Stories, pictures, bits and bobs relating to a trip
to Chile in November/December 1998
From the sublime
You'll find an informal
account of my travels here
Random quote of the trip:
"In the end, we will conserve that which we love. We
will love that which we understand. And we will understand that which
we are taught."
|I spent three
weeks with the British youth development charity Raleigh International
who have been running expeditions to Chile for the last ten years.
Their mission rubric "People, Projects, Purpose" could
easily be changed to "Plebs, Porridge and Personality Disorders..."
were all taken in the Laguna San Rafael National Park
in the Aisen region, central Chilean Patagonia. The
large glacier forms part of the northern Patagonian Ice Sheet
and resembles a giant Mr Whippy machine sliding inexorably down
from snowy peaks two thousand metres above.
pieces of ice continuously calve from the glacier's phalanx
of cobalt blue ice. Groans and roars echo around the lagoon,
like Old Man Time stretching his weary limbs.
quote of the trip:
When God created the world, he had a handful of everything
left -- mountains, deserts, lakes, glaciers -- and he put
it all in his pocket. But there was a hole in this pocket,
and as God walked across Heaven, it all trickled out, and
the long trail it made on Earth was Chile.
Independent on Sunday (Travel section) published an
article "Adventure with a capital R" about Raleigh
as an alternative means of travel on 21st March. Text here. A feature article about Raleigh
appeared in BBCWildlife magazine in their July
1999 issue, scan here.
Random Raleigh quotes:
Q: Which luxury item do you wish you had brought
with you on expedition?
A: A woman.
Q: What's been your favourite meal?
A: I haven't had one. The food has been disgusting!
Q: What are you going to do when you get back to
A: Sort my head out and get used to being back in
the UK and civilisation.
refers to writers as 'cut-purses', raiding other people's experiences.
That makes me the Artful Dodger.
|Dom's dodgy translation
|Esta es la Patagonia
de la Tierra y el Agua infinita
espedazada en un torrente de amor, navegando un
solo rio henchido de milagro. Es todo el viento soplando
en el corazon, un transparente jinete del Universo
cabresteando sobre la cruz del sur. Patagonia como
un caballo ciego galopando en la noche de las inmensas
moles. Todos las nubes arremetiendo furiosas en el
pantano del cielo. Una tropilla verde piafando hasta la
tusa en los rios del delirio. Esta es la nieve inmensa
repartida como el pan en la mesa de Dios y el sol
azul. Este es el Sur de la gloriosa tempestad, un
remolino puro sobre las islas Huichas, predio final del
hielo y de la flor herida colgando del abismo con sus
alas de sangre. Esta es la piedra antigua y el paramo
inicial del ultimo huemul tierno y salvaje.
|This is Patagonia
of infinite Land and Water
riven by a
torrent of love, navigating a
single miracle-swollen river. It is all the love
whispering in one's heart, a transparent Universal rider
careering over the Southern Cross. Patagonia like
a blind horse galoping through the dead weights
of night. Every cloud spurred on furious in the
marsh of the sky. A green bird singing to the last
in the rivers of delirium. This is the immense snow
shared out like the bread on God's table and the sun
crying alight above the solitude of the same blue forest.
This is the South of the glorious storm, a
pure whirlwind above the Huicha isles, the last estate of
ice and of the wounded flower clinging to the abyss with
its bloodied wings. This is the age-old rock and the first
bleak plateau of the last tender and wild huemul.
|All our activities are linked to
the idea of journeys. And I like to think that
our brains have an information system giving us our orders for
the road, and that here lie the mainsprings of our restlessness.
At an early stage man found he could spill out all this information
in one go, by tampering with the chemistry of the brain. He could
fly off on an illusory journey or an imaginary ascent. Consequently
settlers naively identified God with the vine, hashish or a hallucinatory
mushroom, but the true wanderers rarely fall prey to this illusion.
Drugs are vehicles for people wo have forgotten how to
Actual journeys are more effective, economic and instructive than
faked ones. We should tread the steps of Hesiod up Mount Helicon
and hear the Muses. They are certain to appear if we listen carefully.
We should follow the Taoist sages, Han Shan up Cold Mountain in
his little hut, watching the seasons go by, or the great Li
Po -- "You asked me what is my reason for lodging in the
grey hills: I smiled but made no reply for my thoughts were idling
on their own; like the flowers of the peach tree, they had sauntered
off to other climes, to other lands that are not of the world
Bruce Chatwin, from an essay, The Nomadic
Alternative, in The Anatomy of Restlessness.
After Raleigh, I ventured north up the Carretera
Austral to Chaiten, a twelve hour bus ride stuffed with glaciers,
snow-capped peaks, lakes and too many stops. From there I took
another bus and entered the realm of Pumalin Park. Pumalin is
the park-dream of West Coast millionaire Doug Tompkins. Over
the last decade, he has bought up a thousand square miles of
Patagonian wilderness at a cost of around $15 million. His land
harbours some of the last remaining temperate rainforest --
cold, wet jungle -- in the world.
Gonzalo, he has established a tourist complex replete with restaurant,
campsite, lodges, trails and arts and crafts shops.
||All the cabañas are beautifully
finished. Walls painted matt blues, greens and ivories combine
with wholemeal-coloured bedspreads. Attention to detail is acute.
Note the animals carvings processing two by two along the bed
Four trails have
been cut into the surrounding forest. Swingbridges ford milky turquoise
rivers while didactic information panels tell you about the forest's
Although the scenery
is stunning, the welcome warm and the food excellent, it rains menageries
most of the time...
