A Travellerspoint blog

50 Shades of Dirt

In other words; Eco building near P煤con, Chile

sunny 26 °C

Well well, hasn't the past week and a half been interesting! I know we said 2 weeks we'd be away but we're back on the grid again. I'm sure some of you whom are in regular contact with us will know that the building place didn't bode well with our expectations but I guess maybe we shouldn't have had expectations in the first place. Ah it wasn't that bad haha, just a bit awkward. Anyway, basically I wrote at the end of each day how our day went and how we felt etc, so each day is sort of in the past and present tense. I haven't gone back to change any of that so you're reading as it happened day by day. After we arrived in P煤con at 8am (night bus from Santiago - don't even ask how that went...) we were picked up by Lucy in their jeep and we headed out to the site up in the hills beside the volcano Villarica. The first thing we were told was that the volcano is on red alert and in "eruption mode" which was exciting. So enjoy reading our experience for the past one and a half weeks at the BOSH Eco House Building Site!

Day 1 on site (Wednesday 18th Feb)

Introduced with breakfast, met the volunteers and had a tour of the site. The main house they were building protrudes out of the hill with an earth bag wall wooden structure. We went to check out the tents we'd be staying in and to spray with bug spray (we were advised on this). No sign of any man eating insects so far but something had taken a poo somewhere outside the tent. And it was not insect sized that's for sure! We helped cutting down a tree and skinned some bamboo shoots for most of the morning. Then after lunch we worked on the earth bag walls and oiled some beams with linseed for the house that they'd cut down a few days earlier. Done for the day and we headed into Puc贸n for more bug spray, wifi and shopped around for some activities for the weekend!
Got some ideas - plenty of them - as this is the adventure capital of Chile. By the time we got back to base, after being squished in the back of a seven seater with 10 people and a good few bags of cement, we were pretty exhausted and ready to hit the sack. We picked up our sleeping bags and headed outside into the surprisingly cold air and followed a small fox all the way to our tent out in the forest (they really didn't need to have it so far away - we think we'll move it). We wormed ourselves into our sleeping bags and as per usual Kathrin has just gone out like a light bulb in I'd say about 20-30 seconds after the torch is switched off.


Day 2 (Thursday)

Sleeping in two sleeping bags to keep warm, body temperature was not very efficiently regulated throughout the night. So feeling pretty groggy and stiff after our first night in the tent we went to the main house (another one, not the one we're working on) to eat some pretty stodgy porridge and coffee (not as stodgy!) to start the day. Katty and I were put on cement duty. They're working on the flooring of the main Eco house so we were mixing the cement that was taken to the floors. This process was fun for probably the first couple of mixes but after that for the rest of the day it got pretty laborious haha. Still we are being promoted to floor-laying tomorrow so it will be great to lay the stuff we spent all day making. I went for a run (my first in SA). Was perfect temperature in the shade. It actually gets quite cold here during the evening and night. You wouldn't want to go outside for very long in shorts! During the day it's between 20 and 30 so nice and warm. We ended the day with a bonfire and roasted marshmallows.


I'm going to mention that it hasn't been as nice an experience as we'd hoped for so far. The group here hasn't really gelled very well and we don't have a huge amount in common with the peeps here. It's okay, but there's a few moaners who're just pissing us off and others who just literally have nothing to say and just mope around! Also, to be fair it is actually pretty cold at night and uncomfortable to sleep so kathrin + bad nights sleep = GREAT morning chat. 馃槓. Hopefully things get a little easier with the group, but if they don't we may have to make our excuses and get out a little earlier than planned!

Day 3 (Friday) on site

Today was much better, however solely because we got to lay a cement floor, and the two people handing down their knowledge were a lovely American couple whom we like. Sad to say though they are leaving in 2 days. Great to learn how to lay the floor; we just got stuck in to get a feel for it then we were well on our way. Laying another floor after some lunch - chickpea soup. Very common in Chile! We've had a few good Chilean meals so far. And I must say, it is gooooood to be cooked for! 馃槵. Day 3 (Friday) marked the end of the week and also one of the volunteers' birthdays so we had a big barbecue and party in the local clubhouse. We played a game called Doubt (the dice game that's played on the boat in Pirates of the Caribbean) which was good fun. Everytime you lost you had to drink and you lost a dice. I wasn't very lucky and was placed beside a local guy whom apparently was the doubt master (not good if you're beside him). I lost my first 5 out of 6 goes (because of him) and therefore got pretty intoxicated early on and was the first out. Ironically it was him that poured the drink for everyone that lost; Pisco, a Brazilian spirit that Chileans mix with coke. We did have a good time but we're still finding it difficult to mingle with the people here. It's just often awkward and/or boring. For travellers, they don't talk much!


