A Travellerspoint blog

Chile Patagonia III

Patagón, Aónikenk pictographs. Horse ride in Bosque de Lenga, Punta Arenas

26th Feb Patagón, Aónikenk pictographs.

Meeting in the room again (with its informative wall panels) we boarded the minibus for our Patagón (3) excursion. This took us to the southeast corner of the park, past Laguna Amarga, to the trek drop off point. This hike was through “puma alley” and was filled with animals. We saw both the Red and Grey Fox out hunting. The Red Fox (Culpeo) Lycalopex culpaeus is the largest fox in Chile, leads a solitary life and hunts at night. It can grow up to 120cm, including the tail, and weigh up to 12kg. The male provides food for the mother and cubs. The Grey fox (Chilla) Lycalopex griseus is smaller than the Red Fox, measuring 80-90cm and up to 4kg. Both parents look after cubs. There were plenty of guanacos, many with young. We watched them make easy work of jumping fences. It was also clear who the sentinels were, watching for puma from a high point. We saw some guanacos running VERY fast, but no obvious puma. Puma Puma concolor patagonico aka cougar, panther or mountain lion, the golden-coated puma lives a solitary life and is rarely seen although numbers are slowly increasing. It generally hunts at night, grows up to 270cm and males weigh up to 90kg while females reach 60kg. As we walked the promised eclipse was a bit of a damp squib, but the fact it was a clear sunny day more than made up for it.
Grey Fox in grass, young Grey Fox, adult male Red Fox
After walking past rust red rocky outcrops, through some open grassland and on past a small marshy lake (Laguna Goic), we began to ascend a rough mountain (or large hill). At the summit was an amazing view of the Cuernos, Cerro Paine mountains and terrain. In an overhang, which would have been good as a shelter, was a set of red ochre petroglyphs created by the the Aónikenk people of Patagonia. Residents for 7,000 years, the Aónikenk were called Patagones (Big Feet) by Spanish settlers, who thought them giants. The petroglyphs were two hands, a man, guanaco, and what “experts” said was an arrow, but was quite obviously a condor! Having enjoyed the view in the sun (highly unusual in the park), spotted some pretty birds, insects and even a large spider. As we drove back to the hotel the clear skies gave the most magnificent views of the Horns and the Towers. We had a small late lunch, some cocktails and a rest, then went for a walk. Steve set his heart of the Ascencio Valley walk (this is most definitely a mis-description as it was basically a mountain path). The view across the lakes and mountains as we ascended was spectacular. We got half way to Chileno, but the light was beginning to go, so we thought we'd better head down.
We could see the base of the Torres (towers) from a viewpoint beside a glacier-fed lagoon with views straight up the rocky peaks. Interestingly, with this walk we had finally experienced all four of the zones of vegetation in Patagonia, and as it was summer we had a great view of them flowering too. From the hotel climb into Ascencio Valley through beautiful lenga forests to stony heights, across ice-cold mountain streams and rocky glacial moraines before reaching Base Las Torres; elevation change: 1000m. When we got back the hotel we were told our transport to Punta Arenas was at 2pm, so we booked a second horse ride for the morning. An early dinner and chill out at the bar completed the day.
4. Andean Desert.
Species in the Andean high desert are tolerant to low temperatures and high precipitation but vegetation is underdeveloped due to harsh weather conditions. growing on rocks are characteristic of the landscape and vegetation decreases with altitude due to the adverse weather conditions. Cushion Plant (Llaretilla) Azorella Trifurcata Herb with dense shrubs and yellow flowers, found in a wide range of habitats including at high altitude. The Devil’s Strawberry Gunnera Magellanica Found on hillsides at over 600m above sea level, with bright red fruit.
