Saturday, February 18, 2012

Lago Ranco

I wanted to find a quiet town in the Lake District in southern Chile where I could take it easy and prepare for the long trip home soon. It is now the height of the summer season in this picturesque and charming southern Chile lakeside town. I discover that it also attracts vacationers from the area and from further north. These tourists thrive on party music, loud, in public places until 11:30pm. My fortune was to have a room only two blocks from the electronic amplification. So I could not sleep before about 1am.

After two sleep-deprived nights in the bed & breakfast, I gathered my wits and hired a taxi to deliver me to the one major tourist attraction in the area, Piedra Mesa, a hill with a 2.5-mile gravel road to the top. Here is a panoramic view from the top.

The hazy clouds in these pictures are due primarily to the eruption of the nearby Caulle Volcano.

"Parque Alfonso Brandt, adquirido en arriendo por 90 años en 1972 como motivo de ser destinado a un parque de recreo con fines turísticos y educación. Considerado sagrado y utilizado por la comunidad de Tringlo como Tren Tren, lugar para pedir permiso para el Nguillatun."

"Alfonso Brandt Park, in a rental agreement for 90 years from 1970. A  tourist and educational park. Considered sacred and used by the community of Tringlo as the Tren Tren, place to ask permission for the Nguillatun."

Isla Huapi is one of many small islands in Lago Ranco, but one of the few inhabited by indigenous Mapuche. 

As I continue the forest trail around this sacred mountain, I face directly into the eruption of Caulle, though several kilometers to the west. My sinuses were reacting as if I were in an enclosed room with tobacco smokers.

Continuing on the well maintained mountain-top forest trail

Farms down below

I will make the return trip by walking the entire descent on a gravel road. Yuck. Once I reached lake level, there was a breeze that was clearing the air of volcanic ash.

Saturday, February 11, 2012

Valdivian Coastal Reserve

Southern Chile has a diverse ecosystem along its narrow strip of land crowded between the Andes Mountains and the Pacific Ocean. This area contains the world’s second largest temperate rainforest and the only one in South America. The World Wildlife Foundation has designated the area Valdivian Ecoregion. The Lakes District lies to the east, the Pacific Ocean to the west, and Patagonia to the south.

In 2003 the World Wildlife Foundation, The Nature Conservancy, and other national and international organizations purchased 150,000 acres of land in Chaihuín, creating the Valdivian Coastal Reserve. This is a private reserve open to the public, with 23 miles of oceanfront and beautiful white sand beaches.

The forest within the reserve contains diverse species of trees and wildlife but for many years was subjected to the destruction of native species and the planting of eucalyptus for commercial use in the early 1990s. Fortunately, the large companies who invested in these plantations went into bankruptcy, and the organizations devoted to preservation were able to purchase the land.

About 4,500 acres of ancient and native coigüe were burned to make room for eucalyptus plantations. This area represents about 3% of the coastal reserve. The invasive trees are being cut and chipped, and huge trucks carry these chips to Corral where they are loaded for shipment to other countries.

Marco González guides me through the Reserve. He relates information about trees, birds, animals, and medicinal properties of plants that his Mapuche grandfather taught him. The forest is struggling to recuperate after being burned. Huge fires raged through the area to make way for the eucalyptus plantations.

Coicopihue is in bloom, surrounded by a diversity of species in the forest

The giant alerce is now a protected species, and is very similar to the sequoia in California. They were exploited for timber and shingles, just as were the redwood in California. Many fine old houses in the south of Chile are made of alerce.

I can't see them, but I can hear the sounds of large machines and trucks cutting and hauling eucalyptus from the forest across the river.

And they haul the trees to this location near Chaihuín for chipping. Trucks then take the chips to Corral for shipment.

This area will be planted with native species in hopes of recovering the forest.

Wednesday, February 8, 2012

Valdivia to Chaihuín

 Valdivia downtown waterfront (costanera)

After two weeks enjoying different areas of Chiloé Island, I traveled north to Valdivia, a few miles inland from the Pacific Ocean and 521 miles south of Santiago. It was founded by Pedro de Valdivia in 1554 and later sacked by the indigenous Mapuche people. Even Dutch pirates tried to occupy the area. The town eventually recovered but remained insignificant until German farming families began arriving in 1852. I lived here for two years in the mid 1960s as a Peace Corps volunteer, teaching music at the newly founded Austral University. The university now has a major presence in the south of Chile, and Valdivia is a major center of agriculture, forestry and fishing industries.

But I long for the countryside and an escape from city noise and activity, so I decided to rent a little cabin on the Pacific coast in the sleepy town of Chaihuín, about 25 miles from Valdivia. It took the good part of a day to make the trip with public transportation. A taxi takes me to Niebla, 11 miles to the coast. But I had to wait 45 minutes for three other people to make up the four required for the taxi to leave town.

Niebla, a village in the Bay of Corral, known as a summer retreat from the city of Valdivia. Boats leave every 15 minutes to cross the bay.

Mancera Island where I have fond memories of summer picnics and soccer games.

Corral, a small village that was completely destroyed in May 1960 by a tsunami, result of a 9.5 earthquake. I had never visited the town in the 1960s as it was still recovering. More photos on my previous blog. Click here to view.

Narrow winding streets in Corral.

Wood chips waiting to be loaded on to ships and delivered to foreign ports. More on wood chips in a later post.

A one-hour bus ride (16 miles) on a gravel road delivers me to Chaihuín, a small village on the Chaihuín River that empties in the Pacific Ocean.

Only a partial view of the beautiful Chaihuín Beach.

Home sweet home is a little cabaña facing the Chaihuín River.

Chaihuín River. The beach is a favorite destination for day trippers and campers alike. The river contains an area where mussels are extracted. The fishermen all belong to a cooperative that protects the source from being over exploited.

Fishermen extracting mussels. They can work here only one day per month to preserve the stock.

No need to argue over right of way here. Everyone gets through eventually.