February 8, 2019 – Villa Cerro Castillo

I’m writing this from Villa Cerro Castillo, a tiny town in Southern Patagonia. It’s been a long winding ride along the Carretera Austral since my last post. I’ve left the jungle and am in the wild, windy, raw mountainous south. I’m halfway through my journey, time-wise, and appropriately have mostly forgot the day of the week, so much so that the women selling bus tickets at the station shake their heads at me when I try to buy a ticket for a ride ‘yesterday’. I have a new tent and am camped on a hillside with a great view, just above Villa Cerro Castillo. The town is known for the basalt spires that tower above it, glaciers and all. It’s on my way south so I decided to stop and check it out, a bold move when you step off the bus and discover you are on the steep side of nowhere, not sure if or when the next bus passes through. But just when I begin to question my judgement I meet a family from France (camping next to me): Mom, Dad and three daughters aged 4, 6 and 8. They have ridden bicycles here from Lima, Peru, nine months so far. The little ones on tandem bikes with mom and dad, of course. This is an unbelievable thing, friends. These roads can make mountain goats shiver in fear. There is a 4 day back country hike through Cerro Castillo National park that they start tomorrow (look it up, incredible) and this inspired me to do same, so off I go tomorrow. The girls did try to steal my harmonica and I was tempted to give it to them but I’m too attached. I will guard it carefully on the trail. I’ve skipped a few days, hiking to waterfalls and through wild forests.

I’ve nicknamed myself: Hombre sin Nombre – Man with no Name. I’m anonymous here, the only American for miles and miles.

Love peace and happiness, I’ll check in on the other end of the trail!

Cell service must be going through a teeny tiny wire, I’ll send photos soon.

February 4, 2019

Sometimes you have to go north to go south. The bus was full that goes south from Villa Santa Lucia, where the Futeleufu road meets the Carretera Austral, so a few friends that I had camped with up in Futeleufu and I took the bus north to Chaiten. The only option was to overnight in Chaiten and catch an afternoon bus the next day, which was fine with me because that hour and a half bus ride is the most scenic you could imagine. The Austral passes by Corcovado National park, which from the bus looks like Yosemite on steroids. I missed this on the way south, it was obscured in a blanket of mist. I overheard rumors of rumors (an english speaking couple on the bus) about hidden lakes and hanging glaciers and forest and mountain never trodden by humans, and confirmed this with Dante at the information center here in Chaiten today. The park is another gift from Douglas and Kristine Tompkins and other philanthropists and the Chilean government. There are no roads or trails, big rivers to cross, virtually untouched, but calling so compellingly to me, looking in from the outside. I’ll try to get a picture from the bus later today.

I promised in an earlier post to talk about people I’ve met on the road, I’m working on that one.

There’s something mysterious about boats sitting on the shore waiting for high tide…

Have a beautiful day, thanks for reading!

February 3, 2019

10am Sunday morning and I’m sitting at The Mandala cafe in Futeleufu, partaking in a cappuccino before climbing on a bus and heading back down the valley to the Carretera Austral, then south to La Junta. I spent four nights camping here, next to the river, listening to it roar all night. Sometimes I would wake up thinking it was a gale blowing in the trees, then remember where I was. My air mattress sprung a leak and I slept on ground, waking often to toss or turn. This is not the village to find anything related to camping so no pad but I’m getting used to it. I’ll have to find a new pad and tent in Coyhaique, about three or for days down the road. Mother Nature is not kind to the unprepared around here, there are Antarctic influenced weather patterns that rear up in minutes. I spent my first day in Futeleufu walking into a river of wind flowing in through the pass from Argentina, an east wind that I had to lean into to move forward. I was looking for the Chico river but turned around, willing to wait for a better day. This while surrounded by high, jagged peaked, snow capped mountains with waterfalls spouting out of glaciers as if from giant whales. The weather did turn and I had three days of 85 degrees and hiked to the Argentine border and found the Chico river and much more and spent a lot of time sitting in or by the Espolon river just contemplating what the heck this odd life is about. Sometimes if I stop to think about it I feel like I’m living out a pre-prepared script. Weird eh?

So now I’m headed out, another goodbye, kinda sadditude because I don’t know if I’ll ever see this amazing place again.

