south america

The North Stretch

One of the most incredible parts of a journey like this is how present it keeps us. Being constantly captivated by all of the new sights, sounds and experiences holds our focus on the current moment; leaving little time to dwell on the past or future. Therefore, each day is a new adventure full of unforgettable moments. Weeks can seem like ages. None of us can believe all that’s happened in just the last week or two through sections 5 and 6! The last two sections have been an expedition all their own. 

After finishing section 7 we took a bus back to the nearest town of Lonquimay to resupply, repair some gear, and wait out the impending weather that had been forecasted. This was a very fortunate decision as the precipitation that was predicted ended up being an intense storm. We waited out the worst of it, thankfully watching the battering winds and rain from indoors. We made our way back to the trail once things had calmed, apprehensively looking out the bus windows to the freshly snow covered mountains we’d soon be climbing.

We arrived at the southern end of section 6 in the late afternoon and made our way to a refugio (hiker’s shelter) where the road ended nearby. The refugio turned out to be adjacent to the homestead of another lovely family of settlers who, in typical Chilean fashion, invited us to come warm up inside by the fire and share matè and fresh tortilla (traditional bread cooked beneath the ash of the fire). It wasn’t until we began to set up our tents for the night that Anthony found that his inflatable sleeping pad had got a large gash sliced into it from something on the bus ride. The small patch-kit didn’t seem to be performing well, which meant we might have a big problem. A good sleeping pad would be essential to insulate from the cold while camping much higher in the snowy mountains the following nights. The kind family attempted to help, offering patch materials they had, and even insisting that Anthony borrow one of their sleeping pads for the night.

The last of the poor weather was taking its time to move out which prompted us to spend the following day at the ranch, waiting for things to clear up before we attempted the mountain pass that lay ahead. Anthony was able to use that day to try some alternative patching options, which succeeded as a temporary fix. We sat by the fire and listened to stories from Elsa, the 80-year-old aunt who lived with the couple, Dante, Delgodina and their son Angel as the rain pattered on the tin roof. We were, of course, invited to partake in another asado as Dante and Angel took a goat and prepared it outside before we could even attempt to politely decline. We accepted the honorable meal. Garrett’s stomach couldn’t handle any more meat, so we discretely snuck his meat over to the rest of us, who gladly received the delicious extra helpings.

The next morning, we thanked our hosts, who insisted on sending us off with plenty of bread, and continued toward the mountains. We had been advised by Jan (the creator of the trail) to take an alternate route to reach the mountain pass, as the main trail was badly eroded in that area. This diversion had some surprises of it’s own in store for us though. We set out to cover about 15 km. that day and camp on the other side of the pass. However, we ended up making about half of that distance, and camping beneath the mountain we had yet to pass. The route we took had also been eroded. We reached seemingly impassable, steep slopes made of nothing but scree that had us sliding back two steps for every one we took. A pretty serious fall by Garrett had us slowing down to find the safest route as we pushed on. We lowered packs and ourselves down steep gravel and rock faces with para-cord (the only ropes we have). It was clear we weren’t going to make the mountain pass that day. We made an impromptu camp at the rocky base of the mountain.

We finally made our way up the steep snowy slope the next morning. Occasionally a soft section of snow would have us post-holing through up to our thighs. Although the view at the top was so much more than worth it! “It’s not every day that you see a smoking volcano!” From the top we had views of the incredible (active) Copahue Volcano and all that still lay ahead of us in the sections. Fueled with this enthusiasm, we made it early the next day to one of the places we’d been looking forward to most; the home of legendary Juan Carrileo.

We had been informed of how knowledgeable and kind Juan and his family were, yet they surely exceeded all our expectations! We arrived at their summer homestead along the Rio Chaquilvin to be greeted by Juan’s wife Elena. As soon as we introduced ourselves she invited us in and began to slice an endless mountain of bread for us. We got to know her and their youngest son, Gabriel, while Juan and his other son Leo were out herding the animals. Gabriel went out fishing while we had tea with Elena, who then fried the trout up for us for lunch with freshly made salsa. The generosity of the people out there in the campo (countryside) had us all reflecting on the customs of our own homelands. How differently do we interact with a stranger passing by back in Europe or the U.S.? Just one of the many things the Carrileo family had to teach us.

