Sunday, April 15, 2018

Valle Cochamo' - a private park in Patagonia

South America adventures 2018 - Episode 7
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Some say that Patagonia's Cochamo' Valle park, the first major stop on our road trip, is reminiscent of Yosemite National Park. Photo credit - Chelsea Behymer
We awoke in the Puerto Varas hostel, not exactly refreshed.

The kerosene fumes that about did me in the previous day had left the building, but we'd stayed up past midnight trying to hammer out an itinerary that included making reservations. Old people like to know where they might lay their heads the next night. 

The millennial people.....not that interested. But trying hard to accommodate.

PK and I were still giddy about a couple weeks on the road in Patagonian with our son and his partner, Chelsea Behymer. (I'm restraining myself from typing a row of !!!). The serendipity involved for this to occur sounds made up, but it is a true story.

Patagonia comprises the southern-most parts of Chile and Argentina. We traveled in Chile only. The terrain, unlike most of Patagonia, was cool and damp rainforest. 

Regarding accommodations, we were looking at Airbnbs, lodges and hostels. As we began our two-week journey, we had three nights booked. That was it. And also a ferry ride or two planned, I think. At least we were set for the next couple of nights.

But first things first. Trip food.

It was rainy and cool as we stopped at a supermarket on our way out of Puerto Varas. December through February is high tourist season in Chile, like summer in the USA. Most tourist areas were crowded, and traffic and parking were ridiculous in urban areas. As were scoring restaurant seating and negotiating 20-foot long lines at the supermarket.

Never mind. Our goal was to a get outta town into the wilds of Patagonia without having to hunt and gather.

We left the market with a cardboard box stuffed with salad fixings, a little salami and prosciutto, fruit, cheese, bread, peanut butter, coffee, cream, and Chilean wine. The basics.

At this lunch stop, we were reduced to mostly peanut butter. Did you know it's good with veggies and stale chocolate chip muffins? Chelsea is helping Chris dress up a carrot.
We used that same cardboard box the entire trip, avoiding as much packaging and plastic as possible. Chile is committed to recycling and conservation in a big way. But the country is not likely as committed as our traveling companions, who never intentionally buy plastic bags or plastic almost-anything.

Reuse, buy used, waste nothing.

Traffic thinned the farther away we got from Puerto Varas, and soon we were on a gravel road carrying us into the wild Patagonia I had imagined.

En route to Cochamo' we saw two young guys hitchhiking at a sharp curve along a snaking
narrow road, no shoulders, no place to pull off to pick them up. 

And who picks up hitchhikers, anyway? Chris does.

He depended on hitchhiking when he first traveled in Chile 12 years ago and "people picked me up all the time."

He jumped out to rearrange our super-sized luggage, gear and groceries stuffed under a bluetarp in the pickup bed. Space was tight, but the hitchhikers whooped at getting a ride.

Turns out they were headed to the same place we were: Valle Cochamo'.
The Cochamo Valley is not a park or Public Reserve. From here to the border the trail passes through private property. To be able to visit, enjoy, and maintain good relations with the landowners, it is very important to respect these rules and stay on the trail. 
Like numerous parks in Chile, Cochamo' is private. That doesn't mean it's a club with
exclusive memberships, or that it costs big bucks to visit, but that the property owner takes
care of it and wants to share its beauty.
According to an August 2013 United Nations study, an impressive 308 private parks now exist throughout Chile, covering more than 1.65 million hectares (4 million acres), with more than half in the southern regions of Los Lagos, Magallanes and Los Rios. More  striking, over 200 of the parks are led by individual owners and some 60 percent are small private parks of less than 200 hectares (50 acres). From the Patagon Journal article Private Parks on the Rise, Summer 2014 issue. 
We visited several private parks, even one with a visitors' center that charged a $10 entry fee.
Cochamo' was free to hikers, but charged $15 a night for tent camping.
We stayed two nights at Campo Aventura along the Cochamo' River not far from a trailhead leading to a hanging valley six miles uphill. Once in the valley, numerous other trails provide access for campers and climbers. The large body of water on this map is a bay. The Chocamo' River is close enough to the ocean to be affected by tides.

SSpeaking of the Cochamo' River, it was just a few steps from the sweet cabins we rented for $20 a person per night, including a homemade-everything breakfast.
Of course our companions were compelled 
to take a dip in the snowmelt stream, which 
they did most days depending upon the 
presence of cold, clear water that did not
require negotiating life-threatening access.
Chelsea gloating, following a polar dip, about her foresight to grab
 a robe from the cabin, a surprising perk for a minimalist accommodation.
And a minimalist person.
View looking up the Cochamo' River near Campo Aventura.
To reach the cabins at Camp Aventura, we crossed a swinging bridge
and passed through a sheep pasture.
Campo Aventura is rustic. The building on the right is a common area with a wood stove and sheepskin-covered seats for hikers to warm up. We used it to prepare and enjoy our usual dinner salad and a bit of vino. Well, quite a bit.
The next day Chris and Chelsea planned to hike to the hanging valley, six miles up, and camp for the night. However, they were advised that the camping was closed as more than 1,000 people had reserved spots. What?! A thousand? Well, in that case, who wants to camp? 

They decided to go up and back in one day.

PK and I knew we didn't want to do a 12-mile hike, but set off to walk as far as we could in a few hours on the only trail to the hanging valley. Roads do not exist in the park.
Mud was ankle deep in some spots.
Trail was a trench much of the time.
We decided that the next time we're there (and we do want to return) we'll hike and 
make reservations at the lodge up top. However, we won't be too proud to hire a horse to
pack in our stuff.

It was fun seeing horses crossing the crystalline snowmelt creeks. Hikers took the swinging bridges. Photo credit....Chelsea Behymer

One of numerous swinging bridges. Horses can't use them. 
Photo credit.....Chris Korbulic

Loved the madrone-like trees near the cabins.
Also loved....
Foxgloves and fuchsia TREES dripping with blooms,along the trail.
Horses and waterfalls along the road to the trailhead.
Playful banter between Mike Rock, the caretaker/manager at Campo Aventura, and a horse packer just returning from the mountain. In the small world department, Mike had lived in Ashland, OR, not far from our home, and had guided trips on the Rogue River. He's lived in Chile for 17 years and has no plans to return north.
This is a Chilean dish that the four of us shared at a restaurant in the town, Cochamo'. We'd seen families devouring huge plates at various locations, and decided to give it a try. Wouldn't order it again, but pichanga includes sausages, hot dogs, boiled potatoes, tomatoes, boiled eggs, avocados and mozzarella cheese. In the background, is what's left of the best crab dish any of us had ever tasted, a thick cheesy soup. 

On the right, the handwritten cheque for this meal, which included a beer and a bottle of wine. With tip included, the total is around $70 USD. 

Chile is not cheap!

 It is also not a Third World country. Chris, who has traveled around the world, including most of South America, says it's his favorite.

In a future post, I want to explore why.

And also take a quick look at other places we traveled during this trip: Argentina and Uruguay.

Coming soon... finding an accommodation the old-fashioned way, and tackling another challenging trail, this one in Parque Nacional Hornopiren.

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