Solo Paddler

Puntas Arenas Symposium

In the course of our travels, we do sometimes run into ‘out of the ordinary’ experiences. As sometimes happens, more often that not actually, we get these e-mails out of the blue, inquiring whether we would be available at a particular place and time, to come and share what we know to be Greenland-style kayaking. We generally do our very best to accommodate! After all, we’re both honored to think that someone has sought us out, and we do like an adventure now and again. And again 😉

This is just how we got invited to go to the very end of the Americas, Tierra Del Fuego, Chile. In this post, we’ll sort through the symposium experience and write at a future point about other aspects of the trip.

About a year ago, Claudio Saa, one of the three partners of an intrepid kayaking outfit Kayak Aqua Fresca, invited us to mentor at their second annual symposium that they have been hosting. Their endeavor is centered in Punta Arenas, the largest town in this area of the world. A small city of unusual contrasts, it is located the north central coastline of the Magellan Strait.

This was a bit of a surprise to us, as we have been invited many places, but never South America. We had both dreamed of Patagonia off and on, and we were intrigued by the stories of Tierra Del Fuego that Justine Curgenven and Barry Shaw had shared with us after their circumnavigation of the area, but we would never have thought that of it as a potential teaching destination.

Ok, so it was a complete shock! 😉 How did we get invited to the such an awesome and remote place?  It totally itched the adventure gene! Could it be true?, real? possible?

And then we noticed the dates. Hmmm, the brain starts to spin. Mid-September. Right in the midst of our peak teaching season, and, oh, by the way, this isn’t the Northern Hemisphere anymore. That would be the equivalent of our Mid-March (and we know what the North Atlantic feels like then). So the plan is to stand or roll in the 35 degree water and teach all day in a place where  ‘The Wind is Born’?    ……Right!!!  …..Let’s go! 😉

Lots of gears had to mesh before we actually had plane tickets and were ready to go, but eventually all these details fell into place and we were poised, gear packed, at the Portland International Jetport, ready to board the first leg of what would be 27 hours in the air. Fortunately it was broken up a bit. First into Atlanta, then into Santiago, Chile. From there, another short connection later, we landed in Punta Arenas at nearly midnight the next day.

When we arrived at nearly midnight the next day. We were greeted by Claudio, who we'd had most of our previous e-mail interactions with, and his friend Ricardo. Ricardo, along with his delightful wife Elena, would be our hosts while in Punta Arenas.

Claudio, Cristian and Rodrigo were the three intrepid masterminds of Kayak Agua Fresca. They had established their idea three years before now, and had worked incredibly hard to get the business off the ground and keep it rolling.

Kayak Agua Fresca typically offers instruction, day paddles, and paddling trips in the Magellan Strait and environs. They have a hearty fleet of kayaks, largely unfamiliar to folks from the "other" hemisphere. Most of the kayaks are roto-molded and ruddered - for good reason. Tierra Del Fuego is a very powerful environment; the weather dominates the land and the Strait, and everything on or in it! Furthermore, it is not a a wealthy region, though it is determined to survive and make its way in the modern world. In many ways it is a frontier town, trying to grow up. These sorts of kayaks fit the current state of the hazards of running a sea kayak enterprise there. They are tough and accessible, just like our three friends, and just like the environment they prospect in.

The Symposium was backed by the local tourist bureau. There was a strong community spirit to this effort, and it was pretty clear that there were some other folks down there that wanted to help grow a local dynamic business in the hope that it would draw interest in coming to this rather remarkable human foothold in a raw-boned part of the sub-antarctic.

The first evening session was really a social gathering and introduction for the group. It was held at a conference room in a posh hotel downtown, and there was a lot of marketing going on. A local vineyard as well as a local brewer had come in as sponsors of the night, and a good time was had by all.

One of our frustrations was paddles. Getting our paddle bag to Chile would have cost us thousands of dollars and we could only manage taking two 3-piece carbon Razor paddles in our luggage. So we were relieved when Rodrigo received delivery, that very evening, of four very nice laminated blades, made for him in Argentina!

At the symposium, we soon found that many of the paddlers there were very used to paddling in ruddered, roto-molded kayaks. We ran our first session in the Strait of Magellan. It was for some the first time many folks had used, or for that matter, seen a Greenland Paddle. It was cool exposing them to the magical stick!

There we encountered representatives of the Chilean Navy, checking each paddler individually making certain that everyone was carrying the kit that was expected of them. We have seen variations on this theme in Italy, but never to the extent of individual inspection!

We did a day trip in the outer harbor area of Punta Arenas. This was coordinated with The Chilean Day of Independence, and was quite remarkable, as we were often navigating around various and quite large past and present hulls. Some had been there for a very long time and were being cleverly used as a breakwater. During the course of the paddle the wind kicked up strong out of the east, and the conditions built to the point where some of the participants had VERY big EYES.

We also did a rolling session inside of a community pool. We had hoped to have more time in the pool, but the only time available was two hours and we had about 25 interested kayakers. It was a bit hectic, but we organized everyone in teams and deputized those who had a roll to assist someone who didn’t, while we circulated as troubleshooters. Greenland blade, euro-blade, long boats, short boats, the session was a big success in deepening everyone’s understanding of what describes a solid useable roll.

We also had an overnight trip to an abandoned whaling station. On this trip we had about 35-40 people of all ability levels, and it took well-considered scheming by the Kayak Agua Fresca team to manage this outing inside a basket of safety that is so important with a group this large.

The put in was four hours west and we arrived at dawn. While it was very cold, we like to say, "There is no such thing as bad weather, only bad clothing!" Our four-season tent and down bags passed the test of snow overnight, and we were up to enjoy another cracking sunrise.

It was so beautiful having that time to experience this wilderness in its full glory. What became really clear on this trip was the scale of the wilderness in this area of the world. It dwarfs everything around it and makes clear that one cannot go into it without that sense of being very small, on the edge of a wild place with an indomitable spirit.

We were left with the strong impression that a paddling trip here and beyond into the fjords and along the Chilean West coastline, as weather allowed, would be a memorable future experience.

And the creatures! Condor, all manner of porpoise, and other birds…

We also stopped at the San Isidro Lighthouse, a beacon for mariners at a corner on the Strait, that had a fascinating exhibit of the past and present environs. And stunning views from the top of it!

On the final evening of the symposium, we went out to the area from which they got their name, for a lamb roast. This was quite a feast and everyone enjoyed a duo on guitar and accordion playing traditional songs from both Chile and Argentina.

Punta Arenas. A stepping stone to the vast wilderness of the west coast of Chile and the mountains of Patagonia!

Special thanks to the photographers present for their generous donations of photos to supplement our blog and slideshows: Rodolfo Soto and Claudio Magallanes Velasco.

Posted in Adventures.