January 29, 2019

It was a nine hour bus and ferry ride south from Puerto Montt to Chaiten. This is the beginning of the road through Patagonia, known as the Carretera Austral. It is part paved and part gravel and intersected by lakes and fjords. There were three ferry rides, two one hour rides and a long 3 hour ride. The land is very mountainous and scenic. The bus just drives onto the ferry each time and off I get and watch the sea or lake flow by, and the mountains undulate, and families on summer vacation, parents chasing children around the deck of the ferry. I arrived in Chaiten at 5pm and found a room in Dona Collita Hostal. Many people in Chile have turned their home into a ‘Hostal’ and have two or three rooms available for rent, usually including breakfast, for $20 a night or less. Most of the Hostals that I’ve stayed in are owned by women in their seventies or eighties and they are traditional, sometimes stern and give me a good once over before renting a room. Dona reminds me much of my Grandma. Around eighty or maybe older, I’m not going to ask her age and get kicked out right away and I can’t count that high in Spanish anyway! She and her husband and some family live in a home attached to the rear of the Hostal and I can hear them laughing and talking through the walls. There is a wood stove in the dining room that she keeps stoked on the cooler coastal nights. The interior is all wood and it’s super cozy. I stay a few nights and during the long long days I explore the coast for miles and hike to the rim of Chaiten Volcano, which erupted in 2008 and caused the evacuation of the entire town for at least a year. I meet a few locals (who speak English) and learn what it was like for a very rural community of 7,000 to have to relocate to a city (Puerto Montt). They tell me that the government wanted to relocate the town ten miles north but the townspeople refused and here is Chaiten, ten years later. When it’s time to leave Dona comes out with her head partially wrapped in a towel that is stained black, she’s dying her hair! You should have seen that, so darn cute! I am sad to leave this town on the edge of the sea, the tall beautiful mountains that greet it to the east, the still smoking volcano to the north, this villa that sits like a gemstone on the western edge of Patagonia. Sadness and gratitude. I made up a new word to describe the feeling: Saditude. It’s been that way everywhere I’ve stayed, looking over my shoulder as I leave, heart swinging like a pendulum…

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