Saturday, October 30, 2010

Temuco, Villaricca and Curarrehue

Villarrica, it was raining so the Mapuche fair was not really open
I spent the night in Temuco after a 5 hour journey from Puerto Montt in a lovely clean hostel. The next day I visited a Mapuche fair and bought some Merkén ( a mapuche spice of toasted coriander, chilli and sometimes other things). I then got on a bus to Villarrica hoping to visit the Mapuche museum there, because it was Saturday, it was closed and it was also raining, so, back on the bus to Curarrehue. After much asking around in the pouring rain, I eventually found the Mapuche museum and it was open, hooray! Curarrehue counts 80% of its population as Mapuche so it was really interesting for me to visit. Mapuche people are still kind of fighting a war of independence against Chile. Currently they are still independent but it is how the politics can co-exist that is difficult. There are often Mapuche protests in Temuco. There is  a Mapuche language which they are trying to maintain (though the Mapuche also speak spanish) and many customs and foods. As the museum was quiet I had my own personal guide in the shape of a Mapuche man who took me around the museum and explained why each artefact is important in Mapuche culture. It really brought it alive for me, much better than just reading the descriptions. After visiting the museum I had another battle asking for directions (People were confused as to which end of the village the Cocina Mapuche was) I walked a long time in the wrong direction (still in the pouring rain) then a long time in the right direction, to finally find Cocina Mapuche where chef Anita Epulef served me some traditional Mapuche cuisine. It was absolutely delicious. I have never tasted anything quite like it. Unfortunately, it is quite possible I never will again, as most of the ingredients were native to Chile/ South America, such as piñoñes (the fruits of the araucania tree) so it will be hard if not impossible to get those flavours at home.
The Mapuche museum in Villarrica, closed unfortunately

A Mapuche Ruka, unfortunately it was part of the museum which was closed so I could not visit

Mapuche instruments inside the Mapuche museum in Curarrehue

A kind of Mapuche pushchair without wheels, it allows the baby to participate in family life

Mapuche textiles

An old style Mapuche weaving machine

Inside the main museum hall which is based on a Mapuche ceremony house with a central fire pit

The view out of the hall

The design of the museum is based on the Mapuche ceremony house


After crossing the Andes by bus into Chile I arrived 8 hours later in Puerto Montt (or Muerto Montt (Dead Montt) as the locals refer to it). It was really just a place to pass through quickly, which I did, I hopped on the ferry to Chiloé which was quite beautiful. You can see the Andes in the distance and I saw penguins bobbing past the boat. Then another bus ride brought me to Castro, where I met Blanca´s son who showed me around and found me a good and very cheap hostel with a sea view. Seafood is wonderful here. I had fresh salmon right at the port where they were bringing it in off the boats. Even smoked salmon tastes like its just jumped onto your plate. After seeing the sights of Castro, I took a bus to Ancud where I had Curanto al Hoyo (a kind of stew with clams, mussels, pork, sausage and chicken) it was absolutely delicious, I think sea food will never be the same again for me. It was a brief visit but I am really glad I had a chance to see Chiloé. It is full of history of mythical sea creatures and years of independence before finally joining Chile following the earthquake in 1960 which destroyed most of Ancud. It apparently also always rains which is why it is so green, but I was very lucky and had two whole sunny days.
Los Palifitos (houses on stilts that, you

Friday, October 29, 2010


Bariloche is situated right on Lago Nahuel Huapi bordered by mountains

Architecture in the central plaza (centro civico) by Ezequiel Bustillo
I stayed a night in Bariloche on my way to Chiloé as the bus left really early in the morning. It was an eventful trip across the border, with views of the Andes and lakes, and then having my chia seeds confiscated at the border. Bariloche is famous for chocolate, it tastes like swiss chocolate.

Monday, October 18, 2010

Natural Construction in El Bolson

This is the cabaña (used as a shed) but it shows
the construction of La Casita, with bottles in pallets

You can see the finish with the cob mix here

And here is the option with straw in the pallet

This is the house or a friend of Blanca´s. It is not yet finished. It is made
of earth bricks. They will render it using a mixture of milk, mud clay and
horse manure. This is apparently the permaculture method.

A close up of the adobe bricks with a kind of cob mix
used as mortar

This is the house of Blanca´s son. He built this with the help of
volunteers (WWOOFERS mostly) over 4 years. About 4 or 5 people
were needed to work on it every day. Again it is a wooden post
frame with a cob mix between, but with a stone plinth. It is very artistic
with lots of glass artwork in the windows.

El Bolson

I thought this sign was funny - very hippy!

La Feria, this is artesanal fair is full of interesting crafts. I helped Blanca
to sell seeds, plants and the family business of wind chimes here

La Feria with mountain backdrop and blossom on the trees

Plaza Pagano, with the fair behind.
The centre of everything in El Bolson

These birds really shriek and wake me up in the morning
I have no idea what they are

Apart from earth houses, most houses here are very Germanic.

Another Pachamama sculpture, mother earth is a kind of religion

The road back from El Bolson to where I am living which is right
on the lateral line 42 degrees exactly. It also represents the border
between Rio Negro and Chubut.