Day 4 (Saturday)

Hungover. Big time. At least, I was. Spent most of the morning in the hammocks.


In the afternoon we got the bus into Puc贸n. Basically a game of "let's see how many people can pile into this small van and drive around picking up more people". Was a bit of a slow day but we walked around P煤con and booked a day of kayaking for tomorrow (sunday) so we're pretty excited about that!
Things got worse for us today in terms of mingling. It's difficult to explain, but really we don't feel very welcomed. We feel quite alone actually even though we're surrounded by about 10-15 people. After a really squashed bus home we really both had it with everything and we took out our frustration on each other a bit which probably wasn't the best thing, seeing as though we've only got each other! But we soon realised that arguing wasn't going to help and we contemplated the thought of making excuses and leaving earlier than planned. We decided that we'll see how it goes with a few more days and see then how we feel. No point in being in a place that is making us uncomfortable and awkward when we've given up part of Chile to do this! Anyway, kayaking tomorrow - should be good!

Day 5 (Sunday) on site

Wow what a day! We got up early...ish.. (08.30) and got a lift down to the bottom of the road (4km road) to catch a bus into Puc贸n. Turned out the owner of the kayak place passed us at the bus stop and recognised us (from the other day) so gave us a lift in. Saved 8Kr (68p) on a bus ride so the day was looking good so far haha. Once we got wet-suited up we headed down to a lake with John, our blonde haired American guide for the day. It was just me and Katty which was perfect as we got plenty of attention. We paddled for a bit to get used to the kayaks and then we had a go at the "something roll?!" Which involves getting back topside if you go under. I sucked big time because I tried to over analyse the move and just ended up drinking a lot of water. Katty nailed that bit, which was pretty impressive, however he struggled to maintain a straight line while paddling so I didn't feel completely out-done 馃槅 Then we went back to the base house and had some lunch. Well I say some lunch - for an "included" lunch on an activity like that we were well impressed. Very tasty sandwich with everything in it including avocado (the avocado is amazing here) a peach, banana, yogurt, crisps, coke and a whole packet of biscuits each. We were happy. After lunch we headed out to the river that we'd be kayaking down. The lake water was really warm but the river which came straight from the glacier on the volcano (villarica) was icy cold so we didn't fancy tumbling over in the kayak down stream. It was quite a gentle ride down the river. The water level is quite low at the moment as it hasn't rained since early December. Still we had some awesome views of the volcano and the water was so clear you could see all the way to the bottom in some of the deeper parts. Was really beautiful and peaceful. Kathrin fell in twice which actually was pretty scary because I couldn't see her underneath if she was struggling to get out or not and I was pretty useless strapped into my kayak. But she managed to slip out handily both times. At the end of the 1 hour trip down the river we (well me and the guide - Katty had had enough water) jumped of a rope swing which was pretty cool. I was a bit nervous as its a common "funny fail" on YouTube to face plant on the river edge using one of these things. I didn't face plant :) That normally involves overly large people who can't hang on due to excess weight though. By that time it was 4 and we headed home on the bus and began to walk up the 4km mountain road towards the site. As we were walking up the owners were driving down and heading to a circus in town so we hitched along with them and two other volunteers (new ones) for the evening. Was a pretty impressive show and the "clown" act pulled me up on stage and made me copy his dances on the spot. I decided not to hold back and went for it. Enough said about that! 馃槀 they had some crazy acts with the finale being 5 dirt bikes criss crossing over each other in a round metal cage. Was really intense!


