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Cultural Tourism
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February 2004

Patagonia from the sea

From Chiloé to Punta Arenas, Patagonia is so much more than just a geographical area. It is a cultural and spiritual territory, a historic reality claiming for a new perspective. A universe dominated by the sea that one can see from comfortable ships and boats. The following are four circuits by which to travel one of austral's patrimony most brilliant jewel.

By Rosario Mena

It was his infinite love for the sea, cultivated from his childhood on the fishing boats of Zapallar, what took Alejandro Botto to the Army. Although a short stay, it helped him to get a training base for what has now become his life: driving private yachts and organizing journeys from Chiloé to the lake of San Rafael. Three yachts (two of them, deluxe) take tourists around the area (along with a captain, a cook, stewardesses; all services included).

The four circuits now organized are those of the Chiloé churches (UNESCO's Mankind Patrimony), continental Chiloé mountain route, the Chonos archipelago and the lake of San Rafael. These are journeys that combine cultural and natural patrimony, and the history of people and events that are part of the Patagonia universe, from Chiloé to Punta Arenas.

Services are based on international standards, and are taken care of in detail, from the menu, adapted to the client's preferences, to the most specific requirements in terms of adventure-tourism and general information. It is fundamental to give all passengers the support and the information before the boarding, as well as having the capacity of responding satisfyingly to the tourist's diverse interests. "It all depends on the client's needs. Sometimes we may hire an historian, or somebody that knows the zone very well. Other passengers are interested in, for instance, birds; so we take an ornithologist", says Botto.

A journey based on the Jesuit missions' route takes us to the most distant islands to see some of the most valuable churches in the Chiloé archipelago, such as Tenaún, Dalcahue, San Juan, Achao or Caguach. Passengers have also the option of practicing watersports, enjoy thermal baths and taste typical food.

"If you go by car, you'll just see ten percent of the churches, cause all the rest are on the islands. If you go by ship, you can take a kayak, and row wherever you want, just like the Jesuits did on their canoas. You can also use mountain-bikes, and go and eat an original curanto (made out mainly from seafood, and cooked inside a hole in the ground)".

The mountain route centers itself in what's called "continental Chiloé". There are fiords close to the Andes, just inside Parque Pumalín (the much-debated park made by American millionaire Douglas Tompkins), where now is being projected the next Explora hotel. This park and the thermal baths are the main attractions, along with the Quintupeo fiord:

"There is where the Dresden German cruiser hid after beating the English during the First World War. Later on, the Chilean government, pressured by the English colony, forced the crew to leave. The ship was then attacked by the English and sank in Juan Fernández, where it still is. A lot of the seamen of Dresden stayed to live in Chile. In Puerto Montt and Puerto Varas you find streets with their names".

The journey through the islands of the Chonos archipelago goes from Melkinka to the northern border of lake San Rafael, just like Charles Darwin did on his first trip. There one finds an impressive natural area, pure and virgin, where there once lived the pre-Hispanic tribe of the chonos, seamen that were exterminated by civilization. "The Jesuits began taking them to their missions in Chiloé. They forced them to change their traditions, their clothes, their food. They began drinking alcohol, and got venereal diseases".

There is also a rare and fascinating journey through lake San Rafael. One can stop in the paradise-like thermal baths of Puyuhuapi, and sail through the Seno de Aysén to Chacabuco. "What we do is different to most tourism companies. We get to know more, and with more freedom", says Botto.


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