view from our room!
NOTE: We had no wifi yesterday, so this is the post I wrote on Monday. Today's post will follow tonight!
Another brand new set of experiences as we head into the heart of Chilean Patagonia and the Carretera Austral.
We were told to present our car for loading onto the ferry at 11:30 pm on Saturday - the port was 14 Kms from Puerto Montt on a dark, windy road, so we set out a bit early in case we got lost. We got lost.
After wandering around in the dark for 30 minutes, we pulled up to a parking lot and shack on the opposite side of the street from the water. We got in line with cars and semis and then proceeded to wait for the next 45 minutes while our turn came to present our documents to the port foreman. The foreman filled out some documents, then inspected our car (in the dark) gave us 2 copies of the documents, and told us to put our car into line.
In the meantime, other cars were pulling up and backing into line as well. One thing about Chilean drivers - they are non-agressive, non-sensible and they most definitely cannot back up to save their lives! We sat in our car for the next hour laughing at the drivers as they would come extremely close to backing into parked cars with an empty parking lot all around them, without exception! Colombian drivers are suicidal and much more unsafe, but Chilean drivers are more frustrating, in many ways.
By 1:00 am, drivers were told to drive their cars onto the boat, about 1 km away. We drove into port, onto a bridge, and into the belly of our ferry, the Evangelista (if you want to see pictures and specs on the boat, Google Navimag Evangelista). Much like the model Linda Evangelista (look her up on the Internet), the boat was born in the 70s, and is definitely no supermodel today, but is clean and friendly, so we couldn't complain.
This is a cargo ship, first and foremost, and while we went to sleep in our cabin a bit before 2:00 am, the stevedores continued to pack the boat with containers, semi trailers, trucks, buses, and even new vehicles. When we got up at 8:30 am, they were still loading!
By 10:00 am, the passengers who didn't have vehicles arrived at the boat and were boarded. We set sail at 11:00 am, and for the next 23 hours sailed through the inner passage of the channel past stunning coastline and through calm waters.
By the time dawn had broken we were in the narrow channels of the passage, navigating amongst waterfalls, forests and glaciated mountains - an amazing way to wake up.
We arrived into Puerto Chacabuco around 10am this morning and then the unloading process began. We finally got our car off the ship around 12:00 pm and started on our way down the Carretera Austral.
The Carretera Austral is a 770 mile stretch of road that was begun by the Chilean dictator Pinochet back in the 1970's. At that time, the only way to access Chilean Patagonia was by boat or through Argentina. As conflicts with Argentina grew in the 70's, Pinochet was worried that this area might become part of Argentina, as many of the inhabitants would feel more connected to Argentina due to the ease of access.
Pinochet sent 10,000 military personnel to build a road that would run most of the length of Chilean Patagonia. Many of these military personnel lost their lives building the highway. The first portion of the road was opened in 1988, with subsequent portions opened in 2000 and 2003. The surface of the road varies from paved to rough gravel.
The road is often described as one of the last great road trips in the wilderness left in the world, through forest, mountains and glaciers. And now, we were on it.
We drove the first 2.5 hours to Villa Cerro Castillo on decent pavement, passing through hilly pasture and beautifully rugged mountains. The pavement ended here and so did our journey (at least temporarily). The road was closed until 6:00 pm, so we were stuck for two hours waiting. We sat in a tiny restaurant with seven Brazilian bikers headed to Ushuaia.
By 6:00 pm we were back in line getting ready to make it to the next town, Puerto Rio Tranquilo, 100 dusty Kms and two and a half hours away. We decided to end our day here - however all the hotels in town were booked, so on we went to Puerto Bertrand, another hour and a half until we found our lodging... We are at a fishing lodge on the Rio Baker - the water is flowing fast and it is a shade of green/blue I have never seen before. Patagonia is truly one of the most beautiful places in the world!
“Travel is fatal to prejudice, bigotry, and narrow-mindedness, and many of our people need it sorely on these accounts. Broad, wholesome, charitable views of men and things cannot be acquired by vegetating in one little corner of the earth all one's lifetime.”
- Mark Twain