Juan and Leo returned on horseback with the herds of goat and sheep shortly before dusk. Without taking a moment to rest after working all day, Juan then proceeded to slaughter and prepare a goat outside in the dark for an asado with us! We of course couldn’t decline the honor. At least this time we mustered up the courage to tell them that the boys didn’t eat meat; a concept of confusion to Chilean ranchers. We ate by homemade candlelight and learned more about the area from the Kimche (a native word for wise man) who had lived there his whole life. We did an interview with Juan the next morning and nearly spit out our matè we found out he was over 70 years old! None of us could possibly conceive that he was any more than 50! His eyes, full of wisdom and compassion, are the only thing that gives up his age. No one would ever know that he’s worked that way for so many decades!

As soon as our interview and morning matè with Juan had concluded, he was suited up in chaps and spurs to head out for a day of work. We thanked all four of them for their unbelievable hospitality and again continued on our way, each with a loaf of fresh tortilla. We left with such full stomachs we weren’t sure that we’d even make it to the nearby hot springs that we were planning to camp by. Unfortunately, the hot springs ended up being a little more literally a ‘hot spring’ and not the natural pools we’d imagined soaking in. So we hiked the rest of the day to reach the end of the section at the small village of Guallali.

From Guallali it was only three days through section 5 to complete our Northbound part of the trip! The powerful winds there that night prevented us from getting much sleep, but that couldn’t deter us from keeping a good pace to get through our last ‘hiking only’ section of the trip. We got a helping hand from a local construction worker who gave us a lift up the road a few kilometers towards the Laguna El Barco. Even with the helpful ride, we arrived at the lake pretty exhausted. We relaxed at the campground on the lake that afternoon, gathering our energy for the next day, which would be the longest distance we’ve hiked in a day so far. Fortunately, the majority of the incline we had to ascend that day we crushed first thing in the morning.

For most of the rest of the day we covered ground quickly on the high plateau, surrounded by views of the massive, glaciated volcanoes like Copahue. The difficult part of that day didn’t end up being the long distance, it was the lack of water sources up on the plateau. We hiked nearly the whole day on just the water we started with that morning. Nothing can describe the feeling of finding fresh running streams when you’re low on water, hiking in the hot sun! It was a long steep decent down to the valley below. We reached the grassy fields and got a great night’s rest before pushing through the last day of pure hiking we’ll have on this expedition.

The section ended in the incredibly scenic village of Trapa Trapa. The next day we took one of the most terrifying bus rides of our lives along the cliff edge roads, from Trapa Trapa to the town of Alto Bio Bio. We’ve now just completed interviews with native Pehuenche elders and youth alike that have left us speechless. The knowledge that the people of Alto Bio Bio had to share with us was immeasurable. It was truly the most remarkable end to our time in this region that we could have asked for!

We’re now headed back South to finally make our way into the “official” boundaries of Patagonia. We’re all insanely excited to get into Patagonia and do some more pack rafting! Stay tuned for all to come from our navigations of the Patagonian rivers and lakes! 

Chile Sin Represas

Chile is truly a place of it's own...a place filled with treacherous mountains, gorging rivers, wide valleys, massive volcanoes and views as far as the eye can see. The country contains some of the most spectacular landscapes and natural flora and fauna around but unfortunately, all of that is at risk.

As with most places around the world, corporations have high influence and Chile is no different. The main issue in Chile is that the water is privatized. This means corporations can bid on water rights and own these rights for some of the most beautiful rivers in all of Chile. These companies then have the ability to use this water in any way they want and for well over a decade, that want has been hydro-electric mega dams.

Hydro-electric mega dams are projects that involve creating a dam along rivers that have the potential to produce a ton of electricity. This electricity is created as water runs through a turbine in the dam and can be transferred through power lines to typically a major city nearby. They are considered renewable, fairly effective, safe and Chile has some of the perfect rivers to implement these dams. Sounds like a great idea right? If only it were that simple. 

