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Odisea Chile, Mathieu Crepel’s log

Odisea Chile

After last year’s first Odisea, that brought Blue Tomato Teamrider Mathieu Crepel and pro surfer Damien Castera to Alaska to follow the flow of water from the peaks to the Gulf of Alaska, they are again embarking on a new Odisea – this time to Chile:

Episode 1 - Volcano Osorno
Episode 2 - Río Petrohué
Episode 3 - Chiloe island
Episode 4 - Araucanian kingdom

Odisea Episode 1 - Volcano Osorno

The first part of the new Odisea takes the two Frenchmen onto the volcano Osorno. This volcano is a trappy mountain to climb, as the weather changes constantly and hard storms are no rarity. The two pros are supposed to spend 3 days on the mountain in all different kind of weathers. But find out more in Mathieu Crepel’s log:

“Chilean Patagonia is far away, pretty far! After long hours sitting in cars, planes and buses, we finally touch down in our promised land. Our first view from the village of Puerto Varas, overlooking the lake llanquihue and the volcan Osorno is stunning. After a day gathering our gear, preparing our food for the 3 days we’re supposed to spend on the volcano we’re ready to start the hike. The closer we get from the base, the higher the summit looks!

The Osorno is a complex mountain to climb. Its proximity to the ocean makes the weather change constantly and the storms can roll in faster than a galloping horse! Accidents on it are actually pretty common due to the howling winds swinging its conic cap, turning snow into pure ice. On the first day, we hike for 6 hours, first in the sand and gravel of previous eruptions and finally get to the snow to strap our splitboards, reaching 1 800 m and set the first base camp. We take advantage of the last lights of the day to feel the Andinese snow and take a few well deserved turns.

The next day brings us a much different experience. The blue sky has turned into a white soup in which it is impossible to distinct the ground from the sky. Our 30kg back packs feel even heavier than the day before and the ice forces us to swap our splits for crampons and ice axes. Wind makes us feel like floating flags. Each step is slow and calculated. No one talks anymore, our only goal is to reach the summit.

The hard way to the summig
The hard way to the top of the Volcano

But the closer we get the heavier the weather is and we’re starting to think that we won’t be able to spend the night at the summit. José our guide told us about an ice cave on another flank near the summit, but its entrance is usually blocked from snow until December so we don’t bet much on this option. After hiking another 6 hours this day, we are close to where the “cathedral” as they call the cave, is supposed to be. José goes forward and roars of joy, it’s open!!! The really poor snowfalls this winter didn’t block the path and within a few seconds we go from a raging world to the quietness of the entrails of the earth. We’re now inside the glacier, setting up our base camp, exploring every little corridor of ice, in a total trance in front of those deep blue stalactites and arches. Even if it’s still cold and humid, it feels good to be away from the storm. A few hot teas and soups later we fall in Morphee’s arms to get ready for what the next days brings.

Basecamp inside the Volcano
Basecamp in the inside of the Volcano

Coming out of our cave in the morning fells like a rebirth, especially with a sunset over a sea of clouds just below our feet. We can now enjoy the view of countless lakes and volcanoes surrounding us. Strapping our board and starting our descent makes us forget the thousands of steps it took us to get to the summit and it’s now simply pure joy.

Sunset on top of the Volcano
Sunset on top of the Volcano

We reach the base of the volcano soon before dark, tomorrow we will start the second part of our adventure where we will start floating the icy waters of the Petrohué river... Stay tuned!"

-Mathieu und Damien.

Odisea Episode 2 - The downhill from the Río Petrohué in pack raft

"First, let me explain more precisely this year’s environment.The lakes’ area is a sanctuary, a calm kingdom at the crossroads of the sea and mountains. Everything that makes human life seems reunited here: peaceful huts warmed by a wood stove, calm woodland, the slow move of some men in between the rocks and the volcanos illuminated by the snow in the golden sky. We are discovering with joy the nature’s awakening after the austral winter, the tree sap’s flavours, the wind wandering through the heath. The weather was excellent and we could see rivers flowing to the sea.