February 1, 2019

It’s 9am and I’m standing in the brilliant sunshine on the shore of the Espolon river. I’ve been staring at the tan sandy cliff across the river from me for 45 minutes. The sun has just risen behind me and has lit up the face of the 150 foot cliff like a giant movie screen and the longer I watch and listen the more I see and hear. A falcon swoops to the water line and takes a drink, then flutters twenty feet back up the vertical face and lands next to a shrub and a slight movement and there is another one sitting next to it. The birds color matches the sandy cliff face so well that it is invisible if time is not slowed down enough to make it appear. Then I see a hole about halfway up the face and out flies a swallow, then two more, and they skim the cliffs face in flight in what must be pure joy. Then two sheep appear on the cliffs edge then disappear like white ghosts. I hear at least ten different bird calls. There is something hypnotic about this scene, the sound of the river running, it’s like one of those 3D paintings that jump out at you after staring at it the right way, only this one is real and it fills all my senses.

I’ve been camped on the Espolon river for two days now, just outside of the town of Futeleufu, in a tranquil campground that is owned and run by Arturo and Monica. He calls it Camelot and we laugh when I tell him that’s perfect because my name is Lance! Futeleufu is in a valley that is surrounded by the Andes, about five miles from Argentina. It’s incredibly beautiful here. I travelled sixty miles up a gravel road by bus to get here. Besides being a crossing point into Argentina it has world famous class 5 rapids on the Futeleufu river, just outside of town. They won’t let you near a raft or kayak at the point of access if you can’t show papers proving that you are rated for it. Dang, must be a heck of an adrenaline rush. I may try to catch a ride on a calmer part of the river.

I want to fill in the gap between here and Chaiten (I was out of cell range for a few days). I traveled twenty miles by bus beneath hanging glaciers and giant mountains on the Carretera Austral to the tiny town of Amarillo, the southern entry point to Pumalin National Park. The park is huge and was created with funding from Douglas and Kristine Tompkins, founders of the North Face company. They fell in love with Patagonia and helped create enormous parks and protected areas. Doug died of hypothermia while kayaking with friends on lake General Carrera, south of here, in 2015. It’s a four mile hike into the park to the nearest camping spot. It’s a partly cloudy day with mist on the mountains and birds and frogs are whooping it up and a glacial river, running cold and milky colored is talking to me and the air that the green green forest has just made is as fresh as it gets. I make camp and hike into the back of the valley and return to camp and make a dinner of ramen and chicken soup and loan my little stove to a guy in his twenties who tells me in broken English that he really needs a hot meal, which makes sense because the cold Andean wind has begun to bluster and the rain has started. Then I hit the hay and it rains all night and I find out that my faithful old tent leaks and most everything gets wet but that’s how it goes so I pack up and hike out the next morning. I’m running out of ways to say gorgeous and this place tops the list, if that is possible. The road splits where the Carretera Austral meets the trail out of the park and I take a gravel road that leads up into the mountains to Amarillo hot springs. It’s a three mile walk and I’ve just walked four so I don’t mind when a van pulls over and offers a ride. I find a funky old Hostal at the hot springs, surrounded by jungle, and am greeted by a tall, soft spoken Goucho looking guy who I learn is the owner and lives there alone with his cat. He shows me a room, I take it, he lights a wood stove that sits in the corner and shows me where the stone lined sunken hot tub is and I empty the soaked contents of my backpack in my room and hang them everywhere possible and immerse my tired, sore body into the steaming mineral water, surrounded by jungle, birds singing, chickens clucking, dogs barking, cat meowing and the creaking of floors in the old wooden house that surrounds me. I meet a couple from Tubingen, Germany who are also guests. Marvin speaks good English and he remembers me from the info center in Chaiten. It takes me awhile to remember he and his wife and I tell him that sometimes remembering is like reeling in a fish from the bottom of a deep sea! We have a great time, nice to have someone to speak English with. Night falls. This is the first time ever to hear birds singing all night. The German couple head out at six am next day, I have breakfast with the owner, sun beaming through trees, pack my backpack and thank him for an awesome stay and hit the road. It’s a beautiful misty morning and I meow to his cat as I pass her and a dog sits at the bridge leaving the hot springs and looks at me as if I’m deserting it and down the gravel road I stroll. About a mile out an infant fox, cute as can be, wanders into the road and almost stumbles into me and is gone before I can take a picture. Further on I sit to rest. There is a tiny puddle next to me, about the size of my cell phone and the surface is just as shiny and smooth, and I touch it with a fingertip and realize that this is the real contact that I’m trying to make, a connection between me and this big beautiful place. Then three miles down the road to Amarillo and onto a bus to Futeleufu. Another tough goodbye and on I go.

