“Get out of bed everyday and do something fierce for those things that call to us.”
– Doug Tompkins, excerpt from Outside Online
What do you get when you combine a strong appetite for the outdoors, conservation, and agriculture with millions of dollars? The ability to create something beyond influential. Something that will endure lifetimes. Preserved beauty in a place constantly threatened by modern day industry. That’s what Doug Tompkins left behind when he passed away this last December in a kayaking incident.
The co-founder of the outdoor clothing and gear giant North Face saw potential in the wild lands of Patagonia. Not the potential that mining, forestry, and hydro dam industries sought out, but the potential to conserve and rehabilitate these lands, to maintain and in some cases restore the native biodiversity of the lands. Doug, along with his wife Kris, has worked to purchase, preserve, and eventually donate some two million acres of land in both Chile and Argentina.
We had the pleasure to explore and get to know a few of the areas preserved by the Tompkins foundation: Parque Pumalín, 715,000 acres of pristine temperate rainforest, including some of the last remaining old forest Alerce trees; El Amarillo, the cute little town at the south entrance to Pumalín; and Fundo Las Rosas, one of the last remaining ecological agriculture farms still owned by the foundation.
We entered Parque Pumalín from the north. We had taken the 5 hour ferry from Hornopirén, passing through beautiful Patagonian fjords to land at Caleta Gonzalo. The park’s facilities are some of the best I have ever seen, with a visitor center on either end, and plenty of campgrounds along the way, all equipped with showers, toilets, and trash.
The park, one of the largest and most diverse conservation efforts in South America, is still currently privately owned by Kris Tompkins, but will be donated to the government of Chile. Inside the park, there are numerous trails to explore, including two different active volcanoes, a few waterfalls, and of course, the otherworldly Alerce forest. We, being the lazy bums that we are, opted for the short walk through the Alerces, and we quickly fell in love. So much so, I’ll leave my ramblings on these magical trees to a whole separate post 🙂
Craving a hot shower, we only camped one night in the park, and moved on to the small city of Chaitén. Once serving as the main visitor center for Parque Pumalín, the town was devastated by the eruption of the Chaitén Volcano in 2008. Unfortunately, the damage is still obvious, as much of the town never seemed to reopen. Ghost town as it may seem, we still found some lovely cabañas with cozy beds and, most importantly, hot showers.
There’s also a fantastic beach just north of Chaitén, where we encountered dolphins! They were so close to shore, it took all of my self-control to not rip off my clothes and go storming into the frigid waters to fulfill a lifelong dream of joining a dolphin pod.
The boys joined back up with us a few days later – our little family was back together! Yes, of course, Alex and I were named the parents of our very dysFUNctional family, with 4 overgrown children, Destinee, Luke, Tiddy, and Ben.
We spent a day exploring a hidden gem near Lago Yelcho – two natural mineral water springs. The owner of the cabins we were staying in led us on to these aguas minerales. He prefers to keep the location a secret, so you’ll just have to snoop around yourself should you decide to go.
It was well worth the search to find a short little hike through the jungle to two funky little holes with water bubbling up from the ground. Naturally carbonated water, fresh from mama earth! We took our turns tasting from both springs (they oddly tasted quite different from each other), and filling up bottles to take some of the “magic water” along with us. A gulp a day keeps the doctor away!
The following day Ben brought us out to Fundo Las Rosas. He had interned for Tompkins a few years back (hint-hint: that’s how all of his plans to buy land down here began), and he got to know a few of the head farmers for the foundation’s Ecological Agriculture project.
The farm Las Rosas is just 18 km south of Chaitén, and is simply perfect. The farm caretakers gave us a tour – greenhouses and gardens full of veggies, flowers, and herbs and rows upon rows of fruits – strawberries, blueberries, raspberries, and apples galore!
It was such a great pleasure to talk with the caretakers and to learn about the farms and the foundation. With the unfortunate death of Don Doug, the life and future of some of these farms seems to be up in the air, and we can only hope that the remaining lands are preserved in the same manner Doug would have intended them to be. (From what we understand, many of the farms have been sold off, and it is yet to be seen what the new owners true intentions are for these pristine grounds.)
For more information on the Tompkins Conservation, their farms, parks, and conservation efforts, check out their website at www.tompkinsconservation.org
Last but not least, there’s El Amarillo. The small town just a bit south of Chaitén was chosen by Doug to essentially get a facelift, and serve as the south entrance to Pumalín. And that is exactly what happened, turning what was previously a drive-by town into a quaint little tourist destination. It’s so ridiculously cute that I want to move there. The area also has one of my favorite things in the world – hot springs!!
Overall, I am so grateful to Ben for the opportunity to get to know this part of the world so personally, and to the caretakers of Fundo Las Rosas for the fantastic company and vast amounts of information on the conservation efforts of the late Doug Tompkins. If only we could all be as mindful of the earth we live on as he was.