Farewell Fiordo Bernardo
By Andrew Gage (Macalester College ’15)
Que Vida, Che!
Dressed from head-to-toe in all black, we snuck into the enemy camp. The objective was simple: cause as much damage as possible, in the form of tent-stake removal, before our cover was compromised. Our extensive plan (including backup plans A, B, and C) dictated that we split into two groups once we reach the middle of their camp. After we made this split, nothing else went as planned. There were no tent stakes, but rather small sticks and rocks with pare-cord attached. Using only the red settings of our head-lamps, we couldn’t see their tents until we were stumbling over them. We managed to entirely un-stake three tents and nearly collapsed one before a NOLS student woke and nearly saw us…a clear sign to abort the mission. We ran off, Bolton leading the way with his cunning athleticism, baa-ing like sheep (as planned) all the way back to our camp across the road. “April Fools! Baaaaaaaaaaa!!!” we cried.
This devious April Fools prank on the NOLS Patagonia campers is not where this blog post should have started, chronologically speaking, but after meeting the group 1st in Fiordo Bernardo, and then finding them camped for the night, just a few hundred meters from our base in Cochrane upon our return, it seemed appropriate. Now I’ll bring you back one week in time to our return from El Refugio Tempano to El Refugio Fiordo Bernardo. After a longer journey than we had expected, full of uncertainty and sopapillas, we were all delighted to be back at our basecamp in Fiordo Bernardo. The cozy kitchen, with a rustic wood stove and enough (comfortable) seats for about four of us, is not a place I think any of us will forget. We shared many mates and even more laughs sitting around that stove.
Upon our arrival, we continued the trail work we had begun with Orlando, our fearless Gaucho-leader. The stormy weather kept us inside for a large portion the following days. We spent a lot of time upstairs in the refuge trying to catch up on school-work, but also set aside time for Rummy 500, any number of peculiar movies that came on the tv, and plenty of reading. I made a sizeable dent in the Lord of the Rings (acquired from a NOLS student for the price of 1 chocolate bar), which was extremely fitting after the running joke Orlando made about Bernardo O’Higgins being Mordor.
One of my highlights in our last couple of days at Fiordo Bernardo was a fishing lesson that Felador gave Chloe and I. We hopped into the zodiac and zipped across the Fiord to a river mouth in the northeastern corner of the Fiord. We dropped anchor (a big rock with a rope tied around it) and got out our cans. Fishing equipment in Patagonia is certainly not what we are accustomed to in the States. Instead of a fishing pole, we wrapped some fishing line around a tin can which had a small handle nailed across the mouth of it. On the hook at the end of our line dangled a big ‘ol hunk of sheep meat. To fish, you would just swing the meat-hook and toss it out as far as you could and slowly reel the line back in, wrapping the line around the can. We didn’t reel in any fish on this outing, but it was a great lesson nonetheless.
The more memorable part of this outing was the amazing wildlife we got to see. Within a five-minute window, we saw a 3+ foot long Salmon (introduced to the region for fish farms), eight turkey vultures, an Andean Condor, three Huemul deer, and a sea otter. I had seen nearly all of these species prior to this outing, but I was still amazed in that moment because it all happened so fast. “Solo en el Fiordo Bernardo!” as Orlando would say. Our fishing lesson quickly turned into a Huemul survey, as we cruised down the coast and spotted four more Huemul right by the water. Felador drove our little zodiac (that was quickly losing air and had a large rock-anchor bouncing around inside) through the choppy waters like a madman. I think he would have slowed down if Chloe and I hadn’t been laughing our asses off the whole way.
Our time in Fiordo Bernardo came to an end quicker than some of us wanted. There was a good deal of confusion over when the boat (La Libertad) would arrive to take us back to Tortel, but when it finally did we had a good going away fiesta. The boat crew brought some white wine ashore to make a bowl of Ponche (white wine + canned peaches + an ungodly amount of sugar) and Felador played the guitar late into the night. Everyone went upstairs to listen to Felador’s music and for “mucho dancing queen”, which was our gauchos’ way of describing our poor attempt at the local dancing style. Really what we were doing was jumping around in pairs; there was hardly any method to the madness.
We awoke before the sun the following morning, and got ready to load the boat. With a solemn face Orlando said to Laurel, “Algunos van a quedar y algunos van a salir.” (Some will stay and some will leave). With a few of us feeling as we never wanted to leave this amazing place, Laurel replied, as a joke, “Quien quedan?” And in response came the typical and frequently mimicked exclamation from Orlando, “Pwaaaaah, es obvio!” (indicating, or so we thought, that Orlando and Felador would indeed remain at the refuge and we would not be leaving any students behind). We got ready to say goodbye to the Guardaparque Gauchos we had come to know and love during our 3 weeks at Fiordo Bernardo. Once we had walked down to the boat and loaded our gear, I gave Orlando a big hug and let him know how much I appreciated all he and Felador had done for us, in the best Spanish I could muster. He was grateful, but a bit awkward. He seemed confused by my parting words, and then proceeded to hop on the boat. Felador followed suit, and we all stood a bit confused. “Ven Chicos” he said. We all hopped on, and realized several hours into the ride that they were in fact accompanying us to Tortel. Laurel made sure to poke fun at Orlando for his sassy comment about how they were “obviously” going to stay in Fiordo Bernardo.
The boat ride was spectacular. There was a cute wood fired stove in the cabin, a bunk bed to take naps and read on, and an open area on the bow to enjoy the vistas. For about a half-hour in the middle of the 15-hour journey, six or seven dolphins danced around the front of the boat. The seas were calm and the skies clear. The mountains had been dusted with a blanket of snow the night before, that came to less than 1,000 feet from sea level. But more amazing than almost any of the mountains or glacial valleys we passed, was the sunset. The sky turned a deep fiery red as we sat on the front of the boat eating our pasta dinner. It was a perfect moment to bring to a close that section of our adventure. We talked about how many of us wanted to come back to Fiordo Bernardo one day to study anything from glaciers to the gaucho lifestyle. They say if you eat a calafate berry, you’re destined to come back to Patagonia. Lucky enough for this group, I think we’ve eaten enough calafate to spend a lifetime here.