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La Junta

From Villa Santa Lucía the graveled Carretera Austral (Ruta 7) heads south through evergreen forests. Just past Santa Lucía is the border between X Región de los Lagos and XI Región de Aysén. The frequent glimpses of the bright blue Río Palena backdropped by snow-tipped mountains are dramatic. Seventy kilometers (42 miles) from Santa Lucía is La Junta, The Place of Encounters.





La Junta owes its nickname to two distinctions. Here is where the Rosselot River meets the Río Palena to continue their journey to the sea. The second reason it is called “El Pueblo del Encuentro” was that early settlers in the neighboring valleys drove their cattle to La Junta to be transported by ship from Puyuhuapi and Raúl Marín Balmaceda ports to faraway markets. Cattle farming yet plays an important part in the local economy.





For many years, this settlement was just a meeting place. Its official founding is dated to 1963, when the government awarded large tracts of land to families who promised to devote themselves to farming. The construction of the Carretera Austral (1976-1996) marks the Before and the After for La Junta. For years La Junta was more strongly aligned economically and culturally with neighboring country Argentina. That was the before. After the arrival of the Carretera Austral, this town became integrated into Chile’s mainstream.





Today this village serves more as a meeting point for travelers journeying on the mythical Southern Highway. It is a convenient stop for all. Bicyclists and motorcyclists rest at the Copec station at the north entrance of town, motorists refuel and hitchhikers hope for another ride to take them on their way.





Some tourists decide to remain for a night or two, to check out Reserva Nacional Lago Rosselot, right along the Carretera Austral as it passes through La Junta. This reserve, created in 1983, preserves 12,725 hectares of virgin evergreen and lenga forest. It is a cold-climate rainforest, receiving 3500 millimeters (138 inches) of precipitation per year. Temperatures in January reach 12°C (54°F) and dip to 2°C (36°F) in July. Birdwatching is good. Residents include Carpintero Negro (Magellanic Woodpecker, Campephilus magellanicus), Chucao (Scelorchilus rubecula), Black-throated Huet-Huet (Pteroptochos tarnii), Fiofio (White-crested Elaenia, Elaenia albiceps), Cometocino (Patagonian Sierra Finch, Phrygilus patagonicus), Cachaña (Austral Parakeet, Enicognathus ferrugineus), Picaflor chico (Green-backed Firecrown Hummingbird, Sepanoides galeritus), Condor (Vultur gryphus) and Bandurria (Buff-necked Ibis, Theristicus caudatus). The pudú, the smallest deer in the world (Pudu pudu), the sapito de cuatro ojos (Chilean four-eyed frog, Pleurodema thaul) and sapito de Darwin (Darwin’s frogs, Rhynoderma Darwin) also call this home. Most of the Reserva Nacional Lago Rosselot is inaccessible. From La Junta a steep five-kilometer (3-mile) trail wends to the top of the ridge from which are tremendous vistas of the Río Palena valley (2 hours).





The East boundary of the reserve is Lago Rosselot which slices a wedge through the landscape. Along its shores tepú (Tepularia stipularis) is common. Trout and salmon fishing in these pure waters is considered to be some of the best in the northern Aysén region.





A 75-kilometer (45-mile) road leads west of La Junta to Puerto Raúl Marín Balmaceda on the Pacific coast. Its 300 or so residents devote their lives to fishing. But with the warm summer months, tourists arrive to enjoy the hamlet’s white sand beaches, soak in the hot springs and to boat to the Río Palena’s delta. Fishing and birdwatching are superb. Other marine fauna are sighted in season, including sea lions, toninas and whales. Lodging and basic services are available. The village can also be reached by ship from Chiloé.





From La Junta another road heads eastward to Lago Verde (70 kilometers / 142 miles, 1.5 hours). Located in the extreme northeast Palena-Queulat River Basin, the green lake is surrounded by the Sierra Negra. From the village Lago Verde you can do trekking and horseback excursions. Salmon and trout fishing are good. The Lago Verde-Las Mellizas leg of the Sendero de Chile can be done on foot or horse. The trail is 64 kilometers / 38.5 miles long (29 kilometers / 17.5 miles to Portezuelo and another 35 kilometers / 21 miles to Tapera), passing through the Cacique Blanco River Valley and a landscape carved into canyons and large hills. This is a continuation of the Palena-Lago Verde part of the Sendero (for complete details, see: www.senderodechile.cl). Lago Verde pueblo has camping and hostels. Several guides lead trekking and horseback tours.





February is festival time in La Junta. The second week is La Semana de La Junta, with boating and other competitions. The last week of that same month the village hosts a rodeo.








Services:


La Junta has most services travelers need. On the Plaza are the health post and tourism office (summer only, daily 10 a.m.-1 p.m., 2-6 p.m. URL: www.cuencadelpalena-queulat.cl). Conaf has information on Reserva Nacional Lago Rosselot and Parque Nacional Queulat (Monday-Friday 8:30 a.m.-5:30 p.m. Patricio Lynch s/n, half-block west of the Carretera Austral, Tel.: 31-4128). The Carabineros are on the Carretera Austral.


La Junta has no bank or pharmacy. The Valle Risopatrón Copec gas station is the Chilexpress agent and can change Argentine pesos (daily 8 a.m.-11 p.m.); also try Transportes Altimirano. There is a post office, as well as several internet and phone providers. Ciber Ruta Austral has Skype (daily 10 a.m.-1:30 p.m., 2:30-11 p.m. Centro Comercial, piso 2, Portales and Lynch).





Lodging:


Most hotels are closed in winter. Cheaper hostels are booked by road crews. Families also rent rooms in their homes ($10-12 per person). Camping Los Avellanos is open only in January and February (Carretera Austral, 3 kilometers / 1.8 miles north of La Junta, Tel.: 9-9595-7815).


Hostería Copihue (Varas 611, Tel.: 31-4184, E-mail: ninodelpatagonia@123mail.com / hcopihuepatagon@hotmail.com; $17 per person)—The hotel is also an eclectic museum.


Hospedaje Tía Lety (Varas 596, Tel.: 9-8763-5191; $20 per person)


Hotel Espacio y Tiempo (Carretera Austral s/n, Tel.: 31-4141 / 31-4264, E-mail: espacio@patagoniachile.cl / info@espacioytiempo.cl, single $75, double $108).





Restaurants:


Loa Junta has few restaurants. Many hostels serve breakfast and some present other meals as well.


Restaurant El Transportista (Carretera Austral, across from the Copec gas station)


Mi Casita de Té (Carretera Austral and Lynch, Tel.: 31-4206).


There also are several small general stores and bakeries.





(Altitude: 1650 meters / 5416 feet, Population: 1280, Phone Code: 067)


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Other places nearby La Junta: Parque Nacional Queulat, Puerto Puyuhuapi, Puerto Sánchez, Futaleufú, Villa Santa Lucía , Palena, Parque Nacional Laguna San Rafael , Cochrane, Puerto Guadal and Puerto Chacabuco .







By Lorraine Caputo

Upon re-declaring her independence at age 29, Lorraine Caputo packed her trusty Rocinante (so her knapsack's called) and began...

08 Aug 2011

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