Friday, January 30, 2009

Futa is the new Provencial Capital

Above: A poster on points out that in the first picture the huasos are wearing "mantas", and in the third picture the rider is wearing a "poncho". Manta's being shorter and likely a different material and pattern. A poncho is generally longer, and made of tightly woven wool, it repels even the most harsh rain and keeps the rider warm and dry.

When my friend Helen, in Puerto Rica messaged me yesterday afternoon with the news that Futa is tapped to replace Chaiten as the new Provencial Capital of Palena, it was typical of how isolated we have been here. And I'm not sure how I feel about it. Excited, I guess that it might mean a gas station or pharmacy. That we will not have to travel long gravel roads to accomplish business. A bit sad, or maybe ambiguous to think that things will change forever here. The things I love about here, also sometimes drive me crazy.

As I went out to take care of errands today, the sentiment in town seems the similar. Happy and honored to be picked, hopeful at the prospect of a gas station and other services not available here, but a little melancholy that Futa will no longer be the quiet, sleepy little haven it has been for almost 80 years. The other underlying feeling is that of, "Uh oh! Strangers!" Futa loves it's tourist time, they put on a good show of hosting, but boy when the seasons over....well, they are happy to have their town back. Now, as the capital of Palena, it means people who might never walk down these streets will now be a common event. The strangers have no history here, so they are to be feared, or at least suspected. After all...they don't do asados like they do in Futa. They don't keep their yards like Futans do. They are just different.

When we moved here, we were obviously strangers, and still are in some respects. But we have a little history now. In this little ecological and social microcosm, Futa has developed into a country all it's own. They are welcoming, yet protective, helpful yet reserved and hesitant to let people become involved in their lives. Cautious would better describe it. Suspicious. Bosque is at his wits end because I insist on sleeping with a window open. Wagging his finger and shaking his head at me, he cannot believe that I would take the chance that someone might crawl in the window at night and kill me.

Crime is almost non-existent here, with the exception of drunken rodeo participants and petty theft for fun, also a result of too much alcohol. Everyone always get caught and does the walk of shame around town for months because everyone knows. And it doesn't happen often. The very first murder occurred just last year out in Azul. In 80 years there was not one murder. This was a husband and wife dispute which tragically ended with him shooting her, then himself. Add to the low-crime rate, the fact that we have between 60 or 70 Carabineros rotating at any given time here. I don't know the exact number on duty in Futa, but with the border just 10 kilometers away, we are well covered...Walking patrols, Carabineros on horse back, truck patrols, officers living and working and being involved in everyday life.

There are thoughts that better transportation routes will reduce prices, as would a gas station reduce difficulties. However, there is a fear that prices on property and hotel and hostel accommodations will go up with demand. It all remains to be seen. One thing for sure, the days of the bank with one frenzied teller should end. Today, I went in only to find 40 people in line, one teller, and the bank manager almost ready to pull his hair out. Poor Walter and Patricio. Piss poor planning to not make adjustments for the already increasing influx of customers.

This also might mean fiber-optic lines out in el campo, and internet. This would be good! There are no phone lines out there, making it difficult to get emergency services, or to arrange business without traveling into town. Many people in el campo do not have cars, and the bus service runs almost never now that Chaiten is deserted. So, good things will come from this, and a way of life may be altered. We'll see how it all gets handled.

Thursday, January 29, 2009


Greg and I existed in a slow dance of careful whispers for at least half a year. He regained some balance, and as he got better, or I should say, the better he got, the angrier he was as he realized what had happened and how much he had lost. I went back to work, and often came home mid-day to make sure he was ok. He resented my "hovering". I resented his "anger". He continued to have seizures, and I might come home to find him curled up with awful injuries, cuts, gouges, and lumps, disoriented and bloody. He was afraid of the water. He hated food he had loved for years, and loved something new, only to despise it the next week. We went nowhere together except when I drove him to doctors appointments. Let me cut these 6-7 months short; they were grim and awful. Skip forward to a fight with his neurologist and lost of phone slamming. I got an appointment with a new neurologist, and we started out on a one-year journey that was difficult, but rewarding. The new doc worked on his meds, tolerated his belligerent behavior -checked it off to frustration and said it was progress - and finally, we all settled for a new implanted device called VNS. Vagus Nerve Stimulator.

VNS was, at the time a fairly new option, and basically involves implanting a device in the chest that pulses electric charges up through a wire clamped onto the vagus nerve in the neck, which goes into the brain. Doesn't always's a 33% chance that it will make a difference. At this point, Greg decided to take a leap. February 2001, he had the implant. Two weeks later we went back to have it activated. He woke up the next day, and woke up, made me coffee, woke me up and asked me to take him out to breakfast. He hasn't stopped yapping, making me coffee for breakfast, or wanting to go SOMEWHERE, for EIGHT YEARS!

Somehow, through those very difficult months, he did not give up. And looking back, I'm glad he was angry, because angry was something, and he was not going to give up. My tribulations pale in comparison to his heroism and fight to come back.

Next: Here we go....

Other Lifetimes

I want to talk about brain injury, epilepsy, and patience, and relationships, and love. And wanderlust. I have two lifetimes ago to keep straight. The first lifetime ago began when Greg and I met and married. When he was a attorney to be reckoned with in criminal court, or in cases where he represented mentally ill people locked up in awful institutions for doing nothing more than going to a 7-11 in pajamas to buy an airplane ticket. He represented little, old black women arrested for raiding a recycle bin in a town where they "shouldn't have been". He did conspiracy trials, and drug cases, and divorces, and tackled a restoration of civil rights case for an incredible guy who had turned his life around but wasn't able to get a State business license because of his conviction 30-years ago (then). We live in a little leaning beach shack with our melded family, snorkeled on the weekends with the kids, went fishing, and enjoyed remodeling our slanty shack. That is my first lifetime ago.

Then, our second lifetime ago. Greg has grand mal epilepsy, and has had since he was 18-years old. It didn't stop him from college, or law school. Or practicing law. Three or four times a year, he would have a very bad seizure, but since he could feel them coming on, he could avoid terrible injury, have someone cover for him in court, and recover. Towards the end of our first lifetime ago, the seizures increased, he suffered two TIA's (mini-strokes) and alarmed, he went into the hospital for a "re-vamp", to monitor his medication levels and get him straightened out. The short story...he suffered a massive, prolonged seizure. Forty-five minutes long before they were able to stop it, and he was intubated and in a coma for the next 16 days. Respirator, intensive care, brain scans, MRI's. One-month after entering the hospital, he came home with no short-term memory, unable to walk unassisted, and so medicated he could not remember who anyone was.

