CHILE: Pucón>Puerto Montt>Chaitén>Futaleufu

Trip Start Mar 03, 2006
Trip End Aug 30, 2006

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Sunday, August 6, 2006

28th: The night bus was the best yet "semi bed executive" class, but it was a vvvvv cold ride.....when I arrived in Pucon, I was amazed to see clear skies and no rain......seemed to be havin a lucky run of good weather against the odds of the season... pure rain, cold, wind.... the town was very very pretty.. tranquil.... reminded me of swiss, german or french country hamlets..... basic centre grid of streets and all the village like shops with a bias towards tour agencies of course.... the country-like housing had smoke coming from chimeneys and all that... got a real winter wonderland feel for the area after wondering around the nippy centre for a whole hour with accommodation lists, I landed right on my feet and this sweet lady's house with guest rooms for lodging.. very helpful, non business like appraoch.. chatted away about the area and all that. very interested in my travels. genuinely friendly.. room was like a box but cosy. had kitchen facilities, gas heated shower, and good company.. no more needed. Aga powered by wood as fuel. very authentic and rustic... was only 5mins walk from the stunning lake Villarica...
Had tried to get the seemingly cheapest accommodatoin on offer but by no means the most basic digs (house right on shore with full ammenities?!), but no one answered. I was more than content to have the reception I got and the company of 1 other gringo at my place. even got discount for being a non chilean traveller. peak season is THEIR summer hols ie DEC-JAN so all good.

Pondering over and over exactly how long to hang around in this picturesque town...weighing up time factors, potential weather hazards and money issues.... priority was to find out weather forecast and check out tour options since the area has sooo much to offer...... went to a couple of agencies who had rip off prices, but in the end I was grabbed by one company offering a special combo tour 2 for price of 1: tour of the zone in bus followed by sunset bathing in natural hot springs (termas)....was practical so didn't hesitate to jump aboard.... we got a short guided tour of the surrounding countryside of Pucon including several smaller lakes, 2 interlocking rivers (Turbio & Trancura), Ojos de Caburga (several streams of water entering a common pool) and many cascades/rapids on the rivers ideal for hardcore rafters. We finished up at the Caburga lake behind which reside the country's A-list celebs include the president... The lake has natural beachs but now in winter the tide level has covered them considerable. interesting.
The imposing white-covered but active and smoking Volcan Villarica (Volcano) could be seen from differnt angles inthe near distance. Strange contrast of pumping smoke seeming to come from a white-covered cone-shaped mountain in between purely green landscape. Weird. Knew I was going to overstay my allocated time there but didn't mind it one bit! Though the wind was strong and nippy, one didn't notice it at all in awe! From there we headed to the hot springs or thermal pools, very rustic and varying in temperatures considerably..

all water coming down from the mountains so fresh as. This was the ideal way to chill out after a hectic time in Santiago and an overnight bus.... got inside one external pool which was like 50 degrees no joke. took me 10 whole mins to get in and then couldn't move for fear of scolding. was nice stationary though. The other pools were warm and luke warm, 2 covered pools and 2 external muddy/gritty hole type excavations lol. loved it! stars were appearing as the sun set which added to the experience. All worth it after all. Wound down well then got early night.

29th: No rest for wicked attitude....enrolled the same night with same company to climb the massive Volcan Villarica for a rather expensive fee... Though we were glad to have been blessed with the sun and no rain, the conditions proved too treacherous like.... a third of the way up the mountin mid morning, still within the confines of the ski resort (chairlifts almost around us etc though resort closed), we just had to head back.... were kitted out like men climbing Everest with poles, ice axe, goggles, waterproofs and layers of clothing and ample food, we had lived a little of the experience at least... The winds were beyond gale force, and we had approached the main ascent to the crater with steeper slopes and inches and inches of snow to contend with as well.. Visibility was poor, snow was swirling everywhere and the wind was was hard to stay upright.... all other agencies had decided the same so no one could reach the summit that day.. peace of mind haha!!! There was a good 5 hours climbing left to do so we would have rached the summit beyond the cut-off point of 3pm anyhow....crazy! soooo instead we took time climbing down and took many photos of the area and volcano .impressive topography.

