Where’s the center of the world? Signs tell us that it lies in the small village of El Amarillo, at the southern entrance of Pumalin Park. On the Carretera Austral just a few kilometers south of the volcano-impacted town of Chaiten, El Amarillo is becoming a hub for tourists to Pumalin—and a pleasant place to live for its 100 or so residents.
Eight years ago, the Conservation Land Trust launched a village beautification project in El Amarillo, spearheaded by young local architect Marcela Ojeda. At the time, the village consisted of a few dozen houses, almost all rundown. A few small markets sold basic goods, and a few houses had rooms for travelers to rent, but for the most part, tourists had to stop in Chaiten or further south on the Carretera Austral to find services. Although in a prime location—next to Pumalin, with phenomenal views of Volcan Michimahuida and the Tabiques Mountains—El Amarillo had not developed much of its ecotourism potential. Visitors would zoom past on the road, and many younger residents aimed to move away to find other opportunities.
Since 2005, the village beautification project has worked with many families to put their houses in order, with paint, repairs, yard work, and landscaping. The Pumalin project sponsors the initial fix-up of houses, with the owners agreeing to cover maintenance and repairs in the future. The team works with families on the design and schedule of the repairs, and asks for their participation when possible.
A bit of paint, carpentry and yard work can go a long way. Many of the seemingly unredeemable structures in town have been reborn as full-of-character homes with simple but well-planned facelifts. With help from volunteers from around the world, over a dozen houses in the village have been transformed.
Meanwhile, the team has designed and constructed a new supermarket and gas station in town, to put El Amarillo on the map of tourist services in the region.
Running a gas station never topped the list of projects for conservationists before, but given the distance to the next place to refill, the station offers an important service, and draw for the community.
The supermarket carries a different variety of goods from those offered in the preexisting markets: hardware, organic vegetables, woolen goods, books, and souvenirs, among other items.
The basic idea of the project, as Doug explains it, is to build house pride through simple fix-ups, painting, and landscaping. House pride extends to pride for community, as the whole village becomes more orderly and pleasant, and an appealing destination for visitors. As the foreground—houses, yards, and common spaces—grows more beautiful, locals and visitors alike can admire and savor the spectacular natural setting of the village, gaining respect for the wilderness that surrounds them.
Care for house and connection to community grow into responsibility to place and land. Without preaching ecological values, the village cleanup effort improves locals’ living conditions and economic opportunities while encouraging them to embrace the area’s remarkable natural surroundings.