Kayaking on Reloncavi Fjord
Craig and Steph's Horseback Ride in the Andes
At 9:00 a van emblazoned with "Ko'Kayak" signs on the door pulled up out front. There was Alex, the Chilean driver, Peter, the Irish guide, and Miriam, a German tourism student doing an internship at a hospedaje in Puerto Varas. We could tell immediately from Peter's sense of humor that this would be a fun day. We spoke to Miriam about Germany, and told her about our recent trip. When we said that the impetus behind the visit was a Tom Waits concert, Peter surprised us with a gravelly-voiced recitation of some lyrics from "Martha" and "The Piano Has Been Drinking". We drove along the lake to the gear house in Ralun, and Peter kept us in stitches the whole way. The gear house was a nice new shed built along the main road. Peter was talking to us about how expensive the land was becoming along this stretch. He said that the prices of any property that had a water view was significantly higher and he was concerned about the local people being able to maintain their family land with such an influx of rich new owners arriving. Once inside the gear house, we were issued neoprene booties, spray skirts, wetsuits, rain jackets, and drybags. Alex and Peter loaded up the van and informed us we might want to make one last bathroom stop before we head out again. He gestured across the property and said that we could find a nice outhouse over that way. The three of us headed over and there was a nice little building with a porcelain toilet inside. It was rather amusing though since there was absolutley no light inside and since it was a quality built building there was no ambient light. It took a few minutes for the eyes to adjust but eventually I could see well enough to take care of business. Stepping back outside into the bright light was rather shocking at first but I soon adapted to the change. When we returned to the gear house we were ready to go.
Hopping back into the van we continued along the lake following our path from yesterday. Near Ensenada Peter pointed out something we had missed the day before. On the left side of the road along the lakeshore there was a rather large campground and a few small guest houses with lots of children standing near the street. On the right side of the street was a nice park with all sorts of children's games. Peter pointed out how the little children had to cross this very dangerous roadway to get back and forth to the park. Peter asked whether or not we thought the designer actually wasn't very fond of children at all. We continued driving all the way down to the cut-off road near Petrohué but this time stayed to the right of the fork in the road. Now we were in new territory. Driving down a rather bumpy dirt road, with tall trees flanking either side, we continued until we reached the put-in point on the Reloncavi Fjord. Peter and Alex gave us agua gasificada (carbonated water seems to be very popular in Chile, though neither Craig nor I like it), nuts, and chocolate energy bars. Here we were officially introduced to the tabanos, biting black flies that we discovered yesterday could really make a day difficult. They swarmed around us on the beach and continually tried to land on us. They seemed to really like Alex and we noticed at any one time he would have quite a few that had landed on his legs, his arms, and his head and were occasionally biting him. Craig smashed one off his right leg and it fell to the ground ready for more. He stepped on it and it didn't seem to make a difference as he managed to squeeze between a few rocks. Craig then rolled a rock onto it and stepped on the rock. Next thing we knew it was crawling out from under the rock ready to attack again. These things were like some sort of killers in a movie or something. Craig finally crushed it dead as dozens more followed suit. Peter said that it is our job to kill as many of these nasty creatures as we could but we'd notice it makes no difference as they are quite hardy and quite plentiful too. We asked if they follow us out onto the water and he said "Oh yes, they seem to be able to fly for hours over water and that won't stop them". Oh joy we thought. He insisted we would get used to them and learn to ignore them buzzing fiercely in our faces.
Peter dubbed Craig and my kayak "Team America: World Police" after the satirical movie which had recently been released, and his and Miriam's kayak was "Team Europe." Peter wanted us to get into the water quickly as the fjord was filling up. He warned us that we would spend the day going against the current and there were a few places he wanted to make sure we got through safely. I was in the front of the kayak and Craig was in the back. Peter then told us that Alex would keep our daypacks and he would drive along the fjord keeping everything dry and safe. We had no idea this was the case and if we had known, we might have decided to bring a few extra items with us on this leg of the journey. Alex told us that he would also continue ahead and set up a nice lunch further along the journey. This would be nice since Craig was already starting to feel a little hungry and we had lots of work to do before that time would arrive. We put on our neoprene booties and spray skirts and got into the kayaks. We put our few belongings and our camera into the dry bags. Peter told us we would have a few opportunities for photos and that we could stop and get it anytime but he said that the fjord being saltwater he didnt want us to risk keeping it handy. We didn't wear the wet suits or rain jackets as it was quite warm and sunny. Good weather for kayaking, but clouds might have been nice to help keep the tabanos away. As we paddled around a bit getting used to the kayak and enjoying the amazing scenery around us, Miriam and Peter got in the water and joined us. Our first challenge was cutting across the fjord. We needed to eventually get to the other side and Peter recommended that we do that right away as the current would only get worse. Paddling hard, we worked our way across the first real hard part and took a little break near a small island and a buoy. It was a little frustrating to see how effortlessly Peter seemed to be able to just move across the water. Craig and I weren't having a real hard time but it sure seemed like it took more effort from us to try to keep up with them. As we came around the island we saw two or three dolphins jumping and swimming along in the current. They came so close to the boat it was really fascinating to witness. Unlike the much appreciated wildlife, the tabanos did not leave us alone. They weren't really biting but were constantly flying in and around us while we were paddling. As we crossed to the other side of the island we pulled in along the rocks and had a few snacks. We had little packages of peanuts and fruit and some water to wash it down with. The scenery was really stunning and by paddling in the kayak we really felt as though we were participating and not just witnessing. Peter then pointed across the rest of the remaining width of the fjord and said where we would need to go for our lunch stop. It looked like a very long way but we knew we should just take it one paddle at a time and we'd get there even though we were against the current and a light breeze too. At one point we gathered near the shore to rest and we could see a bunch of vultures near the rocks. It was sad to see that they were feasting on the bloated carcass of a dead sea lion.
