Cerro Castillo, Chilean Patagonia : a walk into the hills

In which we seemingly spend 24 hours on different trips…

Cerro Castillo
Sunrise at Cerro Castillo

Cerro Castillo in Chilean Patagonia is a striking set of rock spires, above a glacial lake. It is a 6km, 1200m trek to reach a ridge, affording grand views of the range, the first 4km of which can be done via horse. We got into the tiny three-block town that serves as a base for the peak mid afternoon, planning to make the trip the following day. Time and tide, and indeed weather and horses, wait for no man. So things took a turn for the spontaneous. The following internal narratives cover the ensuing twenty four hours. Turns out they were quite different experiences…

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The Benson family

In the month or so that we’ve been travelling we’ve met a series of very interesting people.

One that got us thinking the most is the Benson family. We met the Bensons at the end of a 1,5hr hike in Queulat. We had spent a good half hour at the top admiring the glacier, eating copious amounts of cookies and waiting for the light to change so as to take THE picture of the glacier when the Benson family strolled in. 

A family of five, with three boys, there was just something about them. We first bonded over cameras and had the obligatory chat about how long we’ve been travelling, where we are heading to next and exchanged tips on places to go to / avoid. 

And then we ventured into unchartered waters. “Why did you decide to travel?”, a very non-British question from Andy. 

The Bensons have three boys between the  ages of 16 and 10 (I am guessing here – our questioning was not that detailed. In any event they are a quiet, very well behaved and social-media savvy bunch). Dwayne and Rebecca were very open with their life journey and we wish we could have grabbed a beer / dinner  with them. 

Dwayne had always wanted to be a firefighter, his father is one and he could not think of being anything else when growing up. At the age of 17 he prayed and consulted with God about his future. Dwayne says that God asked him if he would give up his dream for Him and he could not come up with a comprehensive answer. So Dwayne became a pastor; settled a church outside Santa Barbara in California, worked a lot with youth programmes but eventually had to move back in with his parents (and his growing family) as the life of a pastor is not lucrative. Dwayne continued to pray and in his early 30s sat his exams and joined the San Antonio (TX) firefighters with God’s blessing. 

Dwayne accumulated all his holidays from 2016 and the family started their long trip down Central and then South America at the beginning of the summer. He still works and flies back to Texas for an couple of weeks every 3 weeks to cover his shifts. Rebecca and the kids stay back, the kids are still in school; Noah (the oldest) seems to have quite a bit of homework to do. Whilst they are heading back for Xmas to see family they intend to travel for another 6months or so in 2017, probably around South East Asia. 

We left the Bensons at the top of the hike, looking at the glacier. On the hour-long hike down, Andy and I talked a lot about faith vs intuition and how we come up with excuses for not doing things. Does praying to God feel the same as a long solitary walk when you think about your problems and come up with a plan? Does believing into something bigger than you bring with it hope that things will be ok? That someone out there is looking after you? 

Huge thank you to Dwayne and Rebecca for their candour. We follow their adventures here: beforewefinis.com and their Instagram account (kudos for an awesome site name 🙂 ). 

Chaiten rodeo – small town fares are the same the world over(?)

In which we stumble into a small town rodeo and head-butt a cow…

Chaiten rodeo
Moments before head butting this cow. But I got the shot

Juan is nervous. Though his dad is with him, this is his first time. As he hands his soft broad brimmed chupalla hat to his sister and puts on the helmeted version he conspicuously makes the sign of the cross before him.

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Salgado, Tompkins and life

Yes my friends. This is an existentialist post which one would usually expect from Andy. But here I am wanting to talk about the lives of Sebastiano Salgado and Douglas Thompkins. And soap.

About a year ago now, Andy and I went to see “the salt of the earth“. A movie which was highly recommended to me by my Dad and Deppy who are keen cinema goers. The movie by Wim Wenders, a favourite, chronicles the life of Salgado the illustrious Brazilian photographer who after a couple of years of working as an economist for Breton Woods institutions picked up his camera to tell stories about people and nature. His photos are mesmerising, mostly shot in black and white. His work focused on the impact of industrialisation on people as well as nature before he turned to document the Rwanda genocide. In the film he talks at length about the impact that those trips to Africa had on him and his disappointment in the human race. So much so that he gave up photography to return to his native village only to find it deserted; the deforestation of the Amazon had destroyed the local economy. Undeterred, he and his wife set up Instituto Terra, a foundation focused at replanting the rainforest with local species he and his wife are growing.

