Sunday 24 December: Sylvia
We were woken in the night by the howling wind so it was no surprise that our helicopter transfer was again cancelled. After a more leisurely breakfast we headed back out with Catalina for the two hour drive to Puerto Natales where we met our driver for the ~2.5 hour transfer on to Punta Arenas for our flight to Puerto Montt. It was definitely sad to leave Catalina in Puerto Natales; we hope to see her in New Zealand sometime.
Our second driver spoke no English and my Spanish is very basic so it was fun trying to make ourselves understood. The landscape hasn’t changed much since we drove here four days ago but we did see a few pink flamingos in some of the lakes this time. Otherwise the trip was pretty uneventful.
We landed in Puerto Montt to another text message – yes, you guessed it! The weather is not our friend this trip and helicopter transfer cancelled again – this time I think it was visibility rather than wind but it meant another 2.5 hour road transfer. The best laid plans …
The drive was not overly pleasant, two and a half bone-jarring hours over rough, bumpy roads in a van with shot suspension. It was raining most of the way as we passed tree-line valleys and lakes with the odd tourist-looking lakeside town. Many of the buildings in this area are made predominantly of wooden shingles and have a somewhat olde-worldly feel. Unfortunately we couldn’t even take photos as the tinted windows in the vehicle didn’t wind down.
By the time we arrived at a jetty at the side of a lake I was starting to get a little concerned about where we were going to stay and the fact that there was no-one to pick us up didn’t make me feel any better. The vague response when I called the lodge didn’t help. Eventually a small dinghy showed up. Roger and I exchanged glances as they supplied us with ponchos, covered our bags and ushered us onto the dinghy. I probably was not very gracious to the friendly boatman who ferried us the five minutes across Lake Tagua Tagua, where we were met by a smiling gaucho with his bullock cart. My eleven hours of travelling grumps turned to giggles as we climbed on the back and the poor beasts hauled us up the very steep hill, egged on by the gaucho. At the top a warm welcome awaited, a roaring fire in our beautiful room and friendly, smiling staff.
After quickly unpacking and getting our wet weather gear out we wandered back to the main lodge area where they had prepared hot cocoa (with a dash of whiskey) and Christmas cake. This was followed by delicious crab claw appetisers and then dinner. Who knows what tomorrow will bring?
Monday 25 December 2017: Roger
We enjoyed a nice late start to the day with a great breakfast prepared by Maite and Carla.
￼Donning our warm gear we headed down the steep track to the lake edge where Boris and Alvaro had the jet boat waiting.
We headed up the choppy lake, the sprung seat bottoming and topping out as we bounced along.
Soon we reached the river mouth taking the left fork up the Rio Manso. In spite of being in flood and several meters higher than normal the water is a deep green colour. The area is surrounded by steep, bush covered hills.
There are a few dwellings along the way, all with a small boat or dinghy tied to the bank nearby. After thirty minutes or so we headed back, then turned up the Rio Puelo, also in flood. We wound our way upstream several kilometres, swerving to avoid the odd log. Boris pointed out where the nice beaches and swimming and fishing spots would normally be. On the way back we turned up a tributary known as Traitor River as it rises and falls rapidly, often trapping unsuspecting boats and horse trekkers.
Just below a large rocky area we turned back and stopped at a rather special farmhouse at around a hundred years old with an accompanying barn ~130 years old. We went ashore to be greeted by Carlos, the brother of Luisa, and her husband, Pepito, who live here. The only access is by boat, horse or foot. They run around 45 sheep (a couple had been eaten recently by a hungry roaming puma), 5 horses and 22-odd cows, which they milk daily by hand. They have a hydro-generator running but it won’t generate enough power to run a milking machine. They make cheese, butter, woollen shawls and other produce which they cart off periodically to sell. Pigs and friendly dogs roam around.
We were invited in for a brew which included mate, the local brew, which is passed around in a little silver urn, complete with straw. The wood stove in the kitchen was complete with a water heater surrounding the chimney. A large bucket of milk sat waiting for the rising cream to be skimmed off and turned into butter.
