Tuesday, January 09, 2007

Chile Chico

Built to survive wind

Up early, tent away in the now very gusty wind, leave a note saying goodbye to my friends, then I sit by roadside chatting to some Swiss people till a collectivo (10 pesos) turns up at about 10:30am. Not far to Argentine emigration then Chilean immigration. All fairly painless, and when two women in front of me hadn't filled out the customs declaration in time (something Chile takes quite seriously), our collectivo driver snatched the papers off them and ran down the sheet with a pen ticking "no" to all the questions! So that's alright then! Also slightly amusing when the Argentine officer barks at one of the Swiss guys, holding the Swiss passport in his hand having examined it, "Which country?!". Maybe a trick question - or maybe he just couldn't work it out from the large letters on the front!

Chile Chico, [GPS: 46.54044S, 71.72298W] is small - one main road running along the lake, with a handful of shops and cafes. An air-raid siren goes off but no one seems to pay any attention. Don't appear to be any inbound fighter planes in the sky, so I visit the tourist office which tells me the bus to Cochrane, where I want to head now, goes once a week on Saturday. It's Monday.

Skipper laid on the throttle a little hard coming into port

Of course, one of the rules of travelling is to never trust one opinion. I walk to the place where the bus leaves from (station is definitely not the word) - it's a house on a quiet residential street. Hmmm. I give up and turn back, then a friendly woman comes out. I discover that the bus is on Wednesday, but there is a bus to Puerto Guadal, today at 4pm! Yay! I go to the supermarket that sells the tickets only to be told fairly gruffly that it's sold out. I don't really believe him, but what do you do?!

The bus station. No really.

I've read an article about the difficulties of travelling in this area, the Carreterra Austral (The Austral Road), and first impressions are bearing the opinions out! As an indication of how remote some of this is, my guide book is starting to say things like "the bank flies into the village twice a month" and "you can fill up with petrol here as long as the station has not run out"! All good fun! As lifted by the article by George Kalli: "The Carretera Austral is a remote, mostly gravel highway constructed during the Pinochet dictatorship of Chile in the 1980s. The highway is located in the south of Chile and traverses a total of 1,200 kilometers along the western front of the Andes from Puerto Montt in the north to Villa O Higgins in the south, where further overland travel is blocked one of the two largest icefields outside of Antarctica."

Beautiful but cold Lago Buenos Aires, though maybe with a different name now we're in Chile

So now I'm enjoying an omelette in a café, wondering whether to hitch-hike or just wait for the bus. I've never hitch-hiked before in my life, unless you count Stuart Worth giving me a lift from the bus station near my school back to Whitstable a couple of times, or in Los Antiguous I did get a lift back from the out-of-town hotel back to the centre.

Later, I give up on the idea of transport and find a hostel. Not cheap - $15,000 (or about £15). However I do have a nice room with a luxurious bed, which is exactly what I need after two days camping, and a bath with hot shower. I wash! Ahhhh! Then out to try the local bank. There is only one. It has an ATM which claims to do Cirrus etc. It doesn't. I try all three of my cards. Later I find out on the internet that it is known to only work with Mastercard. General tip for those doing this kind of travel - make sure you have Master, Visa and Amex with you. One of them should work. You're generally fine with Visa anywhere civilised, but out in the sticks, Mastercard is the one to have. I wish I'd never cancelled my Virgin card. Anyway, I fall back to changing dollars. The following morning, as the bank is (of course) only open from 9am to 2pm. This is the first occasion when my dollars have been the only option. Scary! I've heard stories of travellers having to go to the local supermarket and pay for shoppers' shopping with their credit cards, then take the cash from them. Nasty!

Anyway, as I love reiterating things - it's damn windy here! It's almost "lean into the wind" windy, and this is supposedly normal. The ferry crossing across the lake must be hilarious fun! My room sounds like the roof is about the blow off! Assuming it runs, I have a bus ride from here South to Cochrane tomorrow, which is supposed to be a stunning journey. Departure is 1pm, so I should be able to enjoy the whole thing in the day. Am quite excited about it!

Incidentally, not sure if I've mentioned before, but I'm heading South to Puerto Natales, where I'd like to take a boat back up through the Chilean Lake District to Puerto Montt, before heading up to Santiago. The boat I'd like to take is run by Navimag, but I'd picked up on their site that they've had a problem with one boat and it's out of commission. Turns out an English couple I met in Bolivia were on that actual boat, and were stranded for several days in the middle of nowhere! Nice! And they had their money refunded and were paid for the trip to Santiago! So not a bad thing entirely! However, that boat has been pulled out of service, meaning there are lots of cancellations and the service is in chaos. Am trying to book the trip now, but they've stopped accepting bookings online and take about a week to respond to emails (the latter being normal - I had the same with my previous enquiry). Hope I don't miss this trip, as it sounds fabulous! Alternative would be to fly it, and then have a few extra days in the area near Puerto Montt, which wouldn't be so bad. Choices choices. Now time for an afternoon nap!

By the way, if these updates get more sporadic, it's because the internet is awful down here - it's all satellite connections and nasty ultra-slow uploads. Flipside is that my hangout, Café Refer, on O'Higgins, described by my book as "good, despite the exterior" is a good place, with a lovely friendly girl serving there. For $3800 one can enjoy a large steak with chips, two eggs and onions. Yum! Litres of beers are $1000. And coffee is sachets of Nescafé. Oh well, can't have it all. Another surprise was my hotel actually providing breakfast this morning! Whatever next?!

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