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…

January 26, 2019 – Chaitén, Chile

I feel like I’m Robinson Crusoe. I’m sitting on a deserted beach in the evening sun somewhere on the coast of Southern Chile (did you know that the island that the Crusoe story is based on lies off the coast of Chile?). I have the odd feeling that I’m putting this message in a bottle and casting it into this great green scintillating sea and sending it to you. But that is just how this enormous, awe inspiring place known as Patagonia will make you feel, like everything and everyone is so far away. It will draw loneliness out from the deepest part of you. Snow clad volcanoes and glacier laden mountains will surround you but in your valley by the sea it never snows. Lush vegetation grows everywhere except where meadows have been cleared for home or pasture, rustic homes that you can tell were made directly from the land. And from these homes there is always a sweet scented genie of smoke curling from the chimney, and a wood burning cook stove beneath it in a warm, cozy kitchen, and biscuits fresh from the oven that lay cooling next to a jar of honey, if you are lucky. The two lane highway that curves through the valley around the giant mountains is fairly quiet because you are headed to the ends of the earth. You will occasionally see a hitchhiker or three, sometimes college girls, wearing huge backpacks, thumbing a ride, and hear laughter that comes with this freedom dance in the breeze, making even the birds sing with everything they have. You will see a special glimmer in the eyes of both the native and the traveler here, a knowing of what unbelievable beauty this land is capable of. By evenings falling into night you will drift into sleep ready to leap into the next day. And you will try to describe this, to tell it in words and place them in a bottle and seal it and cast it into the sea, to be found by the next explorer, ready to tread new ground…

January 24, 2019

I’ll be on my way south to the town of Chaiten early in the morning. It lies on the pacific coast in northern Patagonia and was heavily damaged when volcano Chaiten erupted in 2008. I seem to have been surrounded by volcanoes for the past few days and it makes me think of this: Volcanoes are the earths way of wearing her heart on her sleeve. They are an opening in her skin through which she vents hot stuff that lies beneath. That would pretty much be the long and the short of it except I did mention the word ‘heart’. I guess we humans are kind of like this old earth, hot on the inside but when that heat gets close to the surface we erupt in various ways and a piece of our heart makes its way out, like a geyser, or the seeping to the surface of a sweet pure mountain stream, and every way in between. Isn’t that interesting? The town of Chaiten has rebuilt, and I saw so many plants and birds on the hard lava laden slopes of volcano Orsono. Maybe this strange and mysterious and sensitive planet is wanting us to know this: When our heart wants to get close to our skin or shimmer on our sleeve, it’s just time for some new growth to happen. That’s what I’m seeing, feeling, from here on the road.

I’m holed up next to the bus station in downtown Puerto Montt, right on the waterfront, not my usual kind of place to hang out but I have an early bus to catch. I was apprehensive because this little port city has a reputation of being kind of rough, an old sailor’s brawling town. I walked the waterfront esplanade today and saw all kinds of people, street vendors galore, people doing what is needed to survive (I see half the economy here happens on the street, not in stores, it’s beautiful) and I just look at them, the happy kids, the teens in love (very amorous here), old couples walking arm in arm with their hearts on their sleeves, mothers and daughters and fathers and sons walking along holding hands, pickpockets, backpackers, loners, winners and losers, and I just love these guys. It’s what’s in their eyes, the windows to the soul, that reels me into their hearts, every one of them.

Thanks for hanging in there with me. Love and blessings to you!

January 23, 2019

I’ve been in Cochamo for the past 24 hours, a village that reposes itself on a hillside at the end of a fjord that winds its way from the Pacific Ocean. Breakfast was made on the wood stove in the photo below, biscuits, pumpkin cake, eggs, homemade jam, local honey, instant coffee (the only kind you can find here, I’m used to it). WiFi is iffy here and I’ll just try to get some pictures out, I’m on my way to Puerto Montt via Puerto Varas and then tomorrow I head south on the Carretera Austral, the road through Patagonia. I want to talk about people I’ve met along the way and will try to do that this evening in Puerto Varas. There is much heart all along the Way.