After a really great time with these friendly, hospitable folks we headed back down the river and lake to the awaiting bullocks where it was insisted we mount the cart to be hauled up the hill to our tranquil and more than comfortable accommodation.
Tuesday 26 December: Sylvia
We headed out with Alvaro after breakfast. Down the hill, across the lake in the dinghy to a small hut beside a large waterfall on the far shore of Lake Tagua Tagua where we started our hike up the valley. It was a fairly easy hike today, following a river up a valley. With the combination of snow melt and rain the river is high and we were accompanied by the constant thundering sound of water cascading down the valley. From time to time we got close enough to catch a glimpse of the torrent but most of the time we wound our way through bush that is not dissimilar to that in New Zealand. They even have silver ferns here.
There are a large number of flowers around – including one that I think looks a bit like a goldfish hanging from the branch.
After about 6.5km we came across a large patch of large boulders and just around a corner a hut opening onto a large lagoon filled with dead trees. Apparently a flood here many years ago washed a lot of boulders down, blocking the river and resulting in the lagoon. It was a stunning vista, complete with hammock, and a great spot to stop for lunch. About thirty minutes after we arrived a family from the UK, with four boys arrived. Like us they were thoroughly enjoying their time in Chile.
We headed off up the valley again and after about a km came across a log bridge with views towards a massive cascade. Around a corner the sign read “take a deep breath, you are entering pristine land”. With foresight Roger suggested it could just as well have said “take a deep breath, climb ahead” knowing we would have to wind our way up to the top of the falls. The path was very well done with ladder-type steps in all the steepest areas so it didn’t take us too long to reach the hut at Quetro Lagoon – the 10km mark, about 710m higher than where we had started. The hit again faced stunning views over a lake up into the mountains on either side.
The weather gods were finally smiling on us and Boris had arranged for us to take the cheats way back to Barraco Lodge. The Robinson 44 helo arrived not long after we did and we climbed aboard for the 10 minute flight back to where we had started about 4 hours earlier.
Barraco Lodge could best be described as a rustic hunting lodge. You have to be pretty comfortable with dead animal skins, antlers etc to stay here but the views are fantastic, the beds comfortable, the staff extremely friendly and the home-cooked food delicious. It is a very relaxing place to spend a few days. The three dogs here have been great – especially the young pup, Ono, who has taken a shine to Roger. Despite his gruff pretence it is clear that Roger quite likes animals and one of the dogs is quick to bring a stone for him to throw every time she sees us.
We had plenty of time to relax in the hot tub before Roger headed off around 7:30pm. He and Boris headed up the lake in the viper to stay at a friend of Boris’ place so they can get an early start boat hunting tomorrow.
Wednesday 27 December 2017: Roger
Arriving at Hajobino and Paulina’s house around 8.30pm last night we were greeted with the smell of the evening meal being prepared. The house is new with some parts still to be completed. All the timber was was either harvested from their land or from logs that came down the river in floods.
Their son, David, Boris and I go and bring the sheep into a paddock close to an old shed for the sheep to take cover in should a roaming puma turn up during the night.
Paulina looks after their 120 sheep, some goats, cattle, pigs and chooks. Hajobino just goes fishing every day – lucky guy!! in all fairness he makes a living by taking tourists fishing. It’s all catch and release in these rivers where brown trout are often over 5kgs.
Paulina loves cooking and works away in the kitchen cooking on the wood fired Cross Industries stove with a big smile on her face. It is after 10 pm when Boris and I eat, the family eating after us as that is the custom here.
We are up at 4.30am, Paulina serving us coffee. Just after 5 we are on Hajobinas boat heading downriver. We pull into a bank and creep softly ashore. The river flats are made up of fields separated by patches of bush and scrub. As we stalk quietly across the third field Boris spots a bunch of pigs in amongst the cattle. As we moved around behind some bush to get in a position so as not to endanger the cattle the little buggers outsmarted us and disappeared.
