Quite often we start a day of travelling not knowing where we are going to end up that evening. Neither of us imagined we would end this day rubbing shoulders with Kristine and Douglas Tompkins (and a former Chilean president) at the headquarters of their latest conservation project, Estancia Valle Chacabuco, outside Cochrane.
We had driven through the extremely remote Rodolfo Roballos Pass, from Argentina, with only guanacos and eagles for company, only to turn a corner and see a beautiful collection of new buildings. Constructed from local stone, surrounded by poplar trees and with two light aircraft on the front lawn, the estancia certainly made an impression. Over a spot of tea with the Tompkins’ pilot, we learnt about Estancia Valle Chacabuco and the Tompkins’ work:
Douglas Tompkins co-founded and ran two clothing companies, North Face and ESPRIT before leaving the business world in 1989, and dedicating himself to environmental activism and land conservation. Along with his wife, Kristine Tompkins, he has conserved over 2 million acres (8,100 km2) of wilderness in Chile, more than any other private individual. A pretty controversial character in Chile, at one time he owned land covering the entire width of Chile, effectively cutting the country in two.
However, on the face of it, the work they are doing is completely altruistic: purchasing large blocks of wilderness, setting up conservation projects and then working with the Chilean government to designate the land as national parks to guarantee their long-term conservation.
Tragically, a huge forest fire started whilst we were camping (nothing to do with us!) which devastated 5,000 acres of land in 48 hours. It would appear it was started by someone lighting a candle in a roadside shrine to the Patron Saint of Safe Travel, which was ironic considering that driving through the fire on the bike was some of the more extreme driving we’ve done.