After about two and a half hours of more peaceful paddling, we pulled ashore onto a family's property. Here we met up with Alex, who had driven in the van to meet us for lunch. This family allows Ko'Kayak to eat on their property, and to use their bathroom. Peter says that they give the family money to subsidize the use of their property and home. Apparently sometimes when they arrive and it is really raining, the family will insist that they come inside even though Peter says he tries to discourage this from happening. Immediately upon our arrival, the woman ran into the bathroom with fresh towels for us to use. It was a very nice little house. The bathroom had unfinished drywall walls but it had clearly received lots of loving attention recently. When I was finished, I was telling Craig where the bathroom was, but the woman who ran the home made sure to lead him in there as well so that he found it without incident. We went back outside, where Alex had assembled a lunch of tuna and vegetable sandwiches, Doritos, cheese and crackers, cookies, juice, and coffee. We had a nice little table and chairs set up under the trees. The tabanos were absolutely brutal here. They seemed to like Alex the best, and at any given time he had about three or four alighting on some part of his body. There was plenty of food for us to eat as by this point Craig and I were pretty hungry. Peter told us there would be no point in leaving any food and that we might as well finish it up. "If you say so," we thought as we polished off every sandwich and cookie that remained. After lunch we gathered the few bits of clothes we had laid around to dry off, applied a fresh batch of sunscreen, and walked back to the waters edge. Alex was going to clean up from lunch and then meet us at the end of the trip.
We got back into our kayaks and headed off. We hugged the shore near a large salmon farm. Then we paddled through a shellfish farm. There were various buoys in a large grid and going around them would have been far more difficult, putting us right into the center of the fjord. Peter insisted that it was totally acceptable to paddle through one of the little channels between the buoys. It was very nice actually as there was a snow-covered volcano straight ahead of us, and it was gorgeous and serene. The tabanos were still bothering us, but nowhere near as badly as they had been when we were ashore, so we were more than happy to be in the kayak again. We wove between colorful boats which were tied in position. We always had to be careful as the boats were sometimes quite a distance from their moorings and we didn't want to get tangled in any lines. As the wind blew sometimes the boats would change position and suddenly a line could spring up out of the water, so we needed to be on guard and avoid a lynching. At various points along the shore we could see local families swimming on small nearby beaches. We would always wave to them and the littlest kids always seemed to enjoy this the most. Peter informed us that the locals think we are crazy doing this. They work and live on the fjord and don't understand why visitors would come and pay somebody to take them to paddle a kayak up the fjord. At times we wondered the same thing but we really wouldn't have changed a thing. It was really a spectacular ride even if it was not an easy paddle for much of the day. Peter says that they have been trying to get some of the locals to act as guides since they know the area so well and they would make very enjoyable guides by adding a little more local flavor to the day. About an hour and a half after lunch, we got to the place where we were to pull out, near the center of the town of Cochamo. As we rounded the end of the fjord and the town appeared on our left, there were some pretty big waves and strong currents. I was a bit intimidated and worried that we might somehow flip. The waves could easily come right over the edge of the boat, but more importantly the current was going perpendicular to the direction we needed to travel. We sort of zig-zagged our way to avoid too much conflict and Peter stayed close in case we had any real troubles. Fortunately it was just a bit of rough going and we made it safely to shore. Alex was waiting there with the van and Peter went up to take care of things with the harbormaster as we broke down the equipment. We all changed into dry clothes as they loaded up the gear. It had been a long day but it was sort of sad to be over already. Like all these type trips, it seems like suddenly it is over and we would be saying bye to our new friends all too soon. While driving through Cochamo, out to the main road, we saw the really picturesque wooden church that we had previously seen in our Insight Guide. We didn't want to bother them by asking them to stop the van for a photo so soon after getting moving. We instead enjoyed the view of the quaint little town as we drove off to our next stop along the coast.