Dam project on the Nuble River; slated for 2019

Dam project on the Nuble River; slated for 2019

These dams are a massive hindrance on the environment. They destroy the local flora and fauna and disrupt the local communities that live nearby. The damage that they cause, in most cases, is completely irreversible. There are many species, especially in Chile, that are endangered and their ecosystems are centered around these rivers. Once these dams are implemented, these species will be wiped out along with the beauty that these areas hold. Indigenous people that have lived here for years and years are also typically relocated and sometimes stripped of their cultural heritage. A lot of the dams don't even produce electricity but simply divert water and river flow, which still has a huge impact on the environment. The saddest thing is this is happening all over Chile. 

A few areas that have been the main target of Chile and as of recently are the Maipo basin near Santiago, the Nuble river in the Bio Bio region, the Futaleufu watershed, the Achibueno river and many, many more. Luckily, there are organizations working to protect these areas and to save these communities and the environment. These organizations are scattered all across Chile and they are the ones that stand up and oppose certain projects in their local area. They are usually separate but they all have one thing in common - to protect Chile's natural areas and make sure they remain untouched. To that avail, these organizations work together to make sure Chile as a whole is protected.

Construction site at Punilla dam outside of San Fabian. 

Construction site at Punilla dam outside of San Fabian. 

These organizations need huge amounts of support from their local communities and outside sources in order to make a stand against these massive corporations. The image to the left is a prime example of a company sign next to a dam stating they are there to protect the wildlife when in fact, they are doing the complete opposite. As with most cases, one of the biggest issues is making people aware. When people are receiving false information and are being told lies by these corporations, it makes it even more difficult to rally a community against these projects. That has been the major issue in Chile where people are either not aware of what's going on in their own backyard or they are fed lies by these companies creating the projects. 

The sign and dam projected above is where we were lucky enough to do our first environmentally based interview with Francisco, a member of Nuble Libre in San Fabian. Nuble Libre is an environmental community and organization aimed at protecting the famous Nuble River and the surrounding area. They are currently in a fight to protect an area called Punilla, which is threatened by the creation of a dam on the Nuble River. This area is particularly significant because it holds extremely rare tree species as well as other animal species that call this place their home. The river is also widely known for being an excellent place for rafting but if this dam was implemented, the river flow could be affected drastically. 

Over the past decade though, Chile has come a long way and now is really taking a stand. These environmental organizations throughout Chile are building large followings against these dams and are starting to end up on the winning side. Organizations include the No Alto Maipo campaign, Nuble Libre, Futaleufu Riverkeepers, Ecosistemas, Conservacion Patagonica and so many more. These organizations fight to defend Chile's rivers, mountains and beautiful scenery that can't be found anywhere else in the world. 

"Sin Represas" stands for "Without Dams" and has been the motto for Chile and specifically, Patagonia, ever since a company, HidroAysen, came into the region and attempted to control the rivers with these dams. This has become a movement and it can be seen all throughout the country. We are looking to be a part of this movement and we hope you will join us as we embark on this adventure to document and protect Chile. For more information, here are a few sites to check out to learn more about this movement and what you can do to help.

http://www.futaleufuriverkeeper.org/

http://www.conservacionpatagonica.org/home.htm

http://www.sinrepresas.com/

We'll be interviewing organizations in Santiago early in the week and then it's back on the trail! Continue to follow this blog to receive an inside look into the film, learn more about Chile and to get inspired to pack your bags and find your own adventure! 

Safe Travels! 

What Is The GPT?

"The Greater Patagonian trail is not an official trail that was planned and set up by a government agency. It’s better: it’s a compilation of the most beautiful and diverse hiking and horse trails, minor roads and cross country sections through the Patagonian Andes selected by a passionate hiker." - Jan Dudeck 

That passionate hiker, Jan Dudeck, has come back year after year since 2013 with his partner, Meylin, to form what is now known as the Greater Patagonian Trail. The trail is constantly growing and to date, it is now around 3,000 km long and goes all the way from Santiago to Glacier Viedma in Argentina. The hope is to make the trail go to the southern tip of South America making it one of the longest and most wild treks in the world. 

