We made it to Steffens Glacier! Ventisquero Steffens is a massive tongue of ice that cruises down from the 'Campo de Hielo Norte', the northern ice cap in the region. Tortel was full of good luck for us and during one of our house visits, we made friends with the Conaf (Chilean Forest Service) park ranger and he invited us to film the glacier and the refugio that they are building out there.. It is a section of San Rafael National Park that they are just now opening up with the infrastructure for people to get there and see the glacier because up until now it has been pretty inaccessible. And we saw why..
We left Tortel on a government speed boat, passing slow fishing boats as we headed out into the fjords that snake away from Tortel. We then trolled up a river for a good hour, dropped off a poblador (populator) who lives out there and we also brought flour, wine, potatoes and cigarettes to a few men that met us on their horses and who asked us to buy medicine because they had sick cows and a troubled horse.. There aren`t many souls who live out there, but there are some families and we learned that they bring their animals to and from Tortel and beyond by boat.. imagine that cattle drive.
After we dropped the provisions, Rob and I headed off on foot and Sarah was invited to film from a small wooden boat that they wanted to bring upstream in order to cross the river further up. It was so neat to watch because a guy on his horse pulled the boat upstream with a rope and Sarah merrily rode along, filming. Then we walked and walked in a glacial valley full of calafate berry bushes and lush plants to the lake where the glacier breaks into massive floating ice chunks. It was beautiful.
One of the guys who had ridden out to meet us took us out on the glacial lake with his row boat and we got to row among massive chunks of ice and at one point jumped out and walked around a little on one. It was wild.. Interesting as well because the Spanish of the folks who live out there is really hard to understand because they are so isolated and have created kind of a separate language I think. The man then bid us farewell because he still had to cross three more rivers to get to his campo. So he took the saddle off his horse, put it in the boat and, get this, swam his horse across that ice filled lake.. As the horse snorted and swam across the lake, I wondered if he was going to make it because it was a long, deep swim and in water so cold.. but sure enough, he did and the man tied up his boat, threw the wool saddle on and rode off into Patagonia with his potatoes and cigarettes..
After taking in the glacier and getting a good chill (they really do produce their own micro climate) we started the journey back between these ice capped green mountains and did the whole process all over again to get out. Before we left we were given a little tour of the 'refugio' that they are building and getting ready for a dedication ceremony with regional leaders and CONAF. We also were able to talk to the man who was working on the building because he is from the Pascua (there are very few people who actually live on the Pascua, but people can recall them by name when asked!). He told us quite simply that he doesn't 'calentar la cabeza' (heat up the head) about things that he cannot control... and then he smiled, chatted with us for a bit longer and then went back to work.
Back in Tortel, we ended up splitting ways. I decided to head north with a forest service truck that could haul my bike because I needed to get back to Coyhaique. But, Sarah and Rob are going deeper, to the end of the road. They are on their way to O'Higgins to find people who live on the Pascua and also just to chat with folks there, the last stop in Northern Patagonia. Thanks for reading along!