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ADVENTURE UNLIMITED - in the Great Outdoors

Riding with huasos - Patagonia.Adventure in Northern Patagonia is about as good as it gets - especially for those with the pioneer spirit seeking to get away from the madding crowd. There is variety of adventure and activity throughout the Aisen region.

HIKING/RIDING: With large swathes of wild country and forests, Patagonia provides fantastic hiking opportunities - with no dangerous animals or snakes to worry about! In general, Chileans don't have a great interest in hiking so, compared to other places of similar scenic beauty, there are relatively few developed hiking trails. The best are generally in National Parks and Reserves, with the level of maintenance and signing varying greatly. Here you can truly be at one with nature, like nowhere else.

The lure of a hike through the wilderness varies with each individual. For some it is the discovery of a secret, secluded place; a piece of the world that perhaps only a few other humans have ever seen. There are hikers for whom the trek itself is the thrill: the mountains to be climbed, the rivers to be forded, the wilderness to be traversed. For others, the adventure is in living off the land, existing as part of nature, and enjoying the wildlife in remote regions, hunting only with eyes or camera. These places are desolate, unsullied and often unexplored; the most beautiful and most extraordinary areas of nature.

Fishing Rio PicaflorFISHING: The one-of-a-kind landscapes of Northern Patagonia are the site of some of the most highly productive and least fished rivers, lakes and streams in the world. Fishing conditions are extremely varied, ranging from crystal-clear dry-fly streams, to massive lake trout fishing, to large emerald green rivers with annual runs of spawning salmon up to 45 pounds (20 kilos), attracting avid anglers from across the globe. Aisen waters teem with rainbow, brown and brook trout, and silver and Atlantic salmon. These fish are not native but were introduced for sport in the late nineteenth century and have flourished since then. The fishing season lasts from October to May (depending where you are) and equipment is similar to that used in the western USA. The best sport fishing in all Patagonia is now considered to be in the Aisen region.

Rafting in Patagonia.RAFTING: Northern Patagonia concentrates some of the most powerful rivers hurtling down from the Andes to the ocean - and is becoming known as a region with some of the greatest whitewater on earth. Long renowned among whitewater rafters and kayakers, the mesmerizing blue waters of the Rio Futaleufu (the Fu, just north of our Reserve) carve a spectacular canyon through the Andes, creating one-of-a-kind rapids. Further south, the Rio Baker is Chile's highest volume river, draining Lago General Carrera (second largest lake in South America after Lake Titicaca) and providing visitors with whitewater thrills at the foot of the Hielo de Campo Norte (Northern Ice Field).

SKIING: Flanked on the east by the world's longest mountain chain and with many summits keeping their snow mantle even through the warmest summers, Chile could not but become popular for winter sports. Aisen region has lots of mountains and offers a longer skiing season than farther north in Chile - the season is from May to September.

There are five slopes near Coyhaique located in the middle of majestic forests of lenga, pine and nirre, for downhill skiing. Cross-country (Nordic) skiing at present does not seem to have much of a following in Patagonia, but the potential is there for some magnificent experiences with a little bit of forward planning.

NORTHERN ICE CAP & SAN RAFAEL LAGOON - The closest ice masses to the equator remaining from the last glacial period are to be found in Patagonia, in Aisen and Magellanes regions. They are respectively, the Southern and Northern Ice Caps covering thousands of square kilometres and with a thickness, in places, of several hundred metres. They exert a strong influence on the local weather patterns and on the local flora and fauna.

San Rafael glacier.The first official explorer sent by Chile was Captain Enrique Simpson, who arrived at San Rafael in 1871. He wrote: -

 "I wish I had the gift for writing of a Dumas or for painting of a Cernet, but even their skills would falter in the face of this stunning place, There is not one place in the polar regions that could compete with this scenery, as the only thing to see there is white, monotonous landscape. Here (Patagonia) it is something else ... the everlasting green of the surrounding forests in sharp contrast to the various hues of the ice masses and their intricate forms ..."

