Avocado Republic — 24 September 2014

casa curacavi chile

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“The Avocado Republic of Chile, because it’s too Cold to Grow Bananas” is Chile’s ultimate tour guide.  Laugh-out-loud funny and insightful.  American writer, Walker Rowe, sick of the pollution and noise in Santiago moves to the country for peace and quiet.  What he did not know is when you move to the country, you exchange one set of problems for another. Click through the arrows to read.


Walker Rowe

24 September 2014

I moved out of Santiago and rented a tiny house on a parcela here in Curacaví in June. A parcela is the Chilean word for a lot. This parcela, like most parcelas is 1 hectare or 10,000 square meters or 2.2 acres.

The lady who owns this lot and house, Sofía, is a Chilean living between the USA and Chile. Since she moved there 40 years ago, I suspect she is one of the 30,000 political exiles who either left or were expelled from the country when the dictator General Pinochet came to power in 1973. I did not ask.

There are three houses here. Oscar and Maria Jose rent the other house. Sofia has the largest house, but she nor her daughter Nasha ever stay there.

Oscar has a small business in Curacaví where he sells diapers, although he is trained as an accountant. If that sounds strange, I will explain that later. I don’t mind having a neighbor in this otherwise isolated spot as I want someone nearby, preferably one with a mean dog, who can help me ward off thieves.

I rented this house in June, but only moved in at the end of September, because in June it is the middle of winter in Chile, and this house has no heat nor insulation. It’s really just a cabin.

I stayed in my apartment in Providencia for the winter with my wife, who will stay here with me in Curacaví on weekends. She has a law practice in Santiago. Providencia is one of the towns that make up Greater Santiago. It is an upper-middle-class neighborhood, which is important, since I feel safe there. As a white gringo with blue eyes I stand out like, well, a white gringo with blue eyes, and would be easy prey for criminals. That is why I bought an apartment and not a house. An apartment on the 6th floor is safer than being at ground level. Plus houses in that neighbor cost $1 million USD and up. I only had 1/4 of that to spend.

The other problem with Santiago besides crime is pollution, at least in winter. Prior to moving to the country, I had been studying and blogging about Santiago’s pollution for 6 months. So every day I was consumed with the knowledge that I was breathing dangerous levels of particulate matter, nitrogen dioxide, and ozone. For this reason, I quit going to the gym, because that meant a 15 minute walk in contaminated air. If you breathe in deeply polluted air then particulate matter will lodge in your lungs, causing permanent damage and shortening your life span. 4,000 people die prematurely every year in Santiago because of that.

But what pushed me out to the country was something worse. In May, I had eye surgery for retinal detachment. So I spent the winter squinting at the computer screen. Any bright light bothered me, even a lamp. I put a dark sheet over the blinds in my office, since the sun in Chile is brilliant and my apartment points north toward the sun. When I finally went outside after some months, I was bothered that I could not see well. Something was wrong with my depth perception. I almost fell in a couple of holes in the sidewalk. So I had a strong urge to get out of the house, move to the country, and practice looking in the distance, since I felt that otherwise my eyes would remain permanently focused at the distance of the television, my iPad, and my computer, unless I looked elsewhere.

Now a year later a cataract has formed there, which is good, since the surgeon can cut that out and replace the lens with a plastic intraocular one that should work much better than my own eye.

So here I am in Curacaví.

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