I left my no-benefits job to care for him, to arrange physical therapy, doctors appointments, and get medical bills paid by his insurance. Our youngest son came over in the evenings to help get him in and out of the shower. Friends and colleagues were afraid to come see him more than once. He looked good, but the guy we all knew was not there anymore. His seizures continued.

Next time: The beginning of our second lifetime ago.


Above Photos: Tres Monjas without snow, Rio Azul, and the unfinished house.

A cool, blue-sky morning before it warms, and breezes begin to stir the ash, I am sitting here with my mug of instant coffee, and a gut full of anticipation. At the socially acceptable hour of 9 a.m., I will head down to give the go-ahead to Patricio for the micro-hydro electric project for the house! The parts, materials (inverter, alternator, tubing, turbine, electric wires, etc.) and labor will be just a couple hundred bucks US more than the hook-up to grid quotes. And I might add, we've been waiting almost 11 months now for that to be accomplished. That little bit of news, just a faint whiff of promise has invigorated me. I'll leave Patricios house, and stop by a small fereteria to order the stuff for the addition awnings for the house, swing by Fernandos to load up the kitchen cabinet piece and tell him "forget life" on his increasingly expensive kitchen shelf ideas. Since I will have electric, Greg and I can use the lumber we have and pound up some nice, simple shelves our selves. The sealant and brushes are ready for Cocho and his son to treat the outside of the house. I've ordered a generator for those times when the water lines will freeze, which they will until the entire 1,000 meter line is completely buried. That will take time.

After almost a year of starts and fits, I have some vision that the house will be livable. A glint of hope. Greg and I would go out to the house and stare up at all the untreated wood. All of the raw windows, the wood floors, staircase, bare walls, untiled bathroom, and exposed slab kitchen sink. We'd drag out the sandpaper and start sanding one window at a time, the front door, the back door. All by hand. Sand, wipe, varnish. Each window pane only reaffirmed how much more there was to do. Split and stack some wood. Sand. Tape. Varnish. Ah, two windows out of twelve, all large with numerous panes. Sand and seal the deck. Replace warped boards. Drag down more varnish. Replace plumbing lines inside from the freeze, wait for the water spots to dry. Do sand and seal the front porch. By hand. Then take a hot shower using the best invention of all times for the pioneering weary, a gas, on-demand hot water heater. Light candles, fall into bed and get one page read before the river hypnotizes us to sleep.

Difficult things for me will be ripping out the kitchen counter...a monstrous slab of wood with a beat up old sink siliconed into a rough hole cut in it. The slab will be cut up and make bedside stands. Then installing and re-plumbing the real sink. I'm not intimidated by the tile work on the counter top. Just starting the whole mess. I'll tile the bathrooms next year. And what to do about the bare plywood ceilings? I've decided just not to look up until next year...I can think about it for a while.

I thought I was a "pioneer", a girl-scout innovator and survival specialist, until I had to do it all the time, and the novelty wore off (after a week). I felt terribly high and mighty when the house had running water and flush toilets. Then the on-demand hot water. Whoo Hoo! It was sweet and fun to snuggle up and read good books by candle light. For a while, and then only when I "wanted" to, not because I had to. Then cooking outside on a fire wasn't as fun as it used to be, so I got a little gas cook top and warmed bread on the wood stove. The raging river was wonderful, still is, but now I miss my music, and listening to radio. Finding myself one day completely overwhelmed with the amount of work to be done before winter, instead of sanding and varnishing another window, I sat on the floor and sorted nails into little containers, sorting tools and wrapping twine and burned through a six-pack of beer and a pack of cigarettes.

So now, disgraced pioneering girl scout that I am, I am hiring other people to do work that I should be doing (all except the climbing a two-story ladder to finish windows and seal the wood outside). Greg and I still have much to do, and the cutting and stacking of firewood is top 'o the list. Come winter I think we'll be ready. As ready as anyone can be here in Patagonia. I still need to buy tire chains, and am thinking the long steep walk up to the road might require snow shoes. Since winter only last 4-5 months here, I think I've loaded enough books and music on my computer to get me through. Not sure though. I might need someone to come check on us come the end of September and see if we are babbling incoherently, or poked each others eyes out.

Tuesday, January 27, 2009

Getting Things Done

Tuesday, January 27, 2008...Futalandia

Greg and I set off to accomplish three things:

1. Start our paperwork for our permanent visas;
2. Renew the truck plates; and
3. Check mail, and send out letters to family and friends who never write back.

The person in charge of preparing and processing our paperwork is on vacation. They cannot issue insurance renewals which are required prior to renewing plates, and the post office will not have stamps until tomorrow (and of course she cannot possibly let me pay for the stamps today and keep the mail to stamp tomorrow). We did however receive an invitation to attend Barack Obama Inauguration on January 20th. Oh well.

Getting things done in Futa requires more patience than a mother with three hyperactive children in the bathtub and a husband sitting on the couch watching football while a meatloaf burns in the oven. I am reminded of the "opening a bank account" debacle.

We opened an account with Banco Estado with our temporary visas (RUN). Even then, we got the once over and they requested everything but a pubic hair (here in Futalandia I guess they are considered public hairs) before completing the paperwork. We know that - at the time - it was not necessary or required, but they wanted to see documents for the property we owned, any utility accounts in our name, contract for the construction, paperwork from our bank in the other country. Crazy. I said screw it, I don't care..and plopped a folder full of paperwork on the bank managers desk and let him copy it. When they wanted some other absurd document, our attorney called them and had a chat. It's a classic Tuesday-Thursday Three Stooges Skit. Tuesdays the rules are this, Thursday the rules are something else, unless of course if on Wednesday, someones mother needs a new set of dentures, then you revert to the frightening and complicated Monday set of rules which are in effect and good only during odd years or during the Chinese Year of the Rat. In this case, you will be required to wear purple, turn around three times and kiss the ground, then, you will get a bank account.

And so it goes in Futalandia, where roses burst in every color, every twenty feet, on every single street and avenue. Where children come home from school for lunch, and no one would dream of going to the doctor, or bank all by themselves. Where Christmas is not about gift-giving, or ostentatious Christmas trees and decorations, but about lots of food, music, dancing, and Uncle Guido drinking too much boxed wine and falling off his horse, and everyone mingling in a big mix of great love and fun. It is a place that requires much patience and and where everyone knows how many bags of garbage you put out twice a week, and housewives sneak furtive glances across fence lines as they watch how you hang out your clothes on the line. Clothes pins, no clothes pins, double pins, pants inside out, or outside in? Technique seems to be important and discussed.