After a short drive of less than half an hour, Alex dropped us at the parking lot for the Campo Aventura Riverside Lodge. We said our goodbyes to Miriam and Alex, and Peter led us down a small trail through the woods and over a small Indiana Jones-style bridge. We travelled through various wooden gates carefully built to insure closing and locking behind you. We continued through small pastures inhabited by pigs, bulls, and horses to get to the lodge. As soon as we arrived we met the owner, a German woman named Christiane, who always had 8-month-old Lisa fastened to her hip. The lodge is a small compound which is comprised of various buildings. First there was the house of proprietors Christiane and Lex and their two daughters. A small office was attached to the front end. Alongside that is a building which serves as the dining room, and a building which contains three guest rooms and a kitchen. There were also a few other outbuildings near the office. One was a sort of windmill looking storage tower and the other was a "fogon," a little gathering room with tables, benches and a fire pit. There were also bathrooms and a few storage closets in this building as well. The whole compound was set up in a semi-circle with a nice fence surrounding it. Across the dirt path was a small camping area where they allow visitors to set up camp making the whole setting very comfortable. The horses and ranch building must have been set up behind the little guest compound as they were nowhere to be seen.
Christiane and Lisa showed us to our room ("The Alerce"), the leftmost room in the guest house. There was a small entryway with a bench and a ladder-like staircase up to a loft where there was a mattress. Back on the ground floor, there was a bathroom and a separate bedroom. The bed was made up in the way our bed had been made in Germany, with two separate comforters folded into squares. There were bathrobes hanging up in the bedroom, and there were a couple of cookies waiting on a desk-like table. It was all very beautiful and rustic. Everything was made from wood and polished very nicely. They ask that we always remove our shoes before entering the room and we could see why. It felt so nice walking around on the flawless wood floors. Boots carrying mud and other debris would quickly ruin them. Christiane and Lisa then showed us around the grounds, showing us the beaches along the river. We were assaulted by tabanos during the tour but by now we were actually pretty used to them. The idea of sitting by the river didn't seem too apealing to us though. The tabanos would quickly remove any enjoyment we could find while trying to relax. After the tour we went back to the room and filled out our registration forms. We thought we should do this right away. While doing this we noticed that the tabanos don't seem to like to come indoors. We had our front door and windows wide open with no screens, and only occasionally did a tabano fly in, and they seemed to be in a big hurry to get back out. We took a few photos of the room and Craig couldn't resist the temptation: he climbed in and hid in the little cupboard under the stairs, Harry Potter style. With our forms filled out we were requested back toward the office. We went to the fogon where a picnic table was all set up for afternoon tea. Christiane made us tea and brought us each a very moist piece of chocolate raspberry cake. This really hit the spot. After tea, we took a short walk around the property to get a few pictures.
Dinner was at 7:30. So we showered and headed for the dining room. On the way we met our next door neighbors, Margot and Hannah from Toronto (but Margot currently lives in England). They were both very friendly and we enjoyed their company very much. They informed us that the dinners were amazing here and that we would be very impressed and pleased with the food. While seated in the dining room, we met Olivia, the chef. She was wearing a neat white chef's coat, and had recently graduated from culinary school. She specializes in vegetarian cuisine. I had some red wine (Santa Emiliana Cabernet Sauvignon), and Craig had a Moosehead beer. We all got a good laugh at the fact that the beer was Canadian and not one of the local brands. We wondered why this was. Olivia brought us our appetizer, pate chous con salsa de salvia. These were light fluffy balls of dough in a cheese sauce. They was fantastic. The next course was a plate of tomatoes, beans, and cucumbers with polenta. The main course was a vegetarian strudel in a cream sauce served over rice. For dessert there was a parfait of fresh fruit and ice cream. Everything was absolutely delicious. Olivia is one amazing chef and we were delighted with the food. Hannah and Margot were right in their prediction that we would love the dinner. They apologized that they had requested a vegetarian dinner and they thought ours was also vegetarian because of that but we tried to assure them that the menu here is vegetarian normally. Either way, it made no difference to us as the food was fantastic and that's what it most important. We really enjoyed our dinner conversations with Margot and Hannah and wished we had more time to get to know them better. We found out that they had been on our same New Year's Eve flight to Santiago from Toronto. Small world! They would be spending their days working south eventually making their way to Patagonia. It turned out that they had just returned from a five day horse trek. They had nothing but positive things to say about their trip and it seemed they were highly impressed with the whole operation. They even endured some serious rains, but it sure seemed like they made the best of it and found it all part of the fun. Craig and I were getting very excited to begin our trip in the morning. They assured us we would love it and, based off their advice regarding the food, we had no reason to not believe them. Toward the end of the meal, their guide (Eva from Germany) came in a sat down with us all to chat. She was very friendly. There were lots of inside jokes between the three of them but rather than feel excluded we just got more excited to start our own trip. Soon after, our guide for the next few days, 25-year-old Scott from Colorado, stopped in to say a quick hello. Before we knew it, it was getting dark and was already after 10:00. Not really wanting our evening to end, but realizing it had to, we decided to leave the dining room. As we went outside, we played with two dogs that live at the lodge. One of them, named Corbata, followed Margot and Hannah for their entire trip. He followed them everywhere they went along the trail and just got back with them. According to Eva he would likely do the same with us tomorrow. He was a great dog and we sort of hoped he would become part of our group as well. A dog would surely be a great companion on our trip. Finally facing reality, we said goodnight and retired to our room. I wrote in the journal for a while and then we went to sleep.