Every year, travellers head to Patagonia to marvel at the vast glaciers, huge open skies and soaring mountains. But at Omora Ethnobotanical Park on Tierra del Fuego, visitors are encouraged to think small.
Tierra del Fuego, a remote, windswept archipelago at the bottom of South America, might offer little in terms of animals and trees, but when it comes to lichen, fungi and bryophytes (the collective name for mosses, liverworts and hornworts) it is among the richest corners of the planet.
“In an area that represents less than 0.01% of the Earth’s land surface, we find more than 5% of the world’s bryophyte species,” said Chilean botanist Ricardo Rozzi, who is a passionate advocate of sustainable eco-tourism in the area. “And what’s more, because it’s so isolated here, over half of them are endemic.”
Rozzi is co-founder of Omora, located on Navarino Island, one of the larger islands of Tierra del Fuego and the last inhabited spot before Antarctica. It’s a world away from the trekking, rafting, kayaking and mountaineering for which southern Chile and Argentina are better known. Instead, visitors are encouraged to engage in a quiet, low-key kind of eco-tourism.
On entering the park, you’re given a magnifying glass and, guided by botanists, are invited to get down on your hands and knees to delve into the weird, little-known world of Tierra del Fuego’s “miniature forests” – the moss cushions and lichen crusts that cover the rocks and trees. Focus is key: as you tiptoe and crawl through the park, it is easy to miss or even step on them.