Work in the garden

Me with the Machina Abuela (Grandma machine)

A drawing of La Huerta, so that each year Blanca can
organise what goes where

The greenhouse

Many different types of compost

A big pile of compost that I sieved ready for small plants

The vegetable garden in Spring

Lago Puelo

Pierrette and I visited Lago Puelo on Thursday. It is where all of El Bolson go in the summer. As it was spring all of the cafe´s were shut so it was very peaceful.
View from the pier

A native plant to patagonia with yellow flowers

View from the mirador over Lago Puelo

La Casita

My bedroom
I am trying out living in La Casita ( the small house that Blanca built with a team of WWOOFERS and family). It is about 4m x 4m on 2 floors. It is made using pallets filled with straw or old bottles, then a liquid clay mix is poured over. After this it is ´rendered´ with a cob mix of straw, clay and sand. The pallets sit between a timber post frame. It has a green roof over timber rafters so I can hear crickets at night. They sound like they are in the room with me. The walls are therefore quite thin (about a pallet thickness, less than 200mm) so it is too thin for a thermal mass effect, I think. However, it seems to be warm at night and cool during the day, which is perfect. It has some tree shade on the East and South side but the sun comes from the North here, so most of the heat is still getting to the house. However we have had some cool days where it is absolutely freezing at night in La Casita and in the morning. El Bolson sits in a little pocket valley in the Andes and we do not see the sun until about 11am as it is hiding behind the mountains. I also do not see the sunset for the same reason on the other side. Despite this it is light from 8am until 9pm. Although La Casita is very sustainable using only recycled materials or renewable in the case of the timber post frame, it is not making the best use of the thermal mass properties of cob.

A small kitchenette

The view from my room

Tuesday, October 12, 2010

Hike up Pilquitron in the Andes

On Thursday last week, Evie, Pierrette and I took a hike up to the top of Pilquitron. Unfortunately the summit was too covered in snow, so we nearly made it! The views were fantastic ( see below) and the hot chocolate at the Refugio near the top was amazing. Also I tried Torta Galesa (welsh cake). This is a fruit cake with a chocolate topping which is made by the small pocket of welsh people in Patagonia. I am not going there unfortunately, but apparently they speak welsh! We left at 8am and were back by 5pm with a nice break at the top so, if even if the summit was passable, it would have made it a very long day. About 45 minutes before the refugio is a wooden sculpture park, where each year in the summer, people come up and make a festival out of making more wood carvings.

The view halfway up

Evie and Pierrette at the entrance to Bosque Tallado
(Wooden sculptures)

Mama Pucha - she looks scary!

Another sculpture

A pig!

A mountain cat

The summit is still all the way up there...

Wednesday, October 6, 2010

My first WWOOF - La Huerta Organica de Blanca Rosa

The view from the garden of Piliquitron in the Andes
The vegetable garden, with recycled glass bottle borders
Following a 22 hour bus trip to Bariloche and then to El Bolson and then a taxi ride, I finally arrived at La Huerta Organica de Blanca Rosa (The vegetable garden of Blanca Rosa). It is beautiful here. When working in the garden I have a view of the Andes and El Bolson in the valley below. Blanca operates a Permacultura Urbana here. For example, last week I planted lettuce between garlic, because lettuce is a good companion for garlic. Also permaculture followers believe that recycled glass bottles attract heat to the soil through light, and therefore they make excellent borders for plant beds. So naturally these appear everywhere in Blanca's Huerta. She also follows Biodynamic gardening principles which is basically planting by the moon. It is based on the fact that the moon and water have a connection through gravity. It therefore makes sense that plants would also be affected as they depend on water. This means that some days are good for planting lettuce but not for harvesting fruits, for example. It is not difficult to follow if you have a calendar and has been tested to give good results. A strange thing here, is that we are asked to water the plants at the hottest time of the day to ´cool the plants down´, the opposite of Britain (and America apparently) where it is important to water at the coolest times to conserve water. We drink water here directly from the mountains, so perhaps the abundance of water means they are not so worried about conservation here.


Above: Me and Evie and our masterpiece
Below: A close up view

Blanca collects old and broken tiles to use to make new floors in her house and her new houses (more on that later) so this week me and Evie ( An American WWOOFer from Colorado) have been making many mosaics for Blanca´s conservatory. This requires lots of patience but has been very rewarding. I would quite like to do this in my bathroom when I finally get one! As an aside, Evie also knows a lot about barefoot running because it is very common in the states and Colorado is the location of the Leadville 100 ( If you have read Born to Run by Chris Mcdougall, you will understand the significance of this). In Colorado it is apparently very common to see lots of people barefoot running, so I would fit right in. She has also met Lance Armstrong (!!) at the Leadville 100 which she did on her mountain bike.

Back to Blanca - since she found her house 3 years ago, with the help of family and many WWOOFers she has transformed her house. What began as a single storey concrete block structure, has become a 2 storey timber structure with wattle and daub (various different mixes to provide different levels of smoothness) and a green roof. When I am asleep I can hear grasshoppers above me. All the floors are made of the recycled tile mosaic - each section has a story about the different nationalities of WWOOFer who made it. The house always feels warm even though outside in the mornings, it is freezing.

Blanca Rosa´s house

La Casita
Behind Blanca´s house is ´La Casita´ (small house) where Blanca really went for it with the wattle and daub and also cob (cob is cob in Spanish). Again a timber structure filled in with various forms of cob or wattle and daub, recycled tile floor and a green roof.