Partners in life and business, Leslie and Cristian – who we have worked with for eight years – run a small kayaking business out of Puerto Natales in Chile. In 2020, their lives were turned upside down by the unprecedented impact of a global pandemic.
Spirits weren’t dampened, and the pair embraced new facets of their lives in the face of adversity – an abundant kitchen garden, carpentry projects and an impressive wastewater scheme near Torres del Paine National Park.
How has the Covid-19 pandemic affected your business?
Unfortunately, like many other businesses, we had to close down operations in March 2020. We haven’t run any trips during the current season, which ends in March of this year, and we miss it immensely. Thankfully we have savings and don’t have huge personal expenses so we have been able to wait it out and focus on other projects until the world of travel is clear of Covid-19 and people have the freedom to travel again.
Leslie, what has life been like for you since the pandemic struck?
We are fortunate to live in Puerto Natales, a rural area surrounded by nature and fresh air. Both Cristian and I have many passions outside of work, so we have been living cheaply and enjoying the free time to develop our hobbies. For me, it has been all about my vegetable garden. I’ve been gardening for a long time now and my produce normally contributes part of the food supplies we bring on the trips we run. This year I have been able to dedicate all of my time to it for the first time ever and it has been very satisfying.
I have a no-dig organic garden with a greenhouse and some planting beds outside, which in Patagonia is not easy at all! I grow many things; salad leaves such as rocket, mustard, lettuce and kale, summer crops including corn, beans, tomatoes, zucchini, broccoli, cabbage, carrots, beets and even pumpkins. We haven’t been able to go to the mountains for some time, but nature is nature and I love playing in the dirt and spending time with my plants.
I have been exchanging bags of salad leaves and other vegetables for items produced locally. This new experience has been so rewarding – the old way of exchanging goods has returned to our town. I have exchanged vegetables for artisanal soap, sourdough bread, handicrafts, and grains in bulk amongst other things. Long may it last!
“I have exchanged vegetables for artisanal soap, sourdough bread, handicrafts, and grains in bulk amongst other things.”
Cristian loves to work with wood and has a workshop where he has been keeping busy on a number of projects including restoring furniture. He has also fallen back in love with biking as a form of therapy for this strange time, helping him to keep pushing forwards and feel strong.
Cristian, tell us more about the work you’ve been doing installing worm-powered wastewater treatment near Torres del Paine?
During the past Patagonian winter I have spent three months installing a BioFiltro system for a small village with a population of 150 people. BioFiltro systems catalyze the digestive power of worms and microbes to remove up to 99% of contaminants from wastewater within just four hours. The high-quality water which is produced can be reused for agricultural irrigation, sold to cities at reduced fees or disposed of, thus meeting or exceeding nutrient management goals. We also generate worm castings, nutritious and valuable soil enrichers, which improve crop yield, soil health and carbon sequestration.
My next step is to build a BioFiltro system at the Milodon Cave, a Chilean historical monument that receives many visitors, to tackle their wastewater issues. This will be a new model designed for remote areas to recognise the demand from many people in Torres del Paine. I feel so happy to improve the wastewater systems in the national park – it is one of the biggest problems we face in this stunning wild location.
“I feel so happy to improve the wastewater systems in the national park – it is one of the biggest problems we face in this stunning wild location.”
What are your plans for the rest of the season and 2022?
During the Patagonian winter, we will be in Mexico for six months so we can visit our family there, ride our bikes, take carpentry courses and of course recharge our bodies with some Caribbean sun!
We plan to re-open in October of this year and have been working hard developing an exciting new kayaking and trekking trip in a very wild area of Bernardo O’higgins National Park. Covid-19 brings with it a new normal, so we’re reviewed our existing trips to reflect this, allowing people to be far away from the crowds and still enjoy the stunning natural beauty Patagonia has to offer.
“We are very positive about the upcoming season. The wilderness is more beautiful than ever.”
We are very positive about the upcoming season. The wilderness is more beautiful than ever. I was able to go trekking with a friend a couple of weeks ago and it was surreal to witness the trails almost completely deserted during the height of summer! It was a bittersweet feeling because, on the one hand, it was amazing to have the trails to ourselves, but simultaneously we missed sharing them with other like-minded people and the energy they bring with them. Exchanging hellos with strangers along the way and sharing stories over dinner with travellers from all over the world is special, especially because we all have a common passion – a love for nature, something Covid-19 cannot take away.