Tuesday, January 16, 2007

Leaving Cochrane to Villa O' Higgins

Had my first empanada today - a kind of square Cornish pasty with just meat filling, and an olive in the middle. Not bad, but I'd prefer a pasty. It's Sunday today. Everything is shut. Everything. No post cards. No supermarkets (It's kinda sweet that they are considered "super" markets - I believe the term "corner shop" would be applied back home!)

Mincemeat pie

So, there is a fountain in the middle of the main square here. Every time I approach it, my instinct is to go round the left. Is it a British driving thing? Anyway, I find myself noticing this, and forcing myself to go round the right, every single time. Then tonight I notice myself noticing this! Psychoanalysis gone mad!!

Star light star bright. The stars here are incredible. I've just walked back to the hostel late at night, and not only can I see Orion's Belt, nay practically navigate by it, but I can see the outline of his whole torso, and the top half of his belt too! Wonderful. You forget living in London just how amazing the Universe is - almost makes up for Rowan-Robinson and his efforts to put me off the subject!

The route across to Argentina: Tomorrow I bus to Villa O' Higgins. From there, I will take a bus to Bahia Bahamondez, where there may be some sort of Chilean border control. Here a boat across Lago O'Higgins (called Lago San Martin in Argentina - the same lake.. sigh..) which will go the 35 miles to Candelario Mancilla, where I want to go (eventually) then I hope via some tasty glaciers out in the sound, and then back via CM before returning. I'll get off at CM on the second visit, then hike from here to the Argentine border, about 15km. After crossing the border, hike another 7km to reach Punta Norte, where there may be some sort of border control again, and another boat across Lago del Desierto. This has all been gathered from various web sites, mostly in Spanish. Only time will tell!

Another tip for would-be travellers. Never trust what websites tell you about days of the week for buses. It has all changed. In fact, don't trust tourist information booths in the towns themselves. Go to the company that operates the particular bus and ask them. It's the only way. And remember my previous tip - call ahead from the previous town or two and reserve. Stuff gets booked up down here, and if the bus only runs twice a week, it's pretty annoying finding that it's full.

Monday morning, it's time to leave Cochrane. Am feeling very tired and stomach slightly dodgy. Another glorious bus ride, taking the same route as before to Tortel, therefore I feel justified in sleeping it, but branching off shortly before Tortel to hit Puerto Yungay, 122km south of Cochrane, from where a ferry runs across this sea inlet to Rio Bravo.

Yet another debt of gratitude owed to Pinochet!

Padro Antonio Ronchi was clearly the man. Rivers, lakes, museums and ferries all named after him

The ferry carries our bus and takes about 15 minutes. It's free!

Who needs ro-ro - just get all the vehicles to reverse on to the ship!

I get talking to Mike, an English chap! Yay! He says it''s about the first time in a month he's been able to hold a conversation in real, rather than "Tarzan" English! "Igual" (same for me!)!

We loop back and forth, passing by many lakes, and marshy plains where the road is raised up at the edge of the valley. There are forests of dead trees here - would be ultra-spooky at night. I'm not enjoying the way our driver drives - he likes to accelerate into humps, sending my stomach up through my torso. How much longer can this take?

Mike is interested in taking some of the novels I have off me - which is wonderful news for me just before I have to carry all of my gear on the trek to Argentina! I was about to bin them if I couldn't find a home for them!

Empty beach

We arrive in Villa O' Higgins, and I immediately like it. Beautiful surrounds, with snow-capped mountains in most directions, and the Lago O'Higgins a few km away.

The town from the mirador (lookout)

It keeps the Mormons away

Here's the spiel from LP: "The area around Lago O'Higgins, at the northeast edge of the Hielo Sur, is one of the wildest and most thinly settled parts of the Patagonian Andes". In fact the Carretera Austral road was only extended South to here in 2000! The town has a population of 500 according to LP, I suspect it is a little more now, but is still regarded as a pioneer place, and was founded in 1967.

Barracks or council estate?

There's a tourist information booth in the central square, manned by the usual attractive girl (there were three really pretty girls doing shifts in Cochrane!). Before entering, Mike and I discuss how useless they are generally. We ask the girl for a map of the town. She doesn't have one. Tourist… information??! Anyway, we head back to find the hostel I want to stay at - I had seen a recommendation somewhere on my surfing for Hospedaje Carretera Austral. They seem friendly and I take a room there for 6000 per night (£6). Mike chooses to stay in El Mosco, which is a rather hippy-like place. I'm not up for shared bunk beds though. Been there done that, want my own bed! There's apparently only one place for internet access here - the library, and it's free! This of course means it's impossible to get on, and is only open from 8:30am till 5:30pm. Wifi? Oh ho ho ho, I don't think I need to answer that one!

Who needs paintings when you can see this out of your window?

I've bought my ticket for the boat for Wednesday. The plan is: bus at 8:00am, boat, called the Quetru at 8:30am, goes to the Glacier O'Higgins, which from photos looks pretty spanking, then across to the other side of the lake again, arriving about 4:30pm. There I trek to the border, camp there, then trek on the next day, reaching the Desert Lake by 2pm for a boat callied Viedma across. The other side should have a bus waiting to take me to El Chalten! Easy! I'm really looking forward to the glacier, and Fitzroy, which apparently one can trek to straight out of El Chalten.

This place *is* South Park!

This is Kenny's house

Enormous dinner cooked by Anna-Maria, the girl running the place here. I have a beetroot salad, a large bowl of egg soup, then an enormous slab of meat with pasta, it also being dotted with healthy-sized chunks of meat. I have a good go at it, but cannot conquer the whole meal. Anna-Maria asks me why I don't eat bread with the soup! Afterwards I head back up to the lookout with Mike and a couple of beers. When the sun goes down, we attempt some low-light photography of the view, looking West:

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