Island hopping

Trip Start Jan 19, 2008
Trip End Jan 23, 2008

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Flag of Chile  ,
Saturday, January 26, 2008

We left early on Saturday morning and travelled to the border at Puyehue via Villa Angostura. The border crossing involved 2 stops. At the first barrier on the Argentine side we collected a slip with the number of passengers in the vehicle and then stopped st the customs building to have passports stamped and car details verified. We then travelled for about 40mins in 'No Man's Land' - a stretch of land between the two countries before reaching the Chilean border.
From there we headed past Lago Llanquihue to Puerto Montt, passing the most amazing scenery and taking photos of volcanoes left right and centre. From Puerto Montt we went to Pargua where the road at the end of the mainland ends and we caught a ferry across to the island of Chiloe, headed along the coast road to Quemchi where we met Tomas and his family. Tomas is from the island of Caucahue and this is where we were headed. He organised for a small boat to pick us up, we left the cars and with our rucksacks crossed to the island. As we approached he pointed out the house we were going to where his mother still lives with his brother and his family. We were introduced and then went for a walk to explore the farm and land around the house. It truly felt out of this world but wasn't the only place on this trip where I felt like this.
It was as if we had travelled back in time, at least 100 years. There are no phones, no electricity and most are quite self sufficient. They have maintained skills which we in the West have lost. We ate a feast, all provided by our hosts, with beverages provided by us. 13 of us sat at a table and there were more in the kitchen. Our campsite was the field at the back of the house. We laid out our sleeping bags and slept.
At 415am we woke as we were heading out to the festival at Caguache, along with hundreds of others, or so I thought. We walked along the beach, caught a small car ferry (4-6 cars worth) in the dark which took us back to the island of Chiloe to collect others. We were all foot passengers and had plenty of space unlike some of the other ferries we saw when we arrived. It was a 3 and a half hour crossing during which the sun came up, we warmed slightly, drank mate and sat on the hot spots on the floor. There were 9 of us - Tomas and his family and Alvar, Gerardo, David y yo. As we arrived at the island and the clouds grew we saw hundreds of small boats moored in front of the church. There were a few houses around a church in front of which was a field, long and reasonably wide, about 4 football pitches in size. Around the edge were stalls and tents and thousands of people. Numbers grew steadily throughout the day, they must have reached 5000. There was a service in a beautifully decorated church and those who could not fit in waited patiently outside where the service was relayed. Unfortunately, the clouds which had threatened rain earlier looked even more threatening and as we had risen at 4 we found a place to stop and eat at about 1030. Perfect timing. As the 4 of us sat waiting for our 2 dozen empanadas to arrive the rain began. People swarmed in, soaking but we already had our seats and were warm and comfortable. 2 dozen emapanadas later, a few cups of tea and a siesta for some and the rain had stopped. We ambled down to the beach, taking in the sights and watched the coming and going of the boats before finally bording our own after the procession of Jesus el Nazareno to the cross. It was the culmination of a 3 day festival and many more people returned to the beaches for the return journey. It resembled slightly a scene of the Normandy beaches, thousands waiting weary and dirty to load onto the boats.
We returned to the farm to find half a lamb cooking on the asado and were treated to mussels in shells the size of my fist. Amazing, they were so tasty. The hosts were such fabulous hosts, enjoying the change of routine but proud and happy to share everything with us. We sat around the fire, eating meat, the staple diet in the summer months for Argentines, Tomas and his family left and we collapsed wearily into our sleeping bags.
Waking with the sun on my face in the tranquility of the island farm was a great start to my week. I couldn't help but spare a thought for those back in England who at that time must have all already been at work!!!
After breakfast Grandma brought out woollen socks that she had made and then lines of wool which she had made herself from their own sheep. She explained how she strung it out and then had to wash it. The feel of the unwashed wool was very different.
We hopped onto a small boat with one of Tomas's brothers who we were giving a lift to somwhere near Llanguepe. It had picked us up first, then Umberto and then we stopped to collect someone else. As we pulled away the rotor got caught up in the rope and the engine died. Alvar stripped to his boxers and in freezing sea water proceded to try to free the rotor. It took 20 minutes and a small kitchen knife to hack through and free it and by that time his temperature had dipped. He climbed out, declaring he was fine but a little cold and changed into dry clothes in the cabin. Not many of us would have withstood even 5 minutes in the freezing water. Someone had to do it he said!
With mate with us to warm him from the inside we drove North up the island to Chacao to catch the ferry back to the mainland. We headed up and along the bay, past Puerto Montt where David headed back to Bariloche and we headed down to La Arena a tiny little town.There were four of us by this time in the truck, Gerardo and I wrapped up in the back. The road at La Arena leads to the sea and then stops, where a ferry then continues across the water to another part of the mainland. Ferries (which take approximately 20 vehicles) are vital for travelling as it would take hours and hours to drive around and in many cases the roads just don't exist. We then headed East which, according to the map I have in front of me of Chile, is impossible as there is no road!! There was a road, but 'ripio' which is not tarmac, the same as in Argentina. Many of the roads are of ripio and the plants along the side are grey from the dust which it generates! The fuel guage in the truck was no longer working and Alvar figured we had enough fuel to take Umberto to his place, return to where we were to camp and then travel on to the next petrol station, which is hours and hours away. How different from England where in reality it is hard to run out of petrol, here the petrol stations really are few and far between - hundreds of miles between.
We finally arrived late at the place we were to find out information as the plan was to try to climb a volcano if the weather improved. While Alvar went to find info we made camp by the beach, making camp in this instance being lighting a fire and warming water for mate and preparing food. Alvar returned with info and a guide for tomorrow so we packed ruckscacks ready for the ascent. Once again we slept out under the stars and awoke early to meet Juan at 7am...
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