28 January 2008

Please Visit Your National Parks

Say what you will about the US Government--and there is plenty to say--but the idea of a system of local, state, and national parks, forests, and other lands that are designated for public use and maintained and managed in some way or another is a privilege that everyone should take full advantage of. This is never more clear than when trying to do something as seemingly simple as enjoy a nice weekend of car camping.

Sure, Chile is loaded with their
Parque Nacionals, Reserva Nacionals, Monumentos, and Santuarios but for a country as long as the US is wide the options for quick and easy and fairly secluded family camping are surprisingly limited. It's easy to find developed campgrounds here and there but most are located either within or just outside a city or village and they cost anywhere from $20-30 just to put a tent up. Not all the Reservas or Parques offer camping and within those that do the campgrounds are small and crowded. And, yes, of course, you could go backpacking and not see another human for weeks. This is all fine and very well known. However, with a three year-old and two dogs in tow and a limited amount of time a simple, undeveloped campsite down a quiet dirt road would come in handy. And these are the types of things you take for granted in the US and the lack thereof is exactly what will drive you close to insane on what should have been a perfectly pleasant outing.

We left Santiago bound for the coast late Friday evening. Typically this would have been mistake number one as (1) nothing is easy in Latin America, (2) everything takes much more time than it should, and (3) we would be quickly approaching sunset and total darkness which makes #1 and #2 that much more relevant. We were headed just south of Valparaiso, however, less than two hours away from home, and so figured we would have plenty of light to set up camp.

Our destination was an isolated beach called Las Docas and our one bit of information about it said, "Bring a tent; you won't want to leave." We figured finding it would be a little tricky (see reasons 1 and 2 above) but we had maps and a car and the will and wherewithal. And, after only one wrong turn that ate close to an hour of light, we drove through the last town (Laguna Verde) on our way to the coast. From there the road turns to a dirt maze with spur road after spur road and intersection after intersection. We stopped and asked for directions at a small mercado and were kindly told to follow a car that was headed that way. "Why do you want to go there," we were asked. "There's nothing down there." Exacto! And we followed.

We found the cliffs above the beach just as the day's light disintegrated; and with it so, too, did the ease of our weekend disappear into blackness. Another hour driving back and forth and up and down spurs after spurs of rutted roads looking for any place flat and suitable for a tent eventually landed us in a small clearing under the stars with the sound of the breaking surf in the distance. Somehow, we thought, we did it.

The next morning was pleasant and cool and we made coffee and ate bread and the world was right.

Hank and I went for a short walk and soon noticed, unlike our tent, other not-so-temporary dwellings. In fact, these places came attacted with roofs and doors and windows and balconies and chimneys and everything else commonly seen on homes and cabins. And, in fact, we realized we were surrounded by these so-called cabins and were camped on someone's long driveway. Thankfully, we also noticed that ours was the only car visible and that we might get out of there without a confrontation with an angry landowner. Figuring we'd find another driveway on which we could squat for the night, we packed our gear and headed for the beach. And a beautiful and remote and uncrowded beach it was.

We roasted and exhausted ourselves sufficiently for about five hours before deciding to saddle up and hit the road. Rather than camping on the same driveway we decided to head down the coast a bit and check out new territory. We hit the pretty beach town of Quintay--once a major whaling port--close to sunset.

After a decent meal at Restoran Pezcadores we drove up and down the beach, through the town, and inquired several locals of camping spots, all with a resounding no. Even our published-in-Chile guide book lists a developed campground in Quintay. No. Not true. Fine.

We spent the next two hours driving in the dark, pulling into every dirt road, driving through dust-filled tree farms, and slowing down at any sign of a pull-off--whether at a beach, mountain, or village--for something, anything, that might be regarded as a campsite. No. None. Nothing. Fine.

At 2am we rolled into our own driveway, stumbled into our own not-so-temporary cabin home, and passed out in our own decidedly non-sleeping bag-like beds a mere twenty-six or so hours after we left. Certainly a trip worth taking. It certainly would have been easier with a system of parks and forests for the public use. And we will almost certainly try it all over again in another couple of weeks.

The Oxford Collapse: Please Visit Our National Parks.mp3
The Ballad Of Woodsy Owl.mp3
Plexi: Forest Ranger.mp3

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The Oxford Collapse, Plexi

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