The best part about the trail is that it wasn't created by any organization with financial incentives or other motives. This is simply one hiker looking to create a trail for other hikers. It's made up of horse trails, dirt roads, footpaths and other ways of traversing through the Patagonian Andes. The last consideration for the trail is a road with any type of traffic meaning this trail is about as remote as it gets! It's currently made up of roughly 33 sections with the most documented being Sections 1-18. Each section lasts around 2-10 days and 35km - 150km. The trail passes through temperate forests, mountain passes, snow-capped volcanoes, glaciers, hot springs, pristine lakes and everything in between. It is one of the most diverse and unique trails not only in South America, but quite possibly the whole world.

The trail is called the "Greater Patagonian" trail because a good portion of the trail is not actually within the official boundaries of Patagonia. The first sections hug the borderline of Argentina and Chile and are about 100 km or less from the technical boundaries of Patagonia. The beginning sections are the ones that are most ignored though and which set the stage for the trail. 

Another very interesting and unique aspect of the trail is that it can also be done in a combination of pack-raft and hiking. There are many pack-raft options along the trail, especially farther south, that can be combined with hiking to access even more remote areas and explore the beauty of the landscape via boat. This adds another element to the adventure and is something that is lacking in most other long distance treks.

Also, the great thing about this trek is that anyone can do it! It does not require technical capabilities or anything "special", just physical and mental determination. Since the trail is so remote though, it does require a fair amount of logistical planning and making sure you know exactly what your getting into. These might not be most people's idea of a "trail"! 

For our journey, since it is nearly impossible to do all sections in one summer season, we have decided to skip some sections in order to capture as much of this area as we possibly can. We will also be strictly hiking until Section 12 and then will start pack-rafting in order to mix things up a bit and really experience everything the trail has to offer. Our hope is to document the trail and this region to the best of our abilities and really show what Patagonia and the surrounding areas are all about.

We would like to give a HUGE thanks to Jan Dudeck for his help in planning our adventure and overall for creating this trail. All the above information was taken from his wiki site below:

http://www.wikiexplora.com/index.php/Greater_Patagonian_Trail#Idea_for_the_Trail

This site really dives into details of the trail and gives everything you need to know if you're considering taking on this adventure. Without his help and this site, this documentary wouldn't be possible.

Lastly, we would like to stress the "Leave No Trace" policy as it's the most important thing while hiking. If you are considering doing this trek or any other trek for that matter, PLEASE make sure you are aware of local rules/regulations and stick to the "Leave No Trace" mentality.  We cannot afford to lose these wild places and it is our responsibility to make sure they stay as untouched and beautiful as they are today. 

Thanks so much for following our journey into Patagonia and we hope your excited as we are to see what the rest of the trail has in store for us!

Safe travels! 

The Long Haul

To say that our journey through Section Two of The Greater Patagonian Trail was a turbulent one, would be an understatement to say the least. As with all fantastic adventures though, the lows are met with equally intense highs, and my goodness did we have our share of both!


We set off from Talca (the capital of Chile’s Maule region) on New Years Eve and took a small bus to get us slightly closer to the trail. After a very long and pretty clammy bus ride where at least half of the passengers were standing, packed together like sardines, we disembarked, threw on our backpacks and got to walking again. It had been a busy morning for us in Talca that day and the rushing around like headless chickens trying to send packages to who knows where and restocking on who knows what had made us pretty tired...Needless to say we were all in bed by 9pm, even despite the chants, fire works, and music from the nearby locals celebrating the new year with family camping outings. 

On New Years Day however, we decided to head on and after a decent amount of hiking, we set up a fire, cooked some homemade (all be it slightly playdough-y looking) pizza and sipped on industrial quantities of Chilean wine. After a night of living like, what essentially felt like royalty in comparison to Sections One's soup diet, we were raring to go and ready to beat our distance records from the previous week. Unfortunately, Aljoscha's Achilles-heel injury was still bothering him and he'd just got a sore throat to boot, so, after a few kilometers on the road, we hitched a ride with a lovely local family and made sure to get an early night for a speedy recovery.       

