Cochamó: Gateway to the Andean Wilderness

In the Reloncaví Estuary, the northernmost of Chile's glacial inlets, the Andes meet the Pacific. Here, near the village of Cochamó, just 100 km from Puerto Varas and 127 km from Puerto Montt, is a forgotten world known as "Selva Cochamó": the "Cochamó Wilderness". Comprising more than a million acres, the region is virtually untouched by civilization. The areas 4,000 inhabitants are greatly outnumbered by their horses, cattle and sheep. The road all of them gravel run just 46 km in total. Only 10 percent of the land has been explored or cultivated. The rest is pure wilderness. The unspoiled beauty of the place proved irresistible to Campo Aventura owner Clark Stede (German) and manager Manuela Paradeiser (Austrian). Before coming to southern Chile, Clark has seen the world: He rode a camel across the Sahara, paddled the Nile in Africa, sailed through the Northwest Passage, and led the first yachting expedition to circumnavigate the Americas.

The entire Cochamó area, where Campo Aventura's two camps are located, is surrounded by the pristine Valdivian rain forest, which hosts more than 300 kinds of plants and trees, as well as condors, pumas, freshwater salmon and songbirds galore. Because of the remoteness of the region, the environment has changed little over the millennia. Deep in the forest is El Arco, the home of hundreds of 3,000-year-old Alerce trees. Amidst the labyrinth of waterfalls and rivers, small trails connect rustic farms in the foothills of the Andes. The friendly farmers still ride horses and transport their produce with oxcarts, just as their ancestors did.

From the valley of Río Cochamó to the other side of the Andes winds the Gaucho Trail, a horse path used since the 1700s by Tehuelche Indians, Jesuit explorers, traders and gauchos. Legendary outlaws Butch Cassidy and Sundance Kid, who ranched in Argentina in the early 1900s, drove their cattle to Chilean markets over this trail.

The routes still used by gauchos, as well as by horseback trekkers on excursions organized by Campo Aventura, which is the only on-site expedition outfitters in Cochamó. The excursion start from Campo Aventura's Base Camp on the bank of the Río Cochamó and follow the Gaucho Trail up into the Andes. Although most of Campo Aventura's clients use horses, the vast majority are not experienced riders. Horses are available for every level of experience. After riding for five hours, the trekkers enter La Junta, an Andean valley where Campo Aventura's Outback Camp a full service lodge nestles among ancient trees. From La Junta, visitors can traverse the Andes to Argentina or loop back down to the Pacific Coast. Whatever the route, they will have an unforgettable ride.

For more information about Butch and Sundance's adventure in the region, see Digging Up Butch and Sundance, by Anne Meadows, available at your local bookstore, online from amazon.com, or directly from the publisher by e-mail (press@unlinfo.unl.edu) or telephone (402-472-3548).

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