Thursday, January 19, 2012

Exploring Colún

Yesterday I saw sand dunes so tall they were taking over a forest. My guess is they must have been at least 500 feet in elevation, bordering the majestic Pacific Ocean. I wasn’t standing on them, just looking from afar. I could see the shadows of clouds dance on their surface. It was quite a site to see. I was standing near the Colún River in the Valdivian Coastal Reserve. I was brought there by four park guards who were doing their daily work activities on the Reserve.

The truck climbed from our beginnings at the mouth of the Chaihuin River, the place I have been calling home this week, up an ever winding forest road. It was quite the bumpy ride. A portion of the road was gravel and in nice shape and other portions deeply eroded from the constant rain the other ten months of the year get when this area of Chile is wet. After all, it is a coastal forest and is similar to places in Washington I think of that get lots of rain and are constantly cloudy like Astoria and Forks. Today, however, was another sunny day. It was also a day to practice my Spanish. The park guards do not speak English. Most of the car ride I was listening to them chatter back and forth without any idea as to what they were saying. For all I know they were probably talking about me! Occasionally, when I could figure out a complete sentence in my head to speak, I would ask about the forest. I asked where their favorite areas of the Reserve were. One guard answered exactly where we soon would be visiting, the beaches of Colún.

Of course getting out of the truck each time brought a barrage of horseflies (or tábanos in Spanish), but it was worth it to see what I would see. "Muchas tábanos!" the guards would say as they shook their heads. On our first stop, we looked at old alerce trees, which were quite tall and mossy. One of the rangers patted the moss at the base of the tree and said it would make a comfortable bed, as if he was fluffing a pillow. Vines draped around and up the trees and had beautiful red tube-shaped flowers dangling from green leaves, which looked very much like Copihue, the Chilean national flower.

As we continued in the truck, we would occasionally cross old rickety bridges. It didn’t seem safe to cross them, but the trucks went straight ahead anyway crossing over ponds and small creeks. We eventually made our way to a grand view of rolling coastal mountains thick with forest. This expansive view of the Reserve was impressive! It was huge and entirely owned by The Nature Conservancy. I was in awe not only of my employer, but of my colleagues who are stewarding this special place. We made our way to another viewpoint where the Colún River met the Pacific Ocean. All along I wasn't completely sure what were were doing or where we would be going besides this destination. I tried asking, but I would get a response in Spanish and have no idea what it meant! I had to laugh to myself. Part of me wanted to stay in the truck to avoid the tábanos, but I wasn't going to let them stop me and I am really glad I did. I was in for a couple of real treats ahead!

Earlier in the day we picked up a small raft with a motor and the guards now waved me over to go in the boat that had been placed by the river. It appeared we were about to pack some supplies across. The crossing was short and once on the other side we began hiking up a trail. As we turned the last corner, I saw a small cabin and a few other staff inside. I was soaking in the scenery the whole time including the lush forest and blue skies. When we made it to the top we entered the cabin, which had a panoramic view of the coast including the sand dunes I saw earlier, the river we just crossed, and a beautiful freshwater lake in the distance. This was the kind of place poets go to be inspired. We didn't stay long, just long enough for me to walk around inside, gaze at the view, and say hello to the staff.

Once back to the river, we crossed again and I was signaled to stay in the boat. The two of us were going to meet the others after a short ride up the river. It was so exciting being able to join the park guard for this brief tour. The air was cool and the sun was shining. My hair was blowing every which way. I saw a ringed kingfisher and a Snowy Egret. I told the park guard he was muy suerte, very lucky. Hey told me in the most English he muster, "This is my office". I loved that.

Today is my last day at the Reserve before I head back to Valdivia on Friday. More to come soon!

Above: Sand dunes along the beach of Colún. The view from the cabin.

Above: The Colún River, a park guard and I took a boat up this river.

Above: An example of one of the bridges we crossed on the forest roads.

Above: A lizard I found on the trail when we visited the alerce forest.

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