Stunted trees and shrubs

27th Feb Horse ride in Bosque de Lenga
Transfer Torres del Paine to Hotel Chapital, Punta Arenas
This was our last day here, so it was nice to get into the saddle again for a ride through the aboriginal forest. The Bosque de Lenga (7) was a trip to learn about Patagonia’s famous lenga forests, a horseback ride or hike follows part of the Paine Circuit trail around the east edge of the massif. The final destination is the ancient lenga forest. One of Patagonia’s iconic trees, Nothofagus pumilio thrives in areas with low temperatures and heavy snow. Lenga woods provide a habitat for many animals; spot Magellanic woodpeckers, Austral parakeets, Chilean flickers and other small birds. Be on the lookout for pumas (Andean Lion) that roam the forest. The trail features great views of Laguna Azul and Cerro Paine on the east side of the massif. This excursion is good for windy days because the trees block the wind. The trip also gave us a chance to see some unusual fungi as we climbed out of the forest to Mirador D’Agostini, and Huella del Puma, with views back across the valley of granite towers, glaciers, and alpine lakes.
Chilean Flicker (Pitio) Colaptes pitius Left - Dark brown and white with distinctive feather pattern. Lives in Nothofagus forests. Magellanic Woodpecker (Carpintero Magellánico) right Campephilus magellanicus. One of the world’s largest woodpeckers. Males and females largely black & males have red crest.
2. Magellanic Deciduous forest
Deciduous forest lining the park’s gorges and hillsides, receiving over 600mm of rain p.a. Found in Grey lake and glacier, Laguna Azul, Laguna Amarga and French Valley. Home to several Southern Beech tree species (nothofagus), namely Lenga (Nothofagus pumilio), Coihue (Nothofagus betuloides) and Ñirre (Nothofagus antártica). The Southern Beech Lenga Nothofagus pumilio can reach up to 30m (though stunted when in Andean desert) to -30oC Grows in abundance only in southern Chile. Wood used for construction due to its strength and durability. Southern Beech Coihue Nothofagus betuloides. Evergreen tree reaching 25m, with glossy leaves. Grows in humid areas. Its wood is used for furniture. Hardy to -20oC. Southern Beech Ñirre Nothofagus antártica. Deciduous tree, growing up to 20m (stunted in Andean desert). Native to southern Chile and Argentina and one of the southernmost trees on earth.
Winter Bark (Canelo) Drimys Winteri
Sacred tree of the Mapuche, Chile’s indigenous population. Reaches up to 20m with shiny green leaves and slender truck. Native to the Magellanic temperate rainforests of Chile, where it is a dominant tree. Found below 1,200 m between latitude 32° and 56° south. In its southernmost range it can tolerate temperatures to -20 °C. The flowers are white with a yellow centre, and have a great number of petals and stamens. The fruit is a bluish berry. When Sir Francis Drake sailed round the world in 1577-80, one of the four ships was the Elizabeth, captained by John Wynter; the ships separated in a storm and Wynter turned back. He sent a boat ashore to find medicinal herbs and returned in 1579 with a supply of Drimys bark. For centuries before vitamin C was isolated, "Winter's Bark" was a preventive and remedy for scurvy, sustaining Captain Cook and his crew. The naturalist, Johann Forster, accompanying his voyage, was the first to officially describe and name D. winteri
Dog Orchid (Palomita) Condonorchis Lessonii pic 1
Herb with erect stems and three white leaves arranged in a whorl with white inner petals dotted with purple.
Old Man’s Beard (Barba de Viejo) Usnea barabata pic 2
A species of Lichen which grows on bark and branches on Southern Beeches. Like other lichens it is a symbiosis of a fungus and an alga. In Usnea, the fungus belongs to the division Ascomycota, while the alga is a member of the division Chlorophyta.
Darwin’s fungus (Pan de Indio) Cyttaria Darwinii pic right
Parasite which appears on Southern Beech branches and can lead to the breaking branches or stems in strong wind. Certain species of Cyttaria are used in gastronomy
Chinese Lantern (Farolito Chino) Misodendrum punctulatum
Grows like mistletoe on various species of Southern Beeches. Colour changes from green to yellow to red brown throughout its life cycle. Aka false mistletoe. It grows as a hemiparasite; partially photosynthetic but also obtains nutrition from its host. The photo below shows it growing off a beech.
