Going Nowhere on the Carretera Austral – Chile part 2

Going Nowhere on the Carretera Austral – Chile part 2

I hate that thing where blogs just die. Sorry. Also..I know it’s *bad* to start a post (or anything) with ‘I hate’. Again, oops. The world is still insane. Here in the UK – *home* –  we’re going to have another election cos we just can’t get enough of that democracy shit. I think that’s why anyway. And the yellow monster still has his tiny finger poised alarmingly close to the big red button, trembling with the indignation that only someone who has been slightly wronged on Twitter can fully understand. So, with disarming [ir]relevance, here is another post about Chile – a place I was in ages ago.

Feb 22nd-27th
I had to head back to Coyhaique the next day but I didn’t mind: I had an onward bus ticket for later in the afternoon to a fantastically named place called Puyuhuapi. The only possible snag in this plan was that I had to get out of Villa Cerro Castillo first and there was a risk that none of the infrequently passing buses would have space for me (and there was some competition from dejected hitchhikers for the few seats). But I was lucky and made it back in time for my next bus. The seemingly random departure time of of 3pm in fact means avoiding the afternoon closures on that stretch of road – these closures certainly add an extra element of *excitement* to travel around here.
I was happy to be going to Puyuhuapi because it rhymed because it meant I was going in the right direction, and because nearby was a national park with a lake and a glacier that didn’t require a tiring/terrifying hike half way up a mountain to see them. The scenery was predictably amazing, with a smooth paved road and dramatic twists and turns through the hills, becoming a potholed dirt road and a cloud-forest lined fjord landscape as we neared P-wap, as the locals don’t call it. It’s basically a little village at the northern tip of a fjord, with mostly mud roads and a tropical feel that I found a bit surreal but quite appealing – more Central American than Patagonian (though they had just finished celebrating a festival of maté which is pretty Patagonian). AdobePhotoshopExpress_6b9ecff65e3b413d8c6e5f3961d70e42AdobePhotoshopExpress_393a432abded438a86759033ee8e0957AdobePhotoshopExpress_3059e9c08db645c49be1ec54a65b7517AdobePhotoshopExpress_573b8d4605aa4523b4b79521e784e8c1AdobePhotoshopExpress_2f8bbd653da04f048f88159bef6f15e1As I watched kayakers drift on the water and wisps of cloud curling across the steep hills in the twilight, I continued my ongoing fantasy of being in my own private travel documentary. And I didn’t really mind that seemingly every 20 year old Chilean was in town meaning everywhere was full and I was pitching my tent in a wood shed. [A wood shed on a camp site, I should add – I’m not that adventurous]. P-wap (I can call it that if I like..) was founded by a group of Sudeten Germans in the 1930s – the upshot of this is that the local craft beer is called Hopperdietzel, and there are a couple of charming German B&Bs around town. After a night in the woodshed I convinced the people at Hosteria Alemana to rustle me up some breakfast and was relieved to get on a southbound bus to the entrance of Quelat National Park in search of that glacier (the Ventisquero Colgante). Leaving town, there was a line of hitchhikers strung out along the road as far as I could see (I counted maybe 25..) and I wondered how any of them ever got anywhere. It was a bit wet and cloudy but I didn’t think much of it, until at the park entrance the rangers informed me and various displeased looking Chileans that there was so much cloud we wouldn’t be able to see the glacier so there was no point going in.
[At this point I mentally formulated a Viz top tip that involved simulating the excitement of an expensive Patagonian holiday by simply googling pictures of glaciers and setting fire to a large pile of money.]
There wasn’t much to be done so I set off on the 20km walk back to town, with a vague hope that a bus would pass. After a fun 5km or so however I hit one of the road blocks. [See the picture at the top of the post!]. Oops, it was 1pm and that section of road was closing. I *did* know that would be the case but I optimistically thought that pedestrians would be allowed through. [But we weren’t because they were blasting the rockface with dynamite]. I ended up in a damp huddle (it was still raining) with 8 Chilean students who were all in the same predicament. Eventually we got chatting, though the novelty slightly wore off on both sides after a while. They were more keen to get to know each other  than the random English woman who could have been their mum, and I wasn’t loving the ‘but WHY are you travelling alone’ line of questioning. After 4 hours (!) hanging out by the roadside (some of which was under a makeshift shelter that the road block man helped us to construct), the road reopened and 9 of us stretched out along the roadside to try and get rides back to town! The 3 girls who were already at the roadblock when I arrived got in the first pick-up that offered – that took about half an hour. Then I and two other girls eventually got a ride after an hour and a half (and only because one of the boys pleaded with the driver!). I don’t know how long it took the remaining 3 guys to get a lift though they must have done as I saw that they were in town later. As well as the days fun and games, I’d worked out that there was no way of buying a north bound bus ticket for my next destination, Chaiten- you had to wait for one of the few buses to pass through (I think there were about 5 per week) and hope that there was a spare seat! Or try and hitch….
So I knew that I had to go *back* to Coyhaique or risk being stuck in P-wap for a week. I couldn’t face the prospect of last chance hostel Coyhaique so I booked the only thing I could find on booking.com : a gorgeous but budget-destroying hotel a bit out of town looking out over a river, and fittingly, with a handy view of the Carretera Austral.


