Sunday, January 10, 2010

Chile: Chiloe and Santiago



Back on our land legs in Puerto Montt, we rented a tiny red car to explore the big island of Chiloe. It was freeing to be able to go where ever and when ever we wanted to after the two weeks of worrying about bus schedules. Took a ferry across to the island and drove south to the city of Castro.

Chiloe stretches south of Puerto Montt about 100 miles. It's south most town is where the Pan American Highway dead-ends into the sea.

Castro was a quiet little town, much like the others we had visited in Chile. Colorful houses on stilts lined the bays and seafront.

We drove to through the green, rolling countryside to big open beaches...

...and took the road less traveled by. ( Note the driving conditions outside! )

Sometimes we didn't take any roads at all!

We soaked our tired feet in the sea...

...and stopped to smell the roses.

We'd been hopping from town to town so much and were a little burned out.

One of our last stops on the trip was to some rocky beaches on the Pacific side of Chiloe where the animal life was abundant.

After a few days of rain we were happy to have some sun. We drove to a cove with some small, rocky islands off shore.

And we found PENGUINS!!!!

A few colonies of Rockhopper and Magellanic penguins brightened the rough shore with their silly, monochromatic waddling. We were pretty excited.

After contemplating the best way to get a penguin through Chilean customs we decided hike the beach a bit and make some friends.

Spent the afternoon rock hopping along the rough shore.

Found ourselves a quiet spot at the end of a point with a killer view and no one around.

We drove north back to Puerto Montt for our jump to Santiago.


We only had a day to spend in Santiago, but we made the most of our time by doing some big city stuff in town and put our dorky tourist faces on and checking out one of the biggest local vineyards, Concha y Toro.

Among others, they make Casillero del Diablo that is found in the states. We toured their expansive vineyards...

...walked through their deep storerooms...

...and sampled lots of their great wines under the tutelage of the house sommelier.

The next morning we jumped back to Cartagena. Chile is an amazing country... looks like I'm heading back real soon!

Thursday, January 7, 2010

Chile: Puerto Puyuhapi to Coyhaique



The bus finally came to Chaiten late in the day and drove us south towards Puerto Puyuhapi. We changed to a van late in the evening, and then found ourselves in a tiny town somewhere in the middle of the night, with no bus leaving until the next day. After knocking on a few doors in the wee hours, we found a place to sleep at Tia Ame's house. The next morning bright and early after one more bumpy bus ride we found ourselves in Puerto Puyuhapi.

Puerto Puyuhuapi is another tiny town in Chile, nestled between the valley at the farthest inland reach of a great fjord that runs into the Pacific Ocean. It was chilly and quiet and cute.

We took kayaks out one day into the fjord and were met by a pack of sea lions... somewhat disconcerting considering they are bigger than our tiny kayaks, and much more massive! The landscape was beautiful between the tall fjord walls. A hanging glacier peeped out between two mountain peaks.

Seeing a glacier was on the list for fun things to do in Chile, so we arranged a hike in the national park which took us over raging rivers, through dripping forests, and up and up and up.

The climate is always wet, and the foliage was green and growing everywhere!

When we got to the hanging glacier we were met by only clouds. After a little cloud dance, and some strong lungs blowing in their direction, the clouds moved away and there was the blue glacier.

Water poured out from under the thousands of year old ice. Even from a long ways away, the deep booming and cracking of the glacier was formidable. Sounded alive... One in a while pieces would crack off and fall into the gray-green lake below.

Hiked back in awe.


Bussed down to Coyhaique to catch a boat back to Puerto Montt. We didn't get to see too much of the town, but it was tucked between beautiful mountains.

Toting all of our gear, and a little grubby for the travels, we chowed lunch in a great restaurant with a roaring fire, and then headed to the port to catch our ship.

We caught the big NaviMag ferry that runs the 18 hour motor between Puerto Montt and Coyhaique. Boarded at midnight, found our little cabin and crashed for the night.

Woke up to the howling of the elements over the ship. Wind and rain belted the big ship as we cut through the frozen waters of the fjords heading out to sea.

Dolphins and sea lions played off of our bow. Out to sea we saw whales spouting...

After the protection of the fjords we broke into stretches open to the rolling sea. The big ship pitched and rolled... we were a little green... but we eventually made it into the lee of the huge island of Chiloe.

Tuesday, January 5, 2010

Chile: Puerto Varas to Chaiten



From Pucon we bussed six hours down to Puerto Varas, one of the last major towns before the Pan American Highway stops in Chiloe. Puerto Varas, like Pucon is on a beautiful blue lake that stretches into the distance and is dotted with volcanoes.

