Cochrane, Chile and conservation

Looking out on Lago Cochrane

Wow. It’s absolutely incredible here. I was surprised, really. It seems that most tourists in Argentinian Patagonia forget how big and amazing Chilean Patagonia is.

After our not so pleasant experience of crossing the border, we spent the night in the beautiful small town of Chile Chico, on lake Gral Carrera. It looked like the Mediterranean to be honest. Deep blue water, and we were just picking apricots right off the trees!

The next morning we took a bus down to the town of Cochrane. It was Peter’s idea to come down here, and wow what a good one!

The drive was entirely on the Carreta Austral, a famous highway in Chile that allows one access to some of the most astonishing hiking and fishing in the world. It’s been famous for years for hitch hitching since all the towns are right on the highway, you’re either going north or south, there’s no in between. It seems it has gotten harder to hitch hike in past years, that’s what happens after Lonely Planet and a bunch of travel bloggers note how easy it is to hitch hike down here!

The drive down to Cochrane was gorgeous. We passed the Baker and the Nef river. The Baker river is a dark turquoise/blue. I just couldn’t stop starring at it.

Emil on the Rio Baker

After about 5 hours we got to Cochrane. The small bus station we arrived at was brand new, and had a tourism agent to greet us and hand us maps of the area. The bus station was probably one of the nicest I’ve been to in South America.

Cochrane is a town of just 3,000 people, but boy are there some backpackers here! We choose our base here at a campsite right in the middle of town. $8 for WiFi, showers, and to pitch our tent. We’ve met lots of hardcore bike-packers and backpackers at of campsite. The Carrera Austral is also known for bike- packing, I even met a couple that were riding from Columbia all the way down to Southern Patagonia!

As soon as we set up camp, (and not to my surprise), Emil headed straight for the river to get fishing. Within a hour he sent me a picture of a beautiful rainbow trout- I still haven’t caught anything this trip:(


Peter and I went out to meet him and were impressed to find ourselves in pure wilderness by the river, just a 10 minute walk from town!

The next day we took a cab a few miles up the road, to check out the Baker river. You wouldn’t believe the beauty and color of this river, the pictures barely do justice.

On Sunday we headed out to the Tamango National Reserve, a nature reserve located just 2 miles from the center of town. We set out for a 3 day, 2 night circuit of the park, about 16 miles around. The Tamango reserve borders Parque Patagonia, a large tract of land donated by the Tompkins foundation, the vision and legacy of North Face founder Doug Tompkins. In the coming years Parque Patagonia will be handed over to the Chilean park service and combined with Tamango and another reserve to the north, creating a decently sized national park.

It was that clear and that cold so yeah, Emil did that.

Stacked lenticular

Looking Northwest into Parque Patagonia

After we got back to town, I was so happy to hear the news. No, not anything about

the SOTU, but some news from Chile.

“Chile creates national parks from donated land”

Kristine McDivitt Tompkins, the wife of the late Doug Tompkins signed a deal with the Chilean government, formerly donating nearly 2 million acres of land to be conserved and added to current national parks.

“The move will create five new national parks, and expand three others. In total it adds about 10 million acres of land, about one tenth of which was donated by the Tompkins.”

This is the best news I’ve heard in a while. Conservation and access to public lands is something I care very much about. The national parks system is already amazing in Chile, and this donation will conserve some of the most incredible scenery and ecosystems in the world, while also allowing people from all over to experience wild Patagonia.

Not only is conservation a value I hold deeply, it is also a value of my families. Out in the middle of the Illinois countryside is a wildlife area named after my grandmother and grandfather. I never met my grandfather but I’m so proud of his contributions to conservation. I’m his namesake and I hope that I can do my best to carry on his legacy by supporting conservation work and taking care of our beautiful planet.

I thought this would be a good time for some personal interjection into this travel blog. Although on a much smaller scale, my grandfather supported conservation just as Doug Tompkins, and for that I couldn’t be more proud.

In 1965, my grandfather purchased several hundred acres of land just outside of Galena, Illinois. An additional piece bought later made the farm land totaling 510 acres. On the farm there were black angus cattle, corn and hay was grown, and there were several horses. This farm was an important part of my mothers and aunts childhood.

This tract of land is located in Northwest Illinois, just several miles from the Mississippi river, the area is very hilly due to the fact that it was untouched by glaciers.

Here’s a little information about the donation, as told my mom.

“Grandpa Jack and Grandma Iris donated about 400 acres to the state of Illinois in 1986, to be designated as a wildlife area. Seeing development in the surrounding area, the breaking up of large tracts of land into much smaller parcels, he wanted to ensure this beautiful land would be preserved in its natural state. He gave the land with the stipulation that the State DNR would try to acquire adjacent land to create a viable Wildlife area of about 1000 acres. It was not specifically a requirement, but the DNR followed through, and with both donated and purchased land adjacent to the original piece, created an area that is now about 1086 acres.

The donation foresaw the creation of walking and riding trails, but prohibited buildings, consistent with that of a wildlife habitat.

Just recently the non profit Jo Daviess Conservation Foundation reached agreement with the State to create, through public private partnership, walking trails on the land.”

My sister and I

So long story short, my grandfather shared the same vision as Doug Tompkins did, to preserve beautiful land and keep it in its natural state. And for that, I couldn’t be prouder to be named after him.


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