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Hello to my readers! My name is Kevin and I have the privilege of writing this weekly summary post on behalf of my group. For this post, I’m offering reflections on what I’ve done in the past week, an agenda that routinely depends on both the overall goals we’ve established for the trip and the erratic weather patterns here in the temperate rainforest. Let’s get started!

The Puma Waterfall – Salto del Puma

Drupal Web Development and Reflection

Starting from the top of the week, I spent the cold Monday indoors with Ansley and Nate. We were working on Drupal, a content management system and website development platform. One of the major goals of our trip—as AJ mentioned in a previous post—is to create websites for the local “artesanas,” whose work wonderfully captures the spiritual harmony and love that the indigenous Mapuche people have for their land and waters. How could our short time here in Chile possibly be of use to these artesanas, who already have done so much? The purpose of the websites is to present the work of the artesanas to tourists in a more accessible medium, but as I opened my laptop to break ground on a new site for the charming lakeside café “Café del Lago,” questions about the value of these sites to their owners began to materialize within my mind. What exactly are we here to accomplish? Is it to bring long lines of customers—overwhelming crowds which could conceivably be an entrepreneur’s dream come true? Or, in the case of the Café del Lago website, is it to celebrate the accomplishments of local female business owners—who joined forces to found and operate a much-needed restaurant on the banks of Lake Pirihueico—by spreading the word? Working with the mindset embodied by the latter, I’m considerably more comfortable making new websites for the artesanas, aspiring to learn more and to celebrate their work through my own.

The lakeside view from Cafe del Lago.

Before our group tackles a new website, we collect pieces of content that we plan to display online—in this process, we listen to the unique and engaging stories of how each piece of artwork is created, and the motivation behind each product. It is through this firsthand perspective that we, of DukeEngage Chile, have learned more about the history and culture of Neltume, our warm and welcoming ecotourism town on the rise.

The sign welcoming us into Neltume.

A Visit to the Sawmill

Ecotourism is big in Neltume with the nearby Huilo Huilo Foundation eagerly welcoming tourists to explore the awe-inspiring views that I am surrounded by, even as I write. After a cold day of work on Drupal, the group and I were greeted by an even colder, rainier Tuesday. However, the freezing rain did little to dampen our moods as we ventured through Neltume to a nearby sawmill. We were offered a tour of the entire mill which, incredibly, is completely manually operated. Our guide brought up how it seems counter-intuitive for an ecotourism town to continue operating a sawmill. This was her response. The beautiful wood that is cut is decorative, sold in a nearby store for interested buyers. More importantly, for every tree that is cut, extensive measures are taken to ensure that a plot of trees are planted in a nearby region. This is a systematic process with strict limitations on the size, age, and number of trees that can be cut.

A machine operator (left) standing next to our guide (right), explaining the sawmill machinery.

Just outside the sawmill is yet another exhibit, one much flashier. Every year, there is a three-day chainsaw wood-carving competition and the carved pieces are prominently on display for visitors. Our hands were already freezing from the wind and rain, but we stood out there for a while longer, taking in the beauty of the carvings. Eventually, our guide said, the entire mill—still operational—and the carvings will become a museum for tourists.

The winning wood sculpture from the chainsaw wood carving competition.

Greenhouse Work and Limnology

In their posts, my friends AJ and Ansley have already covered our work inside the greenhouse, designing an exhibit to display the ferns found in the nearby rainforest for those who cannot make it on the hike out to see them. They’ve also covered our limnology trips, in which we take water samples to learn more about the effect that humans have had on the water quality of the numerous lakes around us. Yesterday, Sunday, we managed to visit and take samples at four lakes, about half an hour from each other. It was a record number for our group, and I’d wager it being a Neltumian record as well.

Here is one of the spectacular views our group has witnessed from our limnology excursions.

“Bagualitos” –  A Morning of Mountain Biking

I want to wrap up my post with a brief mention of this past Saturday morning. There was a slight drizzle, but it wasn’t enough to prevent Francisco, a friendly biking enthusiast, from bringing a few of us along with him for one of his weekly mountain biking classes. He leads these in an adjacent man-made bike park on Saturdays, for kids ranging from 6 to 14 years old. The turnout is incredible with upwards of 25 showing up to ride on a single day. These kids, under Francisco’s watchful eye, are some of the most daring, courageous kids I’ve come across. They were truly fearless as they biked up steep hills, and more so as they proceeded to speed down them. Initially, I wondered how they were so daring, but I understood soon after. Francisco’s cheerful demeanor and kind encouragement is something I have great difficulty capturing in words—he is truly amazing with these kids, every single one of them. After going down some steep, slippery hills and even a dirt ramp, everyone left the bike park that day with mud and smiles on their faces.

One of the many hills at the bike park.

Somehow, after bleak, rainy days of Drupal indoors, and rare sunny days of limnology and breathtaking hikes, we’ve found ourselves past the halfway point of our incredible time in Chile. I’m incredibly grateful for every single moment of it and am seriously looking forward to the coming weeks.

-Kevin Tian

Just for fun, here’s a screenshot of the weather forecast for the next few days:

weather image
The weather forecast for our next few days here in Neltume.