Fuchsia (Chilco) Fuchsia magellanica. Shrub with narrow branches and pendant-shaped red flowers with purple petals.
Rainberry (Miñe/Frutilla de Magallanes) Rubus Geoides Small herb plant with white flowers and red Magellanic raspberry fruit hidden by leaves.
When we got back we bought some water and sandwiches from the kiosk before loading our bags onto the minibus. We drove out of the park and stopped for coffee at the picturesque hamlet of Cerro Castillo, before driving to Puerto Natales. This time we drove into the town itself so we got to see it properly. Puerto Natales is the capital of the commune of Natales and the province of Última Esperanza, one of the four provinces that make up the Magallanes and Antartica Chilena Region. Puerto Natales is the only city in the province. It is located at the opening of Última Esperanza Sound and was originally inhabited by the Kawésqar or Alacaluf people and the Aonikenk or Tehuelche people. The first European to discover the area where the city is located was Juan Ladrillero, a Spanish explorer who was looking for the Strait of Magellan's western passage in 1557. The city was formally founded under the government of Ramón Barros in 1911. Nowadays, one of its most important industries is tourism although the cattle and aquaculture industries are also significant.

Half day 1 Salto Grande 2. Patagon 3 Lake Sarmiento 4 Laguna Inges 5 Lago Nordenskjold 6 Serro Paine 8 Laguna Azul 7 Bosque de Lenga horse
9 Banqueano de la Patagonia
Full day 1A Full Paine + Glacier Grey 2 Las Torres Sendero del Ascencio 3 Huella del Puma 4 Valle Encantado 5 Los Cuernos 6 Valle Bader
7 Valle del Francés 8 Mirador Grey 9 Sendero de los Lagos

Early history (pre-1540)
About 10,000 years ago, migrating groups settled in the fertile valleys and coastal areas of Chile. Pre-Hispanic Chile was home to over a dozen different Amerindian societies. The current theory is that the initial arrival of humans to the continent took place along the Pacific coast southwards in a rapid expansion preceding the Clovis culture, backed by findings in Monte Verde archaeological site, which predates the Clovis site by thousands of years. Settlement sites from very early human habitation in Chile inc the Cueva del Milodon and Pali Aike Crater's lava tube. The history of inhabitants in Torres del Paine dates back to over a thousand years ago, when the first indigenous groups arrived. Europeans had set up camp by the late 19th century and this marked the end of the indigenous era and the start of Chilean ‘Baqueano’ exploration and tourism, with tourists ranging from British aristocrats to scientists and missionaries. In 1959 the National Park was created, and in 1970 named Torres del Paine. Today the park is managed by Chile’s National Forestry Service (CONAF). Other ancient indigenous Patagonian inhabitants include the nomadic hunters Selk’nam (Ona) and Yaghan (Yamana) people, who canoed between islands to collect food. Both the Selk’nam and Yaghan moved further south to Tierra del Fuego, probably pushed out by Telheuche tribes (to which the Selk’nam were related). It is possible to classify the indigenous people in Chile into 3 major cultural groups:
-northern people, influenced by pre-Incan cultures.
-agrarian Araucanian culture, who inhabited the area between river Choapa and Chiloé island
-Patagonian culture of various nomadic tribes, who were mainly fishers and hunters.
-far south groups in the southern tip/ Tierra del Fuego archipelago were in much smaller numbers
1. The Inca Empire briefly extended into northern Chile, where they collected tribute from small groups of fishermen and oasis farmers but were unable to establish a strong presence.
2. The Araucanians, a fragmented society of hunter-gatherers/ farmers, the largest group in Chile.
3. In the latter half of the first millennium the Tehuelche (Aonikenk) people arrived in Patagonia as nomadic hunter- gatherers. As they migrated through Patagonia they saw the silhouette of an incredible rock formation in the distance and called it ‘Paine’, meaning ‘blue’ (the predominant colour). Tehuelche was the name given by the Mapuche to these people inhabiting the Pampa on the northern coast of the Strait of Magellan.