Ten kilimemiters later we were back at the boat with no pigs but having seen some stunning scenery.
Back at the house Paulina had prepared a lovely breakfast which we enjoyed before heading of on another hunt, this time with Don Tite, Hojobina’s father’s, who lives just up the river, and two dogs who’s mission was to locate the pigs in the bush and chase them out towards us.
Another ten kilometer hunt and not a pig to be seen, however Boris did head shoot a hare at about 40m with his .22 Magnum. Back at the house I skinned and gutted it for them. The skin was kept for Hojobino to make fishing flys with.
While we were out Paulina had again being busy at the stove and a exquisite lunch was awaiting us when we returned. This was followed by a nap and at 5pm we were back on the river, this time with 4 dogs on board, heading back to where we had seen the pigs earlier. The dogs leapt into the water as we approached the shore.
Hajobino and Don Tite worked the dogs sending them into the trees and scrub while Boris and I waited on a mound. Not much happened for a while so Hajobine and Boris headed around the west end of the bush coming in from the other side. Soon the dogs sparked up making a hell of a racket as they chased a pig. Eventually a little porker came running out of the bush, a bit hard to see in the tall reeds. I took a bit of a sprint onto a mound and got a shot off just before he disappeared at full tit behind some scrub. At about 70 meters it had been a lucky shot as he didn’t come out the other side. Don Tite shook my hand and spoke excitedly in Spanish as we wandered over and inspected the prey.
Boris came back and joined us and soon the dogs sparked up again, this time at the west end of the bush. I moved down toward the noise and soon an adult sow came full tit out of the bush, dogs in pursuit. The first shot didn’t even slow it down. I got a second one off just as it was about to disappear behind some scrub and saw its leg go in the air as it somersaulted to its end. The Remington 308 Boris had loaned me had done the job well.
Soon Hojobino cane out of the bush carrying a porker the dogs had captured alive. Everyone is pleased as they have plenty of pork to serve at the coming festive New Years Eve.
Back at the house the big pig is hung from a tree and dressed and I get lots of pats on the back. It has been a great day out made even better by the hospitality extended to me by Hajobino and his family.
Arriving back at the lodge the tractor was waiting to cart the pig up the hill. I was actually allowed to walk up this time. The staff were gathered in the bar cooking pizza in the mud oven.
Thursday 28 December: Sylvia
Yesterday while Roger was out boar hunting I had a very quiet day, catching up on some emails and work, reading and generally enjoying the quiet and the pleasant views here. Today ended up being a similar day. With light drizzle most of the day and being due to fly home this evening we opted to again spend our time around the lodge.
Despite the drizzle Boris informed us that our helicopter transfer would still go ahead. Roger had rigged up a dryer over the fireplace to get all his wet hunting things dry and by the time the helicopter arrived just after lunch at 3pm we were all set to go. After a great start here at the lodge we were a bit disappointed with the lack of organisation over the last couple of days. The hunting was great for Roger but I didn’t really have anything to do yesterday and nothing organised again today. It may have been the weather but I think communications could have been clearer. Despite that we enjoyed our stay. Maite’s fantastic cooking and Carla’s warm personality more than made up for the short-comings.
The forty-five minute helicopter flight back to Puerto Montt was a significant improvement over the more than two-and-a-half hour drive to get there. Our pilot spoke limited English but good French and he and I managed a fairly good conversation all the way back. Despite a few wobbles from the wind it was a pleasant flight with great views over the river valley, fjord and lake we had passed on the way up. The fjord is clearly very productive with many fish and mussel farms evident. Colourful beehives for the landscape as we skim the tops of trees. We even caught a glimpse of the cloud-covered volcano that overlooks the largest lake in Chile.
Although I have been in helicopters several times it was my first time landing at an airport and I had a bit of a giggle to myself as we hovered along the runway and over the taxiway to get to our parking spot.
We are now waiting at the airport in Puerto Montt for our flight to Santiago and then on to Auckland.