Avocado Republic — 12 November 2014


Walker Rowe

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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. 

The Avocado Republic of Chile Chile Independence Day Dust and Dirt in Rural Chile
Chaos at the Local School The Market Earthquakes
Love and Romance in Chile The Chilean Concept of Time My Vegetable Garden
The Compost Pile There is no Heat in Chile Drinking Burgoyne
Chilean Food is Boring and Bland Rodeo in Chile The Caretaker
The Cactus Garden Watching the Southern Skies Oscar’s Adventures
Things Fall Apart Argentina’s Dark Culture Rene, the Communist
Chewing Coca Leaves The Mapuche Conflict Cuasimodo

Luis is the caretaker that lives on the property at the top of this hill. If this was the Appalachian Mountains you would say he lives at the top of the “hollow,” which is usually pronounced “holler.” But I don’t know what the word is in English, or Spanish, for where two fingers perpendicular to a mountain ridge reach down into a valley, thus forming a pocket there. So I will call it a hollow, like they do in Kentucky.

The woman who owns that land used to own this hollow all the way down to the bottom. She was a police chief for many years. Now she has sold it off in pieces except her lot which appears to be about 10 or maybe 15 hectares. There is a large house there. Luis is the caretaker. He lives with his wife in the caretaker’s house.

If you own a house in the country it is good to have a caretaker to keep it from being robbed. Luis told me the big house there was robbed two times, but that was when the previous caretaker was there. Now there are two male Rottweilers patrolling the property and Luis makes rounds at 2 or 3 o’clock in the morning with his flashlight. I can see his light arcing across the sky when he comes out to investigate noise.

The owners pay Luis 250,000 Chilean pesos ($421 USD) per month which is just over the 210,000 peso minimum wage ($350 USD). But they give him a house and pay for his electricity and satellite TV, which Luis calls “cable.” Chileans have to pay 7% of their wages into the health care fund and make a pension contribution into the private pension system. When Luis retires, interest from his pension funds will be too small to pay him much. So the government will add more to give him the minimum pension.

This week Luis was cutting the grass on another neighbor’s property. The house is for sale. I have only see two prospective buyers took at it in 8 months. Oscar was turning on the lights every night to make it look like someone lives there. But Oscar just turned on the lights and left them on. The owner fired Oscar when he came there in the day and saw that.

Now the owner pays Luis 40,000 pesos to turn on the lights, which he does faithfully every day. This week they were paying Luis 60,000 pesos to cut the grass, which in Chile people in the country do maybe one time per year. Here you cut the grass, because it is a fire hazard as it dries out when summer comes and the rains of winter stop.

Luis cut the grass by hand with a sickle like some Soviet serf harvesting wheat. It’s back breaking labor made worse by the brilliant Chilean sun. But he does more than just cut the grass. He piled the grass it into enormous piles on the other side of the dirt road. When winter comes I am going to pile up all that onto my property and make it into compost. Luis has already gave me some of the huge pile of leaves that he rakes each fall. He told me I could take all of that and make it into compost.

Luis’s skin is burned by the sun like leather. He wears a hat as he works in the heat. You can tell the foreigners here, because they do not wear hats. Chileans, living in a sunny country, generally prefer the shade. In Chile, some women carry parasols, which I find charming. My wife cannot stand the sun and wears a hat. The skin on her face is soft and wrinkle-free as she has spent a lifetime avoiding the sun in this sun drenched country.


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