Springtime in Chile

I really had no desire whatsoever to leave El Chalten. I had already pictured my cute little life in the quaint little town. Imagined my own little tin house with a yard full of dandy lions, thought about what the day to day existence would be like, and it all seemed pretty lovely to me. But I had friends on their way who were flying a very far distance to come visit me, and I was still a long long long way south from where the were arriving. So I packed my mochila yet again (the amount of things I can manage to fit into this backpack never ceases to amaze me), said goodbye to new friends, made a promise to those mountains that I would return again one day and hopped on the bus. 12 hours up the bumpy, dusty Ruta 40 brought me here...
sunset in Los Antiguos, Lago Buenos Aires, Argentina



Los Antiguos is a beautiful little town full of giant Alamo trees and bright green farm plots lining the shore of the largest lake in Chile (and fourth largest in Argentina). The lake is shared by Chile and Argentina, known as Lago Buenos Aires on the Argentine side and Lago General Carrera on the Chilean side. If only I could dip a paint brush into it's pristine waters,  I would color my whole world with the shades of sapphire and turquoise that are reflected in this inland ocean. Mountains float weightlessly on it's surface, undisturbed by the wind that rips across the water, white capping the waves. 

I stayed just one night at a little family run hosteria and was planning on leaving early the next morning to catch another bus across the boarder to Chile Chico but my itinerary was altered when the husband of the Señora in charge offered to take me to visit their family´s chacra (farm). I couldn´t turn down the opportunity for a little farm tour so off we went in the truck, all the while he told me about the several successful businesses he ran for so many years and how he finally realized that the only thing he wanted and needed was his own piece of land to work and cultivate and watch grow. His youthful animation was invigorating and his face glowed with pride when we drove through the little wooden gate that marked the property line. ¨There was absolutely nothing here when I bought this land ten years ago. We pulled up all the rocks, tilled the land, and planted all of this. This is the biggest accomplishment of my life. I have never been happier than I am here.¨  We walked the grounds and he pointed out all of the various crops they had planted this season. potatoes, corn, garlic, yellow, green and red onions, beets, beans, peas, carrots, cherries, strawberries, wheat, barley, kale, lettuces.... He expects this season to be the first to generate a legitimate profit. Cherry trees were everywhere, their branches heavy with fruit that would be ready to harvest within ten days time. I did however get to eat a strawberry, warm from the sun, that melted in my mouth like a Pachamama truffle. Oh the simple joys! Each encounter I have like this brings me one step closer to my life goal of living on a farm (/commune). There is something to learn from every person you meet....


pollitos everywhere! 
The entire farm (and those of his neighbors) are on an irrigation system that flows from a river that runs along the Chilean boarder, but the water in the ditches had been drying up over the last several days and now there was not a drop left and the problem needed to be attended to. I accompanied him across the boarder (which you can see from the farm) to check out the situation. Fortunately the problem was easily resolved as the dike had simply been clogged by accumulated debris. Once that was cleared away the water was flowing again, en route to feed the thirsty crops.  From there we went to visit his aging mother who lived close by (where, in the spirit of the distant American pilgrim holiday, I tried to catch her pet turkey), then he dropped me off in the neighboring village of Chile Chico to wait for the afternoon shuttle that would take me around the lake to Puerto Guadal. My morning of waiting at the bus terminal turned into an unexpected Thanksgiving adventure and a perfect example of why I love spontaneity.
waiting for the shuttle, Chile Chico
The following photos are all taken out of the bus window as we made our way along the boarder of the lake. This was my first Thanksgiving alone and I've never felt so grateful...









The shuttle dropped us off around 7pm but I was still a couple hours away from my destination in Puerto Rio Tranquilo, and since there was no other public transportation that day, myself and two Israeli girls stuck out the ol' hitchhiking thumb. Not a single car passed in this sleepy town and we were beginning to lose hope until a big cattle truck pulled up. I pretty much stood in the middle of the street so that they would have to stop. Fortunately, they were headed to Puerto Tranquilo. Unfortunately, there was no room left in the truck cabin. Fortunately, they were not carrying any cattle and into the back we went...



