Showing posts with label chris korbulic. Show all posts
Showing posts with label chris korbulic. Show all posts

Thursday, May 10, 2018

Going deeper into Patagonia - but not far enough.

A scene fit for Valentine's Day as we approached the ferry landing at Caleta Gonzalo, a tiny but hyper-busy-twice-a-day ferry port with one overnight tourist accommodation.  
Ferry rides are not optional if one intends to go south into Chilean Patagonia. Especially recently, as the major road, Carretera Austral (AKA southern route), intended to connect a chain of 17 national parks, had a massive blowout during heavy rains earlier this year necessitating a significant watery detour. 

The Carretera Austral concept of connecting parks from Pumalin Park, that begins just north of where we disembarked from the ferry, into the far reaches of southern Chile, began taking shape in the 1970s, according to this must-read National Geographic article.

In the 1970s, the  road was planned to be under 800 miles. Now the goal is 1,500 miles from Pumalin Park, where this post begins, to the far reaches of the continent near Cape Horn.

Read the article. You will want to go there. We're determined to return before we get too old, which could be coming soon.  Maybe we'll go this winter, which happens to be "summer" in Patagonia.

As a one-time-so-far traveler in Chilean Patagonia, I see the region as an adventure traveler's paradise.  It's wild, dramatic, lightly populated, rugged, gorgeous, and unique in the world. It's not luxury travel at all, unless you consider experiencing pretty much unadulterated places luxury. Which, I do. We do. 

As I write this, nearing the end of my posts about our Patagonian experiences, my longing to return grows stronger. I'm only 73. I can tackle more muddy, steep, treacherous hikes in some of the most stunning landscapes on earth. I know I can. And PK? He's not even 70 yet. No problem.

Bicyclists were everywhere in Patagonia (outside of cities). I marveled at fully loaded bicycles being leg-powered up steep roads, most dusty, graveled, and/or under construction. The light colored bike above was handmade from bamboo by its owner, a remarkable woman who was nearing the end of her solo adventure from northern South America (Colombia) to the end of the road at Cape Horn. Kate Rawles has a great story. Worth your time. 

The six-hour ferry ride through Chilean fiords was non stop gorgeous. It began in Hornoporin and ended at Caleta Gonzalo,not a town but a jumping off point to more southerly destinations,including ours, Chaiten, about 35 miles away. 
I was fascinated watching the wind press and swirl this seemingly endless cloud around a behemoth rock next to the ferry landing. Dolphins were spotted close by.
 The yellow line traces our route from Puerto Varas (a bit north of Puerto Montt) to Caleta Gonzalo to Chaiten,where we spent a night in a hostel before retracing our steps.

The yellow line on the green (Chile) on the map below represents the same area as the map above - traveling south from Puerto Montt. 

The red line traces most of our cruise. That little yellow thingie is our road trip. Obviously, we saw much more of Patagonia from the cruise ship.

Overall, we spent roughly equal time on land and sea. If I was forced at gunpoint to pick one over the other, it would be the road trip.

We could book that cruise any time. But the opportunity to travel with our son, Chris, and GF, Chelsea, may never come again.

Benefits to the pleasure of their company:
  • More randomness and surprises
  • Greater physical challenges
  • More feel for the place as we explored roads, trails and accommodations 
  • It didn't hurt that Chris speaks passable Spanish and acted as our guide.
  • It didn't hurt that they are such fun to be with.
The ferry dropped us into the Pumalin National Park, the largest private park (but open to all) in the world. It was formed by an American, Richard Tompkins, founder of North Face and Esprit brands, who purchased vast tracts of land to preserve and protect them from resource exploitation. Chile boasts numerous privately owned parks (open to the public) but Pumalin is the most recent and the largest.

Another wow moment along the road in Pumalin Park as we made our way from Caleta Gonzalo about 35 miles south to Chaiten, the closest town.

