I had a rare opportunity to travel with a group of plant enthusiasts, botanists and herbalists about ten years ago. The destination was the Chilean Patagonia and our group was an active one. We trekked and foraged in the wilderness, sat in divine hot springs, forged fiords, fished and caught enormous brown trout, learning how to cook them in a pit fire the ground…and hugged ancient Alerces.
Alerces, or Fitzroya cupressoides, are a member of the Cypress family, and are phenomenally long lived and splendorous conifer trees, native to Chile. They grow in the cool rainforests, just west of the Andes mountains. On this tour, we expected to experience the oldest trees on the planet, one over 2600 years old. We were not disappointed.
We visited scientific research stations and compared types of tropical flowers seen on hikes. I was surprised by some of the advanced and modern facilities we came upon in the relative wilderness.
After a particularly grueling spell of “roughing it” about mid-adventure, we closed in on our accommodations for the next few days, an Eco Village that we knew nothing about. The tiny houses we stayed in and, in fact, the entire village was self sustaining and off the grid. The first thing this weary traveller noticed was that the coffee there was phenomenal. It was beyond the real deal, rare in the countryside of Chile, as was all the food we were served, complete with high end and delightful garnishes.
I’d noticed a fine looking potager style garden on our way into the great room where we dined.Clearly all the vegetables we were served came right from this source. Furthermore, I came to learn that the owner of this place and hundreds of thousands of acres in conservation surrounding us were owned by a man named Douglas Tompkins, owner of Patagonia and Esprit clothing brands. AND one of his best friends was ( my hero) Alice Waters. It was she who was responsible for the direction required to create and maintain the garden and train staff on her cooking techniques.
This was a place of hope, respite and renewal. And completely unexpected in the wilds of Chile.