Going North to Go South

I left Coyhaique on a 9-hour bus to Chaitén, to the north. Now, it may seem strange that I was heading north in order to eventually go south so let me explain my route a little bit. I am due in Ushuaia February 2 to depart for Antarctica. I wanted to use the two weeks before the cruise to explore the Carretera Austral, Chile’s famous route 7 that travels the central part of Chilean Patagonia. Flights from Chile to Argentinian Patagonia are tricky, so I will take a bus from Punta Arenas, Chile, to Ushuaia.

But of course, nothing in Patagonia is ever that easy. The road does not go all the way to Punta Arenas, so I will have to fly there, and flights to PA were cheaper from Puerto Montt (at the northern end of the Carretera) than from Balmaceda (at the southern end of the Carretera). Hence, I started further south and am making my way north to catch my flight even further south. My route has left many people looking very confused, but whatever. It seems to be working out.

So I found myself in Chaitén not having any idea what to do or where to go next. Naturally, I booked two nights in a hostel in town and set off to go figure it out. Before long, I had a transfer scheduled for the next day to a national park offering a challenging hike up a volcano with a lively international group, including a German fellow that I had met previously at my hostel in Santiago. Small world. The hike offered spectacular views of the outlying islands towards the Pacific Ocean on the way up, and at the top a nice smoking caldera. But it was straight up. With I don’t even know how many stairs. I honestly did not think I was going to make it, but am pretty proud of myself that I did (although I believe experienced hikers qualify this hike as only easy to moderate).

After that grueling experience, I took advantage of the opportunity to head to some hot springs nearby. Boy did that hot water feel good, and probably helped me avoid sore muscles the next day. I also chatted with a Chilean family that vacationed in a small town to the north last year, and loved it so much they came back this year. What was this small town, I asked: Hornopiren. Sounds good to me, so I planned to take a bus there the next day, spend a day there, and then continue on to Puerto Montt. The plan was done.

Or so I thought. When I went to buy a bus ticket, the bus was already full. That is how life goes sometimes when you are making last minute plans on the road. I quickly had to recalibrate and figure out what I was going to do, where I would sleep, etc. Fortunately I could stay at the same hostel for one more night, and I enjoyed a day of laziness: getting laundry done, organizing my stuff, and walking around the town of Chaitén for one more day.

Everything has a way of working out, I’m learning. Hornopiren was super cute. I went to yet another hot springs, took a solo wander on a semi-path beside a river, and found some really great ice cream and chocolate. Lodging there was cheaper than in Puerto Montt, and somehow I managed to save on the bus too (Chaiten to Puerto Montt directly was 20,000 CLP, but inexplicably it was 10,000 from Chaiten to Hornopiren and then 5,000 from Hornopiren to Puerto Montt which saved about $7.50). I’m due for quick one-night stays in Puerto Montt, Punta Arenas, and then Ushuaia (after a 12-hour-long bus ride that I cannot say I am really looking forward to). By the time you read this I’ll be in Antarctica!

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