If you want to see what interventionism and marxism do to a society, just visit Puerto Aguirre, an island town in the middle of the vast archipelago of Chile’s 11th Region. The ferry ride out of Puerto Cisnes takes about 6 hours to arrive to this remote spot. There is also daily service to somewhat-closer Puerto Aysén.

Although not quite as bad as Melinka, people in Puerto Aguirre are really “out there” and isolated. The setting and scenery are fantastic: endless islands with interesting contours and backdrops. Sure, many other places in Chile are far more stunning, but that fact does not take away from the pretty overall environs. What does damage the place’s attractiveness is the crummy, dilapidated architecture and overall poverty. Granted, there are worse places, but Puerto Aguirre shows just how drab a place can be. It is a showcase of “equality,” where everyone is equally poor, with no “nice part” of town or even a nice home–all of which demonstrate exactly what socialism brings.

People have a rather cold attitude, too, matching the cool rainforest climate, which is quite unusual for smaller Chilean towns. Also indicative of communist societies, in the Puerto Aguirre microcosm there are few things to buy and very few stores or restaurants. According to Wikipedia and local sources, the island (including floating habitations offshore) has around a couple thousand inhabitants, but the map legend and my estimate would hardly put the figure over 500. The originals that settled the island came from Chiloé and a few from Melinka.

 
 

When I was there at the end of 2013, there was a potable water shortage. Water is collected from the abundant rainfall, which is superior in quantity to nearly any other civilized place on earth. Yet people were filling jugs and taking showers only between 2:30pm and 6:00pm because the water collective failed to maintain an adequate supply. The local transportation (minibus) operator told me that if the water company had been private there would never have been a shortage. Electric supply comes from a generator, pictured below, and can be quite expensive for anything but smaller households (which pay around US$40 per month). Internet is scarce in the town, including in the bleak residencial where we stayed near the dock. The call center office pictured was closed but the private mail and ferry service operator next door did have a computer to rent for US$2 per hour. I had to beg them to let me log into their wireless connection. I guess I should have just been happy that they at least had internet. Life on the island would be pretty dull to say the least without television or internet.

What does stand out about Puerto Aguirre is that housing is cheap. The transport operator told me that locals can buy a home (or shack) for anywhere from US$2,500 to US$6,000. Foreigners coming in could expect to pay double the price. An example of a home (yellow) at the higher end of the price range is pictured below. It had a great view.

I suppose that poorer immigrants might consider places like Puerto Aguirre. One could literally buy his place (with private water tank recommended like the one pictured below) and retire there for under US$100,000.

Before the handouts for firewood, electricity and for being in an “isolated, remote area,” Chilean people in Puerto Aguirre had to keep gardens. Nowadays they do not bother, except for some older folks that still grow potatoes. Fish and seafood are abundant and cheap, of course. But there seems to be a epidemic of laziness on the island. Why work hard when one can get handouts and still survive?

Actually, there are a lot of people earning the minimum wage (about US$375) by working in nearby offshore salmon hatcheries, which account for around 80% of local employment according to the minibus driver. He added that 10% work in island retail and services and most of the rest subsist on fishing. Driving through the few kilometers of road between the main town and the Caleta Andrade suburb one gets a good idea that people do not care much about keeping up their homes. At least the government paved the main road about 5 years ago.

The local medical care facility (image below) does not give one much confidence in being cured if he gets sick. At least the government was putting in a newer fire station. I am not sure how effective it will be if your house catches fire though.

Still, some places to live are not too bad, and the view is soothing. For people that like sailing and can put up with something like 80% rainy days, Puerto Aguirre might offer some appeal. If one does not want to be found, it certainly might be attractive. There are at least regular ferries to the mainland where one can get some access to an ATM machine, bigger stores and markets, and other amenities. I imagine that the island is not a great place to go for dating, so newcomers might best be already married or happily single.

 

The airstrip is mainly used these days by small planes owned by salmon companies to fly in workers from places like Puerto Montt. Getting to this island from other parts of the world requires a flight from Santiago to Coyhaique and then a bus to Puerto Aysén or Puerto Cisnes and finally a ferry to the island. Check the schedules carefully for the ferry.

As always, there are some happy tourists that show up to partake of the local culture and imagine what life might be like in such remote places.

Any place is worth seeing at least once!

 

 Crabbing from a fishing boat in Puerto Aguirre

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Dr. Cobin’s book, Life in Chile: A Former American’s Guide for Newcomers, is the most comprehensive treatise on Chilean life ever written, designed to help newcomers get settled in Chile. He covers almost every topic imaginable for immigrants. This knowledge is applied in his valet consulting service – Chile Consulting – where he guides expatriates through the process of finding a place to live and settle in Chile, helping them glide over the speed bumps that they would otherwise face in getting their visas, setting up businesses, buying real estate, investing in Chilean stocks or gold coins, etc. The cost is $49.
Dr. Cobin’s sequel book, Expatriates to Chile: Topics for Living, adds even further depth on important topics to expatriates who either live in Chile already or who have Chile on the short list of countries where they hope to immigrate. The book deals with crucial issues pertaining to urban and rural real estate transactions, natural disasters, issues pertaining to emigration and its urgency, money and the quality of life, medical care and insurance, business opportunities, social manifestations (including welfare state and divorce policy concerns), Chile in the freedom indices, social maladies (lying, cheating, stealing and murder), as well as discussion of a few places worth visiting and some further comments about Santiago.
For a brief introduction consider Dr. Cobin’s abridged book (56 pages): Chile: A Primer for Expats ($19), offering highlights found in the two larger books.