Most of the time, just as I am ready to drown myself out of sheer frustration by plunging my head in the toilet (which is low-flow and wouldn't work anyway), something happens. Bosque turns up his radio next door and I will hear him singing to his happy self as he washes out two of his four pair of socks to hang on the line. A jaunty huaso will clop by, and no matter how short, or tall, skinny or fat, or if he has teeth, or not, with that wonderful big-brim hat, and poncho, seated upon his much-loved horse and I think he is the most handsome, majestic man in the world. I cannot help but smile in my heart and think, what incredible people. And I feel okay again, although a little ashamed that I cannot cast off my other-world expectations of service and efficiency.

Sunday, January 25, 2009

What is an ex-pat? And What a difference a Day Makes.

Photos Above (top to bottom): Chile, Panama, Chile, Panama

Creep back eight years ago. Remember Inauguration 2001? Remember the cheering crowds during the inauguration parade? No. Me neither. I remember that Bush could not get out of his limo and walk in the parade because there was such anger over the election debacle. I remember the screaming angry crowds, the signs, the sadness that so many felt cheated. Also, what is your answer to the following questions:

Is employment higher or lower?
Is crime higher or lower?
Is national debt higher or lower?
Is our image in the world better or worse?
Is our economy better or worse?
Is the stock market better or worse?
Is our military stronger or weaker?
Is the dollar stronger or weaker?
Is education better or worse?

Fast forward to January 20, 2009. What a Difference a Day Makes.

Greg and I left the US, not because of Bush, but to have adventure, live simply and for less. People leave their homelands for many reasons. Work, or business, political or religious prosecution, dissolution over politics, or for travel and adventure. I think sometimes people automatically think ex-pats have left because they are longer patriotic. A blog I follow, features a header:

"From the Medieval Latin expatriate is one who leave(s) one's native country to live elsewhere". She goes on to say: This is a blog of a long time expatriate, her life's adventures, her pursuit of meaning and her attempts to escape CHAOS (can't have anyone over syndrome).

So, as she is a journalist, economist, and educator, I will adopt her definition, and add to that, an ex-pat is an adventurer, because, Why Not. How we become ex-pats is not so important as the way we experience the experience is important. Successful ex-pats seem to roll with the flow, embrace their new culture, all the while still caring very deeply about the home country they left behind.

I have walked the dusty roads of Costa Rica, stomped scorpions, and burned my feet on the black sand of it's beaches. I have maneuvered through military check-points in Panama, dodged landslides and nursed coffee plants in her western highlands. I have endured an exploding volcano, stared vertigo-stricken at ice-blue glaciers and pushed a Nissan truck up snowy mountain roads in Chile. There are so many memorable things from my up-to-now adventure as an ex-pat, but none will compare in scope to to watching the United States of America have a good, clean, hard-fought election on my ratty, ash-encrusted computer here in Futalandia.

Saturday, January 24, 2009

This Land - Pete Seeger and Bruce Springsteen

There was so much we missed of the exuberance and celebration revolving around this Presidential Inauguration. The youtube video below is one example. Pete Seeger, his grandson Tao Rodriquez, and Bruce Springsteen sing Woody Guthries' "This Land is Your Land" at the Lincoln Memorial. Very powerful. Watch Woody as he almost cannot contain his joy! I've placed the video at the very bottom of the blog here. I hadn't before thought much about this song until I just finished reading The Grapes of Wrath again. Let me know if you enjoy this video as much as I did. Here are the lyrics so you can sing along:

This Land is Your Land - Woody Guthrie
This land is your land, this land is my land
From California, to the New York Island
From the redwood forest, to the gulf stream waters
This land was made for you and me

As I was walking a ribbon of highway
I saw above me an endless
I saw below me a golden valley
This land was made for you and me

I've roamed and rambled and I've followed my footsteps
To the sparkling sands of her diamond deserts
And all around me a voice was sounding
This land was made for you and me

The sun comes shining as I was strolling
The wheat fields waving and the dust clouds rolling
The fog was lifting a voice come chanting
This land was made for you and me

As I was
walkin' - I saw a sign there
And that sign said - no tress
But on the other side .... it didn't say
Now that side was made for you and me!

In the squares of the city - In the shadow of the steeple
Near the relief office - I see my people
And some are
grumblin' and some are wonderin'
If this land's still made for you and me.

Volcanic Ash, Shopping in Argentina, a Rodeo and Bread a bonus...another Greg story.

The inauguration of the new President of the United States of America infused me with a new energy and can-do attitude. I took a picture of live coverage of Bush's moving Van preparing to leave the Whitehouse. My happy mood lasted about 5 hours, promptly quashed when our Chilean attorney called with a dismal update on the "electric to the house" project. To avoid raising my blood pressure by 50 points, I won't go into it more than to say we are meeting with someone to evaluate the possibility of a micro-hydro electric set up.

The volcano did have an episode, as I understand it, one of the new growth domes collapsed sending a monstrous ash plume northwest. It continues to be volatile which reminds me to put our emergency bag back together AND LEAVE IT BY THE FRONT DOOR!

On January 21st, I hopped in Nono's truck, with Cocho driving, Nono's oldest daughter Delia, and grandson Francisco, and we headed over to Argentina to purchase the wood protector for the outside of my house, along with other needs we either cannot find in Futa, or are so expensive we would just do without. The specific wood protector is not available in Futa, and the 25-kilo sacks of flour is way too expensive here. So I got both, and then some. Here is what I bought:

Enough toilet papers to last through 2010
A few gallons of good cooking oil
One case of granola cereal
One case of tomato paste
One jar of marinated mushrooms (gone by the time I got back to Futa)
Three cartons of cigarettes (I know, I know.....)
Enough mayonnaise to hold me over until I get a blender to make my own
25-kilos of flour (making my own bread, pretzels and noodles)
wood sealant for outside of house

Cocho, in his "goin' to town" wide-brimmed hat struggled to keep the rattling truck on the road, each wheel bobbing independently over the bone-jarring washboard road. Francisco spends the hour-long trip navigating between the front and back seat, while Nono picks and teases and everyone talks over each other. Lots of laughing. I laugh too, because the laughter makes me laugh, not because I understand what they've said. We stop at a bank in Trevelin so I can exchange Chilean Pesos into Argentine Pesos, where five of my 20,000 peso bills are promptly rejected because someone had written on them. We pile back in the truck, and bounce on through Trevelin to Esquel and a granary where we load up with flour. One bag for me, two for Nono, one for her daughter, and Cocho decides to buy one for his wife since we are there. Francisco continues to move lizard-like about the cab of the truck; I can't help but touch his little black-haired button head. He calls me Tia Gringa and paints pictures for me each time he visits my house.