An article about the
park is at the excellent Planeta site, and also on Sustainable Business.com. A version was published in the June issue of New
Law Journal in the UK, and another appeared in Venezuela's English-language newspaper, The
Daily Journal, in July 2000. Global Adventure
magazine published another version of the article in 2002.
Extracts -- bus from Chaiten to Futaleufu:
Old man with his hand on his guitar's neck, Popeye Doyle hat perched on
his head. Pencil thin moustache above a mouth whose lower lip he chewed
remorselessly. Three stooges in the back. One on left's face was thinner
at the brow than it was at the jaw, with deep inset eyes which were crossed.
Man in middle glared at me with sunken, sullow cheeks and sad eyes. One
on right was podgy, cheeks pink above his moustache. The indent between
his mouth and chin was so deep it was dark. He slept most of the journey.
Another man boarded. I don't think he was drunk, but he had the air and
gait of someone who spends most of their time stupefied. He kept showing
me the photo of this young woman, and rubbing it between his fingers like
a talisman. Wonder how long it will last.
When he was at school at the
height of the Cold War, Chatwin and his friends formed an Emigration Committee.
They poured over maps and atlases for the safest place to be in the event
of a nuclear holocaust. They finally pointed their no doubt ink-stained
fingers at the "quaint tail of the South American continent".
|Post Pumalin, I headed back
south along the Carretera, and then west towards the Argentine
border to the town of Futaleufú. Having read a short story, The
Estate of Maximilian Tod, by the British author Bruce Chatwin
not included in his famous travel book In Patagonia,
I wanted to find the "lost" valley which is mentioned
in the story. I'm not sure whether I found it.
||I'd listened to all my tapes backwards.
I'd forgotten to pack more books and was forced to re-read the
ones I had over and over. One sentence in particular stung me.
At the end of In Patagonia, Chatwin finds the cave where
his Uncle Charley discovered the piece of prehistoric mylodon
skin which spurred his trip. He scrabbles about amongst the rocks
and stones until, on the verge of giving up, he finds a few strands
of coarse reddish hair he recognises. He remarks in his inimitable
pithy prose: 'I had accomplished the object of this ridiculous
My notebooks were full of scribbles, my books scarred with underlining
and exclamation marks, my head heavy with obscure facts about
nomads. I'd found the valley, done my research, taken the photo,
proved my point. At that moment though, my journey felt no less
ridiculous than Chatwin's.
What I did find was
a beautiful lake basking in a warm microclimate where a Jolly Green Giant
of a man, Anibal Vallejos, runs a campsite and lodges. He takes people
on horse rides up in the mountains and fishing on the lake by his house.
The account of my search for the lost valley and my research into Chatwin's
writing was published in the South American Explorer magazine in the US in their Winter99
issue. More photos here.
Chatwin in Esquel, Argentina:
Having walked the main street and found nothing, I waited for an old man
to finish his conversation before asking "I have a bit of a strange
question, but..." He had a grey flat cap, handsome features with
a white moustache tinged ochre and a long grey cardigan over a shirt and
tie. He seemed quite thrown by my question and rubbed his chin staring
vaccously at me. When I mentioned the penguin jugs, a penny dropped and
a little later he said "Well, there was a restaurant called El Penguino
on the main street. It was there," he pointed to a two storey building,
"but that was a while ago now." Chunk. His memory seized again.
"I'm old you know," he chuckled. I'd told him I was French to
avoid any nationalistic outbursts. "Au revoir," he said with
a flourish, as he waved me off.
I went into the only restaurant open on the street. A grand affair with
acres of darkly-stained wood. Kate Bush wafted over the clientele and
a bonsai Christmas tree blinked several colours of tack. No, it wasn't
themselves run continually round, the sun riseth and sets, stars
and planets keep their constant motions, the air is still tossed
by the winds, the waters ebb and flow...to teach us that we
should ever be in motion.' Robert Burton (1577-1640)
In the US: T 1-415-771-1102 F 1-415-771-1121
In Chile: T 56-65-25-00-79 F 56-65-25-51-45
Travel Information for Pumalin Park
More on Pumalin: Outside magazine
Carretera Austral (tour operator in Chaiten)
La Casa de Campo - Hosteria y Camping (Anibal
Vallejos), Futaleufu, Palena (X): T 56-65-31-46-58
Austral Adventures (boat trips from P Montt south): T &
F 56-2-735-6224. firstname.lastname@example.org
Al Sur Expediciones (kayaking, hiking in and around
P Montt): T & F 56-65-232-300. email@example.com
Aerohein (Flights from Coyhaique to LSR): T &
F 56-67-232-772 or 56-67-252-177
CONAF (Chilean Forestry Service and Parks Authority):
In Coyhaique 56-237-070. In Santiago 56-2-69-666-77
Chile Information Project (CHIP)
Anatomy of Restlessness, Bruce Chatwin
Patagonia Revisited, BC and Paul Theroux
Travels in a Thin Country, Sara Wheeler
Luis Sepulveda, Full Circle
Voyage of the Beagle, Charles Darwin
Of Love and Shadows, Isabel Allende
Idle Days in Patagonia, W.H. Hudson
Canto General, Pablo Neruda
Antologia Poetica, Gabriela Mistral
A Nation of Enemies, Constable and Valenzuela
Trekking in the Patagonian Andes,
Chile Handbook, Footprint
Eco Travels in Chile
is to place the head, the eye and the heart in the same line of
sight." Henri Cartier-Bresson