Tuesday, November 4, 2008

A pile of rocks

Bahia Desolada, Chile

The storm that shrouded us in fog yesterday is keeping us in the sheltered cove in what's known as Bahia Desolada (Desolated Bay).

On a small boat in the southern fjords of Chile you do a lot of hiding out in the protected coves of the islands in order to wait out the ever changing and often severe weather of the more open water of the channels.

Last night we shared our little cove with two Chilean fishing boats that had also taken refuge from the storms. This time of year the fisherman are out catching king crab, or centolla in Spanish, and they happily traded a few for some much needed supplies. Although I don't eat seafood myself, the rest of the crew will get to enjoy this delicacy for dinner, fresh from the sea.

The fishing boats are small and wooden and don't have any of the high tech equipment of the Chonos, such as GPS and depth meters. Knowledge of these treacherous waters is passed down through the generations and the local fishermen know the area like you or I would know our own backyard. Hugo, our patron (or captain), spent many years as a fisherman and his knowledge of these waters well help us venture out to the furthest reaches of Tierra del Fuego later in our trip.

To keep ourselves busy while we waited for the storm to pass a few of us went ashore to explore the area. After hiking up some of the smaller hills we noticed two piles of rocks at the very top of one of the higher peaks overlooking the bay. These rock piles, called "cairns," have been built for centuries by explorers and local fisherman as a way to leave their mark on the harsh landscapes. They are unmistakably man made as no natural event could pile the rocks into such a pyramid like shape. Sometimes, explorers buried things inside the rock piles, as a way to identify themselves, things like coins, buttons and other small items from the ship. Wanting to find out if these markers contained any hidden items from past explorations, we made the climb up. As we got closer to the top it started to hail and the wind blew the little bits of ice with such a force that it turned your skin red. Climbing into the wind was also no easy task as you had to lean hard into it to avoid being blown over backwards, but when you're so close to something why turn back? The largest cairn was built with small rocks as a base and two large, rectangular rocks turned on their ends to form the top. In between the two larger rocks was a medium sized glass bottle, filled about a quarter full with what appeared to be water. Wondering who built this marker and how long it has stood in this desolated place, we took pictures quickly and tried to smile, although you could barely open your eyes with the wind and the hail pelting your face.

After a few painful minutes of picture taking, we headed back down the mountainside. From this height you can really understand how this area got its name. No trees grow on the mountains and for miles all you can see is more barren, desolated peaks and the white capped waves of the Beagle Channel. About half way down the storm finally passed and the sun came out.

Not wanting to leave such a remote place without leaving a mark of our own, we stopped to build a small cairn for new explorers to find in the years to come.

- Caitlin


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