Postcard #3

Saturday, January 26

Central Patagonia has been great to visit. From Coyhaique (45º 33' latitude) to the south it is a dry landscape though not nearly as dry as the Argentine pampa, according to fellow travellers. To the west all one sees are the craggy peaks which mark the eastern edge of the Campo Hielo Norte, the northern ice cap, one of two continental ice caps. Snow and ice glaciers ooze out of the narrow passes like octopus arms. Cerro Castillo is the most impressive series of jagged, sawtooth peaks.


Cerro Castillo

Puerto Tranquilo, Lago General Carrera

The road beyond Castillo is only gravel. At one point it becomes very smooth as it consists only of compacted lava from the 1991 eruption of the Hudson Volcano. At one valley the river changes course and destroys millions of trees drowned in its wake. The fine lava dust enters the pores of the skin even with the windows closed. I stopped for the night in Puerto Tranquilo, on the shore of Lake General Carrera, the second largest in South America. I flew over this lake in 1965 and have wanted to see it at ground level since then. It is about 150 kilometers long and quite wide, with an unusual milky green color which identifies the water as coming from glaciers. The mountains in the background line the southern shore of the lake.

Puerto Bertrand, Río Baker

near Cochrane

The next day my bus turned away from the lake to the southwest, along the Baker River, the most voluminous (caudaloso) in Chile. Another two hours brings us to Cochrane (pop. 4,000). The earliest road to Cochrane was from Argentina, over the Roballos Pass. The region was settled in 1903 by a large company which brought herds of sheep and farmers to work the animals and the land. Now there is a Chilean road from Coyhaique from the north. The history and mythology of the region are fascinating. 

Puerto (!!) Vagabundos

arrival at Caleta Tortel

The bus took us further down the Baker toward the Pacific Ocean. The road stops at Vagabundos, though the military construction crew continues to cut further south. There we boarded a launch for the 2-hour trip down river to Caleta Tortel (47º 49' latitude), a unique village of 400 hardy people which is built on a steep mountain side. There are no roads, only wooden sidewalks, 6 kilometers of cypress walkways, so solid that there was hardly a squeak. The lack of cars, bicycles, and horses makes for a quiet and pictoresque village.

We shared the launch with cartons of frozen chicken and soda. The people there only work in lumber and tourism. The village is located directly between the northern and southern ice fields. One can charter a boat to either field, but it is very expensive and takes 12 hours. I preferred to take hikes around the village.

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