Arriving in Patagonia
February 3, 2014
By Nicole Gautier (University of Oregon ’11)
Two weeks into our Patagonia semester, this group of students has rapidly adapted to a mate sipping, calafate berry grazing, windswept collective. Our majors range from philosophy to geology, but we were all drawn to this landscape by its reputation as vast, wild, and inhospitable. After arrival in Coyhaique, we headed south in overloaded trucks, leaving behind pavement, and following sweeps of glacial blue to Valle Chacabuco.
We had the chance to do some sightseeing along the way, including a two night backpacking trip in Cerro Castillo Reserve. Hiking near a glacier, we experienced wind gusts capable of knocking us over. However, the view of the cracked glacier with multiple cascades dropping into a turquoise lake was completely worth nearly getting blasted off the mountain side.
Arriving at the future Patagonia National Park, we were greeted by grazing guanaco and rugged hills. Freshly dusted peaks clawed the horizon to the east and west, and the Rio Cochrane begins to wend its way through the valley. We recently returned from our first field surveys, scrambling up rocky outcroppings searching for sign of viscacha (an alpine dwelling rodent), and rolling out of frost covered tents to make it marsh side for sunrise bird surveys. The panicked squawk of the southern lapwing and swift wing beats of Austral parakeets have become familiar.
This cadence of days with twelve hours of light, tents to be taken down and set up, discussion, and waiting for tea water to boil has easily become the norm. It is a reminder that we too are adaptable creatures, our senses adjust, and we recall what it is like to exist outdoors in a landscape that challenges and inspires us to the core.