European sailors called them Patagones (bigfeet), endowing an aura of a mythical land of giants. Although the Tehuelche had a common way of life and language, dialects and local customs were different among the subgroups, including the Aonikenk who inhabited the Magallanes region, the Gününa’küna inland in the Aysen region, and Mecharnúek’enk, close to Chiloe Island, who had only indirect contact with other Tehuelche groups. According to archaeological findings, Tehuelche presence can be traced back 4,500 years in sites that display very similar technology, diet and housing patterns. Two distinct stages of Tehuelche cultural development can be distinguished.
1. The pedestrian stage, noted in the reports of early European travellers. Tehuelche numbered c5000, divided into nomadic groups of up to 100. They led a nomadic life, hunting guanaco and ñandús (rhea) using dogs, bows/ arrows, and bolas (spherical stone balls). They had temporary tent-like structures, for an extended family, formed by a wooden frame with waterproof hide, initially of guanaco, and later horse. Guanaco were used for food and the skins for clothing, blankets, dwellings, etc. Before the introduction of the horse, Tehuelche society was the family unit, with a dozen of these forming a band. The multi-family grouping dwelt in villages, with a chief called a Gownok or Yank, whose main task was to choose and organise the camp location. Although Tehuelche society was matrilocal, males held the power within each group.
2. The horse stage. The 18th C acquisition of horses revolutionised their hunting, vastly extending their range. The wild horses they captured were descendants of animals that had escaped or been abandoned by colonists in the 16th century, reproducing and spreading throughout Patagonia. Tehuelche groups swelled to 400 -800 riders, bringing them into contact with neighbouring groups more frequently. Despite the harsh climate (average winter temperature - 2oC and summer highs of 40 oC) the increased contact tended to homogenise the native way of life across Patagonia, with the Mapuche exerting a strong influence. Tehuelche ate horsemeat and drank mare’s blood as well as using horse bones/ skin to make tools and build shelters. Horses enabled them to make contact with neighbouring Mapuche tribes and European settlers, establishing trade. Horses were an important status symbol, and when a tribesman died, his horses and dogs were killed. Northern Tehuelche used the tendons, and skin of horses to produce household items and cover their dwellings, replacing guanaco skins. The horse tack they manufactured became increasingly elaborate, evolving into a major art form. Guanaco remained important for meat bones and skin, used to make clothes and blankets. Tehuelche often painted their bodies for ritual ceremonies. Their guanaco-skin capes (kais/ quillangos) were decorated inside with bright, geometric patterns (points, circles, keys, etc), simple figures or hand prints. They gathered edible and medicinal plants, and seafood from the coast. The women were responsible for domestic tasks (collecting firewood and water), erecting the shelters, raising the children, curing the skins, decorating the blankets, bags, and belts. The men hunted and made tools and weapons, but spent quite a lot of time eating, resting and playing games. They played a card game called berrica/ birk, which they probably learned from sailors on passing ships. They made cards of guanaco skin decorated with their own motifs and dice from the bones of huemul. In the 17/18th C, ethnic Tehuelche groups of the pampas, Puelche, Ranquel and northern Aonikenk, made contact with the Mapuche, trading in Mapuche textiles from Nahuel Huapi. Tehuelche contact with Europeans developed from occasional bartering to regular trade in established locations, such as Dinamarquero. The Tehuelche (or Aónik’enk) language, and its many dialects, dwindled with the Araucanisation of Patagonia, as the Mapuche language (Mapudungan) was adopted by many Tehuelche tribes 1550-1850. Indeed, 'Tehuelche' itself is a Mapudungan word, meaning ‘brave people’. Tehuelche were considered giants by Spaniards during Magellan's voyage of 1520. The name Patagonia comes from the word patagón used by Magellan to describe the native people whom his expedition thought to be giants; the Tehuelche average height of 1.80 m comparing to 1.55 m of an average