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Explora Parque Chacabuco

The next stop on our road trip through South America was Explora Parque Chacabuco

in Chile. The Explora complex had the headquarters for the national park created by Douglas Tompkins. Visiting Patagonia for rock climbing, Tompkins, an American, thought the place was so pretty he wanted to preserve the land. He bought many ranches and gave them to the Chilean government with the stipulation to protect them as a national park. The land was converted from sheep to puma, guanaco, and fox, rangeland. As a side note, Tompkins died in the freezing waters of Rio Tranquil when the wind blew his kayak over.

The Explora Lodge was his making and includes a modern museum. The theme, global warming and preserving our natural resources, is a universally discussed topic. This museum used visual, physical, and sound effects so dramatically, it deserved its reputation as Chile’s best museum. It left me with a personal commitment to take shorter showers and stop killing gophers in our yard. Best of all, the Lodge provided meals that were healthy, delicious, and served by a staff of attentive English-speaking Chileans.

The entire Explora complex promoted discovery, exploration, and going deeper as a way to conservation. On our second day, Geoff and I hiked 10 miles in 6 hours under a pounding sun, searching for a way to conserve.

Our destination was a bridge to nowhere. The pedestrian walkway used steel cable to span a 100-yard gorge high above the Rio Chacabuco. On the other side was nothing. There was grassland and rolling hills but no paths or interesting sites. Why someone built the bridge remains a mystery.

On the hike, we never saw a puma, the top predator in the region, but we saw plenty of puma poop. The guide told us the puma no doubt had Guanaco, wild llama, for dinner. Guanaco roamed in herds all over Patagonia. They were a welcome distraction on hikes and while driving.

The final two hours of the hike were painful. We only brought half as much water as we needed. The guide tried to encourage us.

'One more hill,' he lied. It was three more hills before I could strip, shower, and collapse on my bed. In total, we walked 32,000 steps, a single-day record for me.

Patagonia is the region of South America below the 40-degree latitude. It encompasses fjords on the west coast, massive grasslands with rolling hills to the east, and in-between snow-capped mountains suspending the Southern Patagonia Ice Field. Behind Antarctica and Greenland, Patagonia has the world's third-largest body of captured fresh water.

Tomorrow we head to Argentinean Patagonia. In total, we will drive for 9 days on the 19-day trip. That means almost half of our time will be spent on dusty, dangerous dirt roads while our heads bob up and down. I complain, and Geoff politely reminds me I did not participate in the 6 months of planning that went into the trip.


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