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…
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…
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!
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.
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.
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.
This update is coming to you from my third floor room that is built into the attic of Hostal Casa Azul in Puerto Veras, Chile. The vaulted ceiling is so close to my bed that I’ve bumped my head twice on the rafter just above me, even though I swore the first time I wouldn’t do it again. I must be tired. It took 26 hours on the road including bus station waiting time to get here from Vicuña. Puerto Varas is situated on the southwest shore of lake Llanquihue (please don’t ask me how to say it), the second largest lake in Chile, and is considered the northern gateway to Patagonia. First though, back to busses. This is how most common people (like me) get around in Chile. Their bus system is a thing of beauty. I’ve ridden 11 busses so far and never has one been late. You can be walking anywhere and if a bus approaches, even a fancy double decker sleeper on a five hundred mile journey, it will stop for you. All you have to do is put out your arm and give a special code-like flick of your wrist, and you’re in. I’ve learned this secret movement, works great. At bus stations entire families show up to say goodby to a loved one, all in tears. It’s so beautifully emotional it brings me to tears. They all look over at me and say with a smile, “who are you?” As I stand staring at them with tears in my eyes. There is a lot of love in the air at these bus stations and I soak it up. I equate the bus station in Santiago, where I was yesterday, with a giant heart. There are a hundred busses pulling in and out at a time, whoosh in, pause, whoosh out, pause. Unbelievable, because there is also the big love thing going on in rhythm to the coming and going. The road and the heart. We don’t see that at our airports anymore because we’re too busy getting yelled at by an airport cop to get the heck moving already as we give a hug from our car window. Just sayin…
I’ll be holing up in this hostel for two days trying to figure out how to get a few pounds off Stanley the backpack, then walking the shore of the lake to Ensenada, which lies at the base of Volcano Osorno, then cross country to lake Todos Los Santos, then back to Ensenada, then southerly along the base of Volcano Calbuco to Ralun (see map). This area is very lush, I’m way south of the dry Andes I spent the last ten days in. I’ll get rained on. I’ll go hungry, which is a good thing because the only food here has been cheese empanadas and pastry, and southern Chile was settled by Germans so now it’s more cheese and sausage and bratwurst. I swear these dear people don’t even know vegetables have been invented!
Well I sure am liking this attic space. It’s cozy warm from the heat of the day, there’s an old wooden desk in it that looks like it was taken from Ferdinand Magellan’s ship, a nice little window facing Volcano Orsono, which is handy because I’ll see it blow, if it does. It’s 10:30 pm my time, good night and sweet dreams.