The Monkey Puzzle Tree Backpacking Eight Months On the Road
Through South America by Bus
By David Rice
|The Monkey Puzzle Tree
Page Twenty Four
The Monkey Puzzle Tree
I had a good trip out of Santiago and arrived at Valparaiso, a port on Pacific. I took a side trip to Bahia Valparaiso a town divided by steep cliffs with two levels. You go between the two levels on Los Ascensors, elevators that have been in place since the 1800s.
It rained the whole time I was there.
I went primarily to look for a freighter or any ship making the crossing to Easter Island. The freighters I found wouldn't haul passengers but the lady who ran the hostel where I stayed told me that the Chilean navy runs ships occasionally to Easter Island in the course of administering the Island. On these trips they take a few passengers she said.
I visited the navy headquarters and a navy officer took me to the port where they offered me a nearly three-week trip. I could board in two weeks and go to Easter Island. They did not intend to charge for the passage as near as I could determine.
While that was indeed a great opportunity, I wanted to reach Patagonia's parks before the December crowds. This navy trip would take too much time and I regretfully had to pass on the free trip to Easter Island.
I visited the Archaeological museum full of pre-Columbian artifacts from the Americas. While touring the museum I couldn't get Easter Island out of my mind and although I had given up on boat passage,
I decided to hunt for plane transport. I left the museum and toured downtown Santiago, stopping in a travel agency to ask about transportation. They told me that to get a good price on plane fare, I needed to book a week in advance.
I moved on, keeping this option in mind for when I returned north.
I booked a half-day train ride to Chillan Going through the wine country from Santiago going south. Chile is a lush place where the Andes mountains drain into the ocean bringing plentiful pure water to every valley. There were orange wild flowers everywhere and the fields where the flowers had established were brilliant orange.
I spent the night in Chillian because I had been reading about an unusual tree called the Monkey Puzzle Tree.
I spent the night in a private home and I had a claw foot bathtub. I filled it with steaming water and soaked in luxury. Once cleaned and dressed, I headed out to the square of Chillan to see the Monkey Puzzle Tree.
On the way I saw great produce stalls, the lush farms of Chile and the temperate spring climate brought abundant fruits and vegetables to the markets. It was now early October and the early harvests of apricots were due soon. I walked streets lined with apricot trees, not quit ripe, and cherry trees full with sweet fruit. The private home where I lodged had a full orchard where I could sample ripe cherries picked from the tree.
I found the Monkey Puzzle Tree. (Araucaria araucana) It seemed to have no relation to a monkey, however, but did have some unusual characteristics including needles of triangular shaped as stiff and sharp as a knife. Having more in common with an umbrella then a monkey, the national tree of Chile it turns out, grows plentiful in the south and from that point on I saw many groves.
Nobody, however, could tell me why the evergreen conifer with an edible seed is called the Monkey Puzzle Tree and I have yet to learn the answer.