No refunds available of course so we agreed to stick around at the foot and myself, a fearful Irish lass Sarah and a Chilean bloke Gonzalo built snowmen and continued to wonder around in our gear etc... bit disappointed but glad to be back to the ground. By the way, the active volcano has apparently been long overdue an explosion but the warning scale indicator is at low right now!?!?! don't know how reliable this may be lol! Even though we only got a third of the way up, I was shattered from all this malarky....... later that afternoon I wondered around the centre of Pucon some more and bumped into the 2 english guys I wenton the pampas/savanna tour with in Bolivia lol.... Ian and Taz had been in Pucon for a few days and had bypassed most of Chile hence our random meeting... They mentioned they were going to the Huerquehue National Park the next day, another of the main highlights of the area.... Conscient I should really leave the next day in the evening latest, I ended up deciding to go with them and booking my bus to Puerto Montt. Night I just ended up taking refuge in the house and chatted to my fellow resident, an erratic German girl..... that was nice enough of course....

30th: after a short bus ride to the park entrance, the three of us Brits went off exploring on a trail alone instead of hiring a guide. we were informed at the entrance that due to the weather of course, most of the park was inacessible (snow-covered)...that was fine for me as I could only spend 5 hours max in the confines which was enough.....we took the 7km "3 lakes path" which began in woodland/forest areas then led into wet boggy land and finally up windy narrow passages clearly identifable form the clearing work done by the rangers. Felt like we were in the Chronicles of Narnia/The Snowman film with branches and leaves with snow or frost on everywhere...dodgying around and ducking below all this.... very slippery also....
The highlights were 2 waterfalls and 2 watchpoint openings allowing panoramas. I knew I wouldn't reach the end of the only open path within 3 hours in time to catch the bus 2hours later, so we went more slowly than some other groups.... the waterfalls were powerful and beautiful.... one had smaller waterfalls entering pools then a main one crushing down and spraying us..... from the watchpoints the whole width of the lake and surrounding landscape were visible as was the volcano in the distant background... an ideal painting opportunity for the keen artist...precious!

After chomping at lunch quickly, I said my second goodbye to the English couple and scarpered back to the beginning... Had 2 hours to kill in Pucon before transfer down to Puerto Montt so I walked the shore of Lake Villarica and took more photos....activities weren't going on so it was nice to see it "unspoilt". Spent the last bit of time with the host family who I was sad to leave frankly.... the woman reminded me of my great aunty Mary visually!

6 hours later, I arrived in P.Montt, the end of the Lake District and gateway to northern Chilean Patagonia alike... here the mainland splits into the Island of Chiloe etc and other islands on the pacific side and the Carretera Austral starts benneath P.Montt. At 10pm, the port town was damn cold...... had been recommended a hostel form the Pucon lady so I just taxied it there not taking chances. Aaparently fake hostal-promoting folk linger around the terminal and take you out to remote areas and the rest is left for the imagination.....Was greeted by this posh but crazy (originally Buenos Aires born lady) who asked me to take off shoes and gave me sandals to wear as if I were in a German household etc... upstairs I had my bed with electric blanket waiting for me.... niiiiice treat not rejected.....

31st: Awoke unsure what to expect from the town in terms of weather or things to do......... spoke with the landlady and weighed up options... she had 2 cute but hyper dogs - mother & daughter dancing champions apparently... many photos of them around the kitchen and they were spoilt rotten.... Shakira and Cookie they were...