January 22, 2019

The curtain of clouds that had wrapped itself around snow capped volcano Orsono had begun to open as I stepped from my tent into the morning sunlight. I had fallen asleep to the sound of wind roaring in the trees and rain pattering on my tent roof the night before and the warm sun beaming over the Sierra Santo Domingo mountains just behind me was a welcome feeling and sight. I was camped on the shore of Lake Todos Los Santos, a huge lake surrounded by glacier laden volcanoes and emerald forests that sloped steeply to the waters edge. Two dogs lay next to my tent sunning themselves, one of which I was becoming attached to. I put my stove together and made a cup of coffee, ate a few cookies for breakfast and walked a few steps to a rickety dock and hailed a motorboat from across the lagoon. He picked me up in no time and I was on my way across the blue water to the mainland. I was headed up the Desolation trail, an ancient Mapuche (the people native to this part of Chile) path that would take me up behind the north face of the volcano, about a three hour hike. This I did. The trail started out through ancient forest. The Alerce trees that grow in these southern forests are up to 4,000 years old. Bird song settled to my ears like mist as I walked along the sun beamed path. Soon the forest fell below me and I entered the gently sloped waist of the volcano and the ground became volcanic sand and old brittle lava, open land except for patches of brush and trees, and views of the lake and surrounding mountains showed themselves. Up and up I hiked, the way getting steeper as I went. I tried to imagine what it was like a thousand years ago. Visually not much different, no signs of human occupation within view. That’s when I know I’m in a special place. So I continue until the elastic rubber band of time turns me around and slings me back down the hill, the views taking away what little breath I have left. I have a 3:30 ferry to catch that will take me on a two hour journey to the eastern end of the lake, to the small village of Peulla, just 20 miles from the Argentinian border, deep in the Andes.

The ferry ride from Petrohue, where I’m camped, to Peulla, is just two hours of heaven if you likes lakes and forests and mountains and waterfalls and the smell of infinity. The ferry carries about fifty people and is not big at all. There are families and retirees and a few people with backpacks who will continue on into Argentina. Peulla, the end of the ride, is a Shangri La, lying at the east end of the lake where a wide meadowed valley meets it, flowing down through the Andes, waterfalls streaming thousands of feet from cliffs on each side. Words are lost here. A small village powered by a turbine that lies along a roaring creek, no internet, a nice hotel, but basically looks like 1900’s village. I had an hour before the ferry left and explored everything I could, boarded the ferry for a scenic sunset cruise back to Petrohue, and barely found a boat ride back to camp as dusk closed the curtain on the fading light of the day.

January 19, 2019

It’s my last evening in Puerto Varas. Two or three nights seem to be my minimum wherever I stop. I like this because I never feel rushed and it takes that much time to even begin to have a feeling for the soul of place. I’ve been loving my attic space with it’s special wooden nooky ambiance, it even creaks like I’m in cabin in a galleon at sea. This is a touristy busy town but I’m liking it, lots of interesting people to watch and an artsy musical downtown. There’s a big covered stage set up next to the plaza and I was drawn there last night by beautifully exotic Andean pan flute playing really loud on a killer sound system. Well, there was a group of young dancers on that stage dressed in traditional costume just dancing their hearts out! That went on for awhile and another group came up and some kind of tango started playing and they swept the crowd of 200 or so, young and elder and everyone in between off their feet. This went on until after midnight. Big family. Same tonight but a great traditional Chilean band. I think I might be the only person in this town of families and tourists who sleeps, kinda reminds me of a twilight zone episode.

I explored the base of volcano Orsono yesterday and learned about an ancient (some say 3,000 years old) trail that crosses the north slope of the volcano and winds eastward through the Andes into Argentina, so I’ll be camping on lake Todos Los Santos and hiking the trail for the next two days. It’s said that it’s an ancient Mapuche trail and that they managed to conceal it from the Spaniards for over a hundred years. I’m privileged to be able to walk in their footsteps. Stanley the backpack has gained weight, extra food needed for camping where roots and rabbits are the only other option. I’m headed south to the village of Cochamó from there. It lies on a fjord of the Pacific Ocean and the mountains to the east are said to be Yosemite-like without the hoards of people, one of which I am myself, eh? Then continuing south into Patagonia. Somewhere along the way I’ll be passing into Argentina. As for the here and now, traveling alone is lonely but every time I get down with it something happens to swing me back around. Walking the roads I play my harmonica, it’s been writing songs for me, I’ll play for a few minutes then have to stop and write down lyrics, mostly sad and bluesy because the instrument kind of lends itself to that, in case you hadn’t noticed. And I talk to myself somewhat and am getting pretty darned fast at batting horseflies. Soon they’ll be saying “here comes that Lance guy, better fly on outta here”, when they see me coming, dancing in the heat waves like a ghost! Before I forget, I met an old gypsy woman in a restaurant up in Vicuña, she could see that I was having a hard time ordering a meal and helped me with the waitress. We talked (she spoke good English) for a few minutes and I set my backpack against the wall next to my table and used the bathroom. On her way out she came by my table and gave me some advice that is worth a fortune (nice pun): “Never ever leave your backpack alone when you use the bathroom, you don’t know any of these people!” She was lecturing me and I was humbled and I took her hand and gave her a big hug and a muchas gracias!

As our Hobbit friends once said, “The road goes ever on and on.” May your trail be easy and filled with blessings today.