Unfortunately there were no buses the next day, and I couldn’t afford another night at La Paserala (see above..), even If they’d had a room free which they didn’t. So I had to get over myself and head back to the Hotel Coyhaique. Sunday morning came round and I was up early to get my bus – thrilled to be leaving Coyhaique.

There was a small amount of drama (on my part) when I couldn’t open the security gates of the hostel to get out and the prospect of missing my bus and being stuck there forever meant I wasn’t exactly polite and friendly to the hostel guy when he eventually came to open them (ahem). When I arrived at the bus terminal….there was no bus. It was cancelled, as the road had been closed due to heavy rain. (This was the same weekend that the area around Santiago suffered devastating torrential rain so I guess there was some pretty extreme weather happening – though the sun was shining in Coyhaique). The woman at the bus company was switching people’s tickets for the next day’s bus if they wanted, but there was no guarantee that things would be back to normal by then so I just got a refund and then went back into town to ponder my absymal planning and resulting fate [which wasn’t so bad really with hindsight!]. By now, you won’t be surprised to hear that as I sat on a bench in the plaza, the temperature dropped and the sky darkened – yes, on Sunday 25th there was an annullar eclipse in that region of Chile. Taking bad photos of the sun not shining distracted me for a while, then I contemplated the options.
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It’s not that there isn’t loads to see in that region of Chile, but I felt like I was wasting alot of time and money in the one bit of the area that I’d seen quite thoroughly. My plan had been to travel up to Santiago and then continue overland quickly to Peru (possibly via Bolivia) and it was looking like it might take another couple of weeks before I reached the north of Chile at this rate. So I scrapped my no flights on this leg rule (having seriously overdone the flying in Asia) and checked out what -if anything- was possible. (Amazingly there’s an airport near Coyhaique, Balmaceda). Of course flights for that day were now through the roof, then sold out. But for the bargain price of about what I paid to get from London to Buenos Aires, there was a flight to La Paz, Bolivia, the next day (connecting in Santiago- absurdly if I just flew to Santiago that would cost twice as much as continuing on to Bolivia). Great. I was going to Bolivia – and though I really don’t recommend flying from sea level to 4000m, a bit of altitude sickness seemed like a better alternative than spending the rest of my life in Coyhaique.
Having burnt my bridges with the only available/affordable accommodation that I knew of, I had the brainwave of heading to a small town nearby, Puerto Aysen, to spend my last proper night in Chile (my final night was in Santiago airport!). You can actually take a ferry north from Puerto Aysen (no tickets for the next week, of course I checked..), but apart from that it has basically no tourist attractions so I thought there might be a chance of finding some accommodation there.

Happily there was Hostel Hudsan, also with a great seating overlooking a river.

Chile ended up being not at all what I had planned – mainly because I hadn’t planned – but believe it or not I now have quite a long list of things I want to go back for. (Though it’s unlikely my bank manager will ever let me leave the country again).

After Chile, there was a few days of La Paz, and almost a month of Peru before I came back to the UK and something resembling my version of normality. For (mostly my own record) I’d like to post about the remainder of the trip and I probably will do – but I’m going to try and avoid the massively annoying and slightly smug writing style that I struggled to shake off and mostly failed (smug is the last thing I felt while wandering around but my posts seem to suggest otherwise). So any further posts (about this trip) will be random, photo- centric and not in chronological order. And then maybe I’ll see if there’s any more mileage in a blog called Wanderetta written by a non-wanderer. Who knows!

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