So, our shopping trip finally finished we make our way back to the border. As we come closer, the incredibly wild Andes peaks come into view, less snow on them this year it seems, than last. Delia pokes me and points...Ceniza, she says. The entire range of mountains are enveloped in a gray haze, looking much like a smoke cloud. It is not new ash fall, it is ash being blown off the ridges, whipped up into a murky, dry fog. It grows more dense the closer we get to the Chilean border. By the time we pull into Futa, the typical January winds have clearly won the battle.

A friend stops by in the early afternoon and we decide to meet for dinner later. But when it's time to go, I am just exhausted and beg off. Spending an entire day in Spanish always wears me out. Greg goes to meet him, but our friend is delayed, and delayed, and finally Greg gives up waiting, goes and buys some sausages...comes home...cooks them up, and sits down to eat his dinner. I am right here. On the couch, awake, listening to the radio, and he makes his plate, sits down in the chair and eats his dinner. As he finished HIS dinner, I go into the kitchen and make a sausage sandwich for MYSELF, bring it back into the living room and a little hard, put the plate down on the table. Still, it takes him a couple of minutes before his eyes get wide and he realizes I'm a little angry. Yet, he does not know why. This is a guy who has not made a meal in three years, except for the time I was in the hospital in Panama, having my appendix out.

Now, he says to me, "You look really tired out." Hhhmm. Yup. I eat my sandwich. He takes his dirty plate out and puts it in the sink. Comes back, sits down and says, "Vick, what do we have to do tomorrow?" Arrgggghhh! Very slowly, and without screeching, I say, "You know, wouldn't it have been nice if you had at least...ASKED ME...if I might want something to eat?" Wide eyes again, recognition, realization...deep shit...goofed up.

"I didn't even think to ask you. I'm so sorry."

"No, you didn't, because you aren't very thoughtful," I say as the list of thoughtlessness grows one item longer. At least I get coffee in bed every morning, and with that cup of coffee, I re-forgive him for not being very thoughtful. Another day.

By January 22 the air-quality situation is miserable as the town readies for the big rodeo down by Lago Espejo. Blasts of dry hot air whip down the streets, following water trucks spraying down the ash. The temperatures rise to the mid-80's but we cannot open doors or windows to let air in. Ash creeps in and I use a shaving brush to keep it from accumulating on the computer as I look up the Volcanism blog by Dr. Ralph Harrington. He has posted a new NASA photo which freaks me out...only by chance of wind direction are we not being buried again in new ash fall.

Such a warm day, and being stuck inside, I decide it's a good day to start a batch of yogurt and rip into the big bag of flour. I also decide to make Greg start serving his sentence for being unthoughtful. He will help me make bread. Lots of it. I explain to him that "punching down the bread dough" does not mean an Oscar de La Hoya punch as he pulls his bruised knuckles out of the big bowl. It turns out to be way too much fun to be punishment as we bake a pan of rolls, a large, long loaf, and three batches of excellent, herb-encrusted soft pretzels.

Sometime during the night, the ash battle is won, but not by trucks or people. The morning of the rodeo is greeted by a pounding, relentless rain.

Monday, January 19, 2009

Bump in the Night

It was just eight months ago that I was sitting up and felt the little rental cabin jump. Chocking it up to an earthquake, I paid no attention. Then it happened again a couple hours later. The next day I raced outside in my pajamas thinking that it had snowed, when it was...of all unbelievable things...the results of a volcanic explosion.

Today, out at our unfinished house, we felt it shake and sway around noontime. Now, tonight, as I am glued to all the hoopla over tomorrows historical events in the US, at 12:45 am on January 20th, the cabin jumped again. It is a quiet night. No traffic, no music pounding as is typical during this week of festivities and tourists. Perfect silence. The sky is clear with brilliant stars and there is absolute silence.

I sincerely hope that I am simply being paranoid, and this is simply normal earthquake activity. But, as I felt back on May 2nd, this just did not feel like a normal tremor. I hope I am wrong.

Here is a short excerpt from my original keyboard poundings on the events of May 2, 2008:

"One-One Thousand, two-one thousand, three-one thousand, four-one thousand," no, that's not right,. That's for lightening. Try again. "Put masking tape on the windows, or board them up, move patio furnature inside," no, that's night right either, that would be a hurricane. Let's see, "Move to an interior room of the house, a bathroom perhaps, best a cellar or basement though." No, that is for a tornado. Alright, how about, "Seek high ground!" Sunami. Nothing seemed just right. No matter where I searched my middle-aged, girl scout brain, I could not for the life of me, find a file labled, "What to do in case of a volcanic erruption!" And so it goes...

May 1st, 2008. Futaleu, Region X, Chile......

I am ashamed to say that my first thoughts were about beer, just in case things got jiggy, but then my head cleared and I filled bottles of water before the water got cut off. I'm actually ashamed of alot of my initial reactions...excitement, wonder, disbelief, and yes, excitement! We've been through hurricanes, step-children and several earthquakes of significance, but a volcano was something that would take some time to wrap my reality around. I did not have the presence of mind to consider just what this event might entail for everyone. For the people, the animals, the country. And I am ashamed now at my initial reaction. By the way, here is how we first met Futa...

For a long, rambling read about the event, and things up to then, here is the link to my work in progress:

Sunday, January 18, 2009

This post is perhaps my favorite. Mostly because I've written the beginning and the end, but it's all the things in between that sustain me. Or at the least, keep me entertained. There are all the stories, and incidents in between...the funny ones, and the ones where I want to make Greg stop the truck and let me walk out my frustrations and anger. The days and nights when I cannot tell the difference between sleeping inside, or out, unless it's raining or snowing. At the end of the day (most days) though, I have a deep feeling of happiness, and I am grateful for this adventure. And, I still fully intend to act out the last part of the screenplay outline for my movie...found here:

I am considering renaming this movie screenplay outline "Slap the Old Man".

Thursday, January 15, 2009

A Update on Summer ( January) in Futa

Ongoing efforts to clear ash from streets and common areas may be making a small difference, however, rain the past few days helps tremendously. And then, much as I often forget, strange, inexplicable weather hits. For two days now, the temperatures have dropped below 40F at nights, creeping into the mid-to-high 50's during the day, cloudy, windy, spritzes of rain here and there. Stove pipes are puffing across town again, when just a week ago children were splashing in blue plastic pools in front yards and the favorite watering hole, is just that...a small cool cove on the river just north of the bridge over Rio Espolon.

This is all strange, and I will be interested to see if the Futa website ( begins to post it's own weather information gathered from the brand-new weather station constructed on the front lawn of the town hospital.

