While on her recent trip to Patagonia, Swoop’s Sally Dodge went on a kayaking expedition in the Northern fjords. Here she gives her day by day account of her experiences and tips for people who are interested in doing the same.
Sea-Kayak, Petrohue River & Relconcavi Fjord
An hours drive from Puerto Varas, around the shores of Llanquihue lake leads to the village of Ensenada where our kayaking partners have their main office and store all their equipment. Here, we sorted our possessions into dry bags, checked we all had the correct equipment and then headed off, kayaks on the roof, to drive to the drop in point about 30 minutes away.
At the drop in point, we changed into our wetsuits, received our safety briefing and instructions and then we were off; as we slipped into the river there were enormous salmons jumping out of the water.
The first day of this two day kayak took us down the emerald green Petrohue river which is boarded by thickly vegetated, sheer cliffs. As we paddled down, steering to avoid tree trunks and roots, we were passed frequently by vibrant blue Ringed Kingfishers and Dark Bellied Cinclodes.
We stopped for lunch on a beach before carrying on down stream to the Ralun hot springs. As the locals sat tucking into their picnics with toes dipped in the hot, steaming water, we certainly created a bit of a stir turning up in our kayaks.
The hot springs were very rustic – the type with a spade on the side to dig down for the heat.
Back in the kayaks we paddled down to the mouth of the river and out into the most northerly fjord of Chile, the Reloncanvi Fjord. Here the water opened up, the birds changed and the wind got up a little. Passing Peruvian Pelicans and Brown-Hooded Gulls, we paddled our way to the western bank of the fjord to Yoland’s farm. Our paddling work for the day was done.
Nestled amongst rolling hills and shrouded in forest is the achingly picturesque farmhouse of Señora Yolanda. We set up tents at the bottom of her garden and then walked up to the farmhouse for a cup of tea and a guided tour of the farm accompanied by Juan Carlos, her son and Muster, the dog.
Señora Yoland was a real treat. She was house proud and welcoming with a lively character and a beaming smile. Her house was filled with black and white photos of her pioneering ancestors and old calendars showing photos from the dry and sandy north of Chile – a world so far removed from the lush green mountains of Yolanda’s reality.
Our roast lamb dinner was really delicious, cooked in the wood burning oven and seasoned with local herbs; the conversation and experience were really humbling and the house so cosy.
Walking back down the garden, the stars were absolutely incredible.
As I snuggled down in my toasty warm sleeping bag I could hear the water lapping on the shore and nothing else – total and utter silence.
I woke up with the first light of the day at 07:15 and opened my tent door to absolute tranquility. The sun was just coming up and with not a breath of wind, the forested hills, clouds, low lying mist and a strip of already bright clear sky was totally mirrored in the fjord below.
The only noises were the cracklings of barnacles, a cormorant flapping its wings to take off and the lapping of water. As the sun rose the high clouds over head turned a beautiful shade of pink and the clouds on the horizon also. Just poking out above the clouds was the tip of the Volcon Yates at 2111m – its snow capped peak was illuminated pink.
As I sat writing peacefully, taking in the surrounding scenery, 3 dolphins appeared, playing in the morning calmness. The cloud cover was high and the sky blue so hopefully we were in for a beautifully sunny day.
Once the rest of the group had risen, we walked up to the farmhouse where the chimney was smoking, a sure sign that Señora Yolanda had made fresh bread. She welcomed us into the kitchen, the table had been set and sure enough there was fresh ‘pan amasado’, fresh eggs, scrambled ‘a la chilena’, and honey.
After breakfast, Juan Carlos took us for another walk around the property proudly showing off his apple press – it was like stepping back 100 years or going to a ‘medieval fair’ in the UK where they have re-enactments of what life was like! This was real, functioning and very much still in operation.
By 11:00, we’d packed up our tents, had said our goodbyes and then got back on the water. As we paddled off I could still see Muster tearing around the field, smoke coming from the chimney and Señora Yolanda tending to the garden – it felt very special to have seen into her world even if just for 1 night.
Paddling across the fjord with the scenery moving much slower than on the river, it really did put into perspective the immense scale of the scenery.
We passed mussel farms and fishing houses made of corrugated iron – these did not look anywhere near as warm, cosy and weather resistant as Señora Yolanda’s house.
Lunch of tuna salad was served on a beach with a 15 minute siesta in the sunshine, how glorious. We then set off for the final hour of paddling rounding the peninsula to reach the village of Cochamo; charming, sleepy with coloured fishing boats and a traditional wooden church.
We’d made it – the weather had been kind, the scenery stunning and the hospitality humbling. The kayak trip was great fun, perfect for a beginner looking to gain some paddling experience, delve deep into the scenery and soak up some local culture.
Find out more about kayaking in the lake district here.