One thing I forgot to tell you....

One thing I forgot to tell you….

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I was generally here to work and not in the taking photos way but back in my engineering days way. Over the last 3 years my mate has built a number of houses with different success on his eucalyptus wood in a remote area of Chile south of Constitucion. When I say remote I mean its about 200m from what used to be the main coastal road and you could get a full 3g signal and internet access anywhere on the land. Well thats part of the story. I was able to facebook and tweet from day one but my spanish isnt up to much so the 25Mb per day I thought I was paying for was actually 25Mb per month. As you go extra internet for free with a top up (up to a maximum 150Mb for a month) of voice and texts that I wasnt using (still have 48 texts and 50 mms messages free if anyone wants them) I thought there was little point once I had got there. I thought the 25Mb would maybe last the week of emails, tweets and facebook but unfortunately not turning off auto update on a few apps used up all my data as I slept on the first night. So much for that great idea!

eucalypus forest los pellines chile
eucalypus forest los pellines chile

Still I was here to get back to nature and I was helping my mate build his house by putting in windows and wiring the place for led lighting and other mains power powered by a large solar panel and a couple of large batteries he had. I did laugh at the putting in windows because where I was brought up when you put someones windows in that meant smashing them. The only other time Id really put a window in properly was when I was ‘revising’ for my finals with a friend of mine at my parents old house. We went outside into the back garden to kick a football about for a break and got one break too many. His second shot I saved the ball but didnt save the stone that went straight through the kitchen window. My mother who was on night shifts rose from her sleep and reminded us two in no uncertain terms that if we really knew what was good for us we would sort it out asap.
Instead of revising that evening we drove around to find a glaziers and then replaced the window.
Id brought some things with me that were hard to get in Chile such as window tinting (not really something we need to do to our windows in N Ireland) so I could only source the stuff drug dealers fit to their cars, and strings of led lights, which is something drug dealers fit to their cars… hmmm.. good job I was off to Chile and not Colombia.
This house was timber framed single room with a wood burning stove in typical rural chilean design. I was staying in the previous iteration which was idential in theoretical design but smaller than most peoples bathrooms in the western world. It reminded me a lot of a bothy, a type of mountain/country shelter built in Ireland and Scotland to shelter people who get caught out in the mountains. I had to remind myself that my mate and his girlfriend stayed there one entire winter. Those of us with first world problems like no soya for our morning latte or cant find replacement batteries for the blu-ray remote have no idea.
Although it is a reminder of how we used to live in Ireland, certainly in my lifetime and Ive been in old bungalows in the north and west of Ireland recently that started off as the same one room construction with turf burning range.
My mate decided when they realised they were going to have a baby that bigger premises were required so luckily enough my trip coincided with some of the last preparations for winter.
I wasnt worried about the accommodation, it was better than camping which I thought I was going to do.
I wasnt worried about drinking the well water, which I resisted for about 3 days and then thought what the hell, Im thirsty!
I wasnt worried about working in the 20-30C heat because it has been a long time since I have been able to do anything like this at home.
No what I was most worried about where the dogs.
Im not scared of dogs, I love dogs and in general dogs (like small babies) love me…
But there were 8 of them, 5 Belgian shepherds and 3 German shepherds and they were a pack with my mate and his girlfriend as leaders and they were all protecting this 5 month old baby….
…that was what I was worried about, would they let me onto their patch and would they let me anywhere near her…

