Walking in the Bonsai Forest in Chile

On the side of the volcano it pays to be small

Overnight Atmosphere has moved around 22 miles from Piti Palena to the Bay of Tictoc into which the Tictoc River flows. Here she anchored off Punta Escondido deep inside Bahia de Pescadores. We wake from our sleep surrounded by seabirds feeding from the fish rich waters while sea lions swim lazily around. Two of our group chose to fish and are flown by helicopter to a river where brown trout are said to run wall to wall and we wait until the machine returns at 9am before we set off on what will be a daylong hike across the volcano at Paramo.

Today we are joined by Osvaldo the yachts expedition manager who tells us we are pioneering a brand new never been trekked part of the mountain and that it is highly likely that no man has never walked at this sport before.

We land on a plateau at 2,800 feet alighting onto a soft, tundra like carpet of moss that feels as if you are walking across a soft deep pile woollen carpet.

It is a land where it pays to bring along a loop that very small magnifying glass so beloved by diamond dealers. Get down on your knees and use the loop to look at the tiny flowers, plants and grasses and immediately, it is as if you have entered a different world. Tiny plants adopt perfect geometric shapes and among then are minute carnivorous plants that use a sweet sticky secretion to trap micro sized insects into its gaping mouth were it is digested.

These mountaintops are normally subject to fierce winds that sweep across this exposed mountainside ripping away anything large. It is for this reason that trees and plants in the area have realised that it is futile to develop beyond a size that is absolutely necessary for survival. This means trees have evolved and adopted the appearance of well-cultivated Bonsai trees from Japan.

Gnarled trunks, substantial root systems and tiny leaves on perfectly formed miniature branches are everywhere and with so many trees, fighting for the same space the area is reminiscent of a trees surrounding a Lilliput village with its own Bonsai Forest if such a thing were to exist.

We split into two groups of three and set off on our climb. We have chosen the lower but longer route leaving Margot, Osvaldo and Ignacio to conquer new heights as the attempted to reach the snow line. Together with Pablo we have chosen the longer more picturesque and truthfully less strenuous version in which we have more time to take pictures using macro lenses to capture the tiny pants and trees. We even have time to pose for silly pictures of us standing beside miniature trees in which we look like Gulliver on his travels.

We camp in between two pristine lakes at 2500 feet and eat our picnic lunch of steak sandwiches made from Wagu beef, which despite their perilous journey inside our back packs taste so good when washed down with water drawn from the water fall on the river that feeds the lakes. The sun is hot, the air so clean it actually smells strangely and because this is South America and it is the custom to do so, we take a short siesta. It seemed rude not too!

Later we trekked across a ridge or three and found a smaller lake inhabited by dragonfly who were clearly in the throws of courtship routines. The males flitted from bank to bank deftly landing on and taking off the water in front of the watching females, each male trying to out perform is opposition. In the same pond we spot tadpole and finally get our first sighting of the very rare Patagonian frog a rather small ochre and burned amber amphibian.

We have had a wonderful day and as we wait at 2000 feet for our pick up we have proved that there are two ways to trek in an untouched by human country. The hard way is to walk all the way up and all the way down. The alternative is the Atmosphere way. Hitch a ride on a helicopter, it’s the only way to travel here in Patagonia.

Atmosphere is available for charter through Robert Shepherd at Edmiston