Sunday, January 14, 2007


After a late morning rise, I enjoy the usual Patagonian breakfast of rolls with salami and cheese. Am getting very sick of this combination. Give me some fruit, some muesli, an omelette! Anything but dry bread with cheese and salami! I also realise I'm the last one to have breakfast, as there is only one place set!

Hollywood comes to Cochrane

Next I head to the bank. [Rant alert] The one and only bank Banco Estado, in a town which almost only exists for tourism. It has one ATM machine, which only takes Mastercard. No AMEX, no Visa, no Virrus, just bloomin' Mastercard. Okay I hear you say, never mind, you anticipated this and brought dollars. Yes, I did. So they go through and reject notes for random reasons - this one has a tick in biro on it, we can't take it. This one has the letters B2 in the serial code on the note, we can't take it. Well, will they take Pounds Sterling? No. Well seeing as we're about 5 miles from the Argentine border, and all of Patagonian travel involves flipping and back and forth between the two countries, will they change Argentine pesos? No they won't. Then, once you've finally found a couple of crisp off-the-press US dollar bills, they have the sense of humour to return to you a wad of manky old torn penned Chilean notes in exchange, which you know fully well they'd reject if you tried to do the transaction the other way! And it was exactly the same in Chile Chico - a *border town* with Argentina. Is there any place in Chile where you would more expect to be able to change Argentinian money? It's like a currency exchange in Waterloo Eurostar terminal refusing to deal in Euros! I shall comment no further.

I think it's a completely unpronounceable "Araucanía" tree

Next I buy my bus ticket for Monday. I know the format now - despite the same miserable c*w behind the counter talking to someone, I march up, interrupt and tell her I want a ticket. She doesn't respond immediately so I grab the exercise book they keep with passenger lists and force her to open it. It's the only way. She still manages to try to serve two other people in the 10 seconds I occupy her day for. Am I beginning to sound a bit like a grump?! After a bit of internet access (C$ 800 per hour) during which I establish that Navimag, my ferry company, is now so messed up that their web site appears to have gone down, I head back to the hostel to meet Patricio for 12pm for the trip to Tortel.

Patricio appears about half an hour later, and guides me out to a large blue 4x4. I'm in the back. No leg-room, but pleasant otherwise. A guy called Juan is driving. I realise, studying the map on the way, that I could have played my trip here differently. Tortel is in fact half way to Villa O'Higgins, i.e. where I'm trying to get to with my bus on Monday. If I had brought all of my gear… oh well, not worth worrying about. Que sera, sera..

Are we lost?

The guys in front chat, and occasionally Patricio turns to me and tries with much difficulty to explain something to me. I appreciate his efforts, as it's not easy for him either. The format of the conversation is: Patricio turns. "Samwell". Si? Blah blah blah. [Blank look]. He thinks of an alternative way of saying it, and tries it. [Blank look]. Third try with very simple words and sign language? Ahhh, got it! Si, si!! Occasionally it's so hard to convey meaning that he throws in English words, which leads me to suspect he's just sticking to Spanish to torture me. Incidentally, despite Jenny liking it, I find the Spanish here much harder to understand than Peru! They tend to blur word boundaries here. Nasty!

It's been a few years since I sat in the back of a car so much!

Patricio pulls out his mp3 music player which has little speakers built in, and puts in it a plastic cup to, he explains, make the sound stronger! His music selection is fairly cheesy 80s stuff, which I enjoy, then the football anthem of his football team, called Coco coco or something! All quite surreal!

Strange local variation on rhubarb

Is this what's known as a "petrified" forest? Answers on a postcard

Half way to Tortel, we turn off to visit an estancia called Rio Nadis that Patricio will stay at when he films here in February. To get there we cross a ridiculous or amazing (depending on how you look at it) suspension bridge.

Surely it's pedestrian only? Nope!

A German woman lives here [GPS: 47.48538S, 72.93947W] with her family - I think she married a Chilean chap. They live here with no electricity, phone or internet, and have a camping ground and some log cabins that they offer out to visitors, along with various activities, like horse-riding, fishing etc. Two Swiss chaps are staying here at the moment, and seem to be enjoying it.

Who are these outsiders?

We chat to the lady for a while in their kitchen, as she offers us mate tea.

It's always so hot!

It is here that I first notice the strange way of agreeing "yes, yes" they have here, i.e. as someone says something, you nod and acknowledge. Instead of "Si", or "Mmmmm", they say "Ja", but not the usual German way which sounds more like "Yahhhh". Instead it's sharp and fast - the same "Yahhh" sound but without any of the "ahhhh" bit. To me it sounds almost like an interrupting attack on what the first person is saying! YA! And it's not just because this lady is Bavarian - one might assume she'd just corrupted the German yes, but in fact I've heard it all over the area. Most strange, JA?

Graffiti across the gate

The good stuff up above

By the time we leave this estate it's gone 3:30pm. Am beginning to wander what time we will get to Tortel! The answer is not for over two hours more! The weather is variable today - it has been extremely cloudy, then cleared, then now is becoming cloud again. I worry that we will not be able to see anything when at Tortel, which will be a shame given the amount of time it has taken to get there! Still, one of the things that I love about travelling is the random encounter leading to diversions and more encounters. Where would I be if I hadn't chatted with Javier, hadn't met Patricio? Stuck in Cochrane!

