Carolina Pavón, from Quillota in Chile’s Fifth Region, joined our volunteer program at the Patagonia National Park project this January. As a university student at the Vertical Instituto Profesional studying Ecotourism, she (like many Chilean student volunteers) used our program to fulfill her university’s internship requirement. She spoke with us about her month in the park and what she’ll take away from the experience.
Q: How did you learn about Conservacion Patagonica and the Patagonia National Park project?
A: I learned about Conservacion Patagonica and the Patagonia National Park project in class at my university. Then I learned that the park runs a volunteer program, and I thought it would be interesting to participate in a project this big.
Q: What were your impressions of the landscape and wildlife of the future park?
A: The most spectacular and impressive landscapes I’ve ever seen are here, in the future park. One minute you’re looking across a beautiful endless valley and the next thing you have in front of you a lagoon, surrounded by huge rocks and ancient forests, or a large river, running down the hills, between the valleys… It’s a game of colors that blows your mind.
And if we’re talking about wildlife, every species here has its own special character. Our group of volunteers had the once-in-a-lifetime chance to see a huemul, a deer in danger of extinction. We practiced bird-watching, so we saw many differnt birds, such tucúqueres, rayaditos, tiuques, carpinteritos, cóndores, pitios, chincoles, chunchos, traros, etc. We saw several culpeo foxes but we weren’t so lucky as to see a puma. We did see fresh footprints around some of the trails, though!
Q. Can you describe your daily life as a volunteer?
A. Day-to-day life as a volunteer begins when we wake up together at our field base camp. We cook breakfast together and pack up lunch to take with us to wherever we’re working, usually a short hike from the base camp. with getting up, clean ourselves up and having breakfast with the whole group. Then we head off to work!
After a full day in the field, we return to base camp and cook dinner. We cooked a lot! From pizza to sopapillas, pancakes and bread. Then for fun, we’d sometimes go for a swim, or sing and dance. We had salsa and merengue classes, taught by one of the volunteers in the group. And we taught the non-Chilean volunteers to dance the cueca (a traditional Chilean dance). That was even more entertaining!
We did different types of work: picking coirón (native bunchgrass) seeds, removing old ranch fences, helping build new trails, and removing exotic species along the roads and in the valleys. For me, the most satisfying job was building trails. Thinking that you’re making a trail that thousands of people will hike in the future is an amazing feeling. You’re contributing to a project that’s going to last for years and years and that many will admire and appreciate.
On the weekends and in our time off, we took day hikes around the park, getting to explore more beautiful and important places. We also visited the nearby town of Cochrane a few times.
Q. Who volunteered with you?
A. All the volunteers while I was there were fantastic, fun, hardworking people, full of energy and laughter. People had a wide variety of careers—graphic designers, occupational therapists, architects, guides, and more. We came from different walks of like, but shared one goal: being a part of this awesome project.
Working with many people I’d never met before, many of whom came from different countries and cultures, taught me to be more open-minded and patient. When you’re camping together and working together, you have to respect each other and pay attention to everyone’s opinions.
Q. Why did you feel this project was important to join?
A. The future Patagonia National Park is important for conservation because it protects species, both animal and plants, in danger of extinction and it preserves areas of rich biodiversity, including many endemic species. And it’s important for Chile because it will generate good economic activity in the region. It will help create job opportunities for the local communities and raise the profile of southern Chile as a ecotourism destination.
Q. Will we see you again sometime at the future park?
A. Yes! I hope to return, a few years down the road, to see with my own eyes the park this place will become. I want to see how the hard work has paid off and how the people (local and foreign) is enjoying of the wonder of this place.