Anyway, I heard there was a 10hour boat leaving that lunchtime for Chaiten on the Carretera Austral....otherwise I could get a bus straight to Bariloche, Argentina...or stick around... The weather was still pretty fair despite forecast for rain/snow/wind/cold so I jumped on the ferry without thinking too mch about it..... Was the only foreigner aboard the pretty reasonable car ferry and had a good seat... mainly went on it to defy nature and say I had been to Chilean Patagonia in the heigh of their winter whilst the UK had been "suffering/revelling" in a long-lasting heat wave lol...... knew transport from isolated Chaiten to the bordering town of Futaleufu wouldn't be daily and heavily weather/demand dependent but wasn't bothered at this stage.... Hmm....... was happily exploring the decks and taking in the coastal and insular scenery...
As the ugly and boring Puerto Montt/Chilean mainland faded in the distance, soon came blocks of land to the left and right of the ship.... headlands of Chiloe Island could be made out half way along the journey with mountains appearing inbetween the green mounds.....sunset was a great orange/purple over towards the Chiloe direction. Had onboard refreshments and TV and 2 nice Chilean girls to ask advice from....... Got to Chaiten at 10pm and immediately felt the sub zero welcome....-15oC? luckily enough the deal is that free public minibuses drive down to collect passengers arriving from north and drop off northbound passengers alike.. so I just jumped in 1 van and headed to his home....again a great family set up in Hospedaje Anita...... had my own small box wooden room in the attic...was glad to be indoors....Anita has 4 teenage kids and was putting up other national folk when I got there so I was just an addition to the whole affair... Her kitchen had an aga in it and all, so was loving it. Didn't takew long to take shelter in my bed. Slightly antisocial but tough.

1st: The fun begins.. Welcome to a world semi cut off from the rest in the sense of transportation..... kinda took it for granted that I was gonna get a bus the following day or morning the day after but oh no. After my basic brekkie served by the maid, I headed to the joke of a bus terminal... staff werent even there, just chilling in their shack of a house next door..... was informed the next bus was late afternoon on 2nd for Futaleufu (Argentine border town pretty much parallel in latitude) or morning of 3rd down to Cohaique (12 hours south along the stunning Carreterra Austral and near another Argentina border down ie middle Patagonia)...Well I was kinda freaked by this news and that a change in weather was due any moment potentially affecting the transport lol.. Ferry back to Puerto Montt was on Fri 4th and there was only 1 daily flight back there with 10passengers only lol... Hmmmmmmm There and then I knew I had made a little mistake in going that far south in the country but instead of venturing further south still and subsequently reducing time in Argentina, I booked the Futaleufu bound bus for the 2nd meaning I had to pass a day and a half there..... no toursit around at all so felt unique............ many businesses and restaurants closed due to virtually no need to be open lol except coooooooooooooooooooooooool and windy otherwise.......
not much entertainment so I made friends with the Canadian bus company owner and pursued to accompany him for the afternoon since his Chilean wife and kids were away on vacation......Niko was cool but strange... proposed we go to nearby national park or glaciers far out but I preferred staying indoors and asked info on the region... Finally, he offered to take me round in his van....I mean, Chaiten consists of merely 6 rocky road running north-south and about the same east-west for 1km max.. Evryone one knows each other scenario....... got to see the town park, and museum proudly guarded by the military..... had free once over tour of the museum detailing the engineering masterpiece that is the "Carretera Austral", as well as historical elements on the area. The Carretera (road) streches tens of Ks south linking isolated settlements surrounded by mountains and small lakes/fjords. Was hoping to get at least a bus ride half way down but schedules weren't on my side.... had a fine steak for dinner to warm the cockles up.... was only guest of course lol so good service....spent night doing lazy stuff indoors obviously.

2nd: one more morning to pass in this exposed, isolated tiny (provincial CAPITAL)....

Now the rain and thus snow further north had well and truly come.....awoke half fearing cancellation of bus or delays etc.... but was convinced not a problem.....actually attempted to walk along the seafront to get a view of what was beyond... nothing much....went to see Niko again and hung around a bit talking about all sorts to pass time..... also spent time with the host family as well but I had seen pretty much all of the town that was sanely achievable on foot. The second stressful event happened on our way to Futaleufu.... the bus was a clapped out people carrier with only 4 other passengers inside.. I mean it had been suggested to me to try to hitch hike all the way there the day before or ask at the petrol station... but was unlikely anoyone going that way at this time of year and I didn't fancy stadning outside in the bitter cold with heavy suitcase and sticking my thumb out for ages.... haha... could have been cool....