Spaniard. The advent of Patagonian sheep farming in 1876 had a detrimental impact upon the Tehuelche as new ranches encroached on their territory, and traditional hunting grounds were transformed into pasture. In 1878, the Argentine government began to grant concessions to colonists. By 1884/5 ranches were established in the southern part of Tehuelche territory and large tracts of land were fenced off for sheep ranching. Between 1876-93, the indigenous people saw most of their territory occupied by colonists, as the traditional hunting grounds also happened to be the best pastureland. This forced the Tehuelche to break into smaller units and adapt to this new configuration. They were decimated by new diseases and alcohol and their exclusion from their traditional lands, for which they could not obtain legal title as they were not deemed citizens with rights. The Conquest of the Desert in the 1870s led by General Roca, aimed to assert Argentinian dominance in Patagonia, and resulted in the killing of over 1000 native people, and driving thousands away. Some Tehuelche communities abandoned their traditional nomadic life to collaborate with the settlers, rearing sheep and trading horses, establishing strong links with Welsh settlers. By early 1890 there were 6 autonomous groups, each with 300-400 members. These amalgamated into larger units, and by 1893 there were just 3 Tehuelche communities. Two were forced to abandon their nomadic way of life as the guanaco population was reduced by the expansion of sheep ranching. The Tehuelche established trade relations with the colonists, choosing to breed and trade horses, raise sheep and cattle, or take paid employment in nearby ranches. Though some Patagonian communities still claim Tehuelche heritage today, diseases, alcohol, and the loss of land, contributed to the ultimate extinction of the Tehuelche tribes. The last Gününa’küna (northern Tehuelche) speaker died in 1960, and there are only a few Aónik’enk (southern Tehuelche) speakers today in Patagonia, the last pure-blood dying in 1982.
Aonikenk mythology
The Aonikenk have an almighty creator god called Kooch, who created the stars and the forces of nature. Day and night was explained as the constant pursuit of the Sun-Man and Moon-Woman, each fighting for the right to control the day. The Aonikenk believed in malicious spirits, Gualichu, associated with the night, who were able to adopt the appearance of humans. The evil Azshen could also appear human. He was the owner of Calafate and lived deep in the forest close to the lakes. When in human form he entered human bodies and created disease. Miap invoked panic and brought bad luck. He lived in caves and appeared in the form of a cold wind after sunset, when he would put out fires and kill birds. Miap’s twin, Kelenken could transform into a raptor and spread infection. Noshtex was a principal figure in Aonikenk mythology. He was an evil being who kidnapped and raped Cloud-Woman, bringing floods. Kooch was angered and decreed that if Cloud-Woman had a son he would be powerful enough to complete the creation of the universe. She bore Elal, who created humans, but Elal’s conception so enraged Noshtex that he ripped out Cloud-Woman’s womb in an attempt to destroy the foetus. The Aonikenk saw this event reflected in crimson sunrises. Noshtex’s plan to kill the infant Elal was frustrated by his grandmother who hid him on a secret island in the east where Kooch lived with all the world’s animals. Living with Kooch gave Elal inspiration and when he grew up a swan carried him to the summit of Chalten Mount (Fitz Roy), accompanied by some animals who fed and protected him; Guanaco, Nandu, Condor. He was further helped by Sun and Moon. Elal defeated Noshtex. He met Karro, the morning star, and their union created the human race. Facial and body paints were applied daily as protection from the elements and for special ceremonies as well as tattoos. People wore hidden amulets and talismans for medicinal magic. Tehuelche performed rituals to celebrate birth, death, marriage, and rites of passage for females were especially important. When a Tehuelche man died, the cadaver was placed a blanket with red clay. On the tomb they erected a mound of stones called a chenque and afterwards never again pronounced the deceased person’s name. In some regions, individuals were buried in rocky shelters and covered in red paint.

