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Valdivia to Los Angeles: Fish Market and Monkey Puzzle

The morning began with overcast skies, a slight drizzle, and a near disaster involving underwear as we once again boarded the magic school bus on our way north out of Valdivia. But before we said goodbye, we decided that we had to stop at the local Valdivian open-air fish and produce market, where merchants stay busy preparing, displaying, and selling freshly caught fish and seafood, as well as seasonal fruits and vegetables. Immediately after stepping off the bus, the smell of seafood permeated the air as we approached this busy, bustling, and bountifully bedazzling bazaar. Upon entering the market we became surrounded by an assemblage of fishermen skillfully sharpening their knives and artfully presenting their most recent catch, a host of farmers who tossed and stacked their produce in heaps of colorful arrangements, and a cohort of Chilean merchants yelling and speaking with a rapidity that made their words nearly incomprehensible to a non-native ear. With a backdrop of the ocean teeming with prowling seagulls and vultures and a few lazy sea lions, we strolled through the lively atmosphere and absorbed the essence of this cultural experience. Taking advantage of this opportunity, we made sure to come away with an ample supply of booty, which included fresh cherries, smoked salmon, and locally made Chilean breads to supplement our lunch later this afternoon. 

A woman preparing seafood

Fruit and vegetable assortments

Some lounging sea lions

Some of the fresh fish at the market

After a few hours of driving north, we had arrived at our destination for the day: La Reserva Nacional Malalcahuello Nalcas – a national park in central Chile with a large natural population of the endemic Monkey Puzzle Tree, Araucaria araucana. But before seeking out this puzzling tree and protected forest, we once again prepared a picnic style lunch of deli meats and cheeses, smoked salmon, and assorted fruits and vegetables to fuel our adventures. The weather here was breezy and sunny, and made for perfect lounging and relaxing conditions as we enjoyed our lunch and took in the scenery. But soon enough we felt restless from driving and anxious to move our bodies and explore the nearby forests. 

An afternoon feast

Lounging in the sun after lunch




When we arrived at the trailhead we found that the gate to the trail was unfortunately locked, but luckily our fearless leaders were there to show us that we shouldn’t be deterred by this surmountable barrier! So we all conquered the fence and strolled freely though a comfortable forest consisting of Araucaria, other endemic Chilean flora, as well as some other familiar herbs and shrubs. The first thing we noticed as we made our way up the trail, was the 9,400 foot tall Lonquimay Volcano, which loomed ominously in the background with its snowy slopes and swarming clouds. This is an active volcano that last erupted in 1988-1990 in a 13-month eruption, after a 100-year dormancy period. As we continued to explore, we were then able to see the Araucaria up close and in its natural environment. It was surprising to see how large this tree can get, as well as how common it is in the forest. Trees were scattered consistently throughout our walk, and some had reached a size of nearly 4-feet in diameter. These enormous trees stood out distinctly in a landscape that otherwise seemed familiar to something from North America.


Lonquimay Volcano

Mark and Betsy, leading the charge

Araucaria trees, covered in lichens

Male cones



Araucaria araucauna is not only endemic to Chile, but it is also the country’s national tree. Its leaf structure and growth habit are very unique and make it an interesting sight to virgin eyes. The name Monkey Puzzle Tree came about because someone once decided that a monkey would be completely puzzled with the task of ascending this unforgiving creature. However, this common name is of English origin, and doesn’t translate to local Chileans.

Growth habit 

Stem and leaves

Spiny leaves

Along with several sightings of Araucaria, we also saw many other instances of interesting floral diversity. Many plants were native to Chile, including: Baccharis, Gaultheria, Calceolaria, Berberis, Nothofagus, Alstroemeria, and Haplopappus species; while many other plants were familiar to us, and may have represented invasive weeds like: Lupinus, Lotus, Taraxacum, Verbascum, Achillea, Rosa, Geranium, Oxalis, and Trifolium species.


Alstroemeria sp.

Lupinus sp.

Nothofagus sp.

Calceolaria sp.

Near the end of the walk though this beautiful landscape, we were all treated to an unexpected gift: a large waterfall cascading into a chilly creek – the perfect end to a walk full of some much needed sun and plant biodiversity exposure. We took this opportunity to cool off and relax together as we reflected on the last several days of our Chilean adventures. Because after this, it was back to the bus and onward to Los Angeles, the location of our final night in Chile.

Enjoying the falling water


Chilean Flora

The overall diversity of Chilean flora is relatively modest, but because of its unique geographical location, Chile has the highest number of endemic plant species in South America. It is estimated that there are about 5,000 known vascular plant species in Chile, with roughly half of those being endemic to the country. So as we travel from Santiago to Valdivia, we can expect to see a great many plants that we are unlikely to see anywhere else in the world. A few of those species are shown below.

Araucaria araucana – Monkey Puzzle Tree

This evergreen coniferous tree is native to Argentina and Chile and has an unusual appearance that is often admired by viewers. It gets its name from the fact that with its spiny leaves, even a monkey would be puzzled with the task of climbing it. The tree produces edible seeds called piñones, which continue to be an important part of the diet of the indigenous people of the area. Even though this species has been declared a National Monument in Chile in 1990, which prohibits the cutting of wild trees, it still faces conservations threats and is currently listed as vulnerable by the International Union for Conservation of Nature.


A. araucana female cones


A. araucana stem with leaves


Lapageria rosea –  Copihue

This twining vine is highly revered as the National Flower of Chile, and is also endemic to the country. It can be observed in the southern third of the country as well as in the coastal mountains and the lower elevations of the Andes where forests are damp. Its vibrant pendulous flowers are hummingbird pollinated, and have inspired many different cultivars in horticultural settings. It bears an evolutionary relationship to the Lilies, and is the sole member of its genus, and one of only two species in the family Philesiaceae.

L. rosea in flower

L. rosea in flower


Fitzroya cupressoides – Alerce

This tree, sometimes referred to as the Sequoia of South America, can be found in the foothills of the Andes Mountains in Chile and Argentina, and is an important species in the Valdivian temperate rain forest. It is widely recognized as the tallest and oldest tree in South America. An individual from Argentina was measured at 187 feet tall, with a 7 foot trunk diameter, and an individual from Chile was dated at over 3,600 years old. This makes it the second-oldest living tree after the Bristlecone Pine of western North America. The wood of the Alerce is lightweight and durable, and has historically been used for the production of a variety of products, but logging was officially stopped in 1976 to ensure conservation of this extraordinary tree.

F. cupressoides foliage and cones

F. cupressoides foliage and cones

F. cupressoides growth form

F. cupressoides growth form

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