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green dreams of new zealand

When Angus and I finally arrived in Pucón (two and a half hours late), Chris, the kiwi uncle, was there to pick us up.  “No worries, mate,” he said as he lugged our bags to the back of his pickup and drove us the half hour out of town to his deer ranch.  Dagmar, his German partner, met us at the door with hugs, and even though it was 11:00 at night, had tea and fresh berries with cake waiting for us.  After 13 hours of being on the road, struggling to communicate in Spanish, fighting boredom and culture shock, the warm welcome, hot tea, and unmistakable kiwi accent felt like a dream.  We sat at the table making small talk – in English – while an antique clock ticked away on the wall and small moths fluttered against the yellow table cloth.  Maps, antlers, and Ansel Adams prints decorated the walls, and I had to work really hard to remember that this was Chile.  Angus and I were given our own private cabaña, with warm duvets, hot running water, and a full kitchen with a stocked fridge.  Chris walked us to the door, showed us where the key was kept, and invited us to come by in the morning for a better look at the farm.  Angus and I blinked at each other.  “Average hook up, eh?”  Angus the Sarcastic commented.  We laughed, then fell into bed to sleep the sleep of those who weren’t getting on another bus any time soon.

In the morning, the sound of the cabaña roof being irrigated woke me, and I stepped outside to see shimmering green grass and steep green hills, misty behind the spray of the water.  Volcán Villarrica was bright white against the sky, and the other local volcanoes, Llaima and Quetrepillan, looked jagged and prominent further along the horizon.  Chris came round with the 4-wheeler (imported from NZ) and hauled Angus and me to the worksheds where his Mapuche (Chile’s indigenious tribe) workers waited with the tractor and a trailer full of hay.  “We’re going up the top,” he told us.  “Hang on.”  It took about twenty minutes to get half way up before the tractor ran out of gas, and Angus and I were obliged to walk the rest of the way while Chris and the workers went back down to top up the tank.  I was wearing long pants.  Chris had told me earlier, “My workers aren’t used to seeing women show their legs.  The Ang-man and the volcano at the top of Chris's farm.If you wear pants it’ll keep them from falling off the tractor.”  The track was steep and dusty, and it wasn’t long before the long pants were sticking to my legs.  The plus side was that they kept the tábanos off my skin.  These were huge, Jurassic Park bugs, flies, black and orange and persistent.  Their bite, Chris said, is quite painful, but it takes them so long between landing and biting that they make easy targets for killing.  Angus and I slapped and swore our way up the hill, finally reaching the top, out of breath and sweaty and covered in bruises from where we’d administered countless tábano death blows.  It was worth it.  We could see all three volcanoes, the farm, and the lake from the top paddock.  “This is just like New Zealand…it’s almost a bit disappointing,” Angus said.  “I know,” I replied.  “That’s why I like it.”

We spent a week relaxing and exploring the farm, the lake, the town, and the surrounding mountains.  Pucón is the Queenstown of Chile: touristy, trendy, and expensive.  Chileans as well as Europeans flock to the Región de Los Lagos during the months of January and February to go white water rafting, to hike Volcán Villarrica, to soak in natural thermal pools, and to spend money along the manicured main street of the town.  Chris’s farm is well-located in that it’s far enough away to feel secluded and peaceful, but close enough for him and Dagmar to do good business selling their venison to local restaurants, where it’s served as a regional delicacy.  Angus taught me to windsurf on the lake in front of the main house, and Dagmar helped both of us plan some of our trip south to Patagonia.  We learned how to navigate the local bus routes and spent time wandering both in town and around the closest national park, Huerquehue.  One day hike took us up into araucaria territory – the monkey puzzle tree.  Its bark is a jigsaw of odd shapes and rough edges, while its branches are long, slender and uplifted, like the tail of a tree-hugging mammal.  On another day, we rode with Dagmar for three hours to Valdivia, a coastal university town, sooty and run down and more authentic-feeling than either of the cities Angus and I had seen so far.  We discovered the contemporary art museum, located in the remains of an old brewery.  The building was deliciously industrial and rich with character; the exhibits paled in comparison.  The long drive between Pucón and Valdivia also provided time to listen to Dagmar’s yarns of being a sailor and sail-maker, an outspoken, direct German woman in a man’s field.  Her trade has brought her to Antarctica, the Carribean islands, and beyond, and her straightforward, talkative method of storytelling, punctuated with long bursts of laughter, made the miles pass quickly.

The weather changed at the end of the week: from hot, stifling days to 50F (10C) with rain and wind.  The volanoes have fresh snow on their summits.  Summer seems to have fled early.  “Extremely unusual!” Dagmar told us, shaking her head.  Angus and I are on the move as well, from Pucón to Puerto Varas.  We’re heading south to Patagonia and Tierra del Fuego.  Yesterday we rode the bus for an easy-as-pie five hours, and will explore Puerto Varas a bit in between the raindrops before boarding a ferry in Puerto Montt and sailing for four days along the Patagonian coast to Puerto Natales.  Here’s hoping for sunshine!

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