Archive for February, 2012

Stuck in Coyaique

Posted on February 29, 2012 by 8 Comments

We spent a couple of days in Puerto Puyehuapi, trying to stay dry and waiting for gas.  We did a load of bathtub laundry that never dried and the gas never came, so it was time to go.

Our big question was “which way?” We could head north a bit and make a break for Argentina. The dull side of Patagonia. Or, we could continue on our way, the way we’ve been heading for 2.5 years. Again, this decision should have been made before we left the cabin.

We were told that roadblock on the south side of town would open at noon, so we jumped in the car and decided to go that way. We had 3/4 tank, and that would be enough to get into Coyhaique. We also have a few gallons of gas on the roof.

But, when your bus has been sitting in torrential rain for a few days, there is bound to be something wrong. Ours didn’t start, and a few replacement pieces were swapped around before Jason figured out it was the tachometer shorting out and killing the coil again. We don’t need that today.

But at this point, we’d missed the road opening.  A quick check at the gas station and still no gas – though the attendant said there was some in Coyhaique. He didn’t look like he’d ever driven a car. We headed for Argentina….for about 2 miles, then we swung it around and headed south.

After an hour and a half wait at the road block, the sun came out and we had an absolutely beautiful drive. The kind of drive where you are sure you’ve made the right decision.

We breezed by the next road block with only a 30 minute wait, and the 3rd with only a 20 minute wait. Unofficially, they close the roads for 2 hours, then let cars (but not trucks) pass before closing them again.

The roads are closed in strategic spots, limiting access to towns or gas stations, but in the magic of Northern Patagonia they are all beautiful backdrops.  And, we are set up for waiting. Lunch here, a game of frisbee there. The protesters don’t seem to mind, they are usually kicking around a soccer ball or grilling up an asada themselves.

But by Roadblock #4 of the day it was getting a little old. This wind had picked up and the tire burning was frankly dangerous. Thick clouds of black smoke was blowing right into the shelter the protesters had made, sending them all out into the storm. After an hour and a quarter, we were glad to pass through this one.

Since the port town of Aysen was the center of the conflicts, we planned to avoid it completely by taking a dirt back road. For some reason we were surprised that the protesters were a step ahead of us and had blocked the bridge into Coyhaique on this road too. Another hour and half wait. Meanwhile, they cooked an asada that smelled delicious.

We finally got to Coyhaique running on fumes and headed right into the center to find out the gas situation. The line circled blocks and blocks around town and ended up around the town plaza.

We learned from some guys in front of us that there was a line like this the week before. They had gotten into it at 8pm, the gas truck came at 3am, and they got gas around 4am.

So, we popped the top and got comfortable considering we had a prime spot in town (we even picked up a pizza and brought it back to the bus). Bode rode his scooter around the plaza until it got dark (around 9:30) and we settled in. Jason and I took turns staying up all night to make sure we didn’t lose our place. The locals were a bit cut-throat when given the opportunity to pass up someone in line.

Unfortunately, not much happened during the night and by morning we still had no gas.


Filed Under: Chile

Protesta Puyuhuapi

Posted on February 28, 2012 by 1 Comment

And then things began to get interesting.

I’ve forgotten to mention the multitudes of hitchhikers here in Patagonia. I’m uncertain whether it is due to lack of good public transport, or just an interest in making a free go of such a remote part of the world.

We are pretty loaded down in the bus with the worldly possessions of three, and usually the hitchhikers are in packs of 3 or 4 complete with massive backpacks. But on this afternoon we passed a single hitchhiker in the middle of nowhere. He had his name-brand backpack and waterproof hiking boots, and it was just miserable outside. So we picked up Daniel from Santiago, hitching his third time through Patagonia.

Four days prior, while in Puerto Montt, Daniel heard there were protests in the Aysen region (where we are headed). He said there might be a roadblock. We traveled for a couple hours, and sure enough we hit one.

The protesters were nice enough, and let us know they would open the road in 2 hours. But now it was decision time.  Apparently, there were more road blocks all the way down to the next large town, Coyhaique. This blockade was right before the gas station (which was rationing the equivalent of about 5 gallons per car) in La Junta, and also just in front of a highway turnoff that would take us to Argentina.

For two hours we debated what to do. Daniel could only get minimal information but we were told that south of Coyhaique, things should be fine. There isn’t much to see from the Argentina side, and even through the rain, the scenery here in Chile is spectacular. The plan was always to stay in Chile for as far south as possible, so we decided to drive on a little farther.