Kaweskar (Kawésqar, Alacalufes, Halakwulup) were nomadic Patagonians in Torres del Paine. They arrived by canoe in the 15th century, setting up and dismantling semi-circular huts, leaving no trace behind. Fewer than 10 pure-blood Kaweskars remain. Kaweskars, which means 'human' in their language, are sometimes called Alacalufes. Halakwulup is Yahgan for “mussel eater”. There are two theories regarding their arrival in Patagonia:
1. south from the islands of Chiloé
2. north from the islands in the Strait of Magellan
They covered a vast area, from the Guaitecas Islands south of Chiloé to Clarence Island in the Strait of Magellan. Families travelled by canoe and constructed igloo-shaped domes from Oak or Winters Bark covered with seal or otter skins. Occasionally families would join together to eat a whale. Tools, bows, arrows, canoes and shelters were made from wood, stone, whalebone, shell and animal skin. Like the Yahgan, the Kawésqar were a nomadic seafaring (canoe) people.

Their canoes, 8m long x 1m wide, held a family and its dog. Their population never exceeded 5,000. Kaweskar communities had no hierarchy and were formed by self-sufficient families who married for love and practiced monogamy. Their first contact with Europeans came in the 16th century (explorers). By 1880 Europeans had settled in Patagonia in their quest for gold, furs and wool, displacing or slaughtering Kaweskars. Coupled with new diseases, they were almost extinct by the 1920’s. In 1884 George Despard, the adoptive father of Thomas Bridges, an Anglican missionary based in Ushuaia compiled a 1200-word vocabulary for the Kawésqar language. Known tribal names: Adwipliin, Aksánas, Alacaluf, Cálen(ches), Caucahue, Enoo, Lecheyel, Taíjataf, Yequinahuere. They continued a nomadic life until the 1930s, when they were moved into settlements on Brunswick Peninsula and Tierra del Fuego (Wellington, Santa Inés, and Desolación Islands), later moving further south to Puerto Natales and Punta Arenas. In the 1930s the few remaining Kaweskars settled on Wellington Island and today a small group still live on the island in a remote, road-less hamlet, Villa Puerto Eden, accessible only by boat. In 2008 the death of the last Kaweskar-speaker brought a lot of media attention.
In Kawesqar West Patagonia is known as wæs and divided into two sections from east to west: Jáutok (inland channels and land to the east) and Málte (coastal channels and Pacific coast). Within this, the Kaweskar had tribal divisions: Kaweskar of the north (Gulf of Penas-Adalberto Channel) were Sælam; immediate south (Adalberto Channel-Nelson Strait) were Kčæwíte; around Ultima Esperanza were Kelælkčes; and in Skyring-Otway Sounds and Magellan Strait were Tawókser. The groups all had the same lifestyle, although they had a different dialects and vocab, eg in the north, mussel is akčáwe, while in the south it’s qápok. Due to the large area, early explorers thought groups they met in one area were different from those previously met elsewhere, so gave them different names. Also, as explorers came from various European countries, different names were used. Robert Fitz-Roy, exploring Tierra del Fuego in the Beagle, was the first to describe a group of indigenous people living west of the Beagle Channel and Strait of Magellan with the name Alikhoolip. From this various spellings evolved: (h)alikulip, halakwulup, alakulof, alikkolif, alakaluf and alacalufe. Maybe Fitz-Roy heard halí ku(o) halíp (down here), as the people shouted from their canoes up to the deck of the ships. Alternatively the English initially adopted the name Alacaluf/ Halakwulup, used by the Yahgan, a competing indigenous tribe whom he met first. In 1881, European anthropologists took 11 Kawéskar to be exhibited in Paris and Berlin. Only 4 returned to Chile. Early in 2010, the remains of the others were repatriated and the president of Chile formally apologised for the state having allowed these indigenous people to be exhibited and treated like animals.
