Life in the Valley
November 14, 2013
By Alice Hotopp (Colby College)
Life in Valle Chacabuco is becoming familiar to us. Sections of road are recognizable by the way their bumps and puddles jostle the trucks as we drive over them. We all know how to light our camp stoves and how to use the water filters. Names of plants and animals around camp come more easily to us now – no longer do we reach for the guidebooks each time we see a bird. We know the names of surrounding peaks and we have explored the cliff tops on the ridge above camp that once seemed so far away.
The group has settled into a bit of a routine. During our days at Los West Winds camp we cook meals for each other, read and write papers for our classes, play soccer and hacky-sack, and run the loop around the campground. Although not always on schedule, we’ve gotten more efficient at packing up camp when we head out for a new part of the park. When we arrive at a site for a bird or vizcacha survey we know how to pick vantage points and where to train our binoculars; we’ve been tweaking our survey methods and data sheets as we learn more about the ecology of the area.
Yet, my favorite part of our routine here is how regularly we’re blown away by this place. Life in the valley, although a life that now seems normal, is still wild and unpredictable. As soon as we become comfortable with a place or fond of a beautiful bird species, we encounter something wholly new and exciting. I was reminded of this during our recent trip to Lago Chico, a higher elevation lake farther east in the valley. Hiking to the lake we quickly noticed how different the surrounding hills and vegetation were – here there were sandy hills and mountainsides; Nirre trees (which are common throughout the valley) grew like stunted, twisted shrubs; impossibly tall and jagged peaks in the distance – the whole place had a look and feel that we had not yet encountered elsewhere in the park.
Also, things that have become ordinary to us still do not fail to occasionally surprise us – the guanacos around camp, for example, pretty regularly exhibit some new and crazy behavior that we didn’t expect. Normally docile creatures, we were pretty shocked the first time we saw one of them furiously charge another.
The people in the group continue to amaze me as well. Although we’ve come to know each other fairly well in the past weeks, people will randomly impress me with some new skill or step up in a tight situation. The sunsets here, although we see them every day, regularly manage to stop me in my tracks, floor me with a sense of awe.
In short, we’ve made a little home here in the Chacabuco Valley. While we have our habits and routines, the only thing that’s been constant is change itself. We continue to uncover new secrets, discover little nuances about this place and about each other. Though the extraordinary has now become a part of our every day, I am constantly reminded not to quiet the curiosity that keeps me looking around each bend in the trail.