South and further South

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I wrote a bit about the fire in my last post.  It ended up being huge, supposedly the largest in the city’s history, with fifteen people dead and between 2000 and 3000 homes destroyed.

When the fire happened, I already had bus tickets to go to the island of Chiloé with a couple of friends for Holy Week.  I left for a long weekend trip and after nearly two weeks, many changes of plans, and a beautiful adventure later I have made it home.

Chiloé was a quiet little place in its low season with some rain, some knock-your-socks-off cuisine, and a beautiful coastline dotted with little towns famous for their churches.  It was perfect soup weather, and so we slurped up broths with mussels, clams, eel, salmon, beef, chicken, and indiscernible other meats and seafood, garnished usually with lemon, cilantro, and a spicy pepper.  We also had the famed curanto, a preparation of seafood, meat, and potatoes that is cooked in the ground, and chupe de mariscos, a kind of cheesy seafood casserole that would have alone made the journey worth it.  Later, on one of the many bus rides I would take, I met some other travelers who had also eaten this dish, and we had the same speechless reaction, relating to one another through gestures the powerful experience that is this food.

After a few nights of town-hopping and one night camping in the National Park, we took the bus/ferry combination back to Puerto Montt, the big city of the area.  My friends had missed their bus and I had decided I didn’t want to go home yet, so we spent the night there in a funny little hostel where the owner gave us a discounted price saying it only included a bed, a towel, and a shower.  When we brought back some potato tortillas from a mini market nearby and asked to heat up some water for tea, she gave us a stern look and said “A bed, a towel, and a shower.  No cooking!”  Then softened a little, telling us we could microwave it if we liked.

We spent the day in Puerto Varas, a very touristy town close by on the gorgeous Lake Llanquihue, and then got back in time to part at the bus terminal.  We had spent so much money on lunch that I elected to eat carrots for dinner, which ended up making my gums bleed after a bit, but I was so absorbed in a book of mythology I’d found that the discomfort didn’t bother me.

The next morning I flew south to Puerto Natales, and met up with a different set of friends a day later.  We bought food, rented the gear we needed, made dinner, and spent the night in our hostel before waking up bright and early for the 7:30 bus to the Torres del Paine National Park.

This place was astonishing.


We only had two nights, not long enough to do the full W Circuit, but we cut off one of the legs of the W and had a grand old time, enjoying surprising amount of sunshine, more food than we could get through, some amazing fall foliage and glacier sightings, all capped off by waking up the second morning before dawn in a light snowfall to hike and see the Torres.IMG_5042We actually got off the path by accident due to the snow and early morning light, ending up on top of that ridge to the left rather than down by the lake, but no one was injured and we had quite the view of the sunrise, with a big old Andean Condor swooping around us no less.

Honestly I feel like things went almost too well that trip, and aside from some encounters with mice in our food and Australians in our campsite, all was free of those misfortunes that make up a story and instead we had a journey full of the most incredible beauty.

Oh, and I’m kidding about the Australians; Brad and Elise were lovely campground buddies.  My days were constantly brightened by people I met along the way, from the travelers I shared hostels with, to locals helping me out with the bus schedule, to the traveling businessman who came up to me as I was toweling off from a dip in the Strait of Magellan to tell me how impressed he was and with whom I ended up spending the rest of the day with, as he happened to be on my flight and like me wanted to see a bit more of Punta Arenas before leaving.  I spent the last 15 hours of my journey alone, entering Viña in a daze at around 11 am and hefting my backpack that last little ways up the hill to my house before showering, eating, and going to class.  It’s back to business as usual, with a bit of a sleep deficit and a few more fond memories to populate the grab bag of my mind.