The backpackers have invaded and the rafting companies are out early, fitting them with flotation devices and ominously dinged-up helmets. Backpacks are stored behind counters in the tiendas and internet cafes. There is no granola cereal to be found...I should have remembered that from last year. Also, bananas fly off the shelves and extra blocks of cheese await mounds of fresh pancito. Nuts, and raisins, and truckloads of beer arrive, batteries for cameras and flashlights, extra bottled water, bandaids, and single packets of cheap shampoo. Lines at the ATM machine, globs of happy kids stretched out under trees in the little city square park, airing out stinky wet clothes, comparing bruises and hostel recommendations.

It's been a busy holiday season with all the new permanent residents from Chaiten settling in. Shortages of propane, varnish, paint, window and door hardware as new houses go up, or old houses are refitted for new occupants. No gasoline or diesel in Futa now, not even for the outrageous 1,000 pesos a liter we were used to. You must make the couple-hour drive to La Junta, or Palena now, and even there it is still over 600 pesos a liter.

My motto now is "Get it While they Got it!" and I mean that. Get it, store it, freeze it, dry it, buy it. When I see the red flag up at the meat market, I go buy meat, even if I don't need meat at the moment, because it might be a week, or two before more meat comes in. Milk? Buy it by the case. Freeze butter. Dry some soup vegetables. Stock up on cans of cholgas and chorritos. With 500 new people in town, combined with tourists, there is some readjusting to ordering goods now, and shopkeepers are just now realizing it.

The new Post Mistress is handling things best she can. The old Post Master had only to check his bread (he ran a small bakery), watch TV and collect mail incoming and outgoing, which was all he did...collect. Nothing went out, nothing came in. The Post Mistress, has a store in which she sells used clothing, handles selling bus tickets and flights. Now we add the voluminous amount of packages being sent into and out of Futa by displaced Chaiten residents and relatives, not to mention the sorting and distribution of found mail into alphabetical cubby holes, tourist inquiries, and her normal female duties which I suspect include cooking, cleaning and shooing children off to school on time, and...... she's frazzled. I also suspect she bakes bread when she has nothing else to do. I forgive her for thinking my last name is 7ansen, and yesterday when she asked if I could come back the next day to check for a package, I agreed. Absolutely.

So, Futa is finding it's footing, strange as it may be...a forceful, determined path to normalcy, despite the fact that the charm about Futa is that it is FAR from normal. I fear I have been vilified for two reasons here. First is my ongoing dispute with the builder, wherein I have withheld the final payment due to the fact that he abandoned us with an unfinished house. Now, he has creditors he has not paid AT ALL and they question me...."H says you haven't paid him for building your house, so he can't pay us. Is that so?" Shit. The fact is that he was paid, and paid and paid. And the last small payment is so insignificant that he hasn't bother to request it...because he knows he did a shitty job and didn't even bother to finish his shitty work. The other vilification I think, and maybe I am paranoid, is because I have often posted on some forums, and responded to inquiries, saying that the situation with ash in Futa is NOT resolved. And that in the dry, windy days of January, February and March, it would be intolerable. I stand by that. And that until the situation with the Chaiten Volcano is understood, and a pattern has emerged, I personally would not want to have spent several thousand dollars on a dream trip to this area of Patagonia to raft, or fly fish, or bike, or hike, only to find myself hunkered down in a mask and eye-protection. So, I think it is possible that it may be construed that I attempted to circumvent a tourist season in Futa. Some funny looks, a few snubs, a comment or two lead me to ponder the possibility that I have pissed some people off. That one sole commentator might steer away an entire tourist invasion in contravention of well-established, well-funded tour companies is silly.

So, onward, even if it is a weaving, disjointed long as - at the least - it's three steps forward, only one back. That's progress.

It's a Small World, Afterall....

Yes, my world is small. About 1600 people small, take away the 1598 people who do not converse with me in English and you might be able to grasp the gush of garbled words that come out of me when I meet someone who says, "Hello! Do you speak English?" At first there is the brain synapse that happens...someone spoke words in English....stay where you need to translate...proceed.., then I imagine my face breaks out into that look you see on someones face when they have been rescued after floating on the ocean for months in a rubber dingy. Then, it happens. The floodgate opens and ashamedly I cannot shut my mouth.

".......Yes I speak English where are you from me I originally moved from Florida well not really I moved here from Panama and before that Costa Rica but well actually from Florida I have lived here in Futa for a year now well not just in Futa I have a house out in the country but it's not finished I am waiting for electric but you know the volcano blew up and everyone left and I am still waiting but I rent a house in town not really a house just a little cabin to stay in while the house is finished we are finishing it ourselves my husband and I but it's so difficult to get materials now that so many people from Chaiten moved here it's beautiful here isn't it but different a small town like this is amazing but sometimes isolating and we should be out cutting wood and doing varnish work I have to check on the electric situation there are no phone lines cellphone or internet access out there so we come and stay in town to use the internet and wash clothes and catch up on the news yes we have three kids, all grown they live in the US the weather is odd right now when the dry wind blows the ash is unbearable isn't it you should have seen it last month we had to wear masks again...."

It's a shameful display of verbal desperation. And finally I stop. I see the look of "Uh oh, crazy woman" on the victims' face, and say, "Well, listen, nice talking to you...have a wonderful trip!" and take myself out of the conversation space to avoid further self humiliation and think, "I wouldn't want to talk to me if I met me," or something ridiculously similar. However, I feel lighter, a little tingly and elevated in spirit! A release of pent-up English all sploshed out making room for more, building up for the next unsuspecting English speaker.

I will admit that learning Spanish, especially Chilean (
Castellano) is not the wonderfully exciting challenge so many young visitors to Chile find it be be. No. Not at all. In Costa Rica and Panama, there was an ongoing battle between the countries as to who spoke the better Spanish. Panama claimed the honor saying Tico's (as Costa Rican's cutely and lovingly refer to themselves as) ruin the language with their "itos" and "ititos" at the ends of words. Chileans, however strangely enough, proudly will tell you they speak the worst Spanish of all Latin countries.

Once we made the decision to move to Chile, I thought to myself, "At least this time I will not have the added task of learning a new language". We arrived for our first exploratory visit in September 2007, stumbling sleepily off the plane in Santiago at 5:30 am and were greeted by immigration and customs officers.

"gbllano shagu nabadando llegrillorillo," say the handsome Chileno man in uniform.

"What did he say?" Greg asks.

"I have no freakin clue. Are we in the right country?"

"gbllano shagu nabadando llegrillorillo," the handsome Chileno man in uniform says again.

I just hand him the sweaty clutch of passport, ticket and immigration forms and tell Greg to do the same.

