The last installment…it’s all about the journey, although arriving at the destination was a relief!
For the past 5 months, Laurent & I have been traveling around going from one jaw-dropping landscape to the next. It took us 6 long weeks to get from El Chalten, Argentina up the Carettera Austral to Puerto Montt in Chile. Read the first ‘chapter’ of our adventure here, the second part here and the third over here. But it was well worth the effort and time. This was truly some of the most beautiful nature I have ever seen in my life. Patagonia in this part of Chile, was vastly different than anything I had ever experienced. Probably due the diversity found here and a certain purity and feeling of remoteness about the place. Turquoise rivers of unreal colors helped give it a distinctively beautiful quality too.
Landscapes that had been carved out by glaciers and tumbling waterfalls were everywhere along the road:
I saw flowers I have never seen before:
And some places so green and lush thanks to the nearby Pacific coast:
We even made our way out to the Pacific Ocean where we could watch dolphins playing offshore and where I discovered wild strawberries growing in the sand dunes! They tasted like candy.
We luckily stumbled upon a festival where we could sample real Patagonian lamb-asado style and I got to try my first Chilean food-the Sopapilla (pumpkin dough fried crisp and topped with pebre (a Chilean condiment made of tomatoes, onions & cilantro):
In Coyhaique (which is sort of in the middle of the Carretera Austral) we were happy to have the benefits of a real ‘city’. 50,000 people live here and so there was a real supermarket (lots of fresh produce!), high-speed internet and banks!! We treated ourselves and rented a cabana for 4 days. I cooked and we showered. We got cash! From a machine! What luxury. Rainbows peeked out our windows. Life was good.
Then it was back to life on the road. Most of the time it was crazy, dirty and surprisingly hot. But I wouldn’t trade the experience for anything. And as crazy this whole journey north started, it finished that way too. As many great people we met, no one could prepare us for the meeting of El Padrino (the godfather).
Our last day of hitchhiking was from La Junta to Chaiten. What happened to us here is one for the books!! There was literally a sea of other hitchhikers waiting in La Junta! I had never seen such heavy competition before. We went to the outskirts of town. Along the way we passed a crazy-guy-type of hitchhiker (waving his thumb frantically) and we wanted to get as far away from him as possible (crazy types always decrease your chances). We were only waiting about 1 hour when a truck slowed down in front of us. He wasn’t going to Chaiten but he was going halfway. Good enough.
The guy did not stop for the crazy guy but we did see another hitchhiker, who had been waiting further up the road, in the back of his truck. We piled our bags in the back. Laurent got in the back with the dog and the other guy. I thought the man who picked us up must be so kind to pick up a total of 3 hitchhikers! But wait, it gets better.
Slightly further down the road was another couple and the driver picked them up too! And further down the line, 2 more people (two young girls) got picked up! The pick-up truck was maxed out. The driver & his son sat in the front. Four of us girls squished in the back and Laurent, the 2 other guys and a dog (who was busy marking his terrirtory, shitting and pissing) were in the back.
What happened next was straight out of a movie. I won’t get into all the details but our driver, who referred to himself as ‘Don Luis’ invited us to sleep at his house. He was going to Chaiten the next day and agreed to drive all of us. He also showed us ‘the most beautiful view in all of Patagonia’
& made a giant asado for all of us
We drank his homemade wine out of a gaucho canteen (he instructed us on proper drinking techniques):
He played his guitar and belted out tunes from the ‘campo’ (farm)
We listened to his amusing stories (like about the time he saw Carlos Santana at Woodstock!) and we all danced the salsa (Laurent & I feebly tried to) while drinking (much more) of his homemade wine and cocktails of vodka and amarreto. Let’s just say, it was quite the night. The kind of night that could only be formed when a small series of coincidences and ‘chance’ happenings lined up to create magic. Friendships were formed and by the end of the crazy night, we discovered Don Luis’ real name….El Padrino (the godfather). Only El Padrino could bring about this kind of night and it all stemmed from us getting into that truck for a lift. Magical things happen when you let go of preconceived notions and take a chance.
The next day, he drove us all to Chaiten as promised (site of a huge devastating volcanic eruption in 2008, read all about it here). We had a farewell lunch together and then El Padrino drove off into the distance with a wave of his hand. What a fitting end to a grand journey. We had almost reached the end of our adventures. Almost. The Carretera Austral continued up a bit further through Parque Pumalin before reaching the end at Puerto Montt. We planned to camp a bit in the park and do some exploring before returning to civilization (Puerto Montt).
That idea got halted by the sole ATM in the town not responding to either my card or Laurents. Great. We were out of cash. Like literally no money out of cash! The next series of events are what helped create our crazy ending to a crazy beginning (of course coupled with the previous nights antics!). We had to wait three days to leave town (I know…we couldn’t believe it either). All buses & ferries were full! The quickest option was to take a ferry and thank god we were able to use our credit card to purchase the tickets otherwise we’d still be in Chaiten! We had to book a cabin because no seats were available costing us more than double of what we thought we would have to pay.
WE were able to exchange a few US dollars we had with a girl and a kind Chilean guy lent us 10,000 pesos! We camped the next 3 nights and ate crap food (that’s all we could afford) and tried to conserve money. Things were getting trying. It was hot. I was pissed. Laurent & I argued. It was not fun. We just wanted to leave and return to civilization. But it kept getting worse.
The day of the ferry departure, the boat broke. We were forced to wait for over 6 hours not knowing what was going on. The scene down by the ferry was pure chaos. At one point, the boat was not even going to be fixed. It lay out in the harbor tempting us all the while. There were rumors that there was no mechanic. Finally at 9 pm (we were supposed to leave at 2) we left Chaiten. The ferry was 10 hours long and felt that much longer due to our snoring-so-loud-the-walls-were-literally-shaking cabinmate. We were so relieved to finally arrive in Puerto Montt that I practically kissed the ground when we got there!
Coming up north through Chile via the Carretera Austral was an unforgettable experience. Even though it was at times crazy and tested the limits of our relationship, I wouldn’t have changed a thing. We saw some of the most stunning nature Patagonia and Chile has to offer, met some of the friendliest people (hitchhiking restored my faith in human kindness!) and in general had a great adventure. I never imagined myself hitchhiking in my lifetime-always thinking it ws too dangerous. I’m so glad we took a chance on it here. It took so much longer than either one of us thought it would but it also allowed us to see the beauty in slow travel. When I thought about how we started in El Chalten and then waiting for the horses to cross the border and everything that followed after that, I truly realized the meaning of it’s all about the journey, not the destination.
And one more important thing. This beautiful nature is in danger of being destroyed. Check out this website: Patagonia sin represas (Patagonia without dams). An international energy company is trying to utilize hydro-electric power by building dams on some of Patagonia’s most treasured and picturesque rivers. Imagine huge power lines running all across this wild landscape.
A shame. Please support this cause, especially if you are traveling to the area. Keep Patagonia sin represas!