Dragging our worldly possessions, we spent a few days taking advantage of the great seafood and locale!

Spent a little down time after the traveling, enjoying a few local cafes during the day after hiking around the Puerto Varas.

Brought in 2010 with an awesome dinner at a lake-side restaurant, watched fireworks over the lake, and danced our feet off with the locals in a smoky discoteca.

The road stops in Puerto Montt, so the only transport to the next stretch of habitation is boats that resemble WWII landing craft. We left at midnight after all the trailers full of cows had been loaded and slept in pseudo-reclining seats during the 8-hour motor to Chaiten, the next tiny town south.


We must have missed the part about Chaiten being destroyed completely by the nearby volcano last year. We pulled into Chaiten and were met by Nicolas, a Canadian/Chilean who lived and breathed to get the tiny town back up and running. Unfortunately, the whole place was under a good 4 feet of ash.

No water or power, not much help from the Chilean government. I suppose they don't want to put too much funding into a town that might get blown up again. Some people were sticking it out, and we stayed with them. If you're in Puerto Montt, go see Chaiten! It's humbling and beautiful in its disarray, the people are overly welcoming, and the salmon is great!

We trod through the ashen streets finding relics of lives left behind... The population was evacuated by the Chilean navy... Check out a little YouTube video of the eruption at:

Our friend Nico brought us into the park where the volcano still smolders. The blast filled the river with huge, burned timbers that diverted the nearby river through the town of Chaiten, washing houses out into the sea.

The only road heading north out of town was washed away, leaving boat the only form of transport towards Santiago.

Needless to say, the busses didn't often run to Chaiten, so we were 'stuck' for a day. The bad thing about volcanically active zones is that they sometimes blow up your towns. The good thing about them is that they have tons of thermal springs! So we spent our 'stuck' day soaking our weary bones in beautiful hot springs in the mountains. All thanks to our friend Nico.

We made some lemonade out of our lemons. It goes to show that there is beauty to be found even when the outlook is grim.

Friday, January 1, 2010

Chile: Pucon and Christmas


Location: Chile, South America

Rundown: For Christmas bypassed the freezing temps in Northern Michigan for the summer south of the Equator in Chile. Food, hiking, volcanoes, and penguins ensued...

Flew into Chile a few days before Christmas. Although heading south of the equator where summer was reaching full swing, we still were going to be in the Andes much of the time. We packed for warm to insulate our thinning Caribbean blood!

Stayed only one night in Santiago before heading south by train and bus, both of which ran like clockwork and were very comfy traveling.


Pulled into Pucon, about 8 hours south of Santiago late in the night, and found ourselves the next day in a tiny town shadowed by Volcan Villarica, a sleeping giant in the distance, often obscured by the clouds. We spent a day bobbing around the tinier towns around Pucon, scooted in the cold, clear Lago Villarica in a colorful boat, sampled the local cusine and libations.

Tons of good Chilean wines! Everything similar price to 2 buck chuck!

Cheese! Real, aged cheese! A Wisconsin girl's dream! We were pretty floored by the assortment of goodies in Chile that just aren't available in Colombia!

Christmas came around and we were prepared! We packed in all sorts of Christmas goodies, including presents, santa hats, and fixin's for Polish mushroom soup and pierogi! We had arranged to stay in a cute little cabin overlooking the lake just outside of town.

We relished in the quiet of the Chilean countryside, which contrasted with the noisy Colombian cacophony we were used to.

Cooked up a great Christmas dinner...

...and had presents in the morning!

After a few days of Christmas R&R, we decided that our butts needed to be thoroughly kicked.... so we climbed the volcano outside of town!

Talked to some guides in town, then left early in the morning the following day with a group of other climbers.

We were outfitted with snow gear, helmets, ice axes, and crampons! We tried hard not to step on each other's feet!

We hiked up the scree easily, but once we hit the snowfields we donned crampons. Once above the clouds the wind blew hard and we felt the full affect of our thin tropical skin! Yikes!

The higher and colder it got, the icier and steeper the slope became. We hiked up in long lines, zigzagging up the open face of the volcano.

Even with crampons a few of our group members fell and our guide made the call to head back before the summit.

Although we were a little bummed about not summiting, we had an awesome time sliding on our back sides down to the bottom of the volcano. It was fast and long and we steered with our ice axes. We returned with soggy pants!

Spent a few extra days in Pucon. Rained most of the days, but we hit a hike in a local national park. Came back pretty wet...

A little rain never hurt anyone!

But our shoes sure got muddy!