Juan is about to fall backwards into the river

The road, which is fairly good gravelled road, swings left and right, up and down, for the most part following the milky glacial waters of the River Baker, which apparently carries the most water in all of Chile (there is another one somewhere else which is longer), and offers "world-class fishing", with typical weights of salmon caught in it 2-3kg, and maximum 5-7kg! Sounds like a lot!

Milky milky

Cows wander about, and an occasional defiant bull stands in the middle of the road, resisting any horns or attempts to move him. Finally we arrive. The wind is strong and cool, and it's raining slightly. I stretch my legs, and look down into the village.

Apparently it never snows, even in winter. If this is the height of summer, I am somewhat suspicious

Tortel [GPS: 47.79623S, 73.53117W] has been declared, and I quote, a "National Monument" of the "Typical or Picturesque Area" type by the Government. It was founded in 1955, and until recently could only be reached by boat. It is defined by the lack of roads - instead there are wooden walkways, constructed from Cypress woods from the surrounding areas - its trade was (is) logging.

Tradition continues..

This is something that has been done in this region for many years - Darwin himself noted from the Beagle the strange habit the locals had of building roads of wooden logs, which were fine in the summer, but which in the wet winter were extremely slippery and difficult to ride upon with horses. Tortel's setting is pretty - being in a natural harbour, and the village stretches round a rocky outcrop.

No quick escape when it rains

We walk down the wooden staircase, and along the town.


Patricio goes to chat with the council about doing a documentary here next year. I potter about and take a few photos. Apparently I may be listed as the official photographer in the credits for the film! Fame at last! My only moments of fame thus far are:

1. Having a letter published in New Scientist. Was a rant about the temperature on the tube.
2. Writing an answer to a computer problem in the Telegraph (configuring IPX/SPX)
3. Having a letter published in Loaded magazine about the TT bike race.

Err, that's about it! Not a very illustrious life! I'm sure I sent in a picture to Private Eye recently which was bound to be published, but I've forgotten what it was, and I doubt I'll go through and read a year's worth of the Eye when I get back (didn't cancel my subscription because I think the Eye needs to be supported.)

Pah who needs lightning conductors

The majority of the buildings in town are made from wood, and one feature I notice which is quite interesting is that lots of the walls are "tiled" with wood, creating an effect which resembles fish scales.


By now it's 7pm, and we're all hungry, so we go to a restaurant offering seafood. In this setting I am particularly looking forward to this, plus a break from salami!

As good a place as any to order fish

Imagine my dismay when my companions decide that C$4,000 (£4) for a full meal with soup, then fresh salmon with rice, and pudding, is a bit too expensive. I consider offering to pay for them too, but my Chilean dollars must also be conserved given how hard they are to come by, and the chance of them taking cards is next to nothing. Instead we decide to make sandwiches by going to a local shop, and buying some bread and… salami! Or worse in fact, it's a kind of spam ("cecina") that we buy, Patricio cutting enormous slices off a roll of the stuff with a diameter of about 10cm, using a knife that isn't up to the job, so one of my slabs is about an inch thick at one point! We sit in the car and eat our dry sandwiches, washed down with a can of beer. I dream of fresh salmon, lightly grilled, perhaps with some salad. Ah, exactly what I could have had five minutes ago for £4! Dammit!

Ah well, after a beer it didn't seem so bad a situation after all

On the way back to Cochrane we pick up another chap heading that way, which is fine except that it makes my legroom situation worse. I snooze on the journey back, waking up occasionally to snap shots of the sunset. It's beautiful, but rarely are we going slow enough for me to grab the scene. To be fair, Patricio had said to me if I ever want to take a photo, they would stop for me, but by now I just want to get back to Cochrane.


Back at the hostel, and bump into Javier, who asks me how things went. Good say I. He hasn't had such a good day, signing up just two people to mobile contracts. Never mind, let's go for a beer. We go to the other pub this time, and quaff a couple of Cristal beers. This pub has a locked door. You knock, and if the bar-man likes the look of you, he lets you in! Marvellously exclusive!

I offer to give Javier some music on his mp3 player when we get back to the hostel. I plug it into my laptop, and suddenly see autorun up to something with a couple of executables. Oh oh! I notice my antivirus is switched off. I whack it on. Beep! Virus! Too late! I have been infected by Perlovga and JW viruses! Oh dear! I fill up Javier's mp3 player, clean that, then spend the rest of the night "disinfecting". Idiot! Just a moment of fun with a guy I hardly know, without protection, leading to a lifetime of regret. The thing that makes me nervous is that here I don't have access to the resources I have back home to sort this out. It's replaced svchost.exe with its own copy, and is up to something. I worry that it might do something horrible like delete my photos, so I quickly update my external backup copy and disconnect that. By the next morning I have managed to clean it all off. I've learnt my lesson, I hope. Incidentally, if anyone knows how to completely rid your computer of the evils that is autorun, please let me know. It does absolutely nothing positive for me, and exposes me to this kind of rubbish. DELETE!

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