After a really good day away from the site we were feeling a bit recharged and lifted up by the two new volunteers who'd just joined - an English girl and an Australian girl. They seemed more upbeat and up for chatting than the others. It was quite late by the time we eventually got home and I actually heard Kathrin Repstad say "oooh I can't wait to get back to the tent and sleep!" Normally she dreads it. We've decided to put our expectations of the situation we're in behind us and continue on with getting into the work were doing here and focus on learning some new skills and soak up some useful info. (I'll write a little bit more tomorrow about the place were at and what it's like etc) good night!

Day 6

Well so far I have not really talked about the volcano at all. It's basically right beside us, however there is a big ravine between it and us, so we are safe from lava flow for all those concerned! Also when lava comes out it usually goes down the other side! So it is still on red alert, which is exciting, and mostly at least once a day there is smoke coming out of it. One night we saw an orange glow on the top from our site :) if I'm gonna be honest, I'm hoping for a little bit of action before we go! I'll probably add in a photo or two either here or in the gallery for you to have a look at. We can see the volcano from the eating table in the main "house" so it's a great view of a smoking mountain every morning whilst eating breakfast. Won't get that every day!


Also I haven't really mentioned about Puc贸n much either. Or maybe I have in an earlier day. We've only been into the town a few times as it is 15km away. It's quite small, but is heavily supported by the tourism. In the off season - so winter (May-August) - about 20,000 people live there. During the spring, summer and autumn they have about 140,000 people in the town. We're quite lucky because we've arrived at the end of the season so things are all calming down, but there's still plenty to do. In town there are 3 things to see. You can either browse all the adventure tour operators, go to the "beach", a lake beach with black rock sand from old eruptions, or browse the 100s of similar shops that all sell the same touristy crap. Well, I guess it's not crap. But it's stuff really for tourists. The merchandise is based around the Mapuche tribe, which is the only tribe in Chile not to be defeated by the Spanish...apparently. So they're pretty proud and make a lot of money selling touristy crap! There are also many many restaurants and bars which, so far, have all sold delicious food. The bread here, thank jebus, is pretty good in the restaurants so the burgers and sandwiches are awesome.

Today was a good day (Monday, day 6). We were earth-bagging, which is literally putting an earth mix (dry mud, clay and chalk) into a long bag and making walls out of it. It's pretty slow going but it's interesting. See pictures for illustration as it's difficult to explain 馃榿 had beautiful sunny weather again, and I realised that I burnt my nose during the kayak session as I forgot sun cream. So that was a bit stupid and my nose is now peeling. Me and kathrin went for a run after work which was nice and a dog that normally hangs around the site came with us which was nice 馃榿 we call him psycho jack because most of the time he loves you then randomly he will lash out and growl. Very temperamental animal!
Oh and randomly during dinner this evening a huge cow ran past the window and hurtled down towards the Eco house. Not sure what happened but it didn't come back up. I hope we don't go down tomorrow and find the house in bits!
Anyway, that's about it for tonight, we're heading to bed early...again. We thought (for some stupid reason as well because it is a "building site") that this was going to be a rather relaxing 2 weeks as we'd be in the one place for the whole time but we've ended up working until at least 4/4.30 every day if not longer sometimes. Still it's not too bad as there's always enough good food and the owners sometimes buy us alcohol :) so bonus 馃槵 haha. G'night!


Day 7 (Tuesday)

