Cutting edge eco-tourism in Chile’s last lonely wilderness

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Globe and Mail - In the dark dense rain forest of Chilean Patagonia, I am retracing the steps of Charles Darwin, in a search for the freak of a frog that bears his name.
 
The charming quirk of Darwin's Frog is the male's proclivity for carrying tadpole eggs in his vocal sac before disgorging the tykes into the world. The frogs come in hues of brown to green, making the tiny creatures almost impossible to see in their swampy habitat.
 
But Diego Stock, my exuberant Chilean guide, insists that he has spotted one hopping around this squishy bog a stone's throw from the Pacific Ocean. It looks like a fluttering brown leaf, but as I bend closer, I catch the outline of one of the world's most endangered species.
 
Darwin, the 19th-century father of evolutionary theory, encountered the frog in his voyages around South America in the 1830s. Now, 180 years later, I have come to Patagonia to witness another evolution – not just in this embattled frog, but in the new concept of capitalist conservation.
 
We are tramping through the forests around Melimoyu, a remote speck on the map 1,200 kilometres south of Santiago, Chile's capital. It is a living laboratory of frogs, birds, trees, flowers, blue whales, penguins and a sea lion that plays hide and seek with our rafts and kayaks as we glide down the Marchant River.
 
Just as Darwin's voyage expanded the understanding of life, Patagonia, one of the last vast empty places, is a test site for grafting protection of natural lands on to profit-driven ecotourism and real estate.
 
Melimoyu lies about halfway down the narrow ribbon of Chilean Patagonia, a region 1,800 kilometres long and fewer than 200 kilometres wide – from the Pacific to the Argentine border. Much of the land around Melimoyu is owned by Patagonia Sur, a company founded by U.S. social-media millionaire Warren Adams.  Read more..


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