Torres Del Paine NP, Here I come, AGAIN
It was long ago that Patagonia seeped into my Pysche, firmly entrenching itself with absolutely no intention of going anywhere; and so my love affair with this enchanted land at the end of the world continues. It has been a while since my last trip, 2003 to be precise, but a new and exciting adventure looms ever closer, as I am planning to return to one of Patagonia's most jaw dropping mountain massifs for the 7th adventure. This time a film camera will replace a stills camera, as my long held desire to produce a documentary film about the regions apex predator, one I have already had numerous unforgetable face to face encounters with in the past, the elusive Patagonian Puma.
This beautiful feline, sadly a species much persecuted throughout many parts of it's range, has found refuge in the vast expanse of the Torres del Paine NP, where it can go about it's life without fear of being hunted by man. As protected as it is within, trouble and possible death awaits those straying onto neighbouring estancias ( ranches ) and helping themselves to more than the odd cow or sheep, as this will result in the dogs being loosed, and the ineviatable bullet from the Gauchos rifle, if found. The 500,000 + acres of Torres del Paine are home to a healthy population of native Guanco ( Lama guanicoe ) numbering approxmately 3500, and these hardy beasts are the Pumas main prey, and one of my main aims in 2018 is to film the Puma successfuly hunting one, something that to date has not been achieved, but this will not dampen my enthusiasm, and I am confident I will succeed.
Since my last visit, a lot of changes have occured in the park, sadly, at least in my opinion, not all good. I long ago said the number of visitors to the park should be capped, for obvious reasons, but the power of the $$$ long ago replaced logic with greed, as is the case with so many conservation efforts. I know I will shocked to see mobile phone masts erected, the refuges I have so many fond memories of have been replaces with larger one's to cope with the rise in numbers attempting the trails, this inevitably leads to nose to backpack trekking, as you join the endless trail of bodies, either trekking trekking the full Paine circuit or the ones short on time and only a attempting the W route, either way one will not be alone, those days are long gone and the park is worse off for it, I will digress on why.
Torres del Paine has long been the main cash cow for CONAF, the jewel in the crown if you will of the forestry service who administer all Chile's park and reserves. Chunks of cash are diverted from TDP to fund other sites and projects, no doubt well intentioned, but at what cost to the source of the funds. My first foray there in 1998, saw me hop on the early morning bus from Puerto Natales, full of eager trekkers chompng at the bit to get out there and get on the trail and feast their eyes on the awe inspiring scenery that awaits all who venture this far south. However, everywhere has a limit to what it can absorb before the signs begin to show that all is not well, and this particular Patagonian paradise long ago reached that point, the only problem was the bean counters in Santiago HQ failed to do anything about it , not because they did not see the park was turning into a circus, but because they put increased profit before preservation. Is it not better to have a healthy prolonged stream of income, that a rapid constant unchecked rise that leads to the demise of the Golden Goose.
I was fortunate enough to have spent winters in the park, and it is quite amazing to have 450,000 acres virtually to yourself, the rangers and their families are of course there, the very low numbers of hardcore visitors hardly registered on my radar as I trekked day after day, or slowly drove my Land Rover to the extreme corners of the park, and then set off on foot to go even deeper in search of adventure. I believe all have the right to do this, if solitude in a winter wonderland is what you seek, but winter here is not for everyone as you can imagine. With the arrival of spring, so arrive the trekkers en masse in ever increasing numbers, "and therein lies the rub", to nick a bit of Hamlet ( cheers William ), and of course all have the right to visit at any time of the year, but some system of controlling numbers is desperately needed, how to implement it fairly is the problem. There is, I have no doubt a solution, but will CONAF have the integrity and dare I say BALLS to implement it. It would take a lot of thinking through, but the future of one of the most stunning mountain massif's on earth is at stake here, and something needs to be done, and done soon.
I have a few months to think about this conundrum before I return for my winter of filming, and I plan to discuss it the parks administrators, as part of my film will focus on the overall health of the park, from the obvious impact of rising tourist numbers. Too many people think money and technology can solve everthing, it can't, never has been able too, never will, sometimes just stepping back, pausing for thought and letting nature do it's own thing, is all that's needed.