Patagonia’s environmental commitment extends to its extensive support of the retired ranches into a stunning new national park. This report comes to us from recent trip participant Andy Mitchell, of Patagonia’s Dealer Services Dept.
We left Ventura at 8 am Sunday morning, and arrived some 32 sleepless hours later at the Estancia Valle Chacabuco, region XI, Aysen, Chile. The trip is over 7000 miles, and we ultimately settled farther south on the planet than South Africa and even New Zealand; farther east than the entire United States. Completely zonked, we met the expectant Doug & Kris Tompkins, philanthropist founders of Conservacion Patagonica. Malinda Chouinard also greeted us on behalf of Patagonia Inc, and her curiously missing husband Yvon (who would reappear the next morning, having slept the night in his waders, in his car, in a ditch). The opportunity to meet these people was tremendous, and only overshadowed by the fruits of their efforts.
[Andy Mitchell of Patagonia’s Dealer Services Dept. finds that he already has a home in the heart of Patagonia. Photo: Suzy Reinhardt.]
We toured the Estancia the next day, packed into the 4-wheel drive"Delica" mini van. Pressed against the glass, we saw great herds ofmythic guanaco. A relative of the llama and camel, it is builtelegantly but odd, and shares the coloring of an African gazelle,complete with white swath across the body. We saw Andean condorssoaring with white collars and ten-foot wingspans, their sizeimpossible to comprehend. We saw Patagonian fox, with solid stockylegs and a ball shaped head, smaller and more stout than the NorthAmerican version. The Estancia is enormous and reaches from the surrealblue waters of the Rio Baker all the way the Argentine border,comparable in size to the city of Chicago, only larger. It took ushours just to drive the main road, always watching fences going on andon to infinity.
That is where we spent the majority of the next 3 weeks, with views ofAndean glaciers and ice fields. I expected we would spend some timepulling fence, but did not expect to be fully entrusted with longtracts for days at a time. We spent hours pulling & coiling wires,pulling pickets & posts, moving & piling everything. We gotdirt under our fingernails, in our ears, in our hair, and down ourbacks. We got sunburned, bug bitten, and covered in burrs. We thrivedon Nescafe, mutton, and cheese sandwiches. We drank mate, vino, pisco,and cervezas. Nights were filled with laughter and aching groans.
We toured the neighboring wildlife preserves to the north and south andsaw the pride many Chilenos take in them and the ill treatment thesesanctuaries receive from others. We were able to experience the scaleof the project and get a sense for the time frame at hand. DougTompkins points out it will take the land at least 150 years to recoverfrom the effects of a century of overgrazing. The enormity of thetimescale is decidedly humbling. Similarly, the scale of the fenceremoval alone is more than one lifetime. It is a lesson in mortalityand team-work. Problems like this will never be solved by individuals,only by continuous efforts from groups dedicated to a similar visionwho are able to convince and recruit others that it is worth pursuing.I see that as one of the many reasons Patagonia Inc. has made ourcompany’s participation a priority. I am proud that if all goes well,nearly 10% of employees will have visited and worked there by the endof next summer.
I am forever grateful to Patagonia for giving me the opportunity to seethe place we take our name from, and to play a small part in protectingit. I am grateful to the group I went with, we were diverse inpersonality and strengths, and showed great patience and support foreach other. I am grateful to my coworkers who split my job nine waysin my absence and sealed up every loose end they could. Most of all, Iam thankful for the good work being done in Patagonia by the peoplechanging the Estancia from a trodden sheep farm into the wild place itso wants to be.
More information about Patagonia’s involvement with the Conservacion Patagonica program can be found on our website at:
[Photos top to bottom:
1) Daisy–an Estancia employee–out standing in her field of fence removal.
2) Lago Jenimenie, Jenimenie Preserve, north of Valle Chacabuco.
3) Team Conservation Patagonica, February ’07.
All photos: Andy Mitchell]