Never been so dirty. Dirt dirt and more dirt. Mixing duty again today for the earth bags. Also to top things off the tank where all the main house water goes has been full for the past 3 days and the guys who came out and emptied it, didn't do a good job and its full again. So we haven't showered for the past 3 days now. Should be fixed soon. Been one dirty week so far! Resorted to washing me hair and legs with ice cold outdoor hose just to get the caked dirt off. I was mixing the mix all day today whilst kathrin helped with the earth bag laying in the morning and joined me in the afternoon with the mixing. Been mixing for two days straight now and I can feel every muscle in my back (tent is not helping with that problem!). Think when we go back up north I'm going to buy a weeks worth of massages! Once you get a good rhythm going with the cement mixer (using that to make the mix) it was good but it's best just to stick to one job for the whole day, otherwise you have people coming in and messing up your system and/or rhythm. Everything is really trial and error here, for everyone, not just the volunteers! So once you get good at something your sort of condemned to that job for a little while haha. So if you want to try lots of different techniques and things, just be a bit useless at everything and you'll be rotated round haha. I've been mixing now for two days but I wouldn't mind a swap for tomorrow! Actually, there'll be someone cementing a floor tomorrow so all the mixing will have to be done by hand on a wooden board with shovels. Earth bagging is quite a slow process as it is without slowing down the mixing! Right now we're working on the volunteer house that will house the future volunteers whom will finish the main house and surrounding landscape. The house is pretty big and is dug into the hill with a "living" roof (bit of grass on the top). The earth bag walls are lined with a layer of mud mix (haven't done that yet) and then a form of plaster is smeared over that. It's a pretty cool house but right now is a bit of a mess. Bits of it are covered in mud or plaster and other bit still not finished with the earth bags. However it should look pretty awesome when it's finished.
We've been feeling a lot better again today, hardly any negativity (the two new peeps really helped our morale) and another Canadian couple arrived today whom were nice. We're still leaving on Thursday though; so in 2 days. We've booked a private double room in a hostel in Pucon for 2 nights (needed!). I'm going to do a second day of kayaking on Friday while kathrin enjoys some time off from everything and enjoys some time to herself and then on Saturday she may be joining another volunteer on a horse trek up to one of the other volcanoes (not currently on red alert). I am thinking of taking a day trek up into one of the national parks in the area but I'm not sure. I could head to the beach and rent a jet ski or try water-skiing. The latter being the more expensive day, I may end up doing the hike!
Last full day on site tomorrow. Think we'll only be working a half day on Thursday before heading into town.


Day 8 (Wednesday)

Our last day on site and it's been our best day so far. A few of the more boring bunch left and a New Zealand couple arrived so even though we spent the day earth bagging and mixing (by hand without the cement mixer), the day was good fun and the work went by relatively quickly. I think that your experience of a place is defined by many different things but a big part of your experience while travelling is the people you meet in the places you visit. I would easily say that if we had arrived now instead of last week we'd have enjoyed the first half of this volunteer project a lot more. Sometimes when someone asks you, oh how was C贸rdoba, or, how was Mendoza, you really can only give advice based on your experience which is dependent on so many variables that this person is unlikely experience the same place in the same way as you. It also means that if you re-visit a place, you could easily have a totally different experience to the first time. Just a wee bit of reflection time there!

So again okay was earth bagging. The overflow drainage for the water system here is still broken so that means showers were on a minimum again. So I just went outside stripped off and hosed myself down. Ice cold water, but it was refreshing and I was glad to feel clean! Got my haircut today by one of the volunteers. I decided to get it cut short but he said she'd only cut it if she could first give me a Mohawk, then chop it off. However once it happened everyone (except kathrin of course) thought I should keep it. I think I look like a white Mr T with glasses to be honest. Pretty sure I'm not going to keep it, but thought it would be fun for a few days! Since we are out traveling we have a decent amount of time to experiment with the a few things that would otherwise be deemed inappropriate at home 馃榿 no way would I get away with it back home. Kathrin actually took it more lightly than I had thought. Maybe it's because it brings out the badass in me. What badass I hear you ask?! And you're probably right. Still maybe we are now less likely to get robbed! Although as one volunteer put it, "maybe it will make you more likely to get robbed". Hopefully when I chop it all off I'll look a bit better, and it will amplify my pathetic beard cultivating skills. I preeeetty much look the same as when I left, except just a lot gingerier.
Both Katty and I got burned today pretty badly. Tonight in the tent is going to be extra comfortable 馃槓. All the bending over the whole day, perfect angle! 馃槅馃槀
So tomorrow (Thursday) is our last day. We're only working until lunch then we're getting a lift into P煤con whet we have two nights booked in a hostel. Will be nice to sleep in a bed again! Although the tent hasn't been that bad. Especially when you get up and have good full breakfast in a warm room :) I think the main thing I'm looking forward to is a nice hot long shower, as I've only had 2 in the past 8 days. Funny to say actually that we don't want to leave now. We're so glad that our time here got better and that we ended on a positive note. We don't want to regret doing anything on this trip hopefully and I think it's safe to say that we don't regret this one. We finished off the evening with a bottle of good wine, some of Katty's delicious banana bread and good company 馃槉.