I really neednt have worried, I paid each their dues in turn and then put them in their place! By the time I cut my hand open on one of the windows and blood everywhere, two of them ran to my defence.
Although I have to say opening the door of the ‘bothy’ every morning to see this lot come bounding down towards you, throwing up clouds of dust backlit by the sun, is not a time to show fear of any description.
Im trying very hard now not to look for a dog when I get home. That would be the end of my travelling and probably me settled down into the old man routine…
Of course with this many dogs out in the wilds you have to deal with the flea problem. Which I did by allowing myself to be bitten at each and every opportunity. What the mosquitos missed, the fleas got. I had used sprays but working and sweating for 8-10 hours a day just made things worse. My face hadnt looked that bad since my mid teens!
Still it was a far cry from the time I was nearly hospitalised in Buenos Aires bitten probably close to 100 times in less than a few minutes in the mosquito equivalent of carpet bombing.
Other than dogs the woods had some chickens, ducks, turkeys and a run was being prepared for rabbits. All very nice when you get the initial tour but at 3am the next morning when you dont know which to kill first, the rooster crowing to early or the dog barking at the rooster crowing. By the end of the week something will surely die a mysterious death if this continues.
The one advantage of working hard was you get to enjoy your food and some of this was again unlike anything I had tasted before, everything local including bananas, watermelon, potatoes, tomatoes. None of this picked before riped, artificially riped or stored for days nonsense, straight from plant to plate. Superb.
Of course with no running water the problem of just how foxes shit in the woods had to be addressed. Not so much the woods but a big plastic bucket with a wooden frame over it. You do your business then cover it with wood shavings and then pound it down ready for the next person. The shavings in this case were eucalyptus which has anti bacterial properties as well as smelling nice and ultimately a very good disposal tool for the waste.
There really is something special to having a dump out in the fresh air with noone around with magnificent views of the sun setting over the pacific. Id not go so far as to say poetic or life changing but getting there.

sun setting through eucalypus forest los pellines chile
sun setting through eucalypus forest los pellines chile

One thing I hadnt been prepared for though was the noise. We were at most 2-300m from the south pacific pounding away on the beaches and the roar was constant. Except for the time it wasnt and it all went quiet. Just about the time my mate got a text from his father asking if we had felt the earth tremors. Good job we were already above tsunami line in the woods. Well normal tsunamis. If it was the end of the world tsunami it would be a great place to see it come rolling out of the pacific ocean mist.
Anyway that sort of masks the wee questions running round my head about how many tremors and saying I wished they werent talking about this series of tremors being similar to ones just before a really big quake. Ive never been in a really big quake, just a few minor ones but I slept through them. Funny when you wake in a hotel in Japan and people wonder why you didnt evacuate like the normal people. Evacuate when? During the earthquake? What earthquake.
I hate it when the earth moves and I miss it.
By the end of the week we had most of the work done that I had planned on but just needed some supplies to make the temporary wiring more permanent, so it was a bus ride into Constitucion for more stuff and to book my return bus ride.

small local minibus bus service los pellines chile
small local minibus bus service los pellines chile

When I say bus ride I really do mean ride, the bus is only really stationary for a fraction of a section and is accelerating hard as you try to plan your now ‘swinging into a seat’ arse firmly on something other than the floor. By the return journey I had mastered the art of picking two empty seats, not together but one after the other. By the laws of physics if you aimed for a point forward of the nearest one you should be able to make one of them or at the very least arrest your downward movement to the floor with the base of your spine. These wee minibusses even have conductors and they must be very fit or Chile is littered with loads of them lying by the roadside. They help people with their luggage as the driver accelerates away leaving them running beside the bus.

inside small local minibus bus service los pellines chile
inside small local minibus bus service los pellines chile

We spent most of the time in Constitucion running around dentist practises. Not for me this time, it was my turn to take my mate who had a toothache which was building into almost unbearable. I say almost because I think me stopping to take photos between the first dentist, the x-ray dentist and the first dentist again made it slighly tip into the unbearable stage. Well I just cant help it, hes a big lad and if he survived winter in the Bothy and the previous mud hut version which was next to useless then he would be fine.
I told him in true explorer speak to go on without me but he was worried about me getting lost. I was going to argue about how could I get lost in a town centre of about 300m2 but thought better of it and put the camera away.
Teeth temporarily fixed and electric wiring bought we thought we’d brave the trying to jump off the bus without getting run over by it return leg home.
A few whiskeys later and all was right with the world and I set up to take a few photos of the best sky I had ever seen. All week I had difficulty making out the contellations because there were just so many stars in the sky and the milky way was as clear as Id ever seen it. No light polution here and I hope that the whiskey fueled photo session does turn out slightly better than the hazy version I remember.
I returned to the bothy and lit the fire, the now familiar smell of eucalyptus hit me as well as the heat. On the first night I said not to worry about lighting the fire as it would only drop to about 13 degrees or so…. Next night the fire was lit.
My last full day was spent wiring and re-wiring until we were happy with the layouts and lots of soldering and screwing in and then standing back and then thinking ‘do you know what, another led there would be great’. Well thats how it started and as the rum flowed it developed into the most magical lighting system ever created by man.
We went for a walk down to the local shop to get supplies for our last night dinner. I normally take people out on my last night but so far from anywhere and with the little one going to bed early we just stayed in but not before Id walked down and put my hand in the Southern Pacific Ocean crashing on the shoreline. 10 days previous Id put my hand in the Northern Atlantic Ocean on the north coast of Ireland but that wasnt exactly a comparable experience, no danger of frost bite here!