Let's put aside that things are called by different names here than in any other Spanish-speaking country. Let's put aside the fact that they speak very fast. They also drop the ends of words, as if it isn't hard enough to distinguish between llanta, lleno, and llave in the best of circumstances. Then we add the slang words, and little cutsyisms (I made that word up for fun). By the time I can look up and find some root of a word in my Spanish dictionary which looks remotely like one of the 30 words I've just heard, we find ourselves shoved through customs and immigration out into the main lobby of the airport with forty or so taxi drivers all speaking at the same time, quickly and badly, vying for our business.

Thankfully there is a nice cafe just to the left of where you exit the customs area with baggage. We escaped to a table and had several cups of coffee while we attempted to get our wits untangled. Then, a deep breath, snatch up the backpacks, and off into a bright-blue Chilean adventure....

Friday, January 9, 2009

Ugly Girl Invited to Prom

When I was in high school, it was just after the "hippie" era. We were on the screaming, beginning edge of the no-return ride of the neo-conservative movement. Hippies were has-beens, by-gone's, old stoners, destined to spend the rest of their lives in jail, or on the public dole. For someone with a hippie heart, peace, love, and social consciousness, this was a time where one was seen as, and what in high school was referred to as, a "freak". I was a freak.

While classmates screamed in orgasmic ecstasy over Bob Seger and Kiss, I sat in my little bedroom fondling my Janis Joplin LP, or flipping through my collection of CSNY (if you need me to spell that out, you are far too young to appreciate this walk down memory lane). I wore overalls to school, with a tube top in the summer, and a flannel shirt in the winter...all long after if was popular to be "rebellious". I've been a non-conformer, and a quasi-socialist/bleeding-heart liberal since I was six, when I defended Freddy Freymeyer from our tormenting classmates because he was 1.) fat, 2.) he smelled, and 3.) he was ADOPTED!

When I was 13 I was asked to leave the Methodist Youth Group because I questioned how the pastor could support a government that advocated war. I commandeered my mother's old roller skates, and along with a sole friend, we made African caftan dresses which we wore (naked underneath) while roller skating up to Broadway in Greenville, Ohio to buy Swisher Sweets. We would later smoke them secretly in the city park down by the swinging bridge. I cared deeply about the kids starving in Haiti, who had worms in their bellies, and not about the Bibles people wanted to send, and wondered why they didn't spend money for wells, and medicine and schools.

I was a dork, a strange one. But I always thought that there was hope for the dire circumstances people found themselves in, whether in the US, or the rest of the world. People laughed at me. She's too serious, they said. I always felt that if we all believed in something different, it could happen. Gog (or God, as I meant to type) helps them that help themselves they said. But, I was a dork. I was the strange, goofy, silly girl. And people laughed and the only dates I had were ones with boys who didn't care about what their parents thought. No boy who wore a lettered jacket, or whose parents belonged to a country club ever wanted to date me.

And I've not changed much. Except now...I have a date for the prom! And I may be wrong, but I think he is principled, and wildly intelligent, and witty, and I'm hugely honored that he asked me out for a date. He believes in the things I do. Hope. Responsibility. Sharing. Laugh all you want! You might be saying, "SUCKER! He's just taking you for a ride, he has ulterior motives." But you know what, I don't care. Because...

On January 20th, I have a date with someone who at least acts like he cares. Someone who will not embarrass me. Someone who has already said that although we might not agree on where we will have dinner, or what music we will listen to, he cares about, and will consider my opinions. Someone who will consider my thoughts and opinions. Imagine that. And I suspect that he will not order FILL- IT- MIG -NON at dinner and pass out halfway through the night so I have to drive him home. And my date...who knows if it will turn out to be a wonderful relationship or the first guy to never, ever, ever laugh at me for hoping that this one day, in this time of my life, will be a day that I can be proud of who I am walking into the dance hall with.

Barak Obama 44th President of the United States of America (my date for the next 4 or maybe 8 years....wish me luck)

Thursday, January 8, 2009

Math between Neighbors

Nono's Kitchen.

paid our electric bill while we were on the trip south. (11,000 pesos) We bought four liters of gas for him to bring back. (2,000 pesos) I only had a 10,000 peso bill on me, and he had no change. So...he made us a huge loaf of fresh bread and brought it over, and we called it even. However, the bread was SO good, I did up some home-made lemon basil fettuccine with my new hand-crank pasta machine and took it over to him. Now I was a little up, so he gave me a jar of gooseberry jam, and we called it even again.

Actual money matters aside, gifts and treats and trades between neighbors is a common act. Some fresh cherries, dried plums, bread, snippets of a favorite rose bush, a portion of a prolific vegetable from the garden. There is always a cup of mate beside a blazing wood stove, and in the country, a chipped jelly jar of chicha. A summertime visit often ends with the duena de la casa poking through a green garden with a kitchen knife to cut off a leafy bouquet of lettuce as a parting gift, along with some tomatoes or aji peppers.

My reciprocal gifts are usually some yogurt grains (not found easily in these parts) or some of my bread, and now that I have the pasta machine, some home-made pasta. And while not original on my part, Nono and Ismael like the idea of my little pot of honey butter I brought once.

I cannot match the resourcefulness of my neighbors - both in town - and in the country, so it is difficult for me to keep up. However, gift giving here doesn't seem to be a score-card keeping event. Nothing is expected from me in return, because they realize as a severely limited resourceful person, I am just hanging on a thread and will be lucky to get through a winter without starving or freezing to death. (Yes, she sets a pretty table, but what will she put on it in the winter if she doesn't get a vegetable garden set in?! Poor, silly, hapless gringa!)

But I thought I fixed Nono this time...when I bought my very inexpensive, hand-crank pasta machine, I bought her one too. And when we visited yesterday, we were talking about making pasta (I brought it up, of course). Yes! We made pasta the same way! Rolling out the stiff, reluctant dough on a wood table top, rolling, flouring, rolling. Then folding and cutting, and shaking out the strands, flopping them on another part of the table to dry a little. AH HA! No more, I said, and went to the truck to get her gift. It was the best! Wonderment, awe, then ten minutes of trying to figure out how the pieces went together, and then finally, a sigh of appreciation for what the machine would accomplish. And it was then that I realized I had robbed myself. Of the opportunity to make and present perfect little mounds of perfect little pastas as a neighborly gift. Shot myself in the foot.

Last night as I made a third batch of linguine, Nono was making her spaghetti. I can see flour sack towels spread around her kitchen with mounds of drying pasta...and maybe next time, some day in the dead of winter when the roads are too deep with snow and ice, she will gift me some fresh eggs, and I will have thought up something else to gift her.

Saturday, January 3, 2009

New Year Reflections

The past year was a good one, a difficult one, and a sad one.

Good because we are in Chile.

Difficult because we are in Chile.

