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What an Adventure!

What an Adventure!

December 12, 2012

By Scott Hartle (Northland College ’14)

What an adventure!

Our time here in Patagonia is sadly coming to an end. Many of the students are either heading home tomorrow or are continuing their adventures. I will recount the events leading up to us arriving in Monreal, Coyhaique (where we began) to give you a feel of our crescendo.

December 5th was our final day at Los West Winds campground in Valle Chacabuco, which has been our home away from home for the past couple of months. To complete the task of closing down camp, a number of operations had to be completed. Kari, Sam, and Heidi went into Cochrane to post their blogs and purchase food for our much anticipated trip to Tortel. The rest of the Round River family began taking down camp by cleaning, organizing and taking out the rubbish. Throughout the day, Ryan was working hard grading our natural history practical exams. Many people did laundry and packed up in anticipation of leaving Los West Winds early the next morning.

While in Cochrane, Sam and Heidi assisted locals chase a chicken out of a corner shop while they were buying our food. The day ended with a fine dinner prepared by Heidi and myself and the Round River family enjoying each other’s company well into the night. The following morning we completed cleaning and taking down camp. To complete the task there were many trips to the bodega to store equipment that was not broken or being taken back to the United States in preparation for next semester. The Green machine left Los West Winds to assist moving the supplies, leaving Ingrid, Kellen, Heidi, Kelly, Ryan, Kari and myself behind. We did a final sweep of camp and jumped into the Red Rover and said our final goodbyes to Los West Winds.

On the drive leaving the valley we saw a Guanaco with her newly born Chulengo (baby Guanaco). It was a beautiful sight. The Chulengo was attempting to stand but kept falling down. It is vital that the Chulengo learns to walk as soon as possible so that it does not become easy prey for the Guanaco’s main predator the Puma. While the Chulengo was attempting to stand, the mother was keeping a close eye on her newborn while eating plants such as Coiron, Medapoa, and Mata Barrosa around her.

We continued our drive to Cochrane. Once there we grabbed a bite to eat from one of our frequently visited stores and purchased empanadas (local Chilean fast food) to tide us over for the 3 hour drive to Tortel. The drive was spectacular. Stunning views with vast mountains, lakes, waterfalls, all covered in a temperate rain forest. It was like looking through time at a prehistoric landscape. I would not have been surprised to see a Pterodactyl soaring above the trees. Tortel was a magical places with small multicolored dwellings nestled in the rock face along the shore line. All the buildings were connected via wooden walkways.

We immediately found information about where to camp and headed out to a beach with dwellings behind us and mountains emerging from the sea – breathtaking. We set up camp, found water, bathrooms and cooked dinner. The evening consisted of the group excitingly chatting about our plans for our remaining time in Tortel. When we awoke, we made breakfast and set about our plans for the day. The Round River family explored an area where in 1906 ~120 people were buried after they died from malnutrition (one theory). The locations of the graves were marked with large wooden crosses that had been weathered, removing many of the engravings once prominent across the crosses. The array of foliage found in Tortel was vast. Many beautiful plants lined the sides of the walkways emitting strange and powerful scents.

While we were in Tortel it was noticeable that much construction work was being done and that the main industry in Tortel was logging. New sections of walkway were being created along with large impressive wooden plazas with wood from a tree called Cypress de las Huaitecas. Much of this work was not for the sole benefit of the local people but for tourists who are expected to increase in number because of a relatively new road that was completed in 2004. Yes, 8 years is a long time but during our stay in Chile it was obvious that deadlines are not as rigid as in other countries in regards to construction work; not to mention the time it takes to acquire funding for such projects. Due to constant rain and wind the Round River family packed up camp the next day and began our drive back to Cochrane.

This was necessary because we had left belongings that were not needed for our trip to Tortel but were needed for Coyhaique and our final destinations. We also had a solemn reason. We were leaving 3 of our family members behind so they could begin their own adventures (Colin, Kellen, and Matt) but this was not happening until the next day, meaning we had one more night together. We drove to our camp site for the night which was located in Tamango National reserve and set up camp. For our evening meal and last meal together as a group, we went out to a restaurant called Café Restaurant- Ñirrantal in Cochrane. The food was amazing. After the meal we drove back to our campsite, lit a fire and hung out with NOLS students who were also at the campsite finishing up their stay in Patagonia. We all enjoyed each other’s company for our last evening together. We woke up early and packed up our gear.

In the morning, the entire group went on a ~3 hour hike where we saw beautiful scenery including wild flowers: Anemone, Sea Pink, Pin Clover, Cerastium, Yellow violet, Loopin, and Mutisa to name a few.

We were also surrounded but Ñirre trees which were emitting there wonderful cinnamon-like scent. The lake that was running along our right hand side was a stunning turquoise green/blue that was clear in places allowing us to see to the bottom. The water is this colour because of glacial till suspended in the water.

After the walk we loaded into the two cars and headed into Cochrane to drop off Colin, Matt, and Kellen so they could begin their own adventure. This was a sad occasion. After purchasing food,Colin, Kellen, and Matt removed their belongings from the truck. The family stood around eager to hug their friends goodbye and wish them well on their travels, accompanied by discussions around the next time we could meet up.

We got into the vehicles and headed to the bodega to remove the rest of our belongings. After this we made our way to Coyhaique, which we would do over two days. After a few hours in the cars we reached out mid-stop at Puerto Tranquilo where we camped in Manuel’s backyard. This was our final night in our tents in Patagonia before we arrived at Monrreal where we would be staying at Cristian’s. It was a sad day leaving Colin, Matt, and Kellen behind. After eating the now smaller Round River family spent the evening in the warmth of Marisol’s enjoying hot drinks and ice cream.We awoke early and took down camp to begin the long drive ~4 hours to Monrreal. We gave thanks and said goodbye to Manuel for allowing us to camp in his garden and use his facilities.

The drive to Monrreal was accompanied by stunningly beautiful scenery including turquoise blue lakes, prehistoric looking mountains and windy stretches of road. We stopped along the way and had lunch in Cerro Castillo, after which we made our final stretch back to Monreal. When we arrived we were greeted by Luna and Che, two loveable happy dogs and Cristian smiling at us. We collected our belongings and set up our living quarters. For the rest of the day some of us showered for the first time in a long while (for some of us, it was the first time the entire program). While the leaders were preparing dinner for us, the Round River group drank tea and watched movies, something we have all been craving. The weather outside picked up considerably and the windows rattled from the howling winds and rain. We were all very grateful to be indoors.

The next day involved going into Coyhaique to purchase souvenirs which gave the leaders much needed time to mark our work. In the evening the Round River family went to “Mamma Gaucha” to have pizza, which was delicious. The following afternoon, we helped Cristian perform some chores around the grounds and a few people headed back into Coyhaique to check in early and arrange seats on the airplane. The people who remained behind prepared dinner and did laundry to spare the people sitting next to us on our flights.

We have all grown from our experience. We come away with knowledge regarding Patagonia’s ecosystems, the struggles surrounding conservation and restoration work and an appreciation of what is needed to be done for the future of the human race and planet earth. Patagonia will be a place close to our hearts for many years to come. Friendships have been made and are expected to be long and fruitful.

Thank you.

All photos by Kari Signor.

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