After the climb and the following downhill from the Osorno volcano, we changed our snowboards for makeshift boat which should allow us to come down the Petrohue River. The problem was that we sensibly overrated our skills in the living water and definitely underestimated the difficulty of this river. The Río Petrohué (located at the bottom of the Osorno volcano) is 36kms long, from the lake “Todos los Santos” to the Reloncavi estuary. While we began the upper part (level of difficulty 3+), we quickly understood the flow was extremely powerful and the rapids would be difficult to pass, overall on boards of pack rafts made for still water sailing.

We spent a good part of the day between tears and laughs, trying to survive in there. Despite all my concentration, I couldn’t find the right rhythm and turned over in the middle of the waves. Without boat and at the mercy of the flow, I struggled during several minutes before reaching the shore. Mathieu, who did way better, got my raft 1km further down the river. As we progressed, the rapids seemed more and more dangerous.

Mathieu and Damien in the rapids
Mathieu and Damien in the rapids

We decided to stop and to skirt the part we judged too difficult for us. The night, exhausted by the fight, we bivouacked on a small dark sand beach.After a good night of sleep and some rapids for breakfast, we reached the lower part of the river: still water and smooth flow. The deal wasn’t the same. We scooped water out of our boats and sailed dried to the Cochamo village. From there, we spent a good part of the day to search for a bigger boat to cross the fjord - impassable with our little boats.

Mathieu and Damien on calmer waters
Mathieu and Damien on calmer waters

We ended up meeting a group of fishermen ready to take off. Certainly because by sympathy and curiosity, they invited us on board. What a relief and such a good memory. Just after five minutes from the departure as we left Camilo, the boat captain left me in charge of the boat’s helm with a direction of sailing in line of sight. Mathieu joined me, half-smiling, in the helm station. In front of us looms now the Chiloe Island. The adventure goes on…"

The captains Mathieu and Damien
The captains Mathieu and Damien

-Damien und Mathieu.

Odisea Episode 3 - Discovering the Chiloe

"In the south of Chile but north of Patagonia, green and mysterious, the Chiloe has its singularity and keeps his beliefs. An island where the typical food is cooked on the land, a mix of clams and meats laid on white-hot stones and covered by big Nalca leaf (local plant). After many dreams through Francisco Coloane’s and Pablo Neruda’s books, we finally travel on the ancient Huilliche Indians’ land.

Since the first days, a couple of farmers offered us their hospitality and shared a piece of their land to stay, in the middle of their animals. Nothing better than a tent in the middle of the alpine pastures. After the tumultuous rivers and the company from the Cochamo’s fishermen, we dive into the Chiloe’s farmer universe. On the house’s storefront, we could read this saying “Here, there are no strangers - only friends we haven’t met yet”. We found a good place at first sight.

camping in alpine pastures
The sleeping place of Damien and Mathieu

Fernando and Henrietta have about 30 sheep, two horses and a well-maintained garden. Every morning, with this personal serenity of the men from the land, Fernando uses the wonders of the land. Leeks, salat, tomatoes and other vegetables as strange as their names. With Mathieu, we helped and prepared a parcel for the new potatoes’ plant. In exchange for our two pairs of arms, we got two horses to discover the beaches nearby. After a day spent in the land, we feel like Don Quichotte on his horse when we go to explore the surf spots, or rather if there is any surf…

Looking for waves
Mathieu and Damien looking for waves

The next morning we set our surf boards on our backpacks and head, on the horses, to where we can find some waves. What an experience!! After a volcano’s downhill on snowboards, the crossing of a river with a pack raft, we explore Chiloe’s landscape on horses’ backs, as if the real meaning of this trip consisted in travelling in the most esthetical and original ways possible.

“Do not aspire to immortal life, but exhaust the limits of the possible” said Pindar. With Odisea, we lived up to this quote. Speaking of surf, we discovered several beach breaks and reef breaks. As half of the island is covered by dense woodland, you’d need months to explore the whole island. We decided to stay in a small geographic zone and enjoy the calm specific to isolated regions.

