Trip Start Dec 03, 2005
38Trip End Jul 19, 2007
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Where I stayed
I had now done the road the entire length of Chile, a whole 12606km (7833 miles), and seen all extremes. From lakes to deserts, from the chilly south to the baking north, mountains to beaches, total isolation to bustling cities and much more. The highlights were definitely trekking across the border from El Chaltén to Villa O'Higgins and sleeping in a government building, Cerro Castillo, the Elquí valley and seeing the eclipse in the Atacama desert.
When Claudia said "is there any reason why you shouldn't?" my mind was made up and I was heading back to Chile to hitch the Carretera Austral all the way north to Chaitén. I had met up with Claudia again in El Calafate to see the Perito Moreno glacier along with Klaas and Valerie whom I met in El Chaltén previously. Where better to start our hitching than from El Calafate to El Chaltén. Our first host was Luis with a tanker of combustible fuel (ssshhh, don't tell his employer, apparently it's illegal to carry passengers, understandably) and then Liza and Jose Luis whose tent broke in the once-in-eighteen-years storm a few days before.
Klaas was the master behind the route as he had just done it in reverse. It would involve a bus from El Chaltén to Lago El Desierto, a boat to the other end of the lake, trekking ten kilometers to Chilean customs at Candelario Mancilla, followed by another boat and a transfer to the town of Villa O'Higgins.
It looked quite easy except the first boat wasn't working. Well, I lie when I say it wasn't working. Apparently it wasn't working in just one direction, the direction we were going. Can't say I quite understand but we are talking South America here! And so our trek of ten kilometers was extended by fifteen more. After a quick break at the Argentinian customs, sipping maté with the guards, we continued on a bit further as it was still daylight and it would mean less walking the next day. We arrived at an unoccupied house that appeared to be a Chilean government building of some kind, helicopter pad and all. And it was here where I decided to commit my first crime of not-break and enter. The door was unlocked and so I took it to be an invitation to anyone caught out on a cold Patagonian night to enter. I was hoping no one would appear unannounced as it could mean a night's sleep in a completely different type of government building! Free accomodation though...hmmm...
The rest of the trip went smoothly and we finally arrived in Villa O'Higgins after two days hard slog. Unfortunately, the Patagonian winter seemed to arrive at the same time and I had to change my plans. With the flimsy sleeping bag I had and no tent, the cold nights ahead didn't look too appealing. Claudia, being the German that she is, was all organised and had everything that I didn't so she continued on with the original plan. I said my goodbyes and caught the next bus north, skirting by Lago General Carrera (the second largest lake in South America), aiming for Villa Cerro Castillo. This would also mean that I couldn't take up Klaas' offer to buy his horses. I had wanted to travel the whole of South America by horse and came so close to doing it in the end, but it just wasn't to be.
There is a lovely four day trek here that ends up at Cerro Castillo which was on the original plan but with the limited resources that I had, I had to do as much as I could in one VERRRRY long day. Whilst looking for the start I noticed a dog seemed to be following me. She stayed about ten metres behind and every time I stopped, she would stop. Eventually she moved closer until she wouldn't leave my side. I decided to call her Foow as she seemed to be the opposite of Woof who did some of the trail with me on Isla Navarino. Needless to say, the hostel owner wasn't too chuffed when she found a shaggy stray in the garden but couldn't get rid of her and I found her outside the front door the next morning. When she realised I was leaving next day as I hopped into a car, like a Hollywood film, she chased the car until I could no longer see her. If I could have taken her with me, I would. I felt so bad leaving her behind.
Sadly or otherwise, the show must go on and I eventually found myself back on terra blissa. After a whole two months of limited food resources I had returned to the land where it was just too easy to get your hands on cakes. Puerto Varas, the home of kuchen, pasteles, tortas, chocolate cakes, strudel, you name them and I ate them. I was *FARTing big time and enjoying it. Well, I had to celebrate having just done the entire Carretera Austral, including the bit at the far south (Villa O'Higgins) and the bit at the north (Hornopirén). Any reason is good enough for me!!
And sadly that time must come to an end also and I headed north towards Santiago. I had given myself until then to decide whether I was heading north to Central America, west to Japan and Russia or east, home. Depth or breadth? Quality or quantity? Which should I go for? Decisions, decisions. It reminded of meeting a politician in York (UK) once who said "I hate making decisions".
I managed to see a bit of the Semana Valdiviana, Viña del Mar festival and a fiesta in Vicuña celebrating the anniversary of their founding. In Vicuña, I found out the relevance of the woman, Gabriela Mistral, on the five thousand peso note and also visted the Mamalluca observatory where I saw the Moon, Saturn and Sirius and learnt about the VLT (Very Large Telescope) on Cerro Paranal and OWL (Overwhelmingly Large telescope, imaginative people!) which will use digital technology to bring the universe closer to the public. Needless to say, being the centre of production of the Pisco grape, I vishithed a ffeew Pishqueríasss ashwell!
I had heard rumours of a lunar eclipse on the same day as the full moon and thought I couldn't possibly witness it anywhere better than lying back on a sand dune in the middle of the Atacama Desert with a Pisco Sour in hand. I took a tour to Valle de la Luna (Moon Valley) and watched the sunset and then we zoomed over to Valle de la Muerte to watch the eclipsed moon rise. This was spectacular. There was no light pollution and while the moon was eclipsed hundreds of stars came out to play. It was truly captivating.
By now I was wishing I could find an oasis of sun free snow as it was sweltering up here at thirty degrees celsius and I had become used to temperatures more like zero! They hadn't seen any decent rainfall for years (and no, this time I didn't manage to get to see some twenty year record breaker! Disappointed, but hey ho) and apparently the area is getting drier year by year with less rain falling.
Heading north towards the coast I thought it might become a bit cooler with a coastal breeze. Oooh no. But I did manage to become famous though. Out of the hundreds of people there, I was selected to feature in a news article about tourism in Arica. (Ed: I would like to correct this and say that it was actually out of desperation as there were so few tourists around!). While visiting the museum about the war between Peru and Chile (on the Morro in Arica) some journalists from El Mercurio came up and asked me if I would mind being photographed for their article? Typically they didn't take me on my best side and I almost broke the camera lense!
Oh well, no better way to end my time in Chile I say!
*FART : Fat Absorption Replacement Therapy
Dead toe report
My big toe died when doing the John Garner pass in Torres del Paine. It was still dead while doing the trek on Isla Navarino and I report that there has been no change, it's still dead as a toe-toe. D'Oh, meant dodo! Just in case you were enquiring after the health of my toe...again...