The new Patagonian pioneers

This is the story of one family: Pepe & Caro and their 3 sons Angel (10), Felix (7) and Noel (3)

Pepe is 52 years old and is a climber and mountain guide who grew up in Santiago but whose parents came from the south. About 25 years ago a friend of his set up a company guiding people into the mountains all over Chile and as they became more successful they expanded and set up an office in Puerto Veras, about 60km away from where they now live, and Pepe started to bring clients to the volcanoes and the area around Cochamo.  He got to know the area really well.

Meanwhile back in Santiago,  Sergio and José were kids at school who met Pepe when he went to their school to run outdoor courses. Unfortunately school authorities thought his philosophies were a little suspect because one of the children saw a book on metaphysics that he was reading and asked his parents for a copy. The parent complained and the devoutly Catholic school dismissed Pepe because they thought the book was dangerous for the children. (The school probably thought they could run the courses for more profit!) Sergio and Jose continued to go rafting, kayaking and camping with Pepe, and an 11 year old Sergio was even inventing then because he made radio transmitters that worked on the volcanoes and Pepe swears saved his life in a bad mountaineering accident!

In the mid 90's Pepe went to Germany to visit his brother who was working there. He was so keen on Pepe going that the family thought he must be ill or in trouble. His bother was fine but Pepe got bored on his visit and started helping with a local kayak club just to pass the time.

In the same city, Caro had just finished her university studies to be a translator and heard about this Chilean staying in the area and came to talk to him to practice her Spanish. They got on really well, but unfortunately as it was near the end of his trip, 10 days later he had to leave to go back to Santiago. Caro thought what the hell, and a few weeks later went to Chile thinking that if it didn't work out she would travel and practice her Spanish.  It did work out! 

Fortunately for us, Caro really didn't like living in Santiago working as the PA for the boss of a pharmaceutical company, so between them they decided to move south to the area that Pepe had grown to know so well. They looked for land near Cochamo, but in the process of hunting found the land near Ralun, a perfect place for kayaking and rafting with the big Rio Petrohue nearby, several volcanoes for guided climbing, the sea only a really short distance away and an already established outdoor activity ethos with some refugios on the mountains. There were also some natural hot springs only 10 minutes away.

When they bought the land there was an old house on it (long gone) from the previous owner, which they lived in for a while but before long they teamed up with a local builder to build their new house. It seemed like he didn't really know what he was doing, so more and more it became down to them and once the roof and floors were on they were on 'site' all the time and gradually learned how to build the house themselves. They originally bought most of the wood, but as they have expanded have used their own trees for extra rooms. They added an extra large sleeping space when their last child Noel was born 3 years ago. At the time of the original build they were relying on Pepe's mountain guiding for money and Caro's ability to work as a translator was seriously limited with their lack of electricity.

Water comes from 2km away on the other side of the large river Petrohue, from a waterfall well above the level of the house. They have a tank perched high in a tree, 100m sections of pipe stretching all the way across the valley. No one else lives in the immediate area because of the lack of water! Perfect. Occasionally after heavy rain, the pool fills with sediment and Pepe has to kayak across the river to repair it - this happened during our stay.

8 years after they arrived, Caro's mum came to live with them in a house that Pepe had built thanks to the Chilean law that says everyone can have a small house built for free by right. Caro's mum couldn't live without electricity so they eventually paid to be connected to their closest neighbours supply which had been there for a couple of years. Until the neighbour had themselves connected the cost would have been too high and Caro and Pepe still harboured dreams of using solar, wind or hydro on a small scale on their land which was why they hadn't been connected before. Caro says that pre-electricity the hardest thing was washing and drying the nappies, the light was easily solved by candles and living to the rhythm of natural light, and cooking and warmth come from wood burning stoves anyway.

Work for both Caro and Pepe was still difficult, they had to rent an office in Ensenada and ended up spending most of their income on travel and rent. All that changed when a grown up Sergio came south testing his first business idea which was an unusual aerial which could bounce mobile signals off rock faces to give reception in areas which previously had none. He lived with them for 6 months, getting new customers with bad reception and then moved to Ensenada to start his internet business (see other post). Once they had an internet connection at the house in the jungle Caro could work from home, they could make a website for Pepe's business and life was much easier for them. http://www.kinehuen.com

Angel was born in hospital but the US style Chilean doctors turned it into a medical procedure, so Felix was born at home with a midwife attending. However thanks to modern technology, Noel was born at home with a German widwife on Skype and a friend Claudia helping out with the birth.

They now have a beautiful house, gardens, greenhouses and a vegetable patch full of delicious food. Until recently they had chickens too but an escaped ferret killed them all. The volcanic soil drains really quickly so despite being in a Valvidian rain forest, things aren't too humid and within a few hours heavy rain has vanished. Their little bit of Ralun is amazing and we absolutely loved our stay there. 

Pepe & Caro's, a set on Flickr.

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