Accuracy: 5 meters
Altitude: 160 meters
Plant life: Eucalyptus plantation, undergrowth very diverse with rainforest and savannah/edge species
Animal life: Ants, weevils, large wrens and other edge species of birds
Nearest road / town: Hwy 0-70-Q from Conception to Santa Juana / Tiny town of Patagua
Regional economy: Large pine and eucalyptus plantations dotted with seasonal tourism
We were surprised at how close to the Rio Bio Bio the confluence turned out to be. We had hitched to Coronel, a coastal city from which a small, gravel road wound upwards over a 1500 ft mountain before descending into a valley, on whose north side our projections had marked the confluence. Our hike up the mountain quickly left the suspicious looks from the people in the run down area of Coronel and entered large-scale pine plantations. We watched as double trailered logging trucks were clearing the land first, followed by groups of independent workers with small trucks and chainsaws for the left over wood. After this, men with handsaws collect the smallest bits in roped bundles and carry them to their utes (pick up trucks). The top of the mountain provided views into the valley, a vast mix of pine and eucalyptus plantations in the varying stages of growth and clearing.
At the bottom of the valley, a few farms were dotted along the road. A businessman, who was on his way to a meeting in Temuco, gave us a ride toward the spot. We held the GPS out of the window while talking about cable and wireless companies, an odd change from the basic life of logging we had been watching during our hike. The numbers on the GPS started to increase and the salesman pulled around a few more corners of the road to find a safe place to stop. We soon found ourselves on the paved road from Conception to Santa Juana and ahead of us lay the wide riverbed of the Rio Bio Bio.
A few meters along the paved road to the north started the town of Patagua. We chose the dirt tracks through the town based on the directions from the GPS and passed closed camping areas and ice cream vendors from the recently passed summer season. The last area before the eucalyptus covered hills rose away from the town was a deserted Christian camp. The rules were still posted on the trees, but the only remaining inhabitants of the area were a friendly horse who ran over at full speed to greet us, and two bulls, who luckily remained laying in the grass as we passed by.
The past practice of dragging wood down the mountainside had formed a path of sorts up the mountain. We followed it, climbing through piles of brush on the way. The sound of chainsaws resonated from the other side of the valley, pierced periodically by the calls of gulls and bandurrias flying overhead. The "trail" finally pushed through some thick bamboo before coming out onto a larger path. Clearing the leaves and small branches from our hair and clothes, I saw a huge, black, spider-like bug on Andy's shirt. After convincing myself I could only count six legs, I looked closer and saw that the two-inch diameter bug now clinging precariously at the end of my stick was actually a sort of giant weevil. I removed the weevil from the stick and let it walk along my sleeves and hands as Andy took photos of it (see photo to the left).
The GPS at this point read 89 meters with an accuracy of 6 meters. We were technically close enough, but looking down the steep side into a small valley only 40 feet below us we decided to push through the underbrush and try to make the exact spot. Using the middle-aged eucalyptus trees for support, we worked our way down the slope. About half way down, I felt a sharp pain on the back of my knee and looked down to see a swarm of angry, gold-butted black ants biting and stinging my gators. I beat them off with my sticks and was lucky to get away with only two bites and one sting. They remained in the vicinity of their nest, and so Andy was able to go around them without incident. We hadn't seen ants like this since Australia. Were they accidentally imported with the eucalyptus? Or are they another similarity between South America and Australia / New Zealand remaining from the time when the two continents were connected through a tropical Antarctica? We pondered these questions while continuing with more vigilance to the bottom of the slope where a path promised we wouldn't have to climb back up through the ants on our return.
The new path was only thirty meters away from the confluence. The underbrush on this slope was about eight feet tall, but thin and easily pushed aside. We were now climbing through an area of young eucalypts that still had their gray-blue juvenile leaves. The meters were counting down quickly and after finding another ant nest four meters from the confluence point we arrived and were ready to take our photos.
The density of the underbrush, mixed with the steepness of the site to the southeast, made the directional photos difficult to take. However, the view to the SE over the Rio Bio Bio and campsites below, with the red-brown burned areas on the far hills made for a rewarding spot to be.