Friday, February 25, 2011

Lemonade at Tantauco

A short time ago, I received the news that my photograph of Laguna San Rafael will grace the cover of the upcoming third edition of Moon Handbooks Patagonia, whose manuscript I am in the process of finishing up. I’m pleased partly for ego reasons - I’m proud of the photograph - and partly because it means an extra paycheck (most Moon authors, by contract, provide their own photographs for the books, but there is no additional payment unless the publisher chooses one of your shots for the cover).

I’m also disheartened, though, because most if not all of that paycheck will go to pay for the blown head gasket on my otherwise trusty Nissan Terrano, which I use to explore the Southern Cone countries as I update Patagonia and my other books. It happened, fortunately, within the city limits of Quellón, on the Isla Grande de Chiloé, and I was able to get a well-equipped mechanic to look at it immediately.

That said, it will take at least four and perhaps seven days to get me back on the road - part of the machine work has to be done in the city of Castro, an hour to the north, and the upcoming weekend means an unavoidable delay. I’m not particularly fond of Quellón as a city but, that said, I will use my lemons to make lemonade by boating out to Sebastián Piñera’s 118,000-hectare (456 square mile) Parque Tantauco, the Chilean president’s own Pumalín-ish conservation project on the southwestern shores of archipelago’s big island.

Thursday afternoon I met Tantauco’s Quellón-based administrator Alán Bannister (despite the name, he’s 100 percent Chilean, but with English and German grandparents) and arranged an excursion that will let me spend the weekend at Inío, the park headquarters in the most southwesterly part of the park. In mostly roadless Tantauco, it’s three to four hours away, depending on the speed of the launch used to get there. There are a guesthouse, campgrounds and hiking trails throughout the park, but limited access has kept the number of visitors down.

I spent about an hour in conversation with Bannister, talking about the park’s origins and legal status, its conservation and educational initiatives, its natural and cultural history, and its future as an eco-tourism destination. As with my interview with Kris McDivitt Tompkins, I won’t have time to transcribe and edit it until later this year, when I return to California. Still, I should have more to say about the park after my return on Monday (presuming the fine weather here on Chiloé continues - part of the route crosses the open Pacific, where rough seas can delay departures and returns.

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