Tales from today, preserved for tomorrow.

Fence Removal on Tamango

Sunset / Moonrise over Los Alamos campground.

I was pretty lucky, in my opinion, to spend my first week volunteering working on trails. The other 2 primary objectives of the volunteer group is fence removal and invasive species removal. Fence removal was what we were tasked with on week 2. I can’t imagine how much work it was to install hundreds of miles of fence 30 years ago in this area, but I can imagine it was ten times harder than what we had to do which was still tough.

Los Alamos Campground

Just as the future Patagonia National Park needed their first trail, they also needed their first campground. A couple of kilometers past the estancia is the newly established Campamento Los Alamos which has all of the facilities that one would expect at a national park campground.

We loaded up the various tools needed for fence removal (bolt cutters, pliers, etc) into one of the estancia trucks and were dropped off at the new campground. Since it was already pretty late in the day we didn’t go out into the field and just spent time enjoying the campsite. I nearly managed to smack a guanaco on its ass by sneaking behind some trees, but it was quick enough to its feet for me to miss by about a foot.

 

Away with Fences!

With all of the work that has been done by past volunteers, the remaining fences are becoming further and further away from the estancia. Each morning we had to hike for about an hour into the portion of fence we were to remove. After the post-hike yerba mate break we started the laborious process of cutting wire and doing our best to knock down the posts. Removing the fence was the easy part; the most difficulty came from trying to manage all of the wire that would accumulate. Additionally since we were now so far out and off of the jeep trails, we had no vehicles that could come and transport it away.

On the 2nd day of doing this I experienced an unexpected hazard. I was working far ahead of the group cutting wire in advance when I felt a sting. And then another. One sting is OK, but my instinct kicked in on the second sting since I knew I must have hit a nest. I turned around and bolted back down the hill and fortunately only ended up sustaining 3 stings. We eventually had to go through this area so I pointed out the [now] obvious chaqueta amarilla (Yellow Jacket) nest on the other side of the fence, and we had no more problems.

The weather and lighting we had this week were incredible.

At the end of each day, we carried our work back to the start and left it in a big pile. We did this for 3 days total which left us with 1.1km of heavy wire. The only task for the fourth day was to get it back down to the main pile by Los Alamos. We moved the pile through a couple kilometers of bushwhacking and got it to the jeep trail. Since it was getting late, we made the call to leave the pile there and deal with it later. When that would be, I didn’t know nor care at this point since shouldering essentially barbed wire for kilometers on end is not fun.

Results after 2 days, 1km removed.

Being an engineer and always thinking of ways to make things easier, that morning I had the idea of bringing one of the mountain bikes up to the point where the trail diverged from the jeep trail. This would have made it much easier to load up a ton of wire and wheel it down to the main pile. With the decision to leave the wire, I had a free mountain bike ride back down which took 5 minutes versus 45!

Wind Down

With the weekend upon us it was time to return to the estancia, so the trucks were soon there ready for all of our equipment. Back at the estancia, Doug and Kris were hosting some people from a for-profit conservation group in Portland so they organized a nice lamb asado and invited everyone at the estancia. It was a nice final Friday for my trip. As the silver haired executives from this organization approached outfitted in their Patagonia down sweaters and obviously not beaten down from a week of fence removal, Ann Marie and I look at each other wide eyed. But she said it best: “holy gringos!” For once I was out-gringoed and felt like a local :) .

The End

The final few days of the trip and the months following were a huge blur. Van back to Coyhaique, flight to Santiago, last day in South America, return to Pittsburgh, packing up a UHaul truck, hauling it across the country, starting a job at Amazon, finding an apartment, and on and on until I finally felt settled in Seattle.

Needless to say it was hard for me to finish the posts about this trip with everything going on. But since I wanted to finish these write-ups before starting others, I am forcing myself to do it now before I forget everything.

Final Comments

I felt there were three distinct chapters to this trip, each being 3-4 weeks of time.

For the first chapter, Ange and I had the opportunity to do a significant trip for longer than 1 week of time together. We tagged 3 countries and countless awesome sights. These 3 weeks alone were enough for a memorable trip, and unfortunately for her they had to come to an end due to her job.

The next chapter was a chance for me to experience traveling alone for an extended period. There were periods of time when I would meet people to hang out with for a day or two at a time, but on the whole I was still alone, especially when traveling between cities/countries. Though I still had fun, I definitely realized how boring it can get. This was part of the reason I went to Brazil on a whim. A few of the people I now hang out with in Seattle are a direct result of meeting a Seattleite in Bonito, Brazil.

The final chapter was volunteering at Conservacion Patagonica. To be honest I breezed over this section since I mostly just wanted to finish it, but there was much more to the experience than I care to write about at this time. Living and working with the same people for 2-3 weeks definitely made the connection that much stronger, versus walking around the city for a day with someone you met at a hostel. I really hope to see them again, whether its when I return to Chile or if they ever do come climb in the US :P .

To anyone considering a trip like this, just do it. You’ll never rationalize quitting your job and traveling like a vagabond for months (or years), but when its over you’ll be wondering how soon it’ll be until you can pull it off again. For me, it’s the time spent away from work that defines my life.

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