It’s not dumb luck or simple coincidence that we live in this precise point of Chile, with her supermodel measurements. Glacial lakes are warmed by towering, crotchety volcanoes and feed raging rivers—offering a plethora of activities for the outdoor enthusiast. An almost overwhelming array of options really. And after what seems like months of getting “settled” we’re faced with the not-so-little task of choosing the best of the best, and then linking them together. We set up meeting after meeting, we scour the internet, leaf through the guidebooks. The brochures pile up along with our nerves.
We decide research is overrated and an exploratory trip is necessary. Armed with our trusty steed, The Galloper, a tent, and smoked salmon we head east to Cochamo Valley. It is lesser known and seemed to be the type of place people want to keep secret, but their expression inevitably betrays them revealing that the valley had sparked their imaginations and affected their existence.
After a blustery pit stop at the Volcano Osorno to take a ski lift to the top – no more of a view available than your outstretched hand on this given day – we started to descend into the Valley. It seemed we had the place pretty much to ourselves and as we got further it became obvious that this was a place our guests to this region would have to see. The rivers with waterfalls and mosses cascading about are a color only dreamt up by the most hopeful child. Behemoth monsters stretch their branches upwards for the eternity they’ve lived. I’ve spent many months in the world’s only other temperate rainforest in southeast Alaska, but there is no comparison in my estimation.
We inched along trying not to kick up the road’s dust as ancient grandmothers plodded down the road through town. It is a place where everyone is known by name and a wave is still mustered for the passersby. The town is tidy, houses with vegetable gardens, shiny, groomed horses lending a majestic and timeless aura.
The road runs along a wall of green that only breaks for crashing waterfalls and is flanked by a turquoise fjord. We cross a river and arrive to the small lodge we’ve come to see. It’s everything and more we’ve hoped for. The handful of rooms are quaint, more comfy than your favorite pajamas, and offer modern conveniences in spite of being located in a corner of the world remote enough to feel like it’s yours alone.
We meet the owner and instantly like him. There’s a fire going and over tea I’m happy to find a great potential partner and a friend. The company is dedicated to sustainability and the by-far-more-rare but no less important commitment to culturally responsible tourism. This is especially important as they have one of the only tourism facilities in the upper valley towards Argentina where only a few hundred homesteaders still make a living along the horse trail that for over a century has connected the country’s commerce and been traveled by the likes of Butch Cassidy and the Sundance Kid.
Kurt invites us to stay for a couple days until Monday when we can head up to the upper valley at La Junta with two gauchos who are bringing up five packhorses. We couldn’t be more excited and enjoy exploring the incredible valley until it’s time to head out.
Horacio and Cochello are real deal gauchos. Reserved, serious but quick to smile, polite to being almost shy, they seem to hold the honor of their craft in a gnarled hand as they firmly shake your hand. They’ve got the horses ready to roll and we set out for the trail. We get an idea that this is no pony-ride-at-the-school-fair ordeal within a few miles as we cross a swift river with boulders bigger than your average Chilean hatchback. The horses are born and bred on the trail and as we ascend into the forest that J.R. Tolkein couldn’t have come up with, we relax feeling their knowledge and confidence on the trail. Horacio explains that these horses are bred from generations who walked this trail loaded with Chilean seafood and returned with Argentine beef. They are born training for their work.
Arriving to the mountain lodge in La Junta is the type of experience that changes lives. The valley is surrounded by massive, snow-capped granite walls that taper into a rain forest with dense canopy and layers upon layers of vegetation. The valley is green with grazing land as horses rest and play. Waterfalls cascade from every direction. And up on the hill is a beautifully-hand-crafted, small lodge warm with fire and handmade breads. The valley is yours to behold with miles upon miles of serenity, usually holding no more than a handful of tourists.
Coming down from the Valley we started the week with renewed spirits and continued finding incredible activities for our tour in the region. This month we’ve rafted bulging rivers, zoomed through the rainforest canopy, and canyoneered through beautiful river canyons before rappelling a hundred feet into one of nature’s finest pools. It has been nothing short of spectacular.