him out of snow banks this year. One day this coming week I must finished cleaning out the rental cabin in town, and at least stack the remaining boxes by the door. One day I will go with Nono to Argentina to the mill and buy a 30-pound sack of ground whole wheat flour. Of course that also means hauling it down the path in the wheelbarrow, which I'm not very good at yet so I look like a segment from a Jackass episode weaving and tipping my way down trying to balance the barrow. One day we must go pay for Greg's follow-up visit at the hospital, pay for the dinner and our overnight at Sur Andes our first night back, and turn in the last of our permanent residency documents.

We were going to butcher the pig this month, but since Greg and I are not eating meat anymore, except for fish and skinless chicken), I traded the pig for an account at the vegetable market in town. The owner is happy...he is going to breed her and sell the piglets, and I have a nice fat account that will supply us fresh fruits and vegetables all winter long. A happy ending for all concerned.

And that's about it for us here at Latitude 34, in the dimension known as Futalandia. Be careful if you visit...it's true that if you eat the purple berries you are destined (or doomed) to return. I know...that's what happened to me.

Friday, June 12, 2009

Worst Hospadaje I ever stayed in - Twice.

Just across the street from the Navimag port in Puerto Montt, is one of thedreariest looking street I've seen in Chile. Worse than port front in Quellon, on Chiloe. Beginning with the missing chunks of concrete which had they not been missing, would have covered five-foot deep holes into which smelly green water gushes. A nice compliment is a light pole that is the mother of all light poles in Chile, so tangled with electrical wires I'm surprised it is still standing or that the whole street hasn't burned down.

I shouldn't mention the name of it because it is run by a very sweet, very old woman and there is nothing to worry about...If the facade of the building doesn't discourage you, the odor when you open the half-hanging front doors will. The rooms don't lock and have no door knobs, apparently no one would think anyone choosing to stay there would have anything to steal. The rooms were painted in garish colors...about 50 years ago with lead paint, and now have a lovely mold tint where masking tape and old electrical sockets have been torn from the walls. The electrical outlets which remain are verboten! It is so cold you must sleep with your clothes on, including your coats, which also helps because apparently the only attention the rooms appear to get is that the beds are made. I didn't say washed. Smoking in the rooms would only improve the smell.

Cardboard covers a whole in the corner behind the bed.

The shared bathroom toilet wobbles precariously and the flush handle has been replaced with a piece of string with a beer tab tied to it. It appears that someone has attempted to clean the torn gray linoleum floor at one point in time...by rubbing it with red paste wax. Other patrons apparently have an aversion to flushing the toilet.

Yes, that's a pair of someone's underwear hanging from the shower rod. I declined a shower.

The only clean area in the whole place is the old lady's kitchen. She is up at 7 am, in her robe and head scarf, stoking the wood stove, scrambling eggs and setting a communal breakfast.

So now you might wonder why we stayed twice. The first time was on our way up from Futa to Temuco. The ship arrived, it's late, Greg was in agony and could barely walk, we were wiped out and too tired to care. The hospadaje is right across the street. And it is 3,500 pesos a person (About $6 p/p). The second time, we were going from Temuco to Puerto Montt making our way home, and took a taxi from the bus station to Navimag, expecting to get on the ship to Chaiten. It turns out that within the week since we made plans to return home, the ship scheduled changed and there we stood on the dock, no ship in sight (at least not one that was going to Chaiten) and all our bags. The next boat wasn't until the next afternoon. It was dark, and cold and once again we were too tired to care. We said "screw it"...walked across the street, opened the front doors to the pungent, familiar smell, lugged our bags up the stairs where the old lady was thrilled to see us again. Twice in a month and a half.

My Brothers Would Love This. June 2009

[Note: From now on, my posts will be written offline, and when I get to an internet, I will post them. So the the post times will not reflect the actual dates or time frames. If I remember to do so, and I know the date, I will include it]

The boat trip on the way home from Puerto Montt to Chaiten this time was an older boat. Not the Don Baldo, and a bit rougher feeling. Sturdy, and grumbling yet warm, and sufficient. I thought that "my brothers would love this", as I stood on the deck looking out at the spotty lights of small towns and villages on Isla Chiloe. In fact, they would love this whole trip. The buses, the hospadajes, the long hours to kill before the next leg of the journey south. The food, the streets, and this boat. We rumble and rock a little from side to side as Fast and Furious plays on the flat screen TV, and a young mother chases her little boy down the isle. Outside, and down below, the tough guys sit on sacks of onions and potatos, flicking cigarettes in the icy wind. The moon is up, and a few stars. We have 11 (?) hours to go on this leg of the journey.

We will arrive in Chaiten around seven in the morning. I hope it is clear, but not likely. Arriving there, even now after the volcano, is spectacular. This...this is arriving in Patagonia. The mountains don't wait 20 or 50 or 100 kilometers inland to rise up. They just scream up right there in the harbour. They don't even wait for the land. Giant mountain tips rip up from "el mar", covered with nalca and ferns and screeching seabirds. Approaching Chaiten does not look so different as before until just as you slow into the port. A ghost town. You don't really see yet that it is different, but you sense that something isn't right. I am including a few pictures of the volcano as we approach Chaiten at sunrise.

Anyway, my brothers would love this humming ship. The old varnish. The tall-tank toilets. On deck the coils of rope thicker than a man's bicept, and ages of oil paint on pitted iron. Slipping by, the dark nubs of islands and distant mountains under moonshine. Tonight, on this long leg of the journey, I couldn't find an outlet for the computer in the passenger area. But...after everyone was asleep, and I snuck out for a little nightcap on the deck, and a quick bathroom break, and well...here is a picture of my overnight office for writing this blog.

Sometimes I don't think my brothers "get" what my life is, and why I'm doing it. But other times certain snapshots of life here grab me and I think, "they would LOVE this". What I mean is that, as opposed to seeing the "Worst Hospadaje" (which is the next post...looking back at this recent trip) and agreeing...they would stay there, as I did. Twice. Because it's all about the experience. How you choose to file it away. What you make of it in the moment. Sometimes it's the kind of experience you need to leave right out there to relish...raw...even if it's not a good one, or the best. It just is what it is.

So, the boat rumbles. Everyone is inside in the passenger area, snoring, shifting, dreaming. And here I am in the bathroom outside, my computer plugged in, enjoying the ride. And thinking how much my brothers would love this experience. And at this point in time...if they were here...they would have no freaking idea how wild it gets once we hit Chaiten!

I am also thinking that anyone traveling to Chile would be poorly advised to fly from Santiago anywhere. You miss ALL OF THIS! You miss the Austral, you miss the ships and the sea and the seaports. You miss the smarmy hostels and the road food and the people. You miss the lovely land, the wild waters. The people who do this all the time. People who take one day at a time, catch what bits of life they can, and when they can. The old guys sitting on the sacks of onions, listening to the scratchy radio transmission of Chile vs. Ecuador. A cheer goes up as Chile scores goal one, and two and three. They pass a cigarette and pull their hats down and their scarves tighter. And that's good enough.

Again, that's what makes me think my brothers would love this. We've become parted by politics and ideologies. We've become estranged a bit by degrees of humor. But the one thing that I know, is that our childhood instilled in us a crazy love of adventure and the absurd. That's why, tonight, sitting in a ships bathroom, writing this, I know that my brothers would love this! Now, I'm done. I will close the door to the passing sea, and go pee. Then, if I'm lucky, I will wake up arriving at an exploding volcano, and continue on to Futalandia.

Below: A few photos of Chaiten this week: