Tuesday, January 31, 2006

Puerto Veras to Quellón - Part 1

Kris McDivitt Tompkins, partner in the creation of "Pumalin Park", a privately-owned 742,000-acre natural preserve in southern Chile. With their team, Kris and Doug Tompkins are currently developing a similar project in Argentina.

This morning, a gray sky, the low clouds moving swiftly over the landscape. I went down the hall for breakfast, but it looked very different from yesterday. Nothing was set up. The staff wasn't ready to serve. I returned to the room to give them some more time. With about a fifteen-day back-log of journal entries, it's hard to break away and move down the road, farther from good connections.

While loading up the motorcycle, another guest came over to chat. He was from Santiago and said he also has a BMW R1200GS. With only 12,000 kilometers on his bike, he too has had many problems.

Into Puerto Montt, I quickly found the office for “Proyecta Pumalin”. Parque Pumalin is an enormous 742,000-acre private preserve southeast of Puerto Montt, created by Doug and Kris Tompkins and their "Conservation Land Trust". (Brother Drew has worked with Kris in the past, and provided the inspiration to visit the park. My daughter, Jessica further encouraged me to come here after hearing a report on Pumalin Park in school.)

The office is a large old house surrounded by a walled garden. Very secluded, in the midst of the city. Inside the entry, on the right is a wall with the lower half filled with cubbies, containing shoes. A sign nearby states “sin zapatos”. No shoes. There are pristine wood floors throughout.

As I entered, Kris McDivitt Tompkins, walked past then stopped back to briefly greet me. She was preparing to leave for Santiago, but arranged for an assistant to provide information about visiting Pumalin Park. The offices were bustling with activity.

I asked the assistant if I might take a photo of Kris before she left. Kris had gone into a meeting, but she would check. Wandered the lush gardens and read about the Park.

Fuchsias in the garden of "Proyecto Pumalin's" office in Puerto Montt

After about 45 minutes, Kris was available, and I asked her to step outside the entry where the lighting was a little better (I felt even a few minutes was quite an imposition, in view of the monumental tasks she has undertaken.) Kris said she spends half her time in Pumalin and half in Argentina, where they now have a similar project underway.

(Click on this link for a 2007 ABC News Nightline story on Doug and Kris Tompkins and Parque Pumalin.)

My next mission was to find some cash. I had no idea how much ferries would be costing, and no idea where the next bank would be. Tried a couple of ATMs, but my card failed to work. I still don’t quite know what to look for in a bank! The third one succeeded, but limited the withdrawal to $200, so I had to make two transactions instead of one (for which I’ll be charged $10 each. Talk about piracy!)

Refueled and topped up my tires with air. Drove around the waterfront at Puerto Montt. The downtown district was busy with cars and pedestrians. Where do they all come from? I thought this was almost the end of the Earth! An intense wind comes over the western hills and across the bay. The water in Puerto Montt's harbor is quite choppy.

Left town and drove toward Pargua, and the ferry to Chiloé. It took two hours to reach the ferry and make the crossing. The line for the ferry was over a mile long, but I just drove past it, hoping I was invisible. I’ve heard you can do this on a motorcycle! No one reprimanded me.

The ferry from Pargua to Chacao, on the island of Chiloe. Four of these tanker trucks will squeeze aboard.

Tucked away, and off they go...

I thought I’d be first aboard, but the first ferry was loaded with four gasoline tankers, then sent on its way. The next ferry with tour buses, then it too pulled away. When the third one arrived, I was directed to move aside, but the officer assured me I’d get aboard. The service is fairly rapid, with only twenty minutes or so between ferries.

It’s a short crossing, but the channel is rough. I strapped the bike down, though the crew didn’t seem concerned.

On the northwestern tip of Chiloé island is the Pinguinera Puñihuil, penguin nesting area. I decided to have a look. The gravel road out to the sanctuary was freshly-graded. As I’ve said before, graders are not my friends!

Approaching the site, a young man wearing an orange life vest was stopping traffic. “You want to see the penguins?” He then began to list prices, but I realized his services were merely optional. I started to drive past him. He indicated he could ride with me, but I waved him off.

A couple more miles in to the beach, all freshly-graded and at places, tricky. Then across a stream and out onto the beach. The sand was firm: no trouble riding on it. Lots of tire tracks led down the beach to boats, rafts and restaurants. There are three islands off shore. I was approached by a tour guide. He would take me out to the islands by raft for about $5 or $6, but for some reason, I didn’t want to bother.

One of three islands that comprise the Pinguinera Islotas de Punihuil, a breeding sanctuary for Humboldt and Magellan penguins. Beyond the boats, the island shore is crowded with penguins. I opted to stay ashore and not hire a boat to go see the colony. I figure I'll be seeing many more down south. (Though I later read the Humboldt penguin is extremely endangered, and their population is quite small.) Their future is precarious, as fishing, harvesting guano and tourism all threaten the penguins.

After reading about the threats to the penguins, I realized my presence wasn't helping matters! Vehicles are free to drive on the beach near the sanctuary, and quite a few people apparently make their living taking tourists out around the islands in small inflatable boats.

Two fellows came over to look at the bike. They were from Copenhagen, Denmark. We chatted for a while, then went up the beach to a new restaurant. Sat down to a generous serving of local Corvina, mashed potatoes and salad.

On the beach at Puñihuil, I met Glenn Roholte and Anders Schroll Andersen, from the area around Copenhagen, Denmark. We sat down together for lunch at a small beachfront restaurant. The two are driving around Chile, camping, fishing and trekking. (Glenn's a "Moto Guzzi" rider!)

On the road out, there is a short-cut to the south. Taking this option, after a few miles riding the gravel, I stopped to ask someone walking along the road “este direccione Castro?” (Is this the way to Castro?)

"No! Castro’s back the other way. This road’s very bad," he said. Being cautious, I followed his direction. Eventually, it became clear that he was simply directing me back to the main highway, a round-about trip that I was trying to avoid.

Every day, there are many reminders that motorcycling requires attention: on this particular road, an “unannounced” s-curve caught me off guard coming and going. I hit the brakes when I realized I was going far too fast, but that took me on a straight line into the curve, which forced me into the oncoming lane. Twice. Not good.

My friends from Copenhagen stayed at Castro last night and recommended it as the best town they had seen on Chiloé, so I targeted that city as my destination. Lots of campgrounds and cabañas in the north of the island.

Castro looked more run-down than I expected, though I did find a nice-looking hotel along the quay. It turned out to be “El Unicorno Azul” that the Danes had stayed at. However the $60 price was far too much for me.

Tried two more hotels, but the price was over $30, and they were pretty run-down. I’d rather camp than pay so much for a marginal hotel. So I continued south, though it was now past sunset. Quellón was still an hour to an hour and a half drive.

On the outskirts of Castro there were a few cluttered, unappealing campgrounds, then nothing. I had entered farming and fishing country, not recreation country. The smell along some of the inlets where salmon were being factory-farmed was pretty disgusting. Apparently, this is a big industry for Chiloé.

Drove all the way into Quellón, but I only saw one hotel, the “Suizza”, on a busy downtown corner. (To be continued...)

1 comment:

Drew Kampion said...

Kris, you look great! Lots of love and blessings on your work ... from Drew.