Patagonia is a fascinating region of the planet. Its culture is a fusion of the neighboring regions of Chiloé and Argentina, the vestiges of the original Tehuelche culture and the cultural addition of immigrants from all over the world.
“El que se apura en la Patagonia pierde el tiempo” is a famous saying from the region. “Whoever is in a hurry in Patagonia is wasting his time”. Life goes at a slow pace.
Drinking mate is very common in Patagonia, and it is very often shared as a signal of hospitality and welcome. They have a long tradition of handicrafts, specially of wool, leather, basketmaking and pottery. They have traditional music, dances, games and gastronomy.
Cultural heritage in Patagonia is very rich, however, my trip over there ended up having a different perspective: geological heritage. Does it sound less appealing? Wait a bit. Geological heritage helped me to explore not only beautiful landscapes but also the fascinating history of the region… including the discovery of a new dinosaur!
Lago General Carrera
I had never heard of it before, but Lake General Carrera is a very large lake which is shared with Argentina. It is actually the fourth largest lake in South America! Some villages around the lake receive visitors in summer, but it is very quiet in winter. I went there at the end of autumn/ beginning of winter with a group of local geologists, and did not see any tourist.
The lake General Carrera is of glacial origin and is surrounded by the Andes mountain range. My geologist friends could explain you much better the formation of the geological stratum and sedimentary rocks visible around the lake, I can only say that the landscapes were beautiful (even though very rainy!).
“Puerto” means “port” and many villages have that word in the name since they were originally a port, back to the time when most transport was done through the lake.
Puerto Sanchez is a village settled on the shore of the lake which can only be reached through a small road that goes over the mountains. Puerto Sanchez was originally a miners village, however today the mine is closed and its residents live mainly from agriculture and cattle raising.
To preserve the memory of its origins they have opened a small museum that explains the history of the village, linked to the mine. The first settlers were the families of the miners from the ex-company Tamalla, which extracted copper and zinc front eh 50’s. After a good period in the 70’s, the mine was closed in the 80’s.
Puerto Cristal was another village created around the mines. When the mines closed, however, this village was abandoned. Nobody lives there anymore.
We did not visit this abandoned village but we saw a documentary produced by the “Asociación cristalinos”, an association that aims to preserve the memory of the village. A man who had been born in Puerto Cristal came to see the documentary and tell us about his life there, and he cried remembering old times. Life in that small miners village was hard, but there was a strong feeling of community, of belonging, as a very big family.
Puerto Tranquilo is known for the “capillas de mármol” (“Marble Chapel”). Capillas de mármol are a group of small islands which have cave-like formations on its base, which were created by the erosion of water and wind. They are mainly composed of marble and the beautiful and colorful formations can be visited by boat.
This is the main touristic attraction of the lake General Carrera but unfortunately I missed it due to the bad weather. I will have to go back!
Guadal was probably the most surprising destination we visited. A new dinosaur was discovered nearby! We attended a talk given by the professor who made the discovery (or rather, the father of the 7 year old kid who found the bones!). This is a very interesting story!
Manuel Suarez is a geologist married to Rita de la Cruz, also a geologist. While going outdoors to find stones, sometimes they took with them their son, Diego Suarez. The kid grow up between stones and learnt at an early age what a fossil was. He knew it was possible to find remains of ancient plants and animals imprinted on the rocks, as well as bones.
Manuel Suarez explained that his son found the dinosaur because he believed in it. “It is important to believe. We, the parents, never thought there were dinosaurs in the region so we never saw them. Diego believed in it, was actually looking for them, and so he found them”.
This dinosaur found in the South of Guadal has been called Chilesaurus Diegosuarezi, is 147 thousand years old and was 3 meters long. It is an important discovery since it is a new species that presents characteristics of several known species.
Chile Chico is very close to the border with Argentina and is often called “the village of sun” due to its particular microclimate. I could easily see it: after traveling all around the lake General Carrera under the rain, it was finally sunny there!
Chile Chico has a lot of history involving the first settlers and the colonizers from Chiloé, other parts of Chile and foreign countries. They also suffered the violent eruption of volcano Hudson in 1991, one of the most violent eruptions in Chile. Nowadays is a pleasant sunny village with a hill that offers great views of the area and the lake.
Bonus: a music concert on the ferry
On our way back to Coyhaique we took a ferry from Chile Chico to Puerto Ibáñez. There was a music group traveling on the same ferry and they gave us a free concert! They said they had never played on a ferry. Well, I had never seen a concert on a ferry either!
That was a magic way to finish a wonderful weekend in an off the beaten path part of Patagonia.
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