Monday, November 29, 2010
Thursday, November 25, 2010
Wednesday, November 24, 2010
Tuesday, November 23, 2010
Sunday, November 21, 2010
Friday, November 19, 2010
Coyhaique is a town of about 40,000 or so people, capital of the Aysen region of Chile but relatively isolated. The road from Coyhaique goes south for a few hundred kilometers and then stops before the mess of ice fields and fjords that make up the southern tip of Chile. The only way to drive to Punto Arenas or Puerto Natales in Tierra del Fuego is to cross into Argentina to the east of Coyhaique, then drive south and eventually west again. To the north, the road is paved for a hundred kilometers or so, then gives way to dirt. And even this is apparently a big improvement in the past 5-10 years. No wonder everyone here drives a truck.
Despite its isolation, Coyhaique is growing quickly as people arrive from the surrounding countryside. And though still quite a ways from being a tourist attraction, visitors are apparently becoming more frequent due to the relative improvement in connection with the rest of the world. What draws them is not Coyhaique itself, which doesn’t offer much, but the beauty of the Lakes Region just to the north and the fjords and ice fields to the south, accessible if you have your own form of transportation.
The town square, which is actually a pentagon, is quite pleasant, with surrounding shops and municipal buildings. There are some nicer homes downtown and in the hills surrounding the town, but much of the rest is filled with small, closely-packed, and sometimes ramshackle houses. I haven’t yet figured out where people buy things other than candy, soda, cheese, bread, and avocados, since every store seems to be a minimarket selling the same things. There is also an inordinate number of clothing stores, but each is about the size of a living room and they are scattered throughout town. I’d like to explore a little more, but many of the stores appear to have everything behind a counter, which is not conducive to remedial Spanish.
I haven’t yet taken many pictures in town, but the ones below give a limited sense of the surroundings.
It sounds like I’m heading out to a couple of Patagonia Sur’s properties – Vallee California and Melimoyu – on Monday for something in the vicinity of two weeks, depending on transportation schedules. With internet mostly out of service where I’m staying now and spotty at best from the properties, I may not be able to upload anything for a while. But I will try my best to keep up with writing and taking pictures, and then upload everything when I’m back.
Monday, November 15, 2010
I arrived in Coyhaique yesterday after 20+ hours, 3 planes, and one awkward car ride.
The part on the planes was much better than expected, thanks in large part to LAN’s selection of over forty movies. Trying to follow the plot of Inception took up a good 3 hours. When I finally arrived in Balmaceda, on the high plains of Patagonia, it was early afternoon on a beautiful sunny day. The airport primarily serves the town of Coyhaique, but is an hour away, despite a surplus of empty space for an airport much closer in. The explanation seems to have something to do with Balmaceda’s position very close to the border with Argentina. Good fences make good neighbors, and apparently so do strategically placed airports.
I was met at the airport by a driver named Rafael, who I greeted with “Hola, soy Brad. Hablo solo un poco de español.” The truth is closer to “no hablo español,” which made for a spectacularly awkward hour-long drive in to Coyhaique. I struggled to recall and string together even the simplest words and phrases, often mixed with a little errant French. Somehow “aqui” kept wanting to come out “ici.” Rafael tried to tell me that there was fishing in a river that we crossed, saying what sounded to me like “pecar.” I repeated it as such, and he told me that was “otra cosa” and pointed upwards. “To fish” is actually “pescar.” I found out when I got home that “pecar” means “to sin.”
My accommodations here in Coyhaique are wonderful. One of the guys working for Patagonia Sur just left to spend a month in Santiago, and I took over his very small, cabin-like apartment while he’s gone. It’s working out perfectly, and even has internet, though that’s a bit finicky at night. It now sounds like I’ll be here for about a week before heading out to spend another couple of weeks at two of the properties managed by Patagonia Sur. More to come on those as plans become a little more firm.
Coyhaique is at 43°S, which makes it pretty close to the southern hemisphere’s equivalent of Portland, OR. As a result, the days in the summer are delightfully long, and I had time after work today to take some photos around my cabin and then go for a run as the sun was setting behind snow-capped peaks. The pictures are below:
Sunday, November 14, 2010
I’m here at SFO at the beginning of an adventure. I’ve been thinking about doing something like this for the better part of the last six months, after I realized that all of my good stories were several years old and that was disappointing. It started with a few criteria: I wanted have a concentrated experience in a new part of the world, learn something, and spend some time outdoors.
Paulo Coelho wrote, in The Alchemist, that when you really want something, the whole universe conspires to help you achieve it. That’s how it felt when I came across an opportunity to do a volunteer project with an organization in Chilean Patagonia. Plans fell into place, all three of my criteria were satisfied, and was able to take six weeks off work, between long-overdue vacation and a leave of absence.
I will spend about a month in Chile working with Patagonia Sur, a company that invests in, and protects, environmentally sensitive land in Patagonia. My project focuses on working towards certification for the company’s eco-tourism operation. While I’ll spend some time at their office in the town of Coyhaique, I’ll also get to take about two weeks at two of their properties in this region, called the Carretera Austral.
After that month, things are wide open. I’ll have about a week and a half before returning to the East Coast for Christmas, and I’m keeping that time flexible for now. Hopefully, by then, I’ll have some good tips on where to go.
I’m hoping to post updates and pictures throughout my time in Chile, but all depends on a reliable internet connection. For now, it’s on to Balmaceda (the airport serving Coyhaique) via Lima and then Santiago.
Note: I wrote this from the airport on November 13, but did not get to post it until November 14