Months ago, a friend in Bariloche told me about these marble caves on some lake somewhere in Chile. I had been fascinated with them ever since and was determined to go there... needless to say, it was worth the journey. Las Cavernas de Marmol...













the marble cathedral







After the boat ride, I said goodbye to the girls and hitchhiked 6 hours to Coyhaique. Another insanely beautiful ride, each turn bringing a view better than the last, the colors getting brighter as the sun changed it's position in the sky. Lake turned into jungle; turned into sheer rock walls shooting up from the river; turned into undulating mountains.  Approaching Coyhaique, the forests have been clear-cut and replaced by short pastures dotted with cattle and horses. This human made landscape had it's own certain beauty; hillsides quilted into square plots of farmland in every shade of green imaginable. Even the dry, decaying logs and tree stumps added a unique texture to the view.

these huuuge leafed plants grow everywhere down here, the guys stopped to let me taste 
Nalca, similar to a giant rhubarb 
my ride
photogenic bathroom break, Villa Cerro Castillo


met these guys on the road... Drove down from in their antique Fords to do the Carretera Austral 

they offered to give me a lift, but were headed in the opposite direction
Friends at my family hostel in Coyhaique...





Leaving Coyhaique on another 8 hour journey, the landscape transformed again and again and again. It was overwhelming to try to take in so much beauty at once. We passed field after field of flowers; wild lupines growing everywhere, saturating the land with hues of royal blue, violet, fuchsia, pink and white, contrasted against this bright yellow flowering bush was like an art teacher's complimentary color dream!









I so wanted to take more photos on the drive, but simply could not bring myself to pull out my camera because the French couple next to me did not put theirs down once. I've never seen someone take so many photos in my life. To begin with, the husband, before we left the bus terminal, was accommodating himself in the front seat of the van. He had a tissue out vigorously trying to spit clean the windshield. He would get back in the van, notice another smudge, get back out to attack it with the tissue, get back in, and repeat. This went on for about 15 minutes. He took his first photo as we were leaving the terminal, must have been of the buses I imagine. From then on, for the next eight hours, he was snapping photos every 20-45 seconds. I kid you not. He reached over the driver, leaned out the window, asked the driver to slow down, pull over, "What's that? What about that over there?" When the driver would answer, both he and his wife would repeat the word in unison over and over nodding their heads enthusiastically. Then they traded places, now with the wife in the front seat, him in the first row behind her and beside me. Now they both began taking photos, of the same things, without cease. The husband was now unbuckling his seat-belt so he could reach forward, between his wife and the driver. When his wife was taking a photo he would scrutinizingly observe the digital screen over her shoulder. I practiced my 4-7-8 breathing
lunch break in Puyuhuapi


Finally made it to little Villa Santa Lucia, in the middle of nowhere mountain land, where we had set as a rendezvoux spot to meet up with my Chilean shredder friend, Pablo, his Austrian girlfriend, Arelita, and amigo 'Pelos'. Pablo and Arelita would be our personal tour guides for the next week! Stayed at Pablo's friend's sister's house where we drank vino, cooked on a big open fire wok, and had homemade Bailey's for dessert. We also had the joy of these two little monkeys...

From Santa Lucia we took yet another van to the deserted town of Chaiten. The Chaiten volcano awoke after almost 9,500 years of sleep in May, 2008. Seismic activity continued to grow at an alarming rate over the next seven months, with sequential eruptions that literally buried the entire town in ash. The military was called in to enforce evacuations of the last stubborn residents who refused to leave, as well as livestock and stray dogs. The Chilean government bought every single Chaiten resident a home and even paid the school fees for families with students in university. The streets have now been cleared of ash, but there are still entire neighborhoods of crumbling, ash filled houses, and the population will probably never recover.

Volcan Chaiten, still very active!




From here we made the final leg of the journey to Puerto Montt. Just 12 hours, one bus and five ferries later....




In total, it took me six days, two buses, three vans, one cattle truck, two autos, and five ferries to get from El Chalten to Puerto Montt just in time to greet two Gringos at the airport.......