Tuesday, November 2, 2010

Long waits on the Carretera Austral

We waived good-bye to the happy trio and walked a few kilometers out of Cholila. The evening was gorgeous and as usual, we happened to be passing by a perfect camping spot right when it was time to set up camp. We boiled tea, contemplated the sunset and went to sleep.
After a late rise and another pot of hot tea in the morning, we were sure of getting a quick ride to Esquel. This did not happen. That day we walked about 15 km on the dirt road and about 6 autos passed us, none of them willing to give us a ride. We camped near a cristal clear stream, once again passing a pleasant evening in the middle of nowhere, but already in Patagonia.In the morning we did not walk for 5 minutes before a pick-up screeched to a halt and gave us a lift straight to Esquel.
In Esquel our CS request was turned down so we had no desire in sticking around. We went over to the tourist office to inquire about the ancient Alerces and our hopes of seeing them were quickly reduced to dust: the only way of getting to them is by boat, 110 pesos ($40) per person... The boat does the trip once a week, two days for us to wait for the next trip. No chance, said we. We stoped by the camping ground to get a quick hot shower and walked out of town fresh and happy. 3 minutes of thumbing produced a quick ride to Trevelin. The guy was very friendly and went the extra bit to drop us off on the far side of town, near the police post.
We waved to the policemen as we walked by but apparently their official gazes do not register friendly gestures. None of the three acknowledged our presence. Ok, not the first time:)
We installed ourselves a little ¨down the stream¨ from the checkpoint and hitched in vain for about half hour. The traffic was light and mostly consisted of locals going to their local farms, some of them on horseback.
In a little while we got hitch-hiking company: two locals with small backpacks walked up to the police post, chated with them and started hitching 100 meters in front of us, thus bluntly violating the hitch-hiking etiquette. We got a little upset at first but later we wholeheartedly wished them luck. A few minutes after our change of mind we got a ride with a truck, leaving the other two hitchers behind.
That evening we reached the border. It started raining with hail as we approached the customshouse in the back of a pick-up. Luckily, there was a brand-new toilet building nearby (toilets closed for the season), with generous roof overhangs. We camped under it for the night, falling happily asleep listening to the sound of rain that was not getting us wet:)Since that night until now our main priority was keeping dry, as it never stopped raining. We looked for covered bus stops to hitch from and for roofs to sleep under. So far it worked, as there are many roofs in this rain country!
Having crossed into Chile once again, we headed to Chaiten, to see the town covered in ashes. Two years ago Chaiten had a population of about 5000, but now only 500 people live there. The authorities still consider it a ¨danger zone¨ (the volcano is still smoking) and discourage people from returning to their homes. There is no electricity in town, and no water supply. The few residents who live there run generators to produce electricity.
We arrived to Chaiten just after the night fall and it was creepy walking the deserted town under heavy rain. You could tell the inhabited houses by the buzz the generators were making. There were lots of roofs for us to choose from, and we chose the biggest of them all - the abandoned police station. There was a layer of about 20 cm of ash inside, rendering the building unfit for occupation. We camped in the main hallway and when we turned off the flashlight, the darkness was absolute. The silence was almost as intense, only the sound of falling raindrops audible.
In the morning we walked through town a bit. The scene was empressive, but we were surprised to learn that it was not the ashes themselves but the river that did most of the damage: When the ashes started falling, they dammed up the river, causing it to rise. The silt flooded the north part of town, but did little damage in the south part.Hitching out of this ghost-town was not easy. It was raining and the ¨one car per hour¨ schedule had us thoroughly bored and a little wet. Finally, we got a ride with the salmon farmers for some 70 kms. They explained us the farming process and dropped us off in ther middle of the forest near their turn-off. We spent some more hours there, contemplating the rough landscape and the low-hanging clouds that dispersed rain once in a while. The ditch near-by proved to be entertaining too, as it was home to the biggest Nalca plant (Giant rhubarb) we have ever seen!And a view from the inside, from the point of view of a Smoking CaterpillarWe were rescued from our wilderness meditation point by a VW bus. It was freshly painted light green and white, it moved extremely slow (40 km/h being the maximum cruising speed) and contained two ¨hippies¨ inside. Claudio the chilean and Mark the german. Claudio listened to Los Jaivas, had a big smile on his face and was friendly and talkative. Mark did not understand