Now on to Douglas Tompkins; Founder and CEO of North Face who died last year. A keen environmentalist and conversationalist, Douglas bought 3,000sq km (yes… kilometres) of temperate rainforest in Northern Patagonia and set up Parque Pumalin in an effort to preserve the forrest. It is one of the largest private parks in the world, home to the now active Volcano Chaiten, a glacier and a 4,000 old forest. The Parque is open to the public with a handful of camping sites and marked walks. It’s unbelievably well looked after, you can tell that immense thought and care has gone into setting up and managing the site; it’s a Disneyland for outdoorsy people.

When planning the trip we enquired about working in Salgado’s forest. Unfortunately they don’t welcome unskilled volunteer labour. We have however spent the last couple of days in Parque Pumalin.

Which brings me on to soap. And the question of what am I doing to make the slightest positive mark in the world. Because selling soap (what I’ve been mostly doing for the last couple of years) is not really making a difference in the grande scheme of things…

If you haven’t seen it, do check out “the salt of the earth”. And have a look at the Pumalin website.

A week in Chiloe

Isla Grande de Chiloe, located in the south of Chile right on top of Patagonia is renowned for its beauty, cuisine and national parks. We spent a week here, following advice from guidebooks, blogs and locals.

The landscape 

Everything you read about the island’s spellbinding beauty is spot on. On the west side, battered by the Pacific winds and mist the landscape is rough, wild. Trees shaped by the winds, beaches that go on for miles, big cliffs and a feeling that nature is most definitely in control here.

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Dawn Kayak on the Western edge of Grande Isla de Chiloe

In which we sit on rota-molded plastic and drift up a tidal river…

Dawn kayak adventure in Chiloe

 

By the time the sun burns through the mist, providing a glimmer of light at the start of the day we are already 2km up river.

By the time the Pacific thunder storm blots it back out, and the bruised sky rolls over, putting us back toward darkness we are back to the van.
Timing, as ever, is all important.

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Adjusting to life on the road

When we decided to travel around South America for 6 months many were surprised that I’d signed up to camping for most it. How does the girl with the pristine Notting Hill flat and the sizeable shoe and bags collection adjust to nomadic life?

The answer is “relatively easily”. It’s not the shoe collection or the outfits that I miss (though a pair of thermal leggings would be nice). The things that, two weeks in, I am adjusting with are a lot more subtle and complicated.

An alternative working title to this post could be “the princess diaries”. I am well aware that these posts might come across as moaning – it’s a great privilege to be able to take the time off and I don’t take it for granted. But I would not be doing this experience or this blog justice if I pretended everything is rosy; besides that’s what Instagram is for :). 

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Driving south on Route 5

We left Pichilemu around noon to drive the c 1,000km to Chiloe island on the infamous Route 5. The drive is predictably long so we aimed to cover the distance over two long days taking 2hr shifts behind the wheel.

We passed a series of cities which we opted not to explore (such as Temuco and Osorno), “eyes on the prize” and all that, but still Chile managed to surprise us when we took short pit-stops to refuel, stretch our legs and camp overnight. The landscape is at first reminiscent of British Columbia, thick forests, waterfalls and steep mountains around. Around Osorno the landscape changes again. Rolling green hills, sparse trees at a distance and cattle farms. Julie Andrews would not be out of place if she appeared singing “the hills are alive”.

In one of our refuelling stops we came across was the city of Frutillar, on the shores of Lago Llanguihue. The town splits in two parts. The more industrial part is further up the hill, whilst the quintessentially German part is by the lake overlooking two inactive volcanos on the other side of the lake. There is a museum documenting the  settlement of German immigrants in the area and the place is filled with Tyrol style houses, B&Bs and waffle shops. Having driven by Chilean shantytowns for the better part of two days finding ourselves in this little piece of the Alps was a shock to the system.

A quick coffee and a waffle and we leave Frutillar for the last 2 hours of the journey to Chiloe. Another refuelling stop at Puerto Montt, a supermarket sweep (we have finally bought a cooker) and we are off again to the shore for the short ferry ride across the straight to Chiloe.

Pichilemu

Breaks directly on the reef in waist deep water. Not for me today, not yet
Breaks directly on the reef in waist deep water. Not for me today, not yet

We arrived in Pichilemu around 3pm on a hot Saturday afternoon, having driven for a good couple of hours through the mountains on the north of the Central Valley.

Pichilemu is a small costal city renowned  for its surfing. The architecture is oddly reminiscent of Melbourne or Marin County. Small, single storey houses with a garden set back from the road. All facing (or trying to) out on the Pacific. My morning run along the coast reveals a big Edwardian hotel now under refurbishment set on a cliff with the inevitable pristine park next to it (perfectly mowed grass and pine trees).

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