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Sunday, February 15, 2009

Dan McDougall, Observer: "Welcome to my world" (Doug Tompkins' private Patagonian nature reserve)

Dan McDougall, Observer: Doug Tompkins' Patagonia

Welcome to my world

Doug Tompkins made a fortune "selling people countless things they didn't need." Now he's spending it saving the planet. Dan McDougall enters his private Patagonian wilderness to hear how the tycoon turned environmentalist has declared war on industrialists, whalers -- and Greenpeace

A dark intertwine of deep green fjords stretches beneath us towards the horizon where the confluence of the glacial current merges with the black stillness of the open sea. Far to the south, where epic waves torment Cape Horn's cold granite cliffs, three great oceans -- the Pacific, the South Atlantic and the Antarctic -- meet in a cacophony of turbulent waves and deadly squalls. It is the stormy heart of the most unpredictable weather system on earth. "My Patagonia," in the words of the poet Mario Miranda Soussi, "is a landscape of infinite water, torn apart by a torrent of love, navigating a single river swollen by miracles."

The verdant terrain we are crossing at 500ft above the Patagonian rainforest canopy is no less violent: fern-covered Jurassic mountains crashing into each other, snarling vegetation suffocating the trees, roaring rivers tossing huge boulders and rocks kilometres downstream. Fleetingly, we fly over a few small corrugated tin houses, their red roofs glinting in the evening sun; remote dwellings only there, it seems, to show how vast the terrain is. Even the mighty Andean Condor, with its 3-meter wingspan, appears no bigger than a seagull in this landscape.

The shadow of the plane that carries us is lost on the side of an enormous massif as we begin to lose altitude. The single prop dips and weaves in the thermals as we approach the tree line, cutting the uppermost branches off a 200-year-old pine tree, and then hurtles towards the dusty runway. Our pilot is Doug Tompkins, 66, a multimillionaire philanthropist conservationist and the most controversial American in South America. He is an individual at the vanguard of a new aggressive environmentalism who has spent hundreds of millions of his own dollars buying up a slice of Patagonia the size of Northern Ireland, and has practically split a sovereign country in two -- all in the name of saving the world. Fifteen minutes earlier, Tompkins had flown us over the gaping crater of his own volcano, and taken an impossible 360-degree turn so close to the lip that we almost passed out from the sulphurous emissions.

[This article is long but well worth the read, so I posted on my reference blog (where I keep the longer articles) and you can get to it by clicking here, or you can go to The Observer, here.]

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