Chaitén, Chile
42° 53' S 72° 39' W
Jan 06, 2004 19:56
Distance 300km

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Text written in: English

Chaiten (6 - 7 January 2004)

The following morning it was time to move on again and continue the beautiful Carretera Austral towards its northern terminal at Chaiten. The day before they told me that the trip to Chaiten would take around 15 hours, so I had decided to break up the trip and spend a night in Puyuhuapi, about half way. The bus, a small minibus for about 15 people left at 8:00 o'clock. The first tens of kilometers were tarred but after the stop in Puerto Aysen, the last decent sized town of the day, the road became the good old gravel again. With a speed of 60 or 70 kilometers an hour we continued our way, leaving clouds of dust behind us. What an incredible road this is. Who got the idea to construct this road in this area? It was very remote, but of course here and there still a few farms, but the scenery was amazing. High steep fjords, covered in dark green forests and grassy valleys with lots of old dry wood everywhere.

After about 4 hours we entered the Parque National Queulat, a 154.000 hectares even more beautiful piece of nature. Volcanic cones, covered in snow, glaciers and waterfalls everywhere. The road meandered steep down the valley in an amazing sequence of hairpin corners. Our driver, Eduardo, was a very safe driver and slowed down at every corner. Tanya and I were impressed. We were both happy that we did not have a Ruta 40 type of driver. We would have died instantly. Puerto Puyuhuapi was a tiny town in the middle of the park, situated on the fjord (puerto means port, so there must be water nearby). Instead of 7 or more hours it had only taken 5 hours. Eduardo said that the trip to Chaiten would take 10 hours in total. So the lied to me the day before and I had broken up the trip for no reason.

I asked Eduardo whether it was possible to continue with the bus, but unfortunately a passenger in Puerto Puyuhuapi had booked my seat. So I unloaded the luggage and had a quick lunch in the ramshackle hospedaje where the bus had stopped. I decided to hitchhike further that afternoon, as it was only 13:30. There was not much traffic but the third car that came through town in about 15 minutes was going to La Junta, 45 kilometers towards Chaiten, which was still another 150 from there. This driver was more Chilean than Eduardo and with the 4WD Jeep we jumped over the bumpy road. In La Junta I got out and walked back to the main road, hoping for another lift to Chaiten. At the main road I saw a sign for the petrol station and hotel. I decided to go there as it started to rain a bit. Guess who was having lunch at the small supermarket in the petrol station? Indeed, Eduardo and the bus I was on earlier that morning. It was my lucky day as two passengers had just gotten off the bus in La Junta, leaving two seats empty. After having bought a yoghurt and some chips in the supermercado we hit the road again. The gravel road winded itself through the rest of the XI Region and into the X Region. We had two more stops to stretch the legs in tiny, poor but beautiful towns before arriving at the ocean side town of Chaiten at around 19:00, 11 hours after we had left Coyhaique.

Chaiten was a very small town and its only importance is the fact that from there ferries leave to Isla Chiloe, 60 km away and Puerto Montt, on the mainland further north. There are no road connections between here and the mainland further north. The mountains are just too steep here. Even at Chaiten, right outside the twenty streets of town the green mountains rise steeply. It is really beautifully situated and with the weather we had, it had improved greatly during the afternoon, it became extra nice. Being on the West side of the continent we could also enjoy a great sunset once again and with hardly any clouds on the horizon it was a good one. The simple but very friendly hospedaje only charged 4000, a very good price, which made me even more happy.

There was just one thing left to do and that was buying a ticket for the ferry for the following day. That was easier said then done. The slow ferry, taking 7 hours or so would leave at 9:00 am. The fast ferry, taking less than 2 hours, would leave at noon, a much nicer departure time for me. However I thought that the fast ferry, a catamaran, would have a limited number of seats, and you could never know whether it would be full or not. The office for this fast ferry would open again at 9:00, at the same time as the slow boat would leave. Smart people here again. I decided to take the risk of being stuck in town for another day and went to the office the following morning. There still were plenty of tickets and seating was not fixed at all.

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Chaiten