Day 9 (Thursday - last day on site)

Final day on the project and boy were we ready to finish at lunchtime today! One last morning of mixing for the earth bags. Felt like a good workout had been had and now we were ready to settle back into travelling life. After saying our goodbyes (for now) to the volunteers we got a lift into P煤con to go to our Hostel. Beachfront hostel with a front and back garden, treehouse (for adults not a little kiddies one!) and a double room with loving space and kitchen. Pretty awesome as we were just expecting room - yet we got a small apartment! Turns out that we got a Facebook message from the British couple that we met and cycled with in Mendoza (wineries) saying that they were in P煤con and wondered where we were. Turns out they are staying at the same hostel so we spent a nice chilled evening with them this evening. This is their last night then it's upto Valparaiso which is also our next destination, only we leave in 2 days. So hopefully we'll meet up with them next week and go sand boarding in the dunes there! Keep forgetting my new hair do and wondering why people keep staring at me. I think it's because the punk rock style hair doesn't really pair well with my casual deep blue linen shirt that I've been wearing. It's coming off tomorrow. The hair I mean... Not the shirt! It's just not for me 馃槅.
So that's it for the building project, I felt like it was a bit more interestin to do a day by day account of what went on and how we/I felt. But now it's back to the old, "this is what we've done over the past week" style 馃槵

So to leave you now, we leave you with this photo. We feel that it sums up our experience of the past 2 weeks and conveys our main emotions of sceptical and satisfied.

Ad矛os amigos!


Posted by TomAndKat 05:50 Archived in Chile Comments (2)


A new country with similiar surroundings

28 °C

Our last night in Argentina was spent with steak on fork and wine in hand, and the next day we left on a morning bus to head towards the Andes. The journey to Chile was a very scenic one. Leaving on the morning of Valentine's Day, it was a really beautiful passage through the mountains and quite satisfying as we passed miles of cars backed up waiting to cross the border (buses have a separate crossing). However, we did have about 5 or 6 buses in front of us at the border. So we had about a 3 hour wait until it was our turn. Everything had to be taken off the bus and the bus was searched while we put all our belongings through the security conveyor belts. No problems really, just time consuming. It wasn't that warm, but a bright sunny day with beautiful scenery. Easy peasy! The mountain range is beautiful and mysterious, and the long twisty roads down into chile after the border is pretty scary. The whole day was an experience to remember!


Arriving late in Santiago was a bit daunting, as the city is HUGE and we had just heard that our friend who had arrived a few days earlier had her phone stolen at the bus terminal, so we were a bit nervous. But without too much trouble we were able to get a taxi to our hostel which was in an awesome area called Bellavista. A neighborhood bustling with lively bars and cute cafes and restaurants. The best bit about it though, is the art! Similiarly to Argentina, the walls and houses are used as canvases and are a treat for the eye! You could walk around for hours just looking at it all! We spent one night and one day here, exploring the beautiful streets, drinking gross orange juice and yummy mojitos (can you tell who wrote that sentence? hehe).


We enjoyed a lovely seafood lunch (as chile is famous for it!) before jumping in a cab and going for a very luxurious 2 night stay at Boulevard Suites! Tom had surprised me with this stay as a Valentine's/anniversary gift and wow was this place amazing!!! Our room was an apartment with a huge bedroom, bathroom, kitchen and an amazing living room with a breathtaking view of the city, nestled at the bottom of the Andes. We enjoyed our stay here immensely, drinking wine, cooking food and having breakfast served in our living room. We also tanned by the pool and exercised!


We even got to test out our new "self-wash clothes soap bar" which Katty decided to empty half of into the bath and wash our clothes. She is resourceful :)

Our plans for Chile have changed slightly in recent days. Instead of spending 3 weeks travelling up the Chilean coast towards Bolivia, we have decided to go south 10 hours to Puc贸n, the adventure capital of Chile. Here we are planning to spend 2 weeks assisting with the building of an Eco house and school. We work for 5 hours a day and in return get all food and accommodation for free. Well, that is a tent and no physical toilet! Haha. On our off time we hope to get out into Puc贸n to experience some of the things the area has to offer. So in light of this change of plans, we will be going slightly off the grid for 2 weeks as there is no wifi where we are going and the nearest town is 15km away. We'll keep track of our time down there and post once we get back. Back to where I hear you cry?! Back to Santiago and Valparaiso (a neighbouring seaside town). We didn't have so much time in Santiago this time (cause we were in luxury baby!), so we'll spend a night or two before heading up the coast on a shorter time scale (half a week) to head for Bolivia.

