11 February 2008

Please Visit Your National Parks Part Two

Ok, I mean it. Like, seriously. If you haven't visited a state or national forest and/or park recently then do it. Now. Or soon. If there is one thing those of us from the US and Canada have to be thankful for it's the giant stretches of beautiful land that are open and mostly free to the public. Sure, they're mismanaged and, sure, there aren't enough of them and, sure, some of them have too many roads and whatever and whatever. But they're there and they're available to you and there is no question many of them contain some of the most inspiring geography on the planet. There are also few countries on the planet with the resources available even to consider the idea of open and protected space. Whatever you do or don't do, do not ever, ever take these places for granted.

Witness the next reportable mis-adventure:

What to do on a sleepy summer Sunday in Santiago? Go fishing? Why not? I haven't fished in probably at least two full years, maybe more. (Sad, yes?) And while Chile's Central Zone is not exactly known for it's trout streams--most of the river systems blow out of the Andes with substantial force and cloudy glacial run-off water--there are (reportedly) a few places that clear up and slow down enough to pitch a fly or two.

I've even seen proof of this: roadside shacks on the Rio Aconcagua will sometimes feature truchas with their empanadas and pas asado. And, most tellingly, I've seen bottled, pickled trout concoctions here and there labeled Truchas Rio Clarillo. I don't know if I've ever had pickled trout before, and certainly none from the Rio Clarillo--is there any difference between pickled trout from the Rio Clarillo and, say, the Rio Aconcagua?--but it's a pretty sure sign that something swims below the surface of those rivulets.

So I headed for the Reserva Nacional Rio Clarillo whose name graces the famous pickled trout concoction and is also home to a rare Chilean iguana. The Rio Clarillo is a tributary of the Rio Maipo, the watershed for the vineyards of the Maipo Valley as well as much of the agriculture for the very rich Central Valleys. It's a 33,000 acre reserve that butts up against the cordillera proper and notable for it's biodiversity, birds, and granite-lined swimming holes. Hadn't been there but all the pieces put together made it sound intriguing enough.

The first difficulty of any excursion is getting through and out of the damn city. Santiago is big (about five million) and we live in a far corner of it. It seems that no matter where we want to go we always have to bisect the city first, hitting every stop light and sign, before we're under way. This occupies the first hour of driving. Once out of Santiago, however, roads, roadsigns, logic, and patience all deteriorate quickly. This occupied most of the rest of another hour. The reserve is only thirty kilometers from downtown Santiago but as anybody will tell you, once you leave Santiago you enter a different country, a different mindset, altogether. This comes with advantages as well as disadvantages.

As you drive by the massive Concha y Toro winery located on the outskirts of Santiago the road twists and turns and shrinks. Traffic disappears, people smile; it's always nice to leave the city. The dogs were awake and happy. I put in Pete Krebs & the Gossamer Wings's blissful Sweet Ona Rose. I felt like the day was saved.

It wasn't. Thirty minutes later I and three other cars came to an abrupt end of our road. The gate to the Reserva Nacional was closed and, apparently, locked. A medium-sized sign with the letters C, E,
R, R, A, D, and O hung on the gate. Then I noticed the smaller-sized sign that stated dogs were not allowed in the Reserve. So even if the park sign read A-B-I-E-R-T-O I would have been turned around. But it wasn't. The Reserva Nacional Rio Clarillo was closed on a sleepy, sunny, summer day.

Why, I asked to some guy with a look of bewilderment on his face as he walked back to his car, was the park closed? Too many people, he said. Too many people. Too many people inside the park. And because even if there weren't too many people inside the park I had two dogs inside my car, and two dogs were two too many for the Reserva Nacional, I turned the car around and drove the hour and a half back home. Right back through the city. And the streetlights. And ninety-five degree weather. And that's the end of my story.

My only question to someone, anyone, was exactly how many people were inside the park yesterday? I mean, there are five million people in Santiago and it's safe to say that four million of them are in Valparaiso and
ViƱa del Mar this time of year. Fine. That leaves one million. Were there one million people in Reserva Nacional Rio Clarillo yesterday? Half that? Were there one hundred? How many people does it take to close a National Reserve? I'm sure I'll never know the answer. I'm also fairly sure I'll never catch a trout from the Rio Clarillo.

Oh well, at least DeVotchka has a new album coming out next month. Here's "Transliterator" from
A Mad and Faithful Telling.


Here's some guy's blog who was able to get inside the park and take some photos. And below is an informative video made by CONAF (basically the Chilean Forest Service) that depicts the pleasures and profundities of the Rio Clarillo. It also features some additional shots of the surrounding flora as well as an inspirational soundtrack.

Nice condor!

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