Aaaaanyway, this old banger decided to conk out on us on several occasions along the way.... the road was bumpy, the vehicule smelly and poorly insulated..once it got dark it was thoroughly depressing.. at least I could converse in their native lingo and work out what was going on... thankfully, the bonnet was raised and the water/petrol levels all topped up etc and we went on our way...they thought it was the battery initially.. I mean we were in the middle of nowhere in the sleety rain...took us 4 hours to reach Futa...From there someone aboard told me to run for a nearby residence which I did instantly.. The owners gave me one hell of a welcome and charged me half of what I was charged in Chaiten with a supper, tea, all thrown in front of me. I was treated like I had just been saved from a shipwreck or mountain emergency / natural hazard rescue lol... they too had this lovely aga puffing out smoke an radiating heat... the set up reminded me of my paternal grandparents farm and guesthouse when they had it running....

The old couple and neice fussed over me and insisted I kept warm.. Next door, the 80year old husband resumed entertaiing his punters in their "pub"... poeple were owning their pisco and beers lol whilst I dined in the kitchen feelin a little awkward... Then I suggested putting a mesage on the radio for someone who was crossing to Argentina the follwing day to come pick me up and be so kind as to take me there as the BUS was leaving on 4th, a day later lol..........differnt company and not at all in sink with my arrival here but oh well.. thus is 3rd world life...... was soooooo funny to hear my message on the radio... "this foreigner is looking to get to argentina tomorrow. if someone could call el campesino and drop by"........ main source of local communication..... had one response an hour later but the prospective driver wanted the equivalent of five pounds.. the cheek..... should be free with a little offering on my part but not a rip off.... thought stuff it, Il get the bus and make the most of my pampering.....

After one drunken local alcoholic had to regain composure in the couple's kitchen (they are heavly fined if found drunk on street!), I made way up to room which was cold as but had many blankets.... private shower........

3rd: awoke coldest yet. apparently the UNHEARD of cold wave has ben the coldest they can recall *eeek*.... around minus 15-20degrees or whatever.... got free brekkie in the morning and got escorted to the road which leads to the river...the main asset of the zone for arguably the world's most scenic and best rafting!!!!! otherwise the city was frozen over and mountains clouded least the snowhad stopped and I could walk around the ghost town. everyone was topping up their agas "estufas" and keeping well indoors apart from poor outoor manual workers like....spent the second part of the day in the internet caf writing this novel and laughing at my humbling authentic and eye-opening experiences...........but secretly glad to be leaving for Argentina the next day on another suspect bus service...... felt so at home that I was using the kitchen and offering them my dishwashing services and all that.. bless them indeed.

4th: day started in pouring rain at 7am............ Climbed aboard another people carrier and had an unnecessary interesting time at the border which had like no1 else passing through lol. a little shack with a tabel and that kind of environment if you please. but had hard time from Aargentine oficals nonetheless.. trying to find out wehre i lived..... then scanning my dozens of stamps to work out the validity of my entry.... then getting my name wrong.. bah!!!!
nice views of greeny brown flat pastures on way to Esquel on Argentinian side. passed through the Welsh strongohold of Trevelin but unfortunately my mini holdback in chile has prevented me from getting to know that area. another time, another trip to Patagonia completely methinks..... still, the feel was completely different from the chilean side... there was still snowy patches around but people going obout normally in a PROPER town lol... back to civilisation. then I managed to get straght on bus to Bariloche where I could have arived from Puerto Montt days before had it not ben for my patagonia impulse. spent aftee chilling and oprganising trip to Buenos Aires via another town above Bariloche, now in lake region.

Will be spending next 2-3 days here then have joy of 20hr bus ride to the cpital where I will meet friends and stay for 5 days.... cant wait but also semi looking forward to returning homeand semi lamenting my 3 weeks ish remaining....

Over and out.
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