Imagine, if you will, a wooden lodge set deep in the foothills of the Chilean Andes, surrounded by babbling brooks and native forest-covered mountains; the mass of green popping against the bright blue sky, with not a soul around for miles. This is where I am currently working. How the hell did I end up here you may ask?
Well months ago, in such wisdom that I didn't even know I possessed, I registered on a website called www.workaway.info which lists hosts all over the world who are in need of people to work in exchange for food and accommodation. I decided to contact a few to see what the deal was and thats how I ended up conversing with Tumuñan Lodge, my current home. We set a date for the beginning of January and it was with some trepidation that I arrived in the town of San Fernando, a little known place just two hours south of Santiago. Having only spoken with the owner over email, I was somewhat surprised to encounter a Surrey man when we finally met and was even more surprised on arrival at his luxurious lodge, set in the most beautiful surroundings - I couldn't quite believe my luck!
Will, his Chilean wife Carolina and their two adorable children, Thomas (6) and Laura (4), warmly welcomed me into their family and it's been nonstop ever since! The lodge is fairly small, catering for a maximum of ten people, but there is always plenty to do - from serving the home-cooked meals (I've even done some of the cooking) to taking the guests horse riding, to advising Will on marketing strategies (no escape from my previous life!) to entertaining the kids. I've also met some really interesting people; the guests are a mix of English speaking expats and Chilean locals, so it's a very different crowd from the backpackers I've been used to!
After six months on the road it's been really nice to be able to take some time out and take stock. I'm kept pretty busy but there's always time to take a walk in the mountains (I've had a few "The Hills are Alive..." moments!) or cycle down to the nearest town for a cold beer. And I've been practising my Spanish with Carolina and the foreign guests. It's still not as good as it should be but I'm getting there (although Laura would probably beg to differ!) It's also been quite a difficult time; I think being in a family environment and without the constant excitement that goes hand in hand with being on the gringo trail, it's meant I've spent a lot of time thinking about home and the troubles some of my loved ones are facing. It's at times like these I've never felt quite so far away but you know who you are when I say I'm thinking of you and sending you all my love. But this is when I'm also very grateful to Will and Carolina for making me feel so at home. Anyone who needs a break from the real world should definitely pay a visit to Tumuñan Lodge - it may be slightly out of the average backpacker budget but I highly recommend the beautiful surroundings, luxury accommodation, excellent home-cooked food and brilliant excursions. Www.tumunanlodge.com. Ok, plug over (cheque in the post please Will?!)
I was also lucky enough to get a couple of days off to go and meet some friends I had made in Ecuador in the nearby seaside resort of Pichilemu. A surfer's paradise, the rugged shoreline and huge waves were in stark contrast to the calm tranquility of the mountains I had got used to seeing on a daily basis. And what do you usually find in a surfer town? Australians. And what day did it happen to be? Australia day! Oh dear, you can imagine the rest. But it was quite a fitting way to celebrate my six month anniversary - in a beach town not unlike Montanita, my first stop in South America, with friends from the Spanish school and plenty of reminiscing over copious amounts of beer! It's a hard life eh?