Saturday, January 14, 2023
Our tour today was a HAL tour titled “Patagonia Nature in Depth” described in the brochure as
A 15-minute ride takes you along an outstandingly beautiful road. Your destination is Aikén del Sur Private Park. On the banks of the placid, transparent waters of Lake Riesco, the park covers an area of five square miles.
Visit the Information Center for an introduction to the whole area. Interpretive stations explain the bio-geographical history of the region; then, outdoors, you’ll stroll down three nature trails, complete with rails and bridges, to discover the three different zones — forest, prairie and swamp.
In the indigenous perennial forest, you’ll see ferns (some typified for the first time in Chile), mosses and lichens.
The River Trail immerses you in the deep nature of Patagonia as you traverse prairies and the humid forest that characterizes this part of the world. Flora here consists of patriarchal myrtle and turf mingled with wild fuschia and calafate shrubbery.
On the Swamp Trail, macal and mallines wetlands round out the wealth of habitat found at Aikén del Sur.
A 65-foot-tall waterfall — the impressive Old Man’s Beard cascade — awaits at the end of the trail. Take photos before you return to base via the Waterfall Trail.
A delicious, typical Patagonian lunch of barbecued lamb is served before you return to the ship.
Notes: Wear comfortable walking shoes, biodegradable sunscreen and insect repellent. Dress warmly in layers with a wind- and waterproof outer layer. Not advisable for guests with mobility limitations. If you have dietary restrictions, please advise the shore excursion manager once on board the ship. Your guide will do his/her best to speak English, but please keep in mind that the limited tourism infrastructure here is part of the port’s charm, and bear with any language difficulties he/she may encounter. The coach is not air-conditioned. Aikén de Sur’s commitment to reduced waste means that plastic bottles cannot be brought into the park. There are water stations within the park; recyclable cups are provided. You are welcome to bring bottled water in your own non-plastic reusable bottle.
There were 4 buses waiting for us. We had 39 on our bus. Stefano, our tour guide, was a young, very enthusiastic person who was excited to be doing tours again after two summers of no cruise guests. The bus was nice, but it did not have very much legroom between the rows of seats.
The bus did travel along the fjord, and we could see some black-neck swans. He said they had only started coming there during the summer a few years ago and now they come every year.
Once we got to the Information building, they divided us into 4 groups of 26 each so some on our bus went with another guide. We stayed with Stefano. He said his nickname from the other guides was “Little Turtle” as he liked to stop and talk so much, his group was always last to the pavilion. We were fine with being last.
He told us he has lived in Puerto Chacabuco since 2013. His grandfather also lives here and his visits here as a child made him want to settle here. He believes it might be the grandest place on Earth. Of course, to make it so lush, there is a lot of rain. He said it has rained for more than 20 days in a row at times.
After a quick bathroom break, he gave us about a 20-minute presentation in the Information building about Patagonia. It could have been done in 10 minutes; the building was so small, but he wanted to go over every exhibit. As I said, very enthusiastic.
We started on the hike. The ground was relatively flat. The path was packed dirt and rocks and narrow, so we were in single file. You had to be careful not to trip over any roots and duck under the low hanging branches. There were some steps and bridges along the way.
I know the description indicated three different types of terrain, but it all looked pretty much alike to me. Our path followed the river for the most part.
He would stop ever so often and talk about the trees, plants, and animals. He let us smell leaves from a couple of trees – together they are used to make gin. I could faintly smell a gin-flavor. I can’t remember the names of the trees. We didn’t see any animals although he said there were Patagonian foxes and once he even saw a puma. I heard lots of bird songs, but I never saw any.
The talks also gave people a chance to rest. However, there were no bathrooms on the trail. I felt bad for those who did not take advantage of the Information Center.
We ended up at the Old Man’s Beard waterfall. It was so powerful you could feel the spray even though the observation decks were not that close to it.
Once we got to the end of the hike, a bus was supposed to be waiting for us to take us to the pavilion for our late lunch. There was no bus, so we had to hike up the hill. It was the toughest of the trails even though it was a paved road. We had been hiking for two hours.
We were greeted at the pavilion with various types of Pisco Sours.
There were several large picnic tables with place settings. We chose a couple of seats away from the sound system. The music in the background mixed with the cacophony of voices was almost deafening.
They started the presentation with a performance by two dancers. Then the dancers chose people from the audience to dance with them. Chuck was one of the ones chosen. He had no trouble picking up the steps.
The staff brought out bottles of wine for the tables – 2 bottles of cabernet sauvignon and 2 bottles of sauvignon blanc for every 6 persons. The two people across from us didn’t drink much wine. We took up their slack. The servers also kept bringing out Pisco Sours.
They followed that with empanadas, a roll, vegetables, and then a huge plate of fire-pit roasted lamb served with two whole boiled potatoes. Afterwards, they brought out a caramel-flavored flan with raspberry compote. It was all delicious but way too much food.
I waddled to the bus and we were soon back at the tender port. We were supposed to be back on board at 6:30. It was now 6:35 and we were just getting to the dock. I would have been worried sick if our tour had been with an independent tour operator. But, since it was a HAL tour, there were two tenders waiting for the 4 buses of people.
I enjoyed the tour very much and I thought Stefano’s English was very good. I hope he gets to do a lot of tours this season. We did need the insect repellent but not the sunscreen. It was very shady on the path. Most people wore tennis shoes but some had on sandals or even flip-flops. I saw them rubbing their feet when we stopped.
Now, we knew eating dinner was out of the question as we were still too full. Should we call it a night? Or get out and about and enjoy the evening activities.
Puerto Chacabuco, Chile
Puerto Chacabuco is a town in Patagonia, southern Chile, known as a jumping-off point for the Aysén fjords. To the northeast is Lake Los Palos, with views of snowy mountains. The forested Simpson River National Reserve, home to cougars, is southeast.
Puerto Chacabuco is named after the small warship Chacabuco with which Enrique Simpson explored the fjords and archipelagoes of Aysén Region in the 1870s. The ship is in turn named after the Battle of Chacabuco in 1817 during the Chilean Independence War.
Last population count was 1600 residents.