Just a few steps from the ferry landing at Caleta Gonzalo, we saw a sign we were compelled to follow: Trail to the Waterfalls is what it says. Plus a note that it takes three hours to walk to the falls and back. Three hours can be a very long time.
We got right on it. I don't know which was my worst mistake:
  • Expecting the trail to be easy. It started that way, got harder.
  • Carrying a water bottle, thus having one useless hand that could  have been clutching branches and rocks as the going got rough.
  • Not bringing a hiking pole. I should have known from previous Patagonian trails that they are never easy.
I also brought my "real" camera (not just my iPhone) The trouble with my compact Lumix Panasonic, which I love, is that it doesn't fit in my pocket. Thus another thing to carry, this one around my neck. Good thing it had a protective leather case as it banged into rocks and trees climbing short but steep trail segments.
Numerous wooden bridges eased passage over bogs and streams on Cascadas Sendero..
 This is a pleasing freeway section of the early trail 
that allows gawking without constant attention to whether 
one's next step will lead to one's injury or demise. Ok.
That's an exaggeration. This trail was hard for me because
I was carrying stuff in my hands. And because, well, it was hard.

I'd been warned that we'd encounter a stream that was high water and dangerous to cross. We reached that stream. PK and I evaluated and decided not.

Chris? He just leapt across, 50 pounds of never-left-behind camera gear on his back. He never considered not taking the leap.

Chelsea? She had issues. She's several inches shorter than Chris, not quite the leg span required. I used my Lumix Panasonic telephoto magic to capture this series.
Ummm. I don't think so.

Wait! I'll come get you!
Not a drop of blood spilled, a foot dipped in glacial melt, nor a temporal artery popped.
Nothing to it, right?

The final trail destination, a spectacular waterfall.
Chris Korbulic photo credit. I sure didn't get far enough to see it.
Maybe with a hiking pole or a bridge time.
I hope to write at least one more post about what happened between where this post ends and the completion of our Patagonian exploration. The day chronicled above ended in Chetain. After we'd rescued two bicyclists from being stranded in the dark 10 miles from town, we checked into our hostel, then ventured into the small village at 11:30 p.m. to find dinner. We couldn't believe that the recommended restaurant was packed, and that as we left close to 1 a.m., other diners were still coming in. 

Maybe it's the long daylight hours during summer in the Southern Hemisphere. Maybe it's cultural. But I gotta say, where I live, not many restaurants are open past 10 p.m. I think there's something very good about staying up late socializing. With children On week nights. How do they do it?

Experiencing and observing cultural differences are among the many marvels of international travel. 

I could write another post about time spent with Chris in more northern regions of Chile, after Chelsea left to honor work contracts. I want to do this, because it was such a great time having him show us places and introduce us to people who were important to him as he formed his plan to be a pro kayaker when he left Oregon almost 13 years ago.

But what happens with blogging-as-fun is that life gets in the way. Our Patagonia experience has been over since late January. Other remarkable, to me, anyway, stuff has gone down and I'm about to begin a series of river trips and other adventures. Not to mention a return to gardening, which I'm feeling pretty sweet about these days. After much ambivalence. 

I'm grateful to be alive.

Thanks  for reading.

Earlier posts about our South American travels

Sunday, April 15, 2018

Valle Cochamo' - a private park in Patagonia

South America adventures 2018 - Episode 7
Email subscribers, please click on blog title for a better viewing experience.
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.

Thursday, February 1, 2018

Ushuaia, Patagonian peat moss, and a polar plunge

PK and I traveled through Chile and Argentina from December 18, 2017 to January 18, 2018,  first on a ship and then a road trip. Most of the time we were with our son, Chris and his partner, Chelsea. This is the second in a series of posts about sharing adventures with smart, intrepid, super-fit millennials on a mission to show us a great time. This post is about New Years day, when the assignment was hiking to a mountain lake via peat bogs and beaver dams. Polar plunge, optional.
PK and me at Laguna Esmeralda in the southern Andes Mountains near Ushuaia, Argentina, on the Tierra de Fuego Archipelago in Patagonia, which encompasses the southern reaches of Chile and Argentina. We never dreamed we'd be here. Remembering this, and other stellar days, is like a dream. Sure makes ordinary life, well, ordinary. 
Photo credit, Chris Korbulic  

