New adventures afoot...

New adventures afoot...
where in the world...

Thursday, April 10, 2014

One "End of the Road"...

Friends from a few different places/times during my trip recommended that I check out this village far and away at the end of Patagonian Chile... 


Called Caleta Tortel it's in the coastal rainforest/fijords area and nowadays it's known for its history in providing cypress wood (doesn't rot and lasts a long time so is excellent for fences and telephone/power poles...) but was originally settled (very sparsely) early in the 1900s very slowly as people were looking for land to colonize for animal production but most early efforts failed, including a settlement where more than 100 people perished when a supply ship meant to provide winter provisions sunk en route, stranding the colony with no means of getting food nor escape over the winter and so they were doomed to die... 30 or so cipr├ęs (cypress in Spanish) wood crosses remain on La Isla de los Muertos as a testament to the difficulty of pioneering the area... The rest of the graves have been washed into the sea and river estuary as a result of tidal action and river currents... 



This island is a short boat trip away from the village and I went with the proprietor of a local lodge (incredibly beautiful. Highly recommend it if you have the cash... Entre Hielos Lodge) Noel Vidal, who beyond doing all the amazing woodwork in his and his partner's lodge, also fitted put his boat



And it was a great ride!



Back to the area's history... It was isolated with no road... everyone originally arrived via boat and overland whether down the Rio Baker or by sea... and there was a government policy in the larger region of granting land but it had to be cleared within a year... Which was near impossible to do by hand with the thick jungle-like vegetation so the solution was to burn it all... Which is really a sad environmental history to the eyes and soul of a botanist... This whole region that I've traveled through in mid-Chilean patagonia (from Chile Chico west and south and north) suffered the same fate over a period of around 10 to even 30 years periodically... Even high mountainsides that couldn't even be used for grazing... Wherever the fire was carried by the wind. One result of this was a lot of standing dead cypress trees because they wouldn't rot.  Thus they were easy to harvest and thus developed the highly local/regional industry of cipres harvesting.  

Once there developed a more organized way to collect the cipres poles-- they are tied into rafts and floated down river to be collected and taken by boat to Pinta Arenas--  the collection after a time centralized into a main collection point around this village of Caleta Tortel. The special thing about the village is that the area has such steep hillsides, and flat land is usually wet or tidal, that the houses, when they were eventually developed in a central location, were built around a system of stilts and boardwalks








It was previously a really unique way of life but like anywhere things evolve... the carretera austral (the all important 'southern highway' that links the country together but down here is still a washboarded dirt road) arrived several years ago and the cipres has become a dying industry-- as the easy and closer to harvest trees have been taken and it's hard work that isn't being valued commensurate to the current effort-- and now the town is becoming more focused on the road and tourism and government services rather than a more simple/basic country/rural (i.e. limited) way of life... but they still don't have reliable electricity (it's a water generated system but there isn't enough water/rainfall lately, ironically, and not everyone has generators) even though the cell phone tower arrived last year...  Despite the loss of the 'authenticity' of true isolation (how easy it is to lament that, as some do... often those that live in comfort  with conveniences and a high standard of living) it's still a very interesting, beautiful place with really great people.  

There was also a great trail that showed off the amazing scenery of the area plus some of the interesting local plant communities...






This is the Baker River, has the largest volume of all the rivers in Chile... once descending to the coasts the large rivers open up from tight canyons to huge braided rivers with extensive wetlands... really stunning scenery.  Sadly (but inevitably) there are plans to dam this and a similar river... supposedly for power but really it'll be to eventually send the water north, somehow, to the mining areas in the desert where there isn't enough water (or power) currently...more on this topic next post...


And here's a cypress tree, about head high and maybe my forearm thick... 3" maybe?  It could be 30-50 years old...

More sights...








And one (more) neat thing, in all of these rural places, almost every house has some sort of greenhouse, even here in Tortel... make due with what you have (or can create!)


It's on solid rock!


With soil from somewhere else... But it works!  Rock on!  (Oh jeeze, no pun intended, I swear!)

Such a great place and some really super people... my final day was spent helping a friend unload a cargo of firewood and then he took me across the water to an island with totally original (untouched by fire) vegetation... I'd been talking with him about being excited about doing some botany in the area but bummed about how everything had been affected by fire and he suggested this trip... there was a lagoon in the middle of the island and a low area in between cliffy mountains to try to get there... so we tried it!  

Talk about jungle vegetation... It was awesome. Felt like we needed a machete as he was bodily throwing himself forward off fallen logs into masses of vines and bushes and whatever else was there to open up a route... made me think of the cloud forests of Hawaii/Maui with all the mosses and tangle of vegetation underfoot, not knowing if you were on solid ground or a fewaywea of rottingogs above it... luckily there are no venemous critters or harmful plants to worry about (unlike my beloved desert home!)

  We did reach the lagoon but had to climb a  tree to see it as the vegetation was thick around the shore and there was nothing of a beach or any way else to see our goal!  This photo isn't of this exact place (used my camera instead of iPod on that outing) but it's just about what our entry at the shore of the island looked like...


more than that, you'll just have to imagine us thrashing about in the wet evergreen forests of coastal Chilean Patagonia... fantastic!  Of course this fueled my thoughts of how I can come back to do some plant work!  

Buses are infrequent in this part of the world so as the timings worked out (or didn't) This was my southern-most stop on the carretera austral so from here I was heading north.  For my next stop I wanted to visit an area recommended to me by a friend and in an 'off the beaten track' guide book but my timing to go was counter any of the regular bus services and also against the tide of hitching... the goal was a farm homestead 13km (7miles or so) off the carretera where there was a place to stay and a neat hike along the Rio Baker to visit an important historic spot in the region...  the Corte de San Carlos... a tunnel and passage cut into a wall of rock high above rapids of the river which was to serve as a trade/delivery route between the coast and the interior... and in the end I found someone to drive me the hour and a half up the road right to the doorstep so I didn't have to hike the seven miles in from the road at dusk... but of course all things more convenient 
have a price! But it was ok... you save some places so you can spend in others...

Last notes, here's a bad picture of a map of the larger region (hope it posts ok), with Caleta Tortel off to the left towards the bottom (and the next stop at the farm and the tunnel in the rock is on the map, the spot is halfway between Tortel and Cochrane, there's a little blue line stuck off to the left/west of the main route), then a bit up and to the east/right, General Carrera lake which I originally traveled along the south side of to get into the area via the border crossing at Chile Chico, and then for future reference sort of above the middle of the map is the town of Coyhaique where I eventually catch a flight north to Puerto Montt to take a ferry back south through the fijords only way back to Ushuaia. Still with me? Stay tuned... :)











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