So, when the road opened, we were first in line to get our allotted gasoline and then continued on to Puerto Puyuhaupi. We’d intended to go a little farther and camp, but the station here was out of gas, and the town was actually quite lovely. So, we got a cabin and decided to see if we could figure out what was going on with the protests, roadblocks and gas shortage. We could always backtrack to Argentina, but we really just wanted to continue to drive down the Carretera Austral.

We left Daniel with a group of other hitchhikers on the main square, all trying to get rides south. We’re not sure how far he got.

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Filed Under: Chile

Lago Yelcho Freebie

Posted on February 27, 2012 by 1 Comment

We headed south to a campsite listed on our GPS. Jason’s been compiling a list of sites… more to come eventually. Good thing we had the coordinates, because it had no signs or office. There were a few other campers there, so we figured it was open.

It even had a brand-spanking new shelter, complete with firewood.  The campsites in Patagonia couldn’t be nicer. Well, except for the rain and the neighbors who were up until 4.

This one sat on the banks of Lago Yelcho.  We were able to enjoy the beach for a bit before the cold and rain kicked back in. We still had a great view from camp.

This florescent green beetle was sitting on some sticks when I was looking for kindling. I was able to thoroughly creep out Bode with it. He got me back when he found this little bird that had flown into the bus and sat on my pillow. A-dorable, except for the poop.

We didn’t leave until noon the next day, and no one ever came to collect money. I guess I was wrong, it could get better!


If all the insects on earth disappeared, within 50 years all life on earth would disappear. If all humans disappeared, within 50 years all species would flourish as never before.

-Jonas Salk

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Filed Under: Chile

Parque Pumalin

Posted on February 25, 2012 by 6 Comments

The landscape here looks prehistoric.

We made camp at a site on Lago Blanco, where a few sites were under water. Of course, it was still raining, but we had a little shelter right on the shore of the lake.  Since this park is privately funded (by that Esprit and North Face clothing guy), the amenities are really nice. The public toilets look like they belong in a Pottery Barn catalog.

The next day, the rain let up for a few hours and I could get to work on that oil leak. Thanks to our good buddy Mike in Alameda, who sent us some spring-loaded pushrod tubes, Red Beard is leak-free once again (oil, anyway). Removing the bad tubes was effortless (and a little cathartic). Installing the new ones wasn’t nearly as idiot-proof as I had expected – but they eventually went in. As luck would have it, a cursory inspection revealed that my Kadron carbs continue to disintegrate, but I was able to continue patching things with baling wire. Valentine’s Day has passed, so Angela may have to wait until her birthday for those new carburetors.

There are some good hiking trails around here, so we took off and explored. Nice park.

Some people feel the rain. Others just get wet.

-Bob Marley


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Filed Under: Chile

Ferry Land, Part 2

Posted on February 24, 2012 by 4 Comments

We drove back to the ferry office about ten minutes earlier than they told us. At this point, we were expecting to be checking in twice a day for the next four days or so.  No one on the waiting list had gotten on the previous ferry.

I ran into the family I met earlier and they told me that they were going to get on. He was so excited (this was his 3rd day of waiting).  He instructed me to go check the list.

I went into the office and saw that my name was still on there, number 33, but  a few names had been marked off. A few minutes later, the man that runs the show on ferry loading gathered all the wait-listers around and starting yelling off names on the list so fast I think some people missed there own names. Within seconds, he had gone through the first page (20 names). By the time they reached my name, I was only the third person called who was present. He told us to go buy our tickets! This all happened before the time they even told us to be there, so I’m glad we were early. The ferry hadn’t even loaded a single car.

So an hour and a half later we were backing Red Beard onto the ferry. Some major trucks must not have showed up because at least 6 of us didn’t have reservations. Our lucky day.

The rain continued to pour, so after exploring the boat we decided that we’d head back to the bus. There was only a small waiting room and it smelled wet.

The journey was to last 6 hours, and that included offloading at one port,and driving 20 minutes to another ferry to Parque Pumalin. Of course, the ferry left an hour late.

After schoolwork, Bode was given all-day video game access. He never left the bus again.  Red Beard was still in camp mode so our clothes were in the passenger front seat trying to dry out.

I spent the time trying to catch up with the blog and photos. That is until my butt actually fell asleep.

Jason and I got out to stretch our legs, and were amazed at about 50 waterfalls on the fjords around us. Too bad it was still dumping rain or we’d would have been able to take some decent photos of some of them!

“Radiohead is terrible music.”

