Life in Patagonia: Our First Workaway Experience

My number one tip to anyone planning to visit southern Chile – bring cash. And when you get to an ATM, take out a lot of cash. ATMs are few and far between. Somehow, we forgot to take out money before heading to the place referred to by many as “el fin del mundo.” When we arrived and were getting settled, we learned quickly that the closest ATM was at least one hour away, in the city of Cochrane.

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One the many times we relied the kindness of strangers to get around

Buses in the area of Chile we were based in aren’t too frequent, and hitchhiking (in Spanish, “hacer dedo”) is an incredibly common way to move around. On one of our first days off, we hitched a ride in the back of a camper and spent an hour chatting with a nice Londoner. This was one of our first successful hitchhiking experiences, and it gave us confidence for the subsequent 720 miles of hitching rides.

We settled into a nice, simple routine at our “Workaway” at a Patagonian lodge, Parador Austral. Workaway is a brilliant website that connects travelers to all types of businesses looking for a hand and willing to offer food or accommodation in exchange. We’ve done two Workaways so far, and we’ve found them to be incredible ways to make a life in one place for however long you’re there – a week or two months or a year.  You really get to know locals, get all of the insider info, and feel like you’re truly a part of something.

tyler helping at zipline
Tyler working the zipline

Our first night there, after we got settled into the volunteer house, Josue, Gianna, and Alejandro took us to a party in the closest town of Puerto Guadal; we already felt like we were part of the group. The party was to benefit Teleton, a nationwide charity event in Chile that aims to benefit children with developmental disabilities.

Our work around the lodge was fairly simple and helped to keep us busy during the week. Colin and Tyler would start work 5 days a week at 9:00 am, and they would help Carlos and Henry with whatever odd jobs they had to do around the grounds – weed whacking, cutting branches, fixing the water system, building and painting signs, going off to the mountains to bring back all the horses that roamed freely. On one of our last days there, they really diversified their resumes when they helped bury one of the dogs (RIP Patas). Most days during our lunch breaks, we would all play ping pong (Carlos remained the reigning champ, though Tyler did beat him once).

I mainly worked as a waitress, helping Gianna serve dinner and drinks whenever there were guests. I also filled in at reception, and I worked with Evita some days to prepare lunches for all of the workers and volunteers. Evita first asked me for help in the kitchen because she wasn’t sure how to prepare vegetarian meals for me; meat and bread is the base of almost all typical meals in Patagonia, as fruits and vegetables tend to be more expensive and scarce. After helping Evita prepare lunch a few times, I started just working with her for fun; it was a great chance to practice Spanish, and Evita truly took all the volunteers under her wing, making sure we felt well-fed, welcomed, and happy. She even invited us over to visit her nearby farm; we picked strawberries, met her family, and had an “once,” what Chilean people call their daily tea time. Though once means eleven in Spanish, tea time typically takes place in the evenings, sometime after 4pm.

The lodge itself is beautiful, and we had so much land to explore. It is located right on Lago Negro. We had the chance to go swimming, kayaking, ziplining, and we went for hikes up the Chelenko Trail. At the top of the trail, we could see an incredible views of the three main lakes in the area – Lago Negro, Lago General Carrera, and Lago Bertrand. We had a couple of traditional asados (barbecues) with all of our coworkers as well.

This was our first Workaway experience, and by far, the best part about it was the people. All of the staff were so welcoming towards us, and we were really integrated into the team. During our time there, other volunteers from Spain, Denmark, and France came, so it was an awesome chance to meet people from around the world.

After about six weeks, it was time to move on to our next adventure, but we owe a big thank you to all of the staff for making our first Workaway such a positive experience. Los extrañamos, y gracias por todo.

everyone at christmas
A bunch of the group on Christmas Eve

There is a local legend that says if you eat a calafate berry, you will return to Patagonia. Since all of us had a chance to try the calafate (in both berry form and in the beer variety), I’m sure we’ll find ourselves back in the future.

-XO Emily

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