The Kawésqar supreme being is Xolás, the creator of everything, including traditions and morals and directed human lives. There was a natural order in nature, and any rupture was caused by a spirit, the ajajéma/Ayayema. Illness, bad weather, nightmares, etc were of his making. The ajajéma didn’t bring these because he wanted to hurt humans, but his footsteps caused disturbances as he passed, unaware that humans were there. Kaweskars forbade their children from playing once night had fallen, because the noise could attract the ajajéma. He could take away the os (soul), and leave only the aksæmhar (life force). Dreams were seen as the link between this world and “the beyond”. Kawésqar morality was based on the principle that ‘each person is his own neighbour’. The kalakai, a coming of age ceremony for both men and women aimed to provide moral and practical instruction in the skills an adult would need to live an independent life. Initiation candidates, aged 14-18, gathered with their families in a large dwelling. An individual, usually an elder, was selected to conduct the ceremony, teaching the moral codes handed down by Xolás. The event usually took place when a whale had beached on the shore, providing food for all participants for the ceremony, which could last 6-10 weeks. The Kawésqar also had a secret men-only ceremony, similar to the Yaghan’s Kina ceremony. The Kawésqar’s shaman, the Owurkan, was called upon to cure illness, predict the weather and provide spiritual guidance. An individual close to death was taken to a comfortable place to spend his or her final days. The corpse was wrapped in leather, and buried face down near the dwelling in a grave 20cm deep and covered with branches, leaves and rocks. Their belongings were burned and the burial site avoided. On death, the person would be transformed into a jeksólok (spirit), which would go to hótk'a álowe (beyond the horizon). No missionaries went to West Patagonia. The only member of the Roman Catholic church was Father Torres, who made several journeys in the 1940s, baptised some Kawesqar and made them repeat prayers they didn’t understand, but nobody replaced him once he stopped visiting Puerto Eden.

The first tourist to Torres del Paine was British aristocrat Lady Florence Dixie, who arrived with her group in 1879. Led by Avelino Arias and other Baqueanos, she explored the park and in 1880 published a book ‘Across Patagonia’, detailing her adventures. Her observations of the native people are fascinating, as is her vivid description of her first sight of Torres del Paine. Florence desired escape and her thoughts still resonate, to switch off everyday routine and be immersed in nature. Following the publication scientists came to explore the region, interested in the geography and geology. Otto Nordenskjold, after whom Lake Nordenskjold is named, and Carl Skottberg, after whom Lake Skottberg is named, visited at the turn of the century and made notable discoveries. This era also saw the arrival of missionaries such as the Italian Alberto Maria de Agostini, a passionate explorer and mountaineer who had a good relationship with the native Fuegians. The area continued to be owned by the various landlords of the ‘estancias’ (cattle ranches) until 1959 when the need for land conservation led to the creation of Grey Lake National Park. In 1961 it was extended and in 1970 the 242,242 hectare park was declared a protected area and named Torres del Paine National Park. In 1975 the park administration was taken over by Chile’s National Forestry Service (CONAF) who manage the park today and run its visitor information centres.

The Chonos occupied the islands of Western Patagonia latitude 43°–48° South. This region includes the Chiloé and Chono archipelagos up to Taitao Peninsula and Penas Gulf. These archipelagos were formed from the peaks of the submerged Coastal Mountain Range and are a veritable labyrinth of islands, canals and fiords. The 1047 islands are covered in dense rainforest that makes travel on land difficult, with few beaches for landing. The zone has consistently high rainfall +2000 mm per year and average temperatures of 7°–9o C. The Chonos belonged to the southern canoeist culture and were nomadic seafarers. Their vessels, called dalcas, were central to their way of life and made of three planks bent with fire and formed into a boat shape, with two side planks fitted alongside a longer central plank to form a long, narrow canoe. The planks were sewn together with twisted string made of crushed bark from the bamboo-like culeu plant. The joints were caulked with leaves from the fiaca or mepoa tree and the vessel then covered with maque bark. Their anchors were made of stone and wood. A dalca could hold loads up to 200 quintal (1 quintal= 100 kgs) and 10 crew members, mostly rowers. Sails were used on the boats when the wind was favourable. Early chroniclers mention these vessels, admiring their design and the prowess of their crews. The Chonos divided tasks by sex, with the men responsible for fishing and hunting sea lions, valued not only for their meat but also their fat and oil, from which the Chonos made a special beverage. The men were also responsible for building the group’s huts on land. The younger males