much Spanish (the two spoke German between themselves) and concentrated so much on the road that he never said a word. We wandered how long this oddly-paired partnership will last, as the guys were embarking on a round-the-South-America road-trip, this being their second day! They drove us to La Junta, where they were to spend the night with Claudio´s aunt. She went out to meet them at the main street of town, but turned out to be unresourceful to us. When Claudio asked if she had a roof under which we could pitch our tent, she shook her head and suggested to us that we look for a cottage to rent for the night instead. We thanked her and headed over to the abandoned gas-station at the entrance of town.The roof was solid and it looked like generations of travellers found shelter there. A part of the floor was swept cleen of rubbish to provide just enough space for our tent. We cooked lentils and drank cognac-sweetened tea (the cognac was of a very classy brand - Tres Palos (Three Sticks), made in Chile), listening to the sound of rain falling outside.
In the morning the road was as empty as the day before. It took us about three hours to get a ride to the next town of Puyuguapi. It was raining there, too. We did a tour of town looking for an acceptable roof to camp under. No luck this time! There were no abandoned houses there, so our only option was to head to the camping ground ¨La Sirena¨. We were the only guests there and easily convinced the owners to let us camp in the ¨kitchen facility¨, as the tin-covered shack with a wood-stove inside was proudly called. The aging owners Elio and Magdalena were very hospitable, they put on a roaring fire in the stove for us right away and even left a good-sized bundle of firewood for our use later on. Too bad there was about a foot-wide gap between the roof and the walls all around, otherwize we could have had a warm little space. We managed to dry most of our clothes around the stove though and went to sleep admiring the impermeability of the tin above our heads.In the morning Magdalena peeked in to start the fire for us (nice!) and told us that they were going to Puerto Aisen later on that day, and they could take us there, too! We were incredibly grateful to them for that, as we did not have to leave the side of the warm stove to miserably hitch in the rain:) A ride with the couple was slow over a wet rutty dirt road. Elio took it easy and we even stopped to collect some Nalca stems at a good spot.We loaded the harvest in the back of the van and continued on our journey. About 5 hours later they dropped us off at the intersection towards Coyhaique.
We walked to the other side of the road, downed our green ponchos and mentally prepared to get soaked, but the universe had arranged it otherwise: the very first car pulled over and we travelled to Coyhaique in warm comfort of a taxi off-duty. In town, the clouds cleared for the first time in a little while and a bit of the blue sky appeared.
We had a few contacts in town from before but none of them produced a shelter for the night. Unsure of what to do, we started walking out of town, eyeing up different roofs. When we were passing a house with a very agreeable car port, we asked if we could camp under it. The lady of the house had no problem with it. Half an hour later, she emerged once again and offered us to relocate to their guest cottage, that also doubled as an asado room. There was a fire pit in the corner and all the things needed to roast a BIG piece of meat were found therein. Once again we dozed off under a sweet tin protection from the elements raging outside.
In the morning Eleana and Fidel invited us to their kitchen to share some mate and converse a bit. We spent about an hour happily sipping on the ¨bombilla¨ and then Fidel drove us back to town and dropped us outside of his shop called ¨Casa de Mate¨. As soon as we finish posting this post, we will be on our way to share an afternoon mate with him there:) Chao.P.S. We were thinking lately: should we change the background colour of the blog to white? A few people told us that it is easier to read. What do you readers say?


  1. awesome stories and always - hope you're luckier with the weather in the future.

    and i really like the current design.

  2. Reading is much easier with new background color for us too. Great story, as usual!

  3. Hesi: there was no escaping the rain and we knew that (we even bought Special Green Ponchos especially for this section). We simply wanted to go through these landscapes that we have heard so much about on our trip.

    Thank you for the feedback, we shall keep the new theme then!

  4. Much easier to read! Before I had to copy the text into text editor

  5. "from the point of view of a Smoking Caterpillar" - love it :)

    PS the new tan background is neat too

  6. Katja and Augustas: Gees, guys, we feel mildly embarraced now for inconveniencing you all for such a long time... Our apologies.
    Vadik: too bad we had none, otherwise we would have spent much longer under that leaf...

  7. yea! I loved the caterpillar picture too :)

  8. yes! your blog sucked ass seriously up until this minute! how did i ever bring myself to read it before :)))