This is how Ushuaia looked on New Years morning as we awoke on the cruise ship. We got an early start on our hike because the ship was scheduled to leave early - 3:30 p.m. so as to have daylight to navigate Glacier Alley through the Beagle Channel. 
The 6.2 mile RT trail to the lake began as a flat stroll with an occasional hop over tree roots. This forest persisted as a thick grove for awhile, but we saw many more of this beech-like tree called Lenga, in different sizes and conditions along the trail. We hired a taxi both ways as the trailhead was 20 kilometers, about 12.5 miles, from Ushuaia. The driver also arranged to pick us up. Cost? $100. Nobody said traveling in Chile/Argentina is cheap. On the other hand, guided tours were being offered for this hike at $140 a person. Guess we did OK.

This hike was not a shore excursion arranged via the cruise ship, but one Chelsea knew about due to her status as the ship's naturalist. It was just the four of us, although we saw other small groups along the way. The trail wasn't too steep. It did, however, require balancing on shifting footing, jumping over obstacles, and getting your feet wet and/or muddy. 
After climbing a short heart-pumping slope we ended up in a peat bog! The earth's surface, a quick Google search reveals, is covered 3 percent with peat. The southern hemisphere's bogs, mostly in Patagonia, represent only 1 percent of the total. Peat is an accumulation of partially decayed vegetation, and a peat ecosystem is the most effective carbon sink on the planet. For hikers, though, the peat is a pain. Think mud.
Makeshift (and shifting) bridges carried us over some of the
mud holes. But many sections were without a clear trail.
Hiking poles recommended! I managed to find a serviceable stick

in the woods. And left it, a stick in the mud. 

Another group heads over to take a look at a significant beaver dam that blocked a creek to form a pond. Beavers are not native, and their work is considered destructive.
Chelsea and Chris at Laguna Esmeralda, which is fed by glacial melt. A few minutes after this photo was taken, they did something that was common throughout our month together. Whenever cold, clear water was near, and they could get to it without serious injury, they went for a dip. I couldn't believe it either. 
Chris leaping rock-to-rock over the river flowing from the lake, chasing Chelsea as she charges over hill and dale for a private polar dip. I read later that we could have taken a path to the right and circled the small lake, even climbed to the glacier that feeds it. 

We were surrounded by mountains. Every turn brought another ahhhhhh vista.

This grey fox appeared on the return trip not far off the trail. It seemed amenable to being photographed as we were not the first to click cameras around it. Earlier, we saw an Andean Condor. Quite a thrill! However, it was too distant and active for a photo.
  The fox hurried downhill, perhaps tired of attention.
 It was fun to see that its tail was as long as its body

 and twice as bushy.
Chelsea, her hair still damp from her polar plunge,
couldn't contain her enthusiasm as we made
our way back to the trailhead. 
 Agreed. It was a fine day!
We were back in Ushuaia in time for lunch, and were
jazzed about sampling the King Crab for which the area is known.
Alas, the cruise ship had spilled so many people into the town that
finding four seats in a seafood restaurant at 2 p.m. was as unlikely as
having clean boots after navigating a peat bog.
Our last look at beautiful Ushuaia as we sailed away on this unforgettable New Years Day. I feel bad about not having had time to see the nearby Tierra del Fuego National Park or any of the SEVEN museums in a town of around 60,000 (as of the 2010 census.) 

(The negatives about cruising, which I plan to explore in a later post, include port visits that can only touch the surface.)

Ushuaia has a surprising electronics industry in addition to tourism and a naval presence. However, its major claim to fame, emblazoned on many a T shirt and hat, is that it is located at The End of the Worldthe southern most city in South America.   


Rounding Cape Horn - a New Year's Eve to remember