Pumalín nature park, using travel agents


Dear Steve, do you know of any U.S. tour operators that have tours to Pumalín in Chile, that conservation land a USA couple bought in order to halt its development? — Mark S. Sommers, Dorchester, MA


Dear Mark, Pumalín, a vast, privately owned nature park comprising 800,000 acres of virgin land, is located about 70 miles south of Puerto Montt. It is owned by Americans Doug and Kristine Tompkins, who own, in total, about two million acres of property scattered around Chile and Argentina.

Doug at one time was an owner of the Esprit clothing label. The park has a website at www.parquepumalin.cl, and if you’d like to see a video report about the park as shown on ABC World News with Charles Gibson, see http://abcnews.go.com/video/playerIndex?id=3295673.

Apparently, Doug and Kristine intend to do everything they can to preserve this land, and, once it’s protected, they may donate the park to the people of Chile.

Through the Contact link on Pumalín’s website, I wrote to see if any American tour operators offered trips there. They said that the only U.S. company they work with is Geographic Expeditions (1008 General Kennedy Ave., San Francisco, CA 94129; 800/777-8183 or 415/922-0448).

Geographic Expeditions told me that they do not take groups there but they can arrange a private trip for you to Pumalín for any length of time you’d like. Among activities are sea kayaking, hiking, fly-fishing, sailing, wildlife viewing and relaxing in hot springs. Pumalin trips range greatly in comfort level as well as activities and start at $450 per person per day. This includes accommodations, meals (nearly 100% organic) and private guided services.

You will find that Geographic Expeditions advertises monthly in ITN, and you can contact them either directly or through your travel agent.

Dear readers, our town’s only music store closed recently. I asked the owner why, after nearly a hundred years in a community that had grown from 5,000 to 50,000, the town no longer could support his type of business.

He said he had carried a full line of instruments and that near the beginning of every school year parents and kids would flood his door to test the shiny new saxophones and trombones. Then no one bought them from him anymore, and yet a few months after school started the kids would show up wanting saxophone reeds or trombone slide oil. Their parents had bought their tooters at the big box stores or online. Finally, he decided he no longer could make a living just selling packs of reeds.

I find that retail travel agencies have an opposite problem. The easy trips — the “reeds” of our business that are easily profitable because even the lowest-salaried employees can handle them — are being purchased elsewhere, mostly online, whereas the complicated trips are flooding our doors.

Formerly, travel agents could be trained in a matter of months (I’m reminded of checkers at supermarkets) but no longer.

Joan Welch of Pinellas Park, Florida, writes, “What I don’t understand is the aversion travelers have to using a travel agent. Mine saves me so much time and money.”

She continues: “Once you develop a rapport with a knowledgeable agent, he or she can give you a lot of options that you weren’t aware of. My long-term relationship with our travel agent has gotten us countless upgrades, unique boutique inns and personal connections with people at our destination. Best of all, he was able to find us when a personal incident back home occurred. May I suggest that you tell your readers what a bargain travel agents are?”

Thank you, Joan. You have just done so, perfectly.