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
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
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
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.