hunted birds at night, blinding them in their nests until they fell into the canoes, where they were knocked sense-less. Chono women collected shellfish, both by hand from the seaside rocks and by diving in the ocean. Women divers began their training early, as young as 3 or 4 years old. They collected shellfish in a basket as they swam, holding the handles in their mouths or around their necks. The women also collected seaweed, fungi, eggs and firewood. In the Guaitecas region, the Chonos grew corn (which they used to make a fermented beverage), potatoes and barley, and raised “woolly dogs” (probably guanacos), whose hair they used to make clothes. The Chonos used dogs to help obtain food: some specially trained to dive for fish and chase them into nets held. When a whale beached, the Chonos made use of the meat, skin and baleen. They manufactured spears, clubs and daggers from bone, axes and knives from stone, hooks from wood and nets from the fibre of the quantu tree, as well as blankets and baskets. Historical records mention the occasional use of bows and arrows. Like many tribes in south Chile, the Chonos painted their bodies: They painted their faces red, white and/or black, but used only white paint on their bodies. Chroniclers wrote of woollen or plant fibre tunics, leather or wool capes (probably guanaco) that covered their backs and shoulders; and loincloths of dried seaweed. Sources mention that the women wore skirts of bird feathers tied around their waists. The family was the Chono’s basic social unit within this monogamous and patriarchal culture. The men had great authority over the women. The extended family gathered at coastal camps. Historical accounts mention chiefs or caciques, as elders of the group. As seafaring nomads, the Chonos moved from island to island without having a home base. They spent most of their lives on board their dalcas, moving the entire family to where resources were most plentiful and taking all of their belongings with them. The vessels were dismantled and dragged over land when required. They erected dwellings in the shape of a flattened cone at their temporary camps. These elliptical shaped structures consisted of a series of long, straight branches set into the ground and leaning inward. The branches were tied together at the apex with plant fibres. The Chonos covered the floor of their dwellings with dry branches to keep out the cold, while the structure itself was covered with leaves, skins and bark to keep out the wind. As covering materials were not plant easily obtained, the people took them along in the dalca when they moved. The huts had a single, small entrance, and their size depended on the number of people they housed. The hearth was in the middle to provide heat for warmth and cooking. The huts had no smoke holes, which made them uncomfortable to live in. When a Chono group left a camp, they left the frame in place for future occupants. These temporary camps seem to have been located close to one or more key resources, such as freshwater, and the Chonos used them as a base from which they hunted and gathered resources. Middens have been found at these camp sites due to their frequent consumption of shellfish. Some of these piles of waste shells are up to 100m wide and 4m deep. It is not even known whether the Chono were a single indigenous group or several. Early writers, sailors and missionaries referred to them and left short descriptions of their lifestyle and the vessels they used to navigate the coastal waters. The Chonos are thought to have interacted with the Huilliche people of Chiloé and the Kawashkar further south; some authors suggest that the Chonos were actually a branch of the latter. The first recorded contact between the Chonos and Spanish occurred in 1553. In 1557/8 they were observed and described by the expedition led by Juan Ladrillero and Francisco Cortés Ojeda. Their population was estimated at c1700, more than a few of whom were enslaved to work in the mines of the north by Spanish expeditions that sailed their coastal settlements. This led the Chonos to avoid the more travelled coastal sea routes. Some moved further south into Kawashkar territory, while others found refuge in the Jesuit missions of Chiloé, where a few were baptised in 1608. After he was shipwrecked in the Guaitecas islands in 1741, the English sailor John Byron wrote about the Chonos he encountered and eventually lived with. The last mention of the Chono people was in 1805.

27th Feb Return to Punta Arenas
We left Torres del Paine after lunch and stopped briefly for coffee at Cerro Castillo before dropping a guest off in Puerto Natales. Having driven for a few hours we arrived at a small town called Villa Tehuelches, and stopped for a second drink. Then on for an hour of crossing small rivers and lagunae, before arriving on the shore of the large Laguna Cabeza de Mar. The last stretch took us back to Punta Arenas, where we were dropped off at our hotel. It was a good time for an early dinner at La Luna again, Merluza (hake) followed by a trip to the ocean, where the beautiful sunset gave us a good view of the Tierra del Fuego island.

Posted by PetersF 13:43 Archived in Chile

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