My mission during my recce of Patagonia in spring 2016 was to delve into Chile’s little-known region of Aysén. I tracked condors, mountain biked in remote national parks and took to the water multiple times to see sights only accessible by boat or kayak. In Puerto Aysén, I enjoyed serene paddling and beautiful weather for a day’s kayaking with Rolando:
The day is clear with little tufts of clouds sticking to the hills. We put in at the Ibanez bridge – an iconic landmark in the centre of Puerto Aysén. The town, Aysén region’s former capital, is the second biggest in the region and home to just under 20,000 people. It was through this important port that the first pioneers traded wood and wool but in 1964 the port was closed due to excess sediment from deforestation being deposited in the river and Puerto Chacabuco was built in its place, some 15km southwest.
Puerto Aysén is a lush green place with very high rainfall and it’s unusual to get perfect weather. Today though, there is not a breath of wind and the reflection of the steep sided green clad hills is unblemished by waves, we are the only thing that ruffles the mirror.
I am a rookie so my guide, Rolando, takes me through some basic tuition: teaching me the parts of the boat and what to do if I capsize. He is clear and ensures that I understand exactly what to do. He shows me how to jump into the kayak from the beach and we unbeach ourselves and push off.
There are no other boats moving in the water, but we pass fishing boats tied up on the banks. Rolando tells me that these work with the fish farms in the area rather than actually fishing themselves.
We paddle up the large main channel before dipping into the area known as el pantano: “the swamp”; local birds take flight as we paddle into their domain. Rolando tells me that when he first started paddling the swamp, he asked local people what the area was called and they had no name for it; although we were close to town, no one ever came here. So he named it himself: la herradura del los patos: “the ducks’ horseshoe”.
Our narrow channel turns west towards the ocean and hanging glaciers come into sight. We recross the main channel which is starting to get a bit choppy; our mirror is dimpled and the picture distorts.
We stop on the beach for handfuls of delicious trail mix and a maté (a traditional herbal South American tea).
We gently paddle back to town but Rolando has the upper hand as he has been given a kayak sail as a gift and is testing it out, so as I carry on paddling, he giggles.
He is a wonderfully warm and likeable man and I am excited about my forthcoming trips with him down the Baker river and to Laguna San Rafael.