Team Condor Flies High
Text and Photos by Hannah Weiss, University of Vermont
Cochrane, Chile. January 23rd 2017 – January 30th, 2017
We rolled in to base camp on the 23rd of January amazed – after our 6 hour drive along Lago General Carrera (the largest lake in Chile), through the Patagonian Steppe and grassland valleys, we had finally arrived in Cochrane; the place for Wifi, laundry, showers, and relaxation. On a bright, summertime day, we pulled in to the dusty driveway of our wonderful hosts – Gilberto and Angelica – and found our new home-away-from-home for the next week.
After meeting Team Aguila (all very lovely people) and the other instructors (Adam and Shay), the grand tour began: the ‘Quincho’ was stop number 1: this wooden and concrete building would function as our kitchen, dining room, laundry location, classroom, and general hangout area. Among all the locations at base camp, we collectively spend the most time in the Qunicho – the single room was built into the hillside, and a heavily metamorphosed schist bedrock makes up one of the walls. The open fireplace and walls adorned with animal skulls, strange pieces of wood, and musical instruments give the place a homey and comfortable feel.
After our introduction to the Qunicho, stop 2 on the tour was our sleeping quarters. We decided to take over the “Upstairs”, or as we named it, “the Penthouse.” In reality, it’s a small flat-ish section of land up a steep incline from the Qunicho. Team Condor set our eight colorful tents up among clusters of yellowing grasses, each of us trying desperately to find the perfect place where we’re least likely to end up at the bottom of our tents in the morning. Our sleeping place gets its name not from the luxuriously lumpy ground or the prickly burs that attack any fabric it comes in contact with, but instead, from its incredible view – we look out over the valley and can see gorgeous craggy peaks in the distance, an old, meandering river in the mid-ground, and our adorable Quincho and Gilberto and Angelica’s house in the foreground. It’s a pretty lucky place to wake up in.
Though each day of the past week has felt busy, we haven’t physically done a whole lot. A typical day consists of class beginning at 10am in the Quincho. Breakfast and lunch is DIY. Classes (taught by any of the seven instructors or guests) end mid-afternoon, and there is usually enough time to either swim in the freezing waters of Rio Cochrane, write in our journals, complete readings for the next days’ classes, or take a trip into town to hopefully connect to some place’s Wifi. Dinners for some reason always begin between 9pm and 10pm. Hangout sessions ensue after cleanup with both Team Aguila and Condor and bedtime ranges anywhere from 12am to 3am.
We’re constantly amazed that we’re receiving academic credit for learning about subjects we’re genuinely interested in, and that we get to do so in a breathtakingly beautiful place. Rocky, young (geologically-speaking) snowy peaks surround the town, the Rio Cochrane snakes through the center and whichever direction you look, there is not a bad vista in sight.
The Plaza (a square park in the middle of Cochrane) has free, extremely temperamental Wifi. The nearby supermercado has Chilean equivalents of many foods you could think of (and provide fun opportunities to try and understand Chilean spanish). Very friendly and occasionally territorial dogs roam the streets. Stamps aren’t sold in town. Hitch-hiking a ride from town back to base camp is a fun challenge. Because of the hole in the ozone, sunscreen is a necessity for even a short walk from town.
On Monday, January 30th we will begin section three of our Patagonian adventure – a backpacking trip near glaciers, helping out a campesino who wants to bring WWOOFing to his farm, and, as always our constant search for Huemul Deer are all to come within the next three weeks.
We’ll become smellier, more upset about environmental destruction, and hopefully more inspired to work harder for change. We’ll get closer as a crew, we’ll form stronger connections to the Patagonian landscape, and we’ll learn more about Chile’s natural history and ecology. And, you’ll get to hear ALL about it in the next blog post.