Sad, for a multitude of reasons. Our treasured, dear, dear friend, Joe, died...only in his mid-40's, after a long battle with his soul. Another friend, a swarthy, mean, foul-mouthed and wonderfully lovely Canadian, Larry passed away. A former neighbor and beloved family friend, a young man of 17, drowned at a beach in Panama on Christmas. We put our dog, Max, to sleep at the young age of just four.

But there has also been joy, and fun, and hope. Our incredibly handsome grandson, Robbie,
entertained us for weeks in Florida...and we can't begin to say how that energized and filled
us with joy, hope and fun. Dessa is engaged to an incredible young man, Vaughn, who has two
lovely children, Blake and Katie. Chris is serious with Melissa, who is an absolute fit with
the family, almost like she was born to us, but that wouldn't be right...right? Our parents are
doing well, and are happy and secure.

We didn't really spend much time reflecting, as we had done on previous holiday seasons. We
spent one memorable Christmas day hanging on the edge of a pool in Costa Rica, too sweaty and
tired to do anything but spoon ceviche into our mouths. Another Christmas was spent in the
Western Highlands of Panama, rocking on the front porch of our little cabin, itching our coffee gnat bites after a day of harvesting coffee, listening to a Miles Davis CD, Kinda Blue. This past Christmas, we spent here in Futa, holed up in our rental cabin in town; Max, the psycho dog having just killed the neighbors cat, we were forced to keep all the windows and doors shut
in the stifling heat while neighbors cooked young lambs outside, the music blared and people danced and drank all night. This year, aside from our desire to be with family, was the best.

To sleep under the Patagonian stars on a bluff overlooking Lago General Carrera, watching
mysterious lights, a late-night asado with Pedro, a little wine, some Pisco (not a good combination in retrospect) and a sunny Christmas day floating in a dazzling marble cave in the
middle of the lake.

We did reflect a little. Mostly we were amazed we survived the temptation to just give up and
pack up. It was a very real, and very joint hitting the wall moment, so close we even started
looking for rentals back in Panama. I think the problem for me was I looked in the mirror
sometime around December 4th and almost passed out. Who the HELL IS THAT?!?! Greg, ever unobservant only noticed that I was no longer my peppy, go get 'em self, and finally when after two days of solemn behavior on my part, asked me if I was happy, and I burst into tears. Then of course, I wrote my earlier letter posted here to a friend back home. Then ensured the
almost disastrous decision to give up.

Life is difficult, and interesting, happy, sad, but for us, the last seven years have not been dull. I don't even know how to behave when we go back to the US and we are in a restaurant, or
in a checkout line, or especially at a Super Market. Holy crap! In a restaurant in the US in
September I ordered a salad. The waitress asked what dressing I wanted.

"What do you have?"

"Blue cheese, Italian, Russian, Raspberry Balsamic Vinegar and oil, Lemon Honey Mustard, BBQ

Buffalo Spice, Sweet Valdalia Onion...."

I sit there, mouth open, mind spinning in a gastronomic dream world, then Greg nudges me.


"Oh, I'll just have vinegar and oil, do you have that?"

She looks at me like I'm some fucking retard from the planet Volcan (which I am) and scribbles
with her pen.

I bought BOOKS! And soft cotton underwear that don't cut off my circulation. I bought good
pens and paper, and don't even let me loose in a hardware or craft store. I bought a bolt of
cloth and pillows and sheets that don't feel like burlap, I bought tubes of antibiotic cream
that I could pick up and handle and READ. I stood grinning in checkout lines, happy to have
been able to browse and look and handle the things I had piled in my cart. No stumbling over
words and descriptions. No drawing pictures of super glue or headphones to show to a clerk
behind a counter who would then look at me with a dull expression. One of my favorite
check-out experiences was at a discount store in North Carolina (Murphy...great small
town...stop if you are in the area) where I had found a nice bolt of flannel material.

"Look like yer fixin to make sumpin," she said.

"Actually, yes! I think I'm going to make a duvet cover for a feather comforter."

"Fethers! I looooovvvvveee fethers! I got me a cuple a fether pillers last year. I jus

looove my fether pillers! Well, gud fer ya, hope ya like the m'tarial!"

AND ANOTHER THING that just came to mind! You people in the US are SPOILED by customer service. Whine, whine, whine about waiting for Cable TV guys, or a call back for a complaint. I could kick your ass! Try waiting 9 months to get electric hooked up to your house! Imagine trying to buy varnish, only to have someone tell you that even if you pay up front when
ordering, "Nope." Imagine a store clerk just shrugging his shoulders when yo ask why there
hasn't been any fresh vegetables for the past week. And the post office. Oh...don't even
start with that one! It cost me a dollar a Christmas card, and I'll bet ya the recipients get
them by March. The old postal clerk was fired for doing god knows what with the mail and no one received anything for three months. The new postal clerk can't tell the difference between the number 7 and the letter L, so thinks my last name is 7ansen, and never thinks to look in the little "L" cubby hole. EL-AY, I tell her, EL-AY! AH EN-AY...and so on.

So, why, or why, didn't we pack it up...just say forget it and leave? I don't know. It's one
of those sick relationships I suppose. She's bitch but she so pretty! He's a selfish asshole, but god do we have a fun time!

Well, maybe, kind of. But I think through all the frustrations it comes down to four reasons we haven't given up...

1. It is the most stunningly beautiful place we have ever seen.
2. It is safe, secure and stable.
3. The people are wonderful.
4. We spent all our money so we have to make it work.

Mostly it is the people, the real, country people. Like Nono, who will make fun of me mercilessly, yet hug me tight and fend of the vultures. Ismael who kindly, and patiently will show Greg how to sharpen his chain-saw blade, or drag him off fishing for a half day (thank you Ismael!). Or Francisca, who always has a hot cup of coffee ready, and some kuchen with gooseberries on a plate when we stop by. Or Bosque, in his high, sing-song voice, dancing in his little living room next door to our rental house, a pan of fry bread cooling on the counter. Bosque, who shuts the drive gate when we forget, or shows me how to dry plums.

No matter. We stay. And I wonder what I will think and write next year? Will I look back and think what a whining ninny? I hope so. Because if next year I still don't have electric and can't buy a gallon of varnish without a Presidential Order, I think I just might start auditioning for survival reality TV shows and make it worth my while.

Night, Ladies and Gentlemen!

Lago General Carrera and Cavernas Marmol

Brief stay in Coyhaique for some car maintenance and new tires. Restful outside of town in the hostel, but a freaking nightmare to drive in town.

