The CHILEAN FJORDS
and
PUERTO CHACABUCO, CHILE


THE CHILEAN FJORDS

The southern coast of Chile consists of a large number of fjords and fjord like channels from the latitudes of Cape Horn (55° S) to Reloncaví Estuary (42° S), some being important navigable channels providing access to ports like Punta Arenas, Puerto Chacabuco and Puerto Natales
. The fjords are mostly used by vessels desiring to avoid the heavy seas and bad weather so often experienced on passing into the Pacific Ocean from the western end of the Strait of Magellan. The channels are characterized by high, abrupt shores with numerous peaks and headlands. All waters between the Chilean baselines and the continental shoreline are internal waters, according to the Chilean decree 416 of June 14,1977 based in the United Nations Convention on the Law of the Sea, meaning Chile is free to set laws, regulate any use, and use any resource. Foreign vessels have no right of passage within internal waters (this lack of right is the key difference between internal waters and territorial waters), however Chile does allow the use of the various passageways, including the Strait of Magellan, albeit under maritime authority.

The ship took two days to navigate the fjords, but since much of the scenery was similar we didn't take many pictures. It was beautiful but not as fascinating as
Prins Christian Sund in Greenland. Actually, I found the clouds more interesting in some cases, and that is why I have not included any additional comments with the pictures.


 








PUERTO CHACABUCO


Puerto Chacabuco is located at the head of Aisén Fjord., and is the main and most important seaport in the region, known as the place "where the Andes fall into the ocean"
. It is a small, isolated settlement with no clearly defined town center, consisting of one main road, a fish processing facility and a pier. A frontier like village, about 10 miles north of the port, Puerto Aysen, is the area's main town. It is not very pretty with very few things that would attract tourists (if you're into shopping, forget it, but you can buy Chilean wine which is wonderful), however it does offer an extraordinary view of nature at its best, from majestic waterfalls to ice capped mountains. This is the main reason why cruise ships stop here, to simply admire the pristine beauty of its untouched natural resources. Passengers generally head to nearby Rio Simpson National Reserve, the San Rafael Lagoon or the larger town of Coyhaique. Puerto Chacabuco lies in a temperate climate zone with summer temperatures ranging from a high of 16C/60F to a low of 4C/40F, and is frequently wet and windy.

Our tour was to the
Rio Simpson National Reserve, which is a picturesque combination of river, canyon and valley.



We got up to an ominous morning sky, with dense clouds hugging the mountain tops.



As our tour wasn't until the afternoon, I took the opportunity to take some pictures of the town and surrounding area from the ship, which again was anchored offshore. That's Chacabuco at the base of the mountains on the right.


The main port area wasn't big enough for a cruise ship to dock in, but the smaller freighters and ferries had no problem.



In the distance, we could see that the sun was struggling to get out from behind the cloud cover.

   
And luckily, as the morning worn on, the skies started to clear and the sun peaked through.


   A local freighter making it's way into port.


There were small waterfalls of glacial runoff, like this one, all along the water's edge.



There were also a number of salmon farms, as salmon are big business.
Salmon are not native to the area, but in just two short decades, enterprising Chileans had built a thriving, $3 billion a year aqua culture industry. Salmon are grown in floating pens, like this one, and the fillets shipped to the US, Japan, Europe and beyond markets. But in 2007, the pens became infested with a lethal microbe that wiped out millions of fish and threatened to kill the industry. Since then, stricter new rules have been put in place, with frequent inspections and biological monitoring. As a result, Chile expects a new production record this year – a staggering 700,000 metric tons of Atlantic and Pacific salmon.
   

From the water, the town looked more industrial than anything, but we would see the occasional home dotting the mountain sides as we took the tender to shore.

    

This is just to give you an idea of how far out the ship had to anchor. The buses were waiting for us and we headed out on our tour.



We had a 45 minute ride to get to the park, so we took some pictures of the surrounding scenery along the way. Like lovely little waterfalls, . . .



. . . and glacier covered mountain tops, fronted by green foothills.



Thankfully the sky was clear and we had a paved highway to travel on.



Most of the houses we saw we very small, some home to families of five or more people.



On our way to the National Reserve, we crossed over the Simpson River.
The river originates east of the Andes mountains, and is 88 km/55 mi long.


Then through Puerto Aysen, 15 km/9 mi from Chacabuco.
Originally settled around 1914, it was officially recognized as a city on January 28, 1928. It numbers around 17,000 inhabitants - enough for it's own Lions Club Chapter.


Along the way we could see areas that at one time were devastated by fire. Unfortunately, forest fires are a regular feature of the hot, dry Chilean summers, which last from December to February, but this years fires have devastated almost a quarter of a million sq. mi., most being further north near Santiago. As an aside, there wasn't anywhere we went that
the tour guide didn't mention climate change and how it is affecting them (like an increase in forest fires).


You can see what they mean when they say the area is 'untouched'.



Before arriving at the Reserve, the bus stopped near this lovely little waterfall.



And a few feet further was this - a roadside shrine to the Virgin Mary.
These shrines are meant to mark Chile in public ways as a Catholic place, and signal accessibility, even a sort of “ownership” of the Virgin, for all. Roadside shrines are common in South America and often attract additional adornments and petitions, such as those little 'notes' seen on the rock facing. 
.
   
This is the Rio Simpson National Reserve Visitors' Centre,
called Ambient and Arboretum, in which a sample of the main species of regional Flora and Fauna are exhibited, which includes the trunk of a lenga tree, with its rings dating between 1578 and 1970, where the history of Chile is represented. We didn't go in, choosing instead just to walk the pathway along the river.


The Simpson River National Reserve was included within the National System of Protected Wild Areas of the State (Sistema Nacional de Áreas Silvestres Protegidas del Estado) (SNASPE). SNASPE was created out of necessity to protect the existing vegetation and fauna, which to a large extent had been devastated by fires and over exploitation which resulted in floods, landslides and massive erosion.


There are two main footpaths on the Reserve, one 2.5 km/1.55 miles and another 6 km/3.75 miles in length, the later providing access for 4x4 vehicles. We didn't take either of them, choosing the short path near the Visitors' Centre, mainly due to time restraints.


The Simpson River
The path wound along the Simpson River bank, the main river running through the reserve.
 
 

The Simpson is a very popular destination to practice fly fishing and other aquatic sports.


The river is 40 km/25 mi long, from Coyhaique to Puerto Aysen, with wild and exotic vegetation, pampas, and mountains gracing it's banks.


Izak, taking pictures from the rocks near the river bank.



Him taking a picture of me taking a picture of him.



Parts of the river were banked by the high cliffs of the Andes foothills.


If you compare the size of this crevice in the rock to the people standing by the river in the lower right hand corner, you'll see that it's huge. You'd almost expect some prehistoric monster to emerge.


You can understand why the reserve is said to be "pristine" and referred to as "an untouched wilderness".


English Muffin Rock

So named because of it's odd formation. I tried to find out more about it but all I found online were english muffin recipes.  -- Sigh!



A last view of the river and mountains as we headed back to the ship.

 

And for you doubting Thomas' out there, here's proof we were really there.

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