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Last Hope

7 October 2015

It 's alway nice after a long period at sea to go back ashore, but what happens to me for some time now is that after a while, the "land" starts getting to small to me and feel the irresistible lure to drop again my mooring lines. Because what counts, as many have written, it is the journey and not the destination.

So today we went back at sea to explore the channel that names this whole province of Chile: Ultima Esperanza, the Last Hope. First stop will be Estero Eberhardt, a fjord which access passes trough Angostura del Diablo, a very narrow passage.

Another evocative name. Here in Patagonia we never experience names like a Angostura “No Problem” or a Angostura “Here Everything is OK".

Estero Eberhardt is named after Hermann Eberhardt, the first pioneer who in 1989 settled in this region to implant a sheep farm. Former cadet of the Prussian Army, sentenced to 20 years' hard labor by the Father (fortunately not discounted), pilot of ships in the Falklands, Patagonian breeder and discoverer of "Cueva del Milodonte, Hermann has lived a fascinating life, which I recommend you to discover through the pages of "In Patagonia" by Bruce Chatwin.

Estancia Consuelo, his ranch, is still active even though his descendants are gradually veering activity towards tourism, offering hospitality and organizing excursions on horseback. Puerto Consuelo is the head of the fjord where a wide valley stretches towards the peaks of the Andes.

The grey sky and wind gave the landscape, if possible, a more severe look. But above all the silence, the absolute and impressive silence gave the impression of being out or, at best, on the edge of the world.

The Estancia still shows signs of a rich past. Fences, large buildings for shearing, stables for the horses of the gauchos, but all sadly abandoned. From the readings of Chatwin I know that here somewhere there must be the famous Cueva del Milodonte, which prompted Bruce to get so far to unveil its very own enigma.

Once anchored, we land with the dinghy over a small pier where a boat clearly intended to carry tourists is moored. We hear voices coming from the boat and we approach. So we meet Rudi Eberhardt, a descendant of the old Herman, who with the help of a fellow is working on the tourist boat engines. Rudi in fact repairs engines and boats in the area.

We ask him how to get to the Cueva. We must take a piste that starts from the Estancia, continue for about 1 km, turn left at the first piste, continue until we meet another piste where turn left again and then continue to the Cueva. In total, about 7 miles. A nice walk for tomorrow.

8 October 2015

The sun is still not high in the sky when with Ray we start our march to the Cueva, while Valentina decides to stay in bed to “watch” Angelique II. The sky is completely clear of clouds and a stiff breeze from the northwest makes the air temperature quite bubbly.

We set off on a track that runs through the wide valley where is located Estancia Consuelo. The landscape around us is very different from that encountered so far. The dense and high vegetation that featured channels and fjords until few days ago, has given way to a much more arid landscape.

The hills and mountains are bare and the few trees only visible close to the more sheltered slopes, look like small bonsai, with long and leafless shrubs that the relentless Patagonian wind models at will.

In a couple of hours of walking we reach the Cueva. The Milodonte, extinct about 10,000 years ago, was a huge herbivore, like a big bear higher than 3 meters. In 1889 Herman Heberard recently settled in the neighboring valley discovered this cave a fur coat, belonged precisely to the Milodonte.

A series of legends and stories followed one another in the discovery, some even told of recent sightings, but more recently science laconically sentenced that the extinction of the giant goes back 10,000 years ago. The nice view was certainly worth the walk, but I prefer to remember the Cueva told by Chatwin compared to that seen with my own eyes.

10 October 2015

The forecast shows light winds for the next 3-4 days, so we decide to sail Estero Ultima Esperanza to reach the Balmaceda and Serrano glaciers. Through a topographic map, we notice that the head of Estero Ultima Esperanza hosts the mouth of the Rio Serrano, a large river that flows out of Lago del Toro ( the Bull Lake) in turn separated by an isthmus of only a few meters with Laho Pehoe at the foot of the Torre del Paine complex, the most spectacular tops of the entire Patagonia.

We immediately see ourselves involved in a new adventure, to reach Torre del Paine by water !! The day is one of the finest Patagonia has given us so far and with our two engines at 2,000 rpm we advance at 7 knots. I find it hard to stay on course, confused by an horizon that no longer find the sea, replaced by a magical upside down world. As the fjord narrows and the sun rises, so the upside down becomes a huge sheet of opal glass of cobalt green shades. Left Balmaceda glacier to port, we head directly at the mouth of the Rio Serrano which we reach in the early afternoon. We dock on an old disused, looking wobbly pier but where 2 Park Rangers intent to recover their fishing nets reassure us, confirming that we can safely dock for the night.

11 October 2015

The plan was to leave early in the morning, we had to go up the river for about 15 miles to reach Lago del Toro and from there, if we can overcome the inner continue on Lake Pehoe for about 6 miles to arrive at the foot of Torre del Paine. The tank of the dinghy is full but we safety took with us a gerrycan with another 30 liters of fuel. In a backpack we stowed our waxed fisherman overall, 2 sleeping bags, water, fruits, chocolate and sandwiches. We took with us the handheld VHF radio, a first aid kit, spare ropes and binoculars. We also took two big fenders, the idea is to use them as rollers to let them slip under the dinghy when we will have to cross the isthmus that separates the lake Toro from Lake Pehoe.

At 6:30 the outboard is running. Vale decides to leave the Two Idiots in Patagonia alone to enjoy this adventure. We begin to go up the Rio Serrano, the current is relatively strong at the mouth. The river banks are still in the shade and the temperature is around zero !!

To be back with the day light we have about 14 hours, so we decide that at 12:00h the latest we will turn the bow downstream, wherever we will be. Going upstream we must pay attention especially to the tree trunks ripped from the shores which remain stranded and then represent the real danger for our propeller.

In this season, the river is still dry, as we realize from the banks which now go far beyond the river. After half an hour of motoring we face a great bend of the river. The current accelerates violently, a clear sign of shallow water. We try to pass on the inside of the curve where it seems that the current is less strong. We slow down for fear of touching the river bed but the speed is not sufficient to advance, and I struggle to keep the dinghy en route. We try again facing a higher speed but ...... bang, we hit the bottom with the motor foot. We pulled over on a dead (a bend of the river sheltered from current) pull up the engine, fortunately intact and try again with the paddles. But nothing to do, the current is too challenging even for the Two Idiots in Patagonia.

So we decided a new strategy. We bring back to the bank and jump in the water (just above the ankles of our legendary fisherman boots) dragging the dinghy by hand. So we proceed for about 300 meters, until you pass the curve, where current and depth enable us to restart the engine. We proceed for about one hour, we should now be a little more than two miles from Lake Pehoe.

The sun heats now both sides of the river and the temperature is less severe. Next to us, however, it appears what looks like a real rapid. For the entire width of the river we see waves on the river bed, clear sign that at that point the water impacts against a number of obstacles. Once again we draw the dinghy on one of the bank to check the area from the shore to figure out how to deal with this second difficulty. Nothing to do, there is no way to get over this rapids. The river is still dry and the banks are too high to imagine dragging the dinghy by land.

We are forced to give up. Too bad, we already see the Grey Glacier and also the peaks of Torre del Paine, nevertheless also for the Two Idiots in Patagonia is time to give up. So turning the bow downstream, we sadly begin the descent.

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