To South America and Back

Wednesday, February 15, 2006

Don't trust long skinny countries

After deciding that the Argentinean route to southern Patagonia & Tierra Del Fuego seemed far too touristy for us, we decided to enter Chile and take a much less traveled route. It was this brilliant idea that lead to our hatred towards Chile. I will try to keep the recap of this adventure brief while not leaving out sufficient evidence to prove its exhausting annoyances.

¡Bienvenidos Chile!
first stop (day 1): Puerto Montt...aka cold, rainy, dirty, smelly, hell hole where hostels cost the same as a four star hotels in Argentina but resembles a crack house that may be found on North avenue and 35th street in Milwaukee. Oh and the people? They harrass you as you pass by in order to buy whatever it is that they are selling. And no, it's not just sweet locals trying to make a buck by offering their handmade goods. It's rude grabbing, pushing, yelling, starring, and beyond tourist prices. The food? expensive and non-impressive. I want out.
-marina says the boat to Punta Arenas and Puerto Natales is broken and we have to wait two weeks.
-travel agent says plane tickets are costly unless we want to wait several days (now we realize this was the option we should have chosen)
-travel agent also informs us that other boat service to Punta Arenas no longer exists in Puerto Montt and we must go to Chacobuco. to get there we have to go to Chiloe.
-bus station has a bus to Chiloe for the next day.

second stop (day 2): Castro on the island of Chiloe
-I come down with a cold
-cold and yet another town that looks like hell but smaller
-a woman at the depot whisks us off to her house where we can stay. "¿es circa?" we ask (raspy throat, dripping nose and all). "¡Si!" she answers. Then she drives us about two miles from town where there are no restaurants and in my state we dine on dried soup bought from the market which doubles as someone's home.
-bus station says no way to anywhere from here. Must return to Puerto Montt.

third stop (day 4): original hell hole again (Puerto Montt)
-bus station says there is a 36 hour bus ride to Punta Arenas...tomorrow. Twenty hour bus to Chacobuco on regular seats... no baño. No bus to Chaiten (another city even closer). They tell us to go to the marina.
-this is when I reached my limit. We had spent way too much money on the worst rooms I had ever seen. I've been heaving around my backpack for days through the streets of cities I wish not to reside for a minute longer. I hadn't had my own bathroom in weeks. My nose was running, my cough was disgusting, and every bone in my body hurt. I therefore dragged Jeremy to every upscale hotel until I found one of my liking. The Holiday Inn Express. We lived like Americans for the next two nights. (why two? well, the receptionist gave us the wrong boat info and we missed the only way out of this dump...ha ha! fun times...I of course tried to squeeze a free night out of her but she coud only offer 1/3 off). Despite the disgustingness outside we truly lived it up in our Holiday Inn palace! Huge breakfasts where we stuffed our faces with cereal, yogurt, and coffee and our pockets with pastries and fruit. A king sized bed with high thread count sheets. A gigantic bathtub where I could actually bathe for as long as I pleased. A spectacular view of the ocean from floor to ceiling windows that covered an entire wall. We dined on McDonalds from the food court at the attached mall (we really had to make it American) and watched episodes of Lost, ER, CSI, Cold Case, Law and Order, and various movies on HBO until our eyes grew tired and we were lulled to sleep by the peace and quiet of the luxurious thick walls that guarded us from the city below. This could not go on for long.
-on the second day of our stay (after being fooled by the receptionist-which I complained to the corporate office of Chile's Holiday Inn- Regis style) we bought tickets for a 24 hour boat ride to Chacobuco. Yay! Such hope.
(as a side note...the funniest thing about this city was the second day we awoke to a large cruise ship outside of our window. When we went outside there were hoards of people lining the entire shore. Everyone came to stare and take pictures of this monster ship as if it were some kind of beautiful peice of art. When we asked the receptionist she replied, "oh yes! This is very exciting!")

fourth stop (Day 8): Coyhaique
-van pìcks us up in marina. Holds 8 but squeezes 17 on. Half hour drive to another marina.
-24 hour boat ride goes on for 32 hours with smelly feet (reminiscent of Alex LaMotte), room full of loud snoring, 10 small children running around screaming, riding a scooter, turning the lights on and off, a guy with a boombox blasting reggaetone.... the list goes on. To give it some credit, it did have such perks as seeing beautiful islands and mountains go by as well as whale watching.
-Supposed to arrive at 8pm, gets in at 4am. No hotels. Cab to Coyhaique is our only option. $40 cab ride.
-Way too expensive hostel that looks as though it's been deserted. No heat (it's cold here) and you have to light the water heater to take a shower.
-On the bright side, we get to do a day hike in the nearby National Park.
-Finally realize that we can't go south because we'll never get there and our money may be gone if we have to endure one more week of this. Decide to go to a park that's north of here.
-Can get to park but then have to take a $40 cab to the entrance.
-Buy bus tickets to the only way out of this country: Chaiten where we will then buy tics to Futaleufu and then Argentina.

fifth stop (day 10): Chaiten
-Bus is actually a van. 12 hour ride on the Carretera Austral (all dirt) with a lively bunch of travelers from all over. This ends up being a pretty fun time.
-Chaiten is small and cute.
-We are told there is no way to Futaleufu for two days (of course!)
-Pay too much for a hostel but enjoy a lazy day drinking wine in an overgrown picnic area by the ocean. We wasted away the day finishing off our box of wine, eating fruit and avocados, and taking a long nap in the grass.
-Next morning the bus terminal tells us the bus is not only full but also broken. We offer to stand for the four hour drive. She gives in but that is only if the bus is fixed in time.
-No bus. But hey, they scrounged up something similar to a vw bus. yay!

Sixth stop (day 12): Futaleufu
-Another cute small town but a bunch of expat Americans who are a bit obnoxious.
-no bus to Argentina for two days (of course!)
-Find out the border is only about 6 miles away. Decide to hitch the next day with a German friend we made.
-No rides. Every car passes as we walk in the burning sun on the dirt road. I almost kiss the ground when we see the Argentina sign ("my homeland" as I keep telling Jeremy).

-Now it's only 20 miles to the next town. We attempt to hitch again. Three hours later as the border control was ready to close we found some friendly ex-Argentineans from Spain that said we could ride in the back of their pick up.
-Ahhhhhh Argentina!

(so maybe I didn't really keep that short...oops)

When I return...
I have already decided that someday I will return to do this the proper way. And now I know just how that will go. First I will be wealthier! Fly into Chile, rent a car (actually they are all SUVs but that's ok because the roads make it necessary) and drive down the Carretera Austral. This was our favorite part of Chile and I can only imagine how fun it would be to do the whole drive, stop in all the cute seaside towns, and finish up with a visit to Tierra Del Fuego. Ah, the idea of being self sufficient!!!

And to give Chile some credit...they did just elect their first woman President!


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