So on a lasting note, we are now setting off from complete luxury to tent in the woods with no toilet.

Speak in two weeks!


Posted by TomAndKat 11:49 Archived in Chile Comments (5)

Don't cry for me Argentina

Thoughts and observations

32 °C

Argentina has been a great start to our South American adventure. In 3 quick weeks we have experienced a variety of cities, climates and people. I'd like to share with you some of our thoughts and observations throughout these 3 weeks.

The first thing we quickly came to realize, was the fact that it's not all that cheap here! We struggled with this in the beginning, feeling like we were paying Norwegian prices for things like bread, tinned/boxed goods and dairy products. However, the price of wine and steak greatly made up for this and once we discovered the "blue dollar" money exchange market everything was honky dory.

Another thing we discovered is how colorful everything is. All the houses are painted in bright colors and many of the streets and walls are decorated by graffiti, not ugly tagging, but proper pieces of art. It is quite beautiful. Even the churches and cathedrals are colorful, inside and out! With colorful pillars outside, and lots of colorful depictions on the walls and ceilings inside. It's colorful alright!? Hehe. Another thing that makes the cities so pretty are all the trees. All the streets are lined with big trees that lean over the street, creating beautiful shaded roads.

However, when it comes to "nature calls", it's FAR from beautiful. I don't even know where to start when it comes to the toilets over here. Public, private, doesn't matter, they're all a nightmare. I've only come across maybe one or two bathrooms that have had soap! Most of the bathrooms lack one or two important aspects like seats or locks and are also tiny - meaning you pretty much need to stand on the toilet before you can close the door, that is if you can even close it! You're also not supposed to put toilet paper down the toilet as the sewage system over here is so crap and can't take it. That means you have to do your thing and dispose of the paper in the bin instead.. It's not nice!

One thing I really love is all the animals who (regardless if they have a home or not) roam the streets and want attention. You can easily, and sometimes obliviously, adopt a dog for 20-40 minutes. Give it love and it will follow you, even in to shops!

In general we have found the Argentinian people to be quite kind and helpful, often curious to know where you're from and eager to send you in the right direction. However, the "service" personnel are quite the opposite. Refusing to speak English (when they can) and often plain rude and difficult. One bus driver started driving off whilst we were still in the process of getting on!

Although the people over here are quite large, unexpectedly so, finding some new shorts was not so easy! All the mannequins have BIG buts (which in my case is a good thing), but there are hardly any sizes to be found! There aren't big chain clothing shops over here, like H&M or Khols, there's just tons of tiny shops with maybe 2-3 rails of clothing! So annoying.. Tom doesn't have this problem as there are more men's clothing stores here than women's. Crazy.

Breakfast isn't big over here, and usually only consists of a coffee and a media luna (glazed croissant). Otherwise the cuisine over here is very much influenced by several world kitchens, and it's difficult to find something "typical Argentinian" other then perhaps steak and empanadas. One thing they all do consume over here though, is something called Mate. A herbal tea which they sip through a metal straw thing with a filter and out of cups made from some sort of hard-shelled fruit. The tea isn't in bags and the leaves are just poured into The cup, followed by hot water (hence the need for a straw with a filter). The people often carry around large thermoses with hot water and a bag with Mate.

Other things I've noticed include:
Bus drivers drive like crazy and overtake most other vehicles on the road. SCARY!! Underwear is ridiculously expensive - around 120kr for one crappy pair from a grocery shop! WiFi is common, but unreliable.. And movies at the cinema are not dubbed (YEEY), but cinema is expensive.

All in all I like Argentina, it's a colourful, lively, quite bohemian place. It's got lots of character, a huge variety in climate and nature, with lots to see and do. I had a blast!

Now on to CHILE!

Love home,


Posted by TomAndKat 10:22 Archived in Argentina Comments (0)

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