I’m back in the Bay Area now, lounging by the pool at the Sheraton Palo Alto, thanks to a friend who was willing to share his suite with me. I'm in a bit of culture shock going from remote Isla Tenglo to the heart of Silicon Valley in just 24 hours. (I avoided the long bus ride and just flew up to Santiago from Puerto Montt, which shaved at least 12 hours off the trip home.) Anyway, I figured I'd make a final post about life on Isla Tenglo:
After 25 days on Isla Tenglo and the surrounding islands, I spent my last night at Casa Roja in front of the wood-burning stove with a glass of wine reflecting on my first volunteering travel experience.
My immediate thought was how lucky I was to have Christian as my host. He provided me with an experience that was exactly what I was looking for: a combination of volunteering, sailing, and adventure. A lot of people have asked me, “How did you find and decide on Isla Tenglo?” It was because Christian offered these three elements via his post on www.helpx.net, and he delivered big time.
The volunteering opportunities were meaningful and appropriately leveled for a city slicker like me: painting, gardening, pruning, hauling, teaching English, etc. I enjoyed the physical aspect, and luckily nothing required sophisticated skills in carpentry, plumbing, or electrical. Christian allowed me to choose from a variety of options, and was flexible with my preferences. I enjoyed helping the local families, being invited into their homes for breakfasts and lunches, and learning about their daily lives.
The sailing-related opportunities were equally fantastic. Working with David at Club Nautico Reloncavi, I had the chance to learn more about the mechanics and systems of big cruising boats. Plus we went on three different weekend sailing trips down to Isla Puluqui with Christian and his family to work on their vacation cottage. These were fun trips highlighted by bonfires, barbecues, and a true group effort on renovating the cottage.
The adventure aspect of the experience was the most challenging but one that I was able to overcome. By the third week, I had even fallen into a pretty comfortable routine.
The days themselves weren’t very long. I was usually awake at 8am, ate breakfast with one of the families around 10am, and worked until about 5pm (stopping for lunch). If I was on the mainland, I would stick around and use the yacht club’s internet or go shopping until 7pm, and then take one of the last boat taxis home by 8pm (which was sort of like a curfew). No crazy bar hopping or socializing because the island is entirely residential (with only a few hundred people, I’ve now learned). I was usually in bed with a book by 10pm. ("Walking the Amazon" and "Godforsaken Sea").
Although I was awake for only 12-14 hours, they were tough hours: fighting the cold wind and rain, doing physical labor that my body was not used to, and managing my emotions as I coped with the isolation. Little things like laundry or sponge-showers (heating hot water on the stove and then using it to bathe) took longer than I was used to. I learned to plan ahead – making sure I knew what I was going to do with those few minutes of WIFI at the Club, and making sure I had a shopping list for the store on the mainland. If I forgot to do or buy something, I couldn’t just run out later on a quick errand.
In the end, I felt good about my adaptation and would have liked to stay – especially because the weather was getting warmer with the approach of summer, and I was getting the hang of things. I will miss Isla Tenglo and Isla Puluqui, Casa Roja, Christian, and his family.
But I have to move on to the next adventure. Germany is next. I depart on Saturday, September 26. Then I’m targeting Southeast Asia in November/December. Then perhaps in January I will return to visit my new friends in Southern Chile.
I’d be lying if I said I wasn’t excited for at least a few days back in San Francisco this week to re-connect with friends, do some sailing, and take care of nagging administrative things. It does, however, feel a bit weird to be coming ‘home’ yet to be homeless. (Remember, I've rented my house!) I'll be ok, thanks to friends and/or AirBnB.
Here are a few final photos from my last week on Isla Tenglo and Isla Puluqui...