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In front of her is a inch television showing a Spanish-league soccer match that nobody pays attention to. Vilma's attire is understated. She doesn't wear jewelry. The lines etched in her something-year-old face have never been softened with expensive creams. She doesn't look like someone who earns a million dollars a year. Vilma owns four brothels in Puerto Natales, in far southern Chile , that together employ approximately 35 prostitutes of varying nationalities.
The two Patagonian towns are intimately linked, with a shared history and culture that dates back generations. Something else they have in common is the sex trade, which pays little attention to local border controls. It used to be miners who kept the prostitution business going in this far-off corner of the continent. They'd crowd into the brothels on payday, covered with coal dust, and flush with banknotes and all the "eagerness" they'd built up underground.
That was 40 years ago. But the girls aren't just "friendly" Argentines, she says. They also hail from Colombia , Paraguay or even the Dominican Republic — women who are lured here by stories about "getting paid more" in the south. Upstairs for "dessert" Vilma says the business began when she was a teenager, in this very house.
Back in the s, it was a popular local restaurant, run by her father. They had a cook called "Manitos," as he was so deft with his hands manos for cooking, cleaning and readying customers' bills. But as Manitos aged, Vilma and her sisters began exploiting a parallel activity already complementing the eatery's earnings: receiving girls and ushering them onto the upstairs rooms, "for dessert, let's say. Punta Arenas, capital of Chile's Magallanes Region, is two hours away in the opposite direction.
In all of these places, prostitution is surprisingly brisk. An oil rig in Patagonia, Argentina — Photo: nestor galina The area is decidedly remote. And yet its receives approximately , tourists a year.