On Saturday, March 1, around noon I headed off to the pier to catch my ferry from Chaitén to Quellón on the island of Chiloé. I had a final conversation with the family who owned the home where I was staying. We talked about Chilean life in southern Chile and how different it was to that in urban Santiago. I also found out that a large international environmental group was meeting down in Coyhaique and many stars would be or were already were in the area – not that I saw Julia Roberts, Leonardo DiCaprio, Cameron Diaz or Robert F Kennedy. But, I was apparently close.
The weather had been quite bad the previous couple of days with large thunderstorms rolling through the area. Today was different – sunny and bright, perfect for making a ferry crossing. Leaving Chaitén, I went to the back of the ferry and marveled at the large mountains that envelop the town. To the south, I saw a large volcano which I had not previously noticed. Even though there wasn’t much to do in Chaitén itself, I thought (now that I was leaving) how good of a thing that was hoping that the town stayed pristine and remote.
We arrived to Quellón around 7PM after an almost 6 hour journey to the southern port town. I had spent most of the time reading on the boat, but did strike up a conversation with one of the crew members talking about US politics, fishing rights in Chile and life on the boat. I left the boat and headed straight for the bus station to get my ticket to Castro, in the middle of Chiloé. There I was to meet my friends from Santiago, Ale and Paul. The only option was the local bus – there was no express. So, what should’ve taken an hour, took 3. I dropped my stuff at the hostel and found Ale and Paul in a restaurant waiting patiently for me to arrive. We had a great meal of Pisco Sours, steak and wine. There was an 80s party in town and when we showed up, we were surrounded by a mob of 18-20 year-olds. So, we decided to call it a night.
On Sunday, we got up lazily and walked around town. We took a small boat ride around the fjord the runs through town. At 2:30, we boarded a bus and headed for the national park where we would spend the next couple of days exploring.
Ale found a place in her Lonely Planet guide for us to stay. It had a camping area where they stayed and a hostel option for me since I let Matt take the tent we used down in southern Patagonia. It was called “Paraiso” or Paradise; it was anything but. The site was just outside the national park so we headed in to take advantage of the remaining sunlight. Just before leaving, Ale and Paul asked me to take a bag of theirs in the house with me since it had valuables so I could lock it in my room inside. I also grabbed our food. The owner, an old spinster who clearly had been isolated in the country too long, asked me who’s stuff I was carrying. Why she cared, I have no idea. So I told her that the food was for all of us and that the bag was mine (well, it was at a minimum, in my hand). I knew right then this could be a long night.
The park had a few footpaths that all seemed to be at least 25kms or more in length. So, we did our best and then found a small path that led to the beach where we went to watch the sunset. The beach was empty, windswept and stretched for kilometers to the north and south. There were only a couple of footprints from the day and a couple of tire tracks from daytrippers. We headed back so we could get back to the main road before the light completely left for the day.
We got back to the lodging site and started cooking our dinner. It was about 9PM. The owner lady told that she thought it was a little late to be cooking dinner. I was irked not knowing why she would care. But, I smiled and said that we had been out enjoying the beautiful scenery and the amazing sunset. I went on and on about how amazing it was, really laying it on thick. She shut up. There wasn’t much light out so we had to cook by starlight. We tried to turn on the lights inside the outside bathrooms, but the owner went nuts when she saw that and turned them off immediately. We were talking fairly softly which in retrospect seems a little ridiculous since there wasn’t anyone around us. Then again, maybe it was because we had been talking about our surly hostess. She came out at one point asking who was shouting. Without breaking a beat, Ale said, “Oh, it’s coming from over there”, pointing in some non-specific direction. We heard nothing and we had been quiet. But, the answer seemed to satisfy the woman. We finally finished up dinner, cleaned up and went off to bed.
I awoke to the same attitude from the owner as the night before. I went to the dining room hoping to find coffee waiting. There was none. The owner said that there wasn’t hot water for coffee yet so I asked if she could turn on the gas so I could take a shower. She also intermittently started asking me if I was leaving and if I could move my stuff out of the room – it was all of 8:30AM. After the shower and breakfast and several more times telling me to move my stuff out of my room, I responded with a cold and direct, “I hear you. When I’m ready, I’ll move it.” I wasn’t asked again.
We finally headed out to the national park to spend the day before I was to head back to Castro for the evening. Ale and Paul had enough of “Paraiso” and took their stuff to the national park to camp where we had seen how nice the facilities were the day before. The park staff couldn’t have been more helpful and accommodating. It was a welcome change from where we had come from. Señora Paraiso seriously needed more to occupy her time.
At 4:30, I said a sad farewell to my friends and headed back to Castro. The next morning I got up early and took the 7 hour bus ride to Valdivia, near the lakes district of Patagonia. The ride in was beautiful with tall trees lining the roadside. I found a great little hostel near the bus station and got settled in. It was too late to do anything so I headed into town to get acquainted. I decided that I would rent a car the next morning and then return each night to Valdivia.
So, I got up on Wednesday morning and felt lazy. Mentally I was checking out and all of a sudden felt a great need to get back to Santiago – not that I had anything important to do there. I was just road weary and ready to end the tour. So, I took the day walking around town, had a nice lunch, saw a movie and kicked back. I also changed my bus ticket from a Friday to a Thursday departure.
It has been an amazing trip…definitely one of the highlights in a year filled with many highlights. I saw amazing natural sites, met amazing people – both travelers and Chileans – and had some new experiences like trekking. As the time wound down, my mind started drifting to what’s next. I have a short 2 weeks back in Buenos Aires to meet some American friends of mine who are coming down. I’ll be then heading off to Colombia. I’m not sure what I’ll find there, but I have fallen in love with the idea of Colombia based on meeting Colombians, talking to others from around South America and travelers who have been. For now, I am heading back to Santiago happy with my latest trip and ready to head into the next adventure.
Originally Published March 6, 2008
Check out more posts on travel to Chile.