Tough Travels to Christmastime in Chile
Merry Christmas, Happy Holidays!
Tyler and I are in Chile Chico, a quiet lake-side community halfway between Santiago and Tierra del Fuego. Our arrival here has ushered in the second half of Patagonia Soul, and we look with anticipation and excitement on the coming weeks. I am highly, wonderfully caffeinated, and thus this will likely be a long email. Just a headsup.
The past six days have been a rather grueling affair, and we are happy to be celebrating Christmas Eve tonight in relative comfort – with a cozy room, a place to keep our malodorous boots away from our offended noses, and a bottle of Castillero del Diablo to accompany a small chocolate bar. What could only make things better would be to share this space with you all.
Now, for context, a quick 10 day GP Travel Recap: Coyhaique --> Cerro Castillo Circuit --> Villa Cerro Castillo --> Coyhaique2.0 --> Rio Tranquilo --> Villa Cerro Castillo2.0 --> Rio Ibanez --> Puerto Ibanez --> Chile Chico.
This week has been our toughest yet, both mentally and physically. From Coyhaique2.0 Tyler and I traveled to Rio Tranquilo, a Lago General Carrera lakeside, small-town tourist destination along the Carretera Austral (Patagonia’s famed Route 7 highway) that features a long and bumpy gravel road south of Villa Cerro Castillo.
We hoped to check out the marble caves of Rio Tranquilo by packraft. The marble caves support the town’s tourism industry, which seemed to be the only industry Rio Tranquilo had going for it. Upon arrival we discovered that since the death of Doug Tompkins (The North Face founder), who died in a kayaking accident on Lago General Carrera last December, kayaking without a guide or a boat accompaniment was prohibited. This is understandable, but unfortunate for us because the cheapest price we could find to spend an hour paddling from port to caves to port was right at $60, out of budget and, after speaking with some unlucky hitchhikers, who had spent hours with sore thumbs on the side of the road, not worth the money. BUT, the lake was beautiful and the weather cleared up just long enough for us to enjoy this view.
Thus the next morning Tyler and I hitched (we have more luck hitchhiking because we offer a bag of Doritos as thanks and payment) back to Villa Cerro Castillo, to put us packrafting on the Rio Ibanez, a 30 km paddle down to Puerto Ibanez. This section is the last of Jan’s northern GPT files that we will be following. It is a legal paddle, because Chile’s lakes and rivers are public property, and moving further south Tyler and I are following nationally-maintained trails, with a sprinkling of lakes and calm rivers. WAHOO!
The Rio Ibanez is beautiful – featuring a backdrop of Cerro Castillo, it winds through an arid gorge that looks like paddling in western Wyoming. Also, as we discovered, the Rio Ibanez is fast flowing and operates as a wind tunnel. Thus when Tyler and I put in we spent the next three hours fighting wind and current, which seemed quite set on smashing us into the rocky cliffs around every river bend.
When we finally did take out at the waypoint loaded onto the route we were both approaching the initial stages of hypothermia, a consequence of wind, exposure, and the cold glacier-melt water that crested in waves, piling into our raft at every gust. Tyler and I spent ten minutes running around the dunes, warming up enough to unpack our raft and hike up and over the ridge to escape the wind. We camped southeast of the takeout, on a wild-eyed and barrel-bellied campesino’s (Chilean slang for country man) property who spoke with such a thick rural accent that not even Tyler really understood him. But he smiled a lot and gave us the thumbs up when we asked to camp on his property. He gestured at a patch of grass to camp on, yelled something incoherent to his barking dog, and smiled. So we set up. This is the only picture I took from our time on the river, Tyler and I hiking away from the takeout. Note the width of the river (this is important) and the whitecaps (this is the wind).
That next morning Tyler and I hiked to Puerto Ibanez, a port community with our ferry to Chili Chico. The road to Puerto Ibanez took us back over Rio Ibanez. Crossing the bridge we saw this.
Had Tyler and I chosen to ignore the ‘River Out’ waypoint and continue paddling we would have encountered this, the consequence of that wide river funneling into a narrow chute. Behind this violent gout of gravity faucet was a 30 foot waterfall, terrible and beautiful. Had Tyler and I paddled this we would in all probability have died by a painful sequence of gruesome rock collisions or, maybe, simple drowning. Understandably, we were a bit upset.
In Puerto Ibanez Tyler and I hung out all afternoon in a pavilion, listening to books on tape and hiding behind trees to get out of the wind, then took the ferry to Chili Chico, arriving here. Whew.
Now, philosophy. These last two weeks have been especially tough. I can only speak from my experience, but I believe Tyler feels the same way too – the weather, difficulty of travel, and backcountry experiences have been stressful and difficult to process. I don’t want these updates to be an exposé of suffering, but I do want it to honor our experiences. What I’m learning from this trip is that backcountry traveling, especially in the way Tyler and I have been seeking out remote experiences, is difficult and can be dangerous. The Rio Ibanez paddle is a perfect example – we made the decisions that seemed correct and safe at the time of put-in, and the situation still got sketchy. Tyler and I both have the experience and training to know when to ‘call it,’ and would have set up an emergency camp if we had grown any colder or the wind gotten any worse.
But now we are here and these are the days, the rest days, the resupply days, the days of the great indoors, of drinking wine and eating chocolate and pooping inside, that gives me the energy to go back out and experience Patagonia with open eyes and appreciate the sights, sounds, and growth opportunities present in the backcountry. And when we do go back outside, we do it with safety as our top priority. The rest we have as a loose plan, but remain flexible and open to change.
Moving into these next 50 days I believe the weather will remain just as volatile as ever, but the stresses of travel will fade as we explore national parks and established trails. I will continue to stay focused on our work with GOPC, the website, and the short stories, as well as continue to whip out my camera and take a shaky video of Tyler whenever it seems appropriate. We move south, one step and paddle at a time, and remain confident in our mission and trust in each other.
Tomorrow, Christmas Day, Tyler and I are catching a ride into Jeinimeni National Park, which will begin an 80-95 mile trek (depending on the number of spur trails we choose to explore) to Cochrane. We’ll be out for 8-10 days, my longest ever without a resupply. Our bags are stuffed with food. It will be one hell of a Christmas dinner. I’m looking forward to catching up with everyone that first week of January.
Wishing everyone safe travels, happy holidays, and happy New Year.
Reese & Tyler
Nacho y Tigre