                                     
At this point in the trip, we'd learnt from previous experience that our food supplies on the first section would not suffice this time around, so our bags were filled to the brim with all kinds of treats. It helped a lot being so much more prepared for when hunger strikes, or when 'Willy the worm' needs feeding (Aljoscha's insatiable appetite now has an alter-ego, just in case you were wondering who the worm was) but still there were times when it wasn't quite enough and the team was struggling to find the energy to keep hiking when we were burning such a high number of calories every day.   

Luckily, paradise came in the form of freshly baked bread and homemade goat cheese at a settler’s summer ranch that we passed by after a long day's hike. Jan Dudeck (the creator of the trail) had marked Irma's family ranch on his trail guide as a good place to stop to refuel and we did just that. Irma also agreed to be our very first interviewee! So, with Garrett firing off the questions, Robyn translating and Aljoscha filming, we have our first interview under our belts. Irma’s family were incredibly welcoming and had no problem with us popping in and out of their home to grab water or whatever we needed to take to our tents which they’d let us pitch right outside.

The surroundings were incredible with the goats, chickens, dogs, horses and even kittens roaming around freely, coming and going as they pleased. We were so intrigued as to how Irma’s family managed to live so self sufficiently so far away from any one else in quite literally the middle of nowhere; but since this is something they’ve been doing for so many generations in that very home, it’s something that comes naturally to them and it was obvious that they loved being there. Apart from their solar panel, small generator and infrequent trips to the closest town for supplies, the way they live is incredibly simple and from what Irma said, that’s what she finds to be most liberating in life.        


In the following days our ailments all surfaced and trekking through became just that little bit more of an effort. Anthony still had a pretty deep wound on his back from where he’d fallen and his backpack rubbed him raw, which hadn’t had the time to heal properly. He'd been a trooper continuing on despite the pain but since it was still not healing, it was a bit of a worry. Then Robyn got sick and was continually spewing up and down mountains for two days, which Aljoscha said was like 'leaving a breadcrumb trail of vomit'...That's one way to find our way back, I suppose!    


Through sickness and injury, we managed to muster up the little strength we had left to finish the section. The trail itself took us to some scenes that were nothing short of breathtaking. Those mountain passes may be hard in the blistering summer heat, but my goodness are they worth it for the views! We've been lucky enough to meet some very generous Chileans, stay on a Gaucho's ranch, hitch hour long rides through the countryside in the back of a passer-by’s pick-up-truck and even see wild foxes and their pups. Needless to say, after a few days of r & r in San Carlos, we are more than ready to get out there and see just what section 3 has to offer.

Hasta pronto!

 

Departure Day

December 20th, 2016


“The word adventure has gotten overused. For me, when everything goes wrong – that’s when adventure starts” -Yvon Chouinard

That quote just about sums up our last week and most likely, our whole trip! In less than a week, we had to find a new traveler, get four people from different regions and countries to one location and figure out how to fit our whole livelihood on our back (not to mention 30+ pounds of camera equipment!) It's been a chaotic week leading up to departure and it's only the beginning - we still have four months of trekking ahead of us! 

That's really what an adventure is all about though. Sure, we could rent a car and drive our way through Patagonia and document it that way, but that defeats the purpose. The whole point of the film is to document this region like no one has before. It's about testing ourselves mentally and physically in hopes of coming back home with a different perspective. If we choose the easy way, we lose the chance of gaining something truly meaningful from this trip. 

For now, well keep this opening post short since we have many last minute things to finish up but know that there is much more to come! Today we leave for four months to take on one of the roughest, most remote and challenging adventures of our lives and our hope is to show you our journey each step of the way. We will be posting to this blog every week or so to give you an exclusive look into the creation of the film. We also will be posting to Facebook, Twitter and Instagram to share with you breathtaking photos of the trail and short updates of how it's going. Lastly, we may do some live Facebook videos, give-aways and other really cool stuff while on the trail so be sure to sign up for our email where we will be announcing those type of things.

Next time you hear from us well be over a week into the trail with blisters on our feet, smiles on our faces and most likely a few stories to tell! 

Safe travels,

The UNBOUNDED Crew