South from Coyhaique a side jog and down to a little place called Rio Tranquilo, we found a little sign that read "Camping Natural". After viewing small, box like rooms in hostels charging 30,000 pesos a night, we chose the "flop out the mattress and tarp" option, but thought we would check out a campsite or two, depending on what they charged. A long, switch-back infested road led down to Lago Carrera General with it's mineral turquoise waters and a little clearing on a ledge. Just 50 feet further, a little brightly painted log home sat, and down below that, a sand beach with a dock, wooden boats and a couple of overly friendly campo dogs. No one was home, so we decided to set up, and ask later. The lake is so beautiful it's painful to look at...the color of one of my crayons long ago, one that you knew didn't exist except as a little wax pencil encases in a piece of paper for coloring a make-believe lake.

Pedro rolled down the hill a few hours later. Camping was free. We started a fire, unrolled the mattress in the back of the truck and snapped up the tarp in case of bad weather. All we needed to do if it started to rain was open the front car doors and pull the tarp backwards over the bed of the truck and tuck it under the mattress. But the weather held, and after a walk on the beach, we kept on our coats in the hard wind, and crawled under the feather comforter and watched the stars, and a very strange, large zig-zagging light across the summer Patagonian sky. It never really got dark, and at 5:30 am, it got light again.

Christmas Eve day, we fished, and hung out...I washed some dishes and roamed the beach filling up my pockets with rocks I don't have a use for. Pedro and his friend Tito invited us to a three-course lunch of sopa de marisco, smoked and roasted chicken and lavish salad. Later, I went to town with Pedro, who was waiting for a part for the brakes on his truck (nice to know after we navigated the treacherous road of switchbacks) and bought some food and beer. Pedro stopped at a little house and bought some beef and a lamb shank, which we had later at an asado down by the beach with some wine and Pisco Sour. We crawled into our little truck bed around midnight and by 8 am, we woke to a fabulous Christmas Day.

For Christmas, Pedro took us on his boat to the Cavernas (or Capillas) de Marmol, an unearthly place just off the western shore of Lago General Carerra close to Rio Tranquilo. Marble. Marble islands 150 feet high, carved by water over these past 300,000 years. Turquoise blue water washing white, smooth rocks carved into hobbit-like caves...the water and marble making light and shadow meld into amazing scenes. We spent an hour on the cavern tour, then packed up the truck and headed out to the Ventisqueo Expediciones. This turned out to be one of those "had I known" situations. After an alleged 10-minute walk turned into a half an hour, and entailed a vertical goat path up a rock wall, we reached the look-out platform and viewed an amazing, but receding ice field and glaciers. An iridescent chalk-blue ice field lay 800 feet below, with a surprising covering of rock and sand. The view from the platform would have been wonderful but for the realization that I had to go ... back... down. Which I did, on my ass, for one-third of the trek. Although we still had long light, we were beat, and decided to head back to Rio Tranquilo and find a hostel for a bed and shower. We found a cheap, warm little hostel in town, already filled with Israeli backpackers and crashed for the night.

Friday, January 2, 2009

Mirador del Rio

Knowing poor little La Junta as we do, we weren't anxious to stay there, nor were we anxious to drive all the way in the increasingly bad weather with only an hour or so of light, all the way to Puyiuiapi. After a small argument about passing a fallen tree...between gouging the truck on one side...or sliding into a ditch on the other...and after a nice truckload of men pulled us out of the ditch, we saw a sign for a hospadaje called Mirador del Rio. It is six kilometers from la cruce de La Juntal. Fearing a Bed and Breakfast price tag, we stopped anyway to ask. The Mirador del Rio is one of several rural turismo businesses in the area where local families host travelers in their homes. Here, we stayed in a cozy house with the family on their farm bordering the Rio Palena. This was one of the best stays of all our travels. We were settled in and having coffee in the kitchen with Francisca and her husband, chatting for an hour before we realized they had no electricity. Gooseberry jam cooled in jars on the kitchen counter and the old wood stove blazed. They fired up a generator for a couple of hours so we read in our room and listened to music. The winds were incredibly fierce all night long.

In the morning, after they came in from milking the cows, Fransisca put a large pot of fresh milk on the wood stove to pasteurize and prepared a nice, typical breakfast with homemade bread, homemade jam, homemade butter. The grandchildren, Barbara, seven, and Luca, four, gave us a tour of the farm. We collected eggs, took a walk down by the river, Luca chased sheep while Barbara pointed out and named different plants and flowers. I sat out on the porch having coffee and a cigarette watching the weather clear and saw a matte cup sitting on the ledge. It had some kind of skin covering and I asked Barbara what the covering was. "Juevo de Baca," she said. Ah, skin from the nuts of a cow. Oh lordy. We hung around talking with Fransisca and her husband, asking about the small town of Raul Marin Balmaceda, where we had been headed until the number of downed trees and hideous winds had turned us back. They said it is not possible to get there right now because of the road, and the bridge is out. There is a hot springs you can visit close by, another 15 kilometers down the road, for 1,500 pesos, rustic, but nice. Their eldest son is a certified fishing guide in the area. Mirador del Rio was by far one of the most pleasant places we have ever stayed, so much we hated to leave. But the South of Chile was calling and by 1:30 pm, we were headed towards Puyuhaipi and onward.

December 20, 08..Starting South...

We took of for our Holiday trip south on a windy, rainy Saturday (December 20?) towards La Junta, at the last minute planning a side trip to a little know town on the coast called Raul Marin Balmaceda. Even in the blustery weather, with the clouds and rain squalls, the road just past the bridge into La Junta held great promise. As the clouds and rain passed in waves, we could see high, snow-covered mountain peaks along the road. Rio Palena here...approached the halfway mark to La Junta and the weather worsened. The two stops we made prior to reaching the bridge at La Junta might have been a premonition of things to come, had we been paying attention. Both stops were massive old trees splintered and thrown by the uncharacteristic winds just moments before we came upon them. At the second stop, two men on foot helped drag off the shattered trunks, along with Greg and two wet. freezing, unfortunate bicyclists from New Zealand. At one point, both men turned and ran up the road, looking back. I was watching Greg from the truck (someone had to take pictures) when just to his right a massive limb fell from 40 feet up a tree, crashing on the berm of the road. I could see the look on his face, "Oh! So that's why they were running." Anyway, back to the turn off to Raul Marin Balmaceda. From the intersection, it is 72 kilometers of some of the most impressive, true Patagonia land. Some hard, well-kept farms, forests, rivers, waterfalls and a surprisingly decent road. Except for the damned fallen trees. After tree number two, the winds picking up and the rains becoming colder, we came upon a crew working to clear the biggest tree so far. Chainsaws, chains, a whole crew. A worker came back and said there is no way to get to Raul Marin today...this (the fallen trees) is all the way there, trees down for the next 45 kilometers.