Damien riding some waves
Damien riding some waves

Speaking of meeting, we spent two days with the Huilliche chief Christian Chiguay. Change of environment: the tent is located between a church, a cemetery and a football pitch. The similar look between Mathieu and the famous French football player Antoine Griezmann created the buzz in the village. Every kid wanted to test Mathieu’s football skills and so the first football games were started under the amused look from the older ones. As the local feast was prepared, Christian delivered us a harrowing testimony on his people’s social situation:

“We, the Huilliche and Mapuche, are fighting for years to get our rights valued. A rough battle with sometimes arrests and murders. You know, the governmental decrees enacted under the Pinochet’s military dictatorship are still operative. Big land mass are given to powerful economical private clusters, cancelling the benefits of the agrarian reform for the distribution of the land. Those multinational companies organize massive mono culture from pine and eucalyptus draining considerably the regional groundwater table. But as usual, only direct benefits are counted. The Mapuche people is fighting to stop this activity that widespread poverty, damage the environment and worsen culturally our people”.

The Huilliche Chief
The Huilliche Chief

Neben dieser Realität, die das himmlische Chile ein bisschen befleckt, sind wir uns sicher, dass Chiloé ein wichtiger Punkt in unserer Odisea war. Ein einzigartiger Ort der Welt, wo Menschen noch im Einklang mit der Natur leben."

Damien und Mathieu

Odisea Episode 4 - Surfing in the Araucanian kingdom

"After many storms over the Chiloe’s Island, we decided to try our luck a little farther north from the island. With the precision of a geographer, examining the landscape to inhale its substance, we went on every creek, every rocky peak to find the rare pearl, the subject of all our dreams: an endless wave in a quiet creek out of sight. A certain kind of peaceful kingdom for a selfish dream, the dream of surfing all alone.

Surfboard preperation
Surfboard preperation

During the austral winter, low pressure areas appear close to the Antarctic and continue north towards the South American continent. As in Western Africa, a cold flow of water goes further up the latitudes, ideal for the aquatic environment’s development and diversity. Like Benguela in Namibia, Humboldt in Chile allows the procreation of thousands of sea mammals, whales, sea lions and seals … A natural paradise saved from the rough climate. Speaking of surf sports, it’s almost the same.

Surfing in paradise
Surfing in paradise

This cold flow of water allows us to spend more time with friends with fins instead of two-legged fellow humans and the waves can be of an extreme intensity for the one who knows how to seek them. It’s kind of an Eldorado, the treasure of the Araucania’s kings. A succession of rocky massifs on 4.000 kilometers ensures the cold water surfers’ happiness. When the wind is good (mostly from the South and South East), we spend the all day in water until sunset, and get out of water numbed by the cold.

When the weather is bad, with dark storms, we stay sheltered in our sleeping bags. When the storm deprived us of exploring the outside, it’s with some literature that we escape. I then embark on a journey with Magellan, and start the biggest travel with brave men discovering the Strait and the Land of Fire. The fire was the one from the Fuegians. According to one of the different versions, the origin of this name comes from Magellan as he only saw smoke coming from the land and named it Tierra del humo, the “Land of Smoke”. Later Charles V declared there can’t be smoke without a fire and changed the name into “Land of Fire”. Today, the Indians have disappeared, fires have ceased and only legends remain.

Bonfire at the end of the adventure
Bonfire at the end of the adventure

Once we arrived at the ocean, our adventure “from the snowflake to the wave” comes to an end. It is with a tear in our eyes that we find some consolation in the future’s promises. A lot of memories come to our mind. Just the time for a last surf session, and like magic, ten seals surround us and swim alongside with us on the last wave.

Last surf session
Seals surround Damien and Matthieu

When we follow the water’s path, we realize life has suddenly large territories in front of it…"

Damien und Matthieu