In Chilean Patagonia During COVID-19, ‘Isolation Leads To A Sense Of Precariousness’

April 29, 2020

On the edge of this southern beech tree forest, photographer Andria Hautamaki has just enough cell service to use her phone as a mobile hotspot, and then share the connection with her computer.

Andria Hautamaki for NPR

As a photo and print journalist based on a remote, off-grid cattle ranch in Chilean Patagonia since 2011, I’m accustomed to limited connectivity. Since the coronavirus reached this continent last month, my access to the Internet and other humans has been even further reduced.

I was in Argentina working on a story in mid-March when the pandemic began to shut down international travel. With my next assignment postponed indefinitely and my travel plans U-turned, I crossed back into Chile, returned to the southern tip of South America and hunkered down on our ranch with my partner and our animals.

Top: Without refrigeration at the ranch, meat is smoked to keep it fresh longer. Left: The pantry is stocked with provisions and homegrown beef. Right: A woodburning stove heats the house. The top of the stove can also be utilized to boil water, warm bread, or in this case, melt the cheese on tortilla pizzas.

Andria Hautamaki for NPR


The ranch — called Estancia Anita — sits on the edge of the Southern Patagonian Ice Field in southeastern Chile, next to the Torres del Paine National Park. It’s isolated and it’s rural. Living here during COVID-19, we feel an extra sense of safety but also heightened fear.

Social distancing is simple in these vast expanses of unfenced land; there’s only three of us — me, my partner and a ranch hand — living on nearly 10,000 acres. At the same time, our isolation leads to a sense of precariousness, life on the edge.

The ranch raises grass-fed and antibiotic-free cattle. On occasion, a calf is butchered to be consumed.

Andria Hautamaki for NPR

Estancia Anita is bordered by four glacial rivers that demarcate its property lines, and it’s this nautical connection to the rest of the region as well as our off-the-beaten-track location are qualities that distance us from the coronavirus. Yet these same characteristics test our self-sufficiency and resourcefulness and would complicate access to medical care for any health situation that might arise from the pandemic.

We must stay healthy.

But our lives are intertwined with danger. River crossings. Tempestuous weather. Protecting the herd from wild cattle. Now, because of the fear of catching the virus, just resupplying in town seems too potentially hazardous.

~~~  CONTINUE  ~~~

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