A hidden valley in the region of Los Lagos has been attracting outdoors sportsmen for years now. Today, this climbing destination is one of the best examples of sustainable tourism in Chile, and is now an up and coming attraction in the country.
By Tania Opazo, editor of GoChile for La Tercera Tendencias.
-“You have to see the future”, says Andrés.
-“Yeah, you gotta foresee what is going to happen every time you take a step. Is the log going to break? Is that stone too slippery? You mus think ahead”.
Walking through the temperate forest of Cochamó Valley feels like walking on eggs. Andrés Diez, guide at Miralejos Chile Adventures, is an expert when it comes to stepping in the right place. It is a difficult task that you won’t learn in the traditional dream destination, walking along a beach with a caipirinha in your hand.
A place like Cochamó, a couple of hours away from Puerto Varas, is much closer to us than those tropical beaches. So close, and so far away that professional climbers are willing to travel thousands of miles just to be able to climb the granite rock mountains.
We stop for a while to recharge our batteries. Snickers, fruit, homemade sandwiches, and water, lots of water. “You need to hydrate yourself”, says Andrés, and then continues walking while he talks to Pablo Dutilh, once his scout guide during their school years. Both of them say their passion for climbing hills was born during those times. Now they are walking calmly, as if they were strolling down the park.
Nevertheless, we don’t have much more chance than walking with our eyes fixed on the ground so as to not to trip and fall. We stop and take a look around. The immense trees barely let us see the sky. Everything’s wet, and the cold of the morning surrounds us quickly. You feel a bit dizzy, not for the lack of oxygen but for the excess of it.
a)Tripping and falling (more than once).
b)Getting stuck in the mud.
d)Being in pain.
e)All of the above.
Despite all this, it is still a very entertaining activity. Very much.
Rodrigo Condeza talks as he drinks a craft beer. He is the owner of Miralejos, and when he talks about Cochamó his eyes glow as if he were a small kid. One day he decided to get away from Santiago, bought a land in the valley, and started his own tourist agency. Everything was going well until bam!!, he found out that they were going to building a road to Argentina right across the Valdivian forest.
It was then when the tourist businessmen in the area created the NGO Conservación Cochamó. Supported by lawyers and a large amount of technical arguments they managed to stop the project. But that was only the first round: they discovered that the entire river was in demand by hydroelectric companies, and they were about to get the rights over the waters. This, thanks to the fateful law that allows any private investor to buy the Chilean waters.
They had to fight again, and luckily they found an article that allowed them to ask the government to protect the rivers with a presidential decree. They gathered signs and after much lobbying they got what they were asking for. Today there are seven protected rivers: Cochamó, Petrohué, Palena, Cisne, Golgol (in the region of Los Lagos), Chaihuín (Region of los Ríos), and Murta (Aysén).
It’s dawn and we are walking through Puerto Varas in silence, processing a story that seems to repeat over and over in different areas of the country. Pablo breaks the ice and says: “This place deserves to be protected”.
And this battle is far from ending. Now it is time to protect the valley permanently giving it the category of National Park. The river defenders are working endlessly to make Cochamó a true example of sustainable tourism in Chile, in contact with local communities and keeping it a pollution-free area.
TURN OFF THE CANDLES
After traveling for five hours and walking for more than nine kilometers along intermitent paths we arrive at La Junta. You cannot help to feel victorious. A small boat that crosses the river takes us to our final destination: the Campo Aventura Refuge, owned by Kurt Shillinger.
Tatiana Valderas and Horacio Toledo, the only people who live in the basin all year, welcome us. You have to get rid of the mud in your shoes and put them to dry next to the wood stove where food is cooked and water boiled. Tatiana calculates how many will be able to take a shower -the rest will have to do it in the morning- and she sets her rules: you gotta do it quick, you must be generous.
It starts getting dark and the candles lit up. After eating ‘cazuela de pollo’ with large amounts of homemade bread, there isn’t much to do but talking and listening to music in a battery radio. Tatiana talks about her little son who now studies “down in the city”. It’s been tough: He misses her, his parents miss him. You see everything in perspective: a weekend in Cochamó is different from spending the whole year in its basin.
Some French tourists snore in the room nextdoor. Tatiana and Horacio go to bed, but before, they give the most important instruction: “turn off the candle in the bathroom”. We must prevent a fire, we think. If you need to go to the bathroom you will have to feel the walls, running into the doors. It’s all part of the challenge.
The following morning, the breakfast includes jam, homemade cheese, and the classic ‘sopaipillas sureñas‘ (square-shape and with no pumpkin). It gives us energy to start a new expedition. A group is climbing the vertical granite walls of Arcoiris river to get to its peak, located at 1550 mts. The idea is to enjoy a complete view of the valley.
In the meantime, we walk to the falls that feed the basin. They have icy, emerald waters with which we fill our bottles. We see the birds, learn their names, hear the birds, and wait for one of them to honour us with its appearance.
The huge larch trees seem endless columns. We hold to the branches to climb, and an intense shade of green blinds us for a while. In the distance we can hear skinners climbing on horse, and more and more waterfalls, which also make the river seem infinite.
We travel to Puerto Varas the next day, a sunny Sunday. Families walk along the shore of Lake Llanquihue, and several children swim in the water. We walk in our muddy clothes, carrying our huge backpacks, our faces disfigured by the tiredom. Nobody looks at us. We are not the first, and doubtlessly we won’t be the last to put up this sad spectacle.
After an irresponsibly long shower we eat french friest in Mamusia Café. Ready for the painful process of heading back to our homes. Rodrigo Condeza is in front of us, listening to us talk about our experiences, aching muscles, and the mud that, we fear, is still in our bodies.
Rodrigo laughs. “In order to appreciate a place like this you must suffer”, he explains.
ABOUT THE PROGRAM
Cochamó Valley aided by horses 5 days/4 nights
All inclusive, except plane tickets and personal equipment.
Book your tour here.
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