November 02, 2017

Patagonia is a Dream

by: 'Elele Paul Clark / SUP Paul

Patagonia is a dream. It is a journey. It is also a place with real people and real adventures.

I have always dreamed of paddling in Patagonia. So when a Chilean friend living in Oregon invited me to join him outfitting multi-day paddle board trips there, I jumped at the chance.

“It will be difficult scouting and working out the logistics,” he warned me. “There are few resources on-line about where we will be going, and once there we’ll have neither phone reception nor internet. And we probably won’t make any money this first year.”

“Sounds great,” I said without thinking. “Let’s do this!!”

I then started looking at the maps. The Rio Puelo is a remote river valley cutting its way through the Andes between Chile and Argentina. The closest city is the Chilean port town of Puerto Montt, two ferry rides and a few hours of bumpy dirt road away. After days of traveling from the Pacific Northwest winter on planes and buses and boats, arriving into Northern Patagonia is an adventure in its own right.

The Puelo Valley slices its way for over 30 miles in a remote landscape between Puelo and Tagua-Tagua Lakes before continuing to the sea. The Rio Puelo and several alpine lakes along with distant glaciated mountains characterize the area. The waterways are all but unpopulated. Imagine pristine lakes and rivers as blue as Tahoe without traffic. Imagine being among the first ones on paddle boards. Welcome to the Puelo.

Indigenous Mapucha farmers and sheep ranchers who have inhabited the area long before Spanish colonization live here in small communities. They take pride in never being officially conquered. Although they are reserved and enjoy their privacy, we were welcomed with open hands and hearts. With limited phone reception and wifi, people communicate with two-way radios. They do business with handshakes and verbal agreements. Once you are befriended you are part of the family.

Because of my friend Eduardo Hernandez, owner of ViveSUP Expeditions, we were able to access an area that had never seen paddleboards. It was Eduardo’s idea that we do trips here because of the beauty of the landscape, but also because of his hope to raise awareness of the struggles the people in the valley are facing. Hydro-electric power companies are interested in damming the valley, raising electric power lines, and altering the native lifestyle forever. Though not conquered by centuries of colonization, modern industry threatens the Mapucha way of life.

To Paddle in the Puelo Valley means having a pristine environment open to you. Tranquil lakes, waterfalls, and rivers include both flat water and world-class whitewater. Being there on paddleboards is an amazing way to see the area.

And to paddle in the Puelo is a cultural experience. Language barriers, cultural differences, and the remoteness of the area are all challenges that have to be met. We were housed by Mapucha families and they offered invaluable assistance between lakes. Ox-cart portages! Water taxis and ATV rides were also provided.

Our first year there was mostly a scouting mission, like Eduardo promised. We did operate two different 8-day trips there with a few amazing clients from Canada, Australia, and Argentina. We will return this year hosting two more trips. And a SUP-yoga retreat with Kialoa ‘Elele and Yogini, Lindsay Lambert.

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