Postcards from Chile, January 2002

My four-week trip started in Puerto Montt (latitude 41º 28'), and continued south about 1,500 kilometers on the Carretera Austral, which extends to about two-thirds of the distance to Punta Arenas. That would be considered northern and central Chilean Patagonia. Almost the entire road is a one-track gravel surface. There are many villages along the road. The main industries are fishing and timber, though tourism is the future of Patagonia. On this trip I did not visit southern Patagonia, which is accessed from Punta Arenas. The most southern point visited was Caleta Tortel (latitude 47º 49'), 100 kms. short of the total existing road.

The Carretera Austral (in red)

Postcard #1

Tuesday, January 8

Puerto Montt, looking from Isla Tenglo, with volcanos Osorno and Calbuco

Angelmó, colorful and lively market, great food

Isla Tenglo

curanto at Isla Tenglo

Dear family & friends,

It is wonderful to visit the south of Chile once again. I flew to Puerto Montt, arriving on Jan. 2, and immediately found a cozy place to stay. Pto. Montt is the gateway to the Lake District and Patagonia. The seafood and shellfish are remarkable both in quantity and freshness. My first meal was a curanto, food cooked in a hole in the ground, in the way of the indigenous people of the south, containing clams, mussels, sausage, chicken, potato bread (milcao and chapalele) and more. That alone is worth a trip here.

The main purpose of this trip is to explore the relatively new southern road, the Carretera Austral. But first, I wanted to visit Cochamó, on the Reloncaví Estuary. Ever since viewing George Munroe's photography of the region, I had wanted to explore the area. A local bus took me first to Puerto Varas, 15 minutes north of Pto. Montt, then east and south to Cochamó.

Puerto Varas, Lake Llanquihue


La Junta , above Cochamó

I joined a horse pack trip to the "Yosemite of Chile", up the Cochamó Valley. The 5-hour, 17-km trip was breathtaking as we entered the temperate