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A Local Chilean Canoes Through Parks Created by the Largest Private Land Donation in History
Story & photos by Cristóbal Kapsch
When we heard that the largest private land donation in history would occur during the month of April 2019 in our country, we didn’t hesitate to organize a canoe trip that would allow us to get the last look of the legacy built by Douglas and Kristine Tomkins.
To visit Patagonia Park and the other parks created by Tomkins Conservation, we first drove the famous Carretera Austral highway. This 750-mile route links 11 of the 17 parks on the Patagonian park route.
Canoeing The Abscal Lagoon
We began our trip in the city of Puerto Montt, the beginning of the Carretera Austral, making our first stop in the fjord of Cahuelmó. We decided to first attempt to access the remote and little-known Abscal lagoon.
Access to this spot is only possible if the appropriate tide allows you to paddle upstream, where you can then reach the beginning of the trail. Thanks to our lightweight packraft canoe, we could approach the steep walls of the lagoon, get privileged views of Argentine, and enjoy the peace of probably one of the most pristine lagoons in Patagonia.
Our second stop allowed us to connect in a very intimate way with the vision of Tomkins, since we were lucky to spend a few days in what was his home and his first conservation project in South America.
The 1,700-acre Reñihué farm, now owned by an American businessman, demonstrates Doug’s respect for the environment, the vision of sustainable ecological agriculture, and the restoration of ecosystems. Every detail in the architecture, landscaping and simplicity in their messages showed us the love and work that Doug dedicated to this place. His dream and attention to detail led to the formation the beginning of one of the largest conservation projects in the world.
Reflections While Paddling the General Carrera Lake
Undoubtedly, our greatest aspiration was to canoe by the walls of the marble caves at the General Carrera Lake. We did this after 10 days of traveling through remote corners of the Carretera Austral. The strong winds of the lake forced us to wait two days in the town of Puerto Sanchez before carrying out the expedition.
Having waited at the mercy of time, in a town where tourism had already disappeared, made us reflect a lot about Doug’s accident in this lake and the conditions that the conservationist must have gone through. Local testimonies say Doug’s journey would have started in the same town where we stayed. This made this part of the trip a very special one.
Finally, the winds diminish, the port opened, and we managed to canoe slowly along the spectacular 3000-foot formations considered Chilean natural monuments.
And Finally… Patagonia Park
We decided to end our trip in Patagonia Park, which, like the Pumalín Park, would be delivered to the Chilean state during the month of April. Since all the services of the park were closed, except the trails, we managed to take a last look at this incredible project before the intervention of the state and private administrations.
The park transmitted a peaceful, almost melancholic energy, where only wild animals roamed its corners. Wildlife seem to be in their comfort, given that Tomkins and a large team of people have focused in recent years on eliminating fences to link the park with nearby national reserves.
On the last day, to our surprise we came across a vehicle from which Kristine Tomkins greeted us. Without a doubt, it felt like a memorable farewell for an emotional and reflective journey.
I hope that our country appreciates, cares, and values what the Tomkins gifted to us. It’s now our responsibility to make this project last over time and to raise awareness among us of the importance of caring for wildlife and keeping nature as unaltered as possible.
Tompkins Conservation donated more than 407,000 hectares to the state of Chile to help create five new national parks, including Pumalín Douglas Tompkins and Patagonia parks. The restaurants, lodge, cabins and information centers in these parks will be closed until the selection of a new concessionaire. This process is being carried out by the National Forest Service (Conaf) through concessions. Meanwhile, visitors can still enjoy the trails. For more information, visit their website. Learn more about the Oryx, the world’s first “packraft canoe.”