– Bode


Ferry Land

Posted on February 23, 2012 by 3 Comments

If we wanted to get a boat from Chiloe to Chaiten, it would be at least two more weeks. So, we decided to head north and backtrack several hours to Puerto Montt for our 6th time.

From here, another few hours south of Puerto Montt, we took a ferry from Caleta La Arena to Caleta Puelche. Now on the famous dirt Carretera Austral, we continued on to Hornopiren.  This is it: Patagonia. Nothing will be easy from here south.

Although it was late in the day when we reached Hornopiren, we decided to stop by the ferry rampa to see about ferry logistics. Surprisingly, they were open and only merely smirked when I asked about the boats for the next few days. Two ferries cross daily, they can hold 20 cars each, and they are booked up for the next 8 days. They only run in January and February, and it’s getting really close to the end of February.

There was a waiting list, so I signed up as lucky number 33.  If you are on the waiting list, you are expected to show up an hour before the departure and just wait.

It was pouring, so we decided it was a nice time to camp. There is a little campsite in Hornopiren behind the gas station with 4 sites and we had it to ourselves. No signs or anything – we just lucked out when we found it.  Good thing, since cabanas here are booked with people waiting on the ferry and going for $100 USD a night.

Our spot had a covered table, so it wasn’t nearly as bad as I make it look in the photo below.  A guy in a nearby cabana spotted us and actually came over and offered to help us if we needed anything- hot water, shower etc. I think he pitied us, but we were fine.

There were many discussions about what to do next. The problem was, we just didn’t know how likely it would be that we’d get on a ferry.  Jason calculated the cost and time of going north and crossing back into Bariloche, Argentina– and both would be significant.  We decided we would wait a day, try to learn more from the others waiting, and decide the next night.

At 8:45 the next morning, we just left Bode sleeping in bed and drove to the port. The ferry is scheduled to leave at 9:30, and at 9:35 cars and trucks with reservations were still lined up waiting to get on. Eventually, each was loaded backwards and tied down. The rest of us waiting just stood in the rain, compared space left on the boat with the number of cars still to go on. There was lots of head shaking and ‘mal‘s going around. I buddied up to a family and learned that this was their 3rd day of waiting.  They said sometimes a few extra cars get on, sometimes none. We have to assume that many people give up waiting and go home, with their name still on the list. There was no way to tell how many people were truly waiting, but outside in the rain at 10:30, when the ferry finally left, I only noticed about 10 people.

I headed back to the office to make sure I was still on the list for the 2 pm ferry. Inside was a woman claiming she was next on the list (at number 14). She had waited 4 days.

We went back to the campsite and made some lunch. Then, headed back into town to see what supplies we could get. I went into 6 stores and only came out with eggs, bananas(!) and rubber boots.  I didn’t mind waiting 4 days, but it was supposed to continue raining and if I was to wait outside twice a day for 2 hours I wanted to at least have dry feet.

The rain continued and we realized that every screw in the top from the solar panels was now leaking into the van. Everything is becoming a soggy mess. But, if you want the rainbow, ya gotta put up with the rain.




Posted on February 22, 2012 by 3 Comments

The weather had been great for a few days, but was starting to turn on us. We jumped on the ferry to return to Chiloe Island and decided to drive towards the town of Castro.

Notable sites in Chiloe are the palafitos - houses on stilts. Normal from the front, stilted in back. Well, these aren’t as charming at low tide. They just look sort of sad… and stinky.

The town square, complete with historic church was nice, though. We drove around, accomplished a few errands and bought some potatoes at the market.

There are over 1000 varieties of potatoes in the world. You would never know it if you grew up in the US, where you are lucky to see more than a couple. U.S. potato cultivation is almost entirely based around supplying the fast food industry.  Fun fact: 99% of the potatoes in the world share the same germplasm as the ones grown here in Chiloe. Basically, this is the birthplace of the potato.

More food facts from Castro… We went to lunch at a cafe on the square and realized, after months in Chile, that people here eat sandwiches with a knife and fork. Still, Jason insisted on eating his turkey sandwich with his hands, like a barbarian.

We headed south, and found a little cabana where we could finally unpack from our trip back to the U.S. and see about ferry crossings to the mainland.

More rain, then more rain, and then some more rain. Whenever there was a lull, all the local kids would make a break for the playground. Bode would grab a blanket and some books and head over to start a reading circle with some of the other kids. After a while, they would come knocking at our door asking for more books. Sorry, but none in Spanish, kids.

The ferry? One ferry per week. And, it was booked – way out.



Filed Under: Chile

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