In 1959 the San Rafael National Park was established, covering an area of 1,642,000 hectares. It is best reached by boat (though you can fly) from Puerto Chacabuco. The journey is a spectacle in itself as boats edge their way through narrow channels hemmed in by precipitous cliffs. You finally enter the seemingly unnavigable Rio Tempanos, or 'Iceberg River', before emerging into the Laguna San Rafael. Floating in the lagoon are dozens of icebergs, fashioned by wind and rain into sculptures, with such a vibrant electric-blue color they appear to be lit from within. Sailing around these icy phantoms, you approach the giant glacier at the far end of the lagoon. Over 4km wide, and rearing out of the water to a height of 70m it's awe inspiring. Huge blocks of ice regularly calve off into the water with a deafening roar creating dangerous waves. What you see from the boat is, in fact, just the tip of the glacier's 'tongue' which extends some 15km from its source.

A must in the park is to watch a sunrise from the laguna. The hues in the ice change slowly from deep violet to pink, in a way that simply defies words - and even photographs. The effect is made even more impressive by taking place in surroundings that display all hues of green at the same time.

If you want to see this spectacle, don't delay. Due to global warming it is estimated that by the year 2030 or so, the glacier will be gone. So terribly sad, but when the world is burning, in one form or another, millions of barrels of oil a day, can anything else be expected?

QUEULAT NATIONAL PARK - This park has just got to be one of the best in the world - it's truly MAGNIFICENT.

Queulat, at 154,000 hectares (339,000 acres), is a vast expanse of virgin forest (coigüe, tepa and tepú, as well as enormous nalcas), towering granite peaks and rumbling glaciers. The Carretera Austral runs through or along the edge of the park for 70km.

Hanging Glacier - Parque Queulat.

The most popular attraction - aside from the pristine wilderness - is the incredible Ventisquero Colgante, or 'hanging glacier', between two peaks, forming a V-shaped mass of blue-white ice; the glacier seems to hang suspended over a sheer rock face. Long fingers of ice feed two thundering waterfalls that plummet 150m down to Laguna Los Tempanos below. Adding to the spectacle, large blocks of ice periodically calve off the glacier and crash down the rocks to the lake - literally 'Iceberg Lagoon', referring to the large icebergs that floated on its surface until as recently as twenty years ago.

There are numerous powerful waterfalls, streams and rivers throughout the park - an absolute joy to behold. Risopatrón Lake, Tempanos Lagoon, Queulat Bay, Padre García and Cóndor waterfalls, are just some of the beautiful sites in the park which are easy for us to reach.

Like most glaciers, Ventisquero Colgante has been retreating for several decades. It was originally 100m (328 ft) from the sea shore and is now 7,800m (25,500 ft) away!

LAS TORRES LAKE NATIONAL RESERVE (Reserva Nacional Las Torres) - 40,000 acres - includes a small lake of great beauty surrounded by high peaks, crowned by glaciers, that separate it from Lago Fontana in Argentina. The rivers and lakes of the area are a paradise for sports fishermen, since the introduction of the Morron, or Fario trout, about a hundred years ago.

Traditional dancing - Patagonia.CULTURAL ENTERTAINMENT - The Chileans are not particularly exuberant people (especially compared to their Argentine neighbours). National and local fiestas provide opportunities for Chileans to let their hair down, and usually include a good deal of flag waving, dancing, singing, drinking and eating empanadas. Rural fiestas often culminate in an energetic display of cueca dancing, washed down with plenty of wine and chicha.

Huasos (Chilean 'cowboys' or horsemen, equivalent to the Argentinian gaucho) are the chief performers of cueca, Chile's national dance. Although there are regional variations, the basic elements remain the same, consisting of couples strutting around each other in a courtship, spurs jingling and handkerchiefs waving over their heads. The men are decked out in their finest huaso gear; the women wear colorful wide skirts and shawls. In the background, guitar-strumming musicians sing romantic ballads full of patriotic sentiments. If you intend on going to a fiesta to take part in a cueca, remember to take along a clean white handkerchief!

OTHER ACTIVITIES: Here, we have highlighted but a few of the activities in Northern Patagonia. There are also plenty of other things to do that do not fall under the category of 'activities', not the least of which is sightseeing in a region that offers something new every day.

In a lifetime, there will come from time to time an opportunity for adventure. Very few recognise the opportunity, even fewer seize it.

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