sun setting over sandy beach on the pacific ocean los pellines chile
sun setting over sandy beach on the pacific ocean los pellines chile

As it was the last night we broke out the gallon of local red wine we had bought for 2 quid, lit a bonfire, dug out the air pistol and tried to shoot anything that was moving, and if it wasnt moving we shot it anyway, but the only things moving were beer cans and plastic bottles.

burning eucalyptus wood in an intense camp fire los pellines chile
burning eucalyptus wood in an intense camp fire los pellines chile

No sign of the ‘mice’ that hung around the place which might explain some of the scratching I heard one night in the bothy. The cat ( I forgot about the cat) caught one of these ‘mice’ and brought it up to the house and started to devour it. The mouse was a bit on the large size, in fact it was a it on the large size for a small rat. That would explain why the rooster was crowing at all hours and the chickens hadnt laid any eggs in a couple of weeks. When I mentioned moving the decomposing rat off the decking after the cat had finished with it I was told just to leave it for the wasps… …and they duely arrived and finished off most of what the cat left.
On the final morning the dog had stopped barking at the rooster but I was getting used to trying to snatch quick naps between its dawn chorus of 3am and whenever I had had enough and chased it telling it to ‘shut the fuck up’ rather loudly.

milky way and stars in the sky over woods in los pellines chile
milky way and stars in the sky over woods in los pellines chile

Today though I was woken by an angry torrent of Spanish from what I assumed was one of the local farm neighbours. Now you dont need to be speaking in tongues or Sherlock Holmes to work out that a middle aged countrified chilean shouting a lot and waving a dead chicken as two of the dogs tried to make themselves as small as possible means theres an apology in order.
Of course the perennial smart arse in me was about to suggest that its ‘chicken tonight then?’ but thought better of it incase his english was better than my spanish.
As we walked down to the bus on my way back to Santiago my mate just threw the following one out there ‘did you get much trouble from the Tarantulas?’
What tarantulas?
The one whose holes are all around the compound.
What holes?
Oh sorry meant to show you the tarantula holes on the first day so you wouldnt walk on them at night when you went out for a piss.
I think my mouth was still open at this stage.
Oh dont worry they wont kill you unless you are susceptible to bites and stings or something.
Have you seen the state of my face? Do you remember translating for me in the pharmacy after the mosquito attack?
OK maybe I should have mentioned it sooner….
…and about the snakes..
Then I thought about the rats, flea bites, bubonic plaque and in just over a week I would be boarding a ship for 11 days with a ‘point of no return’.
Sure maybe the symptoms would show by then….

I hate goodbyes, Ive spent too many sad moments in bus stations, train stations and airports so we talked shite for a half hour waiting for the main bus back to santiago and then promised to message later that evening on Facebook as I left and he went off to get his teeth fixed. Id spent a great week with my friends and really bonded with their daughter, my goddaughter and I hope it isnt 4 years until I see them again.
That 6 hours back on the bus didnt feel like the continuation of the adventure but rather the end of one…
…to be continued…

…but before I do a few words about my mate. He will probably read this and I dont want to blow smoke up his ass but he is truly one of the most remarkable people I have ever met. Hes worked on 4 continents that I know of, in a series of professions (including bloody good photographer) and having had the dream of building his own home on his own land for years has done it and is doing it. I hadnt seen him in 4 years and probably 2 years before that but within 10 mins of the bus ride picking me up everything is normal again. So if you are reading this, keep living the dream mate, its bloody hard work and very few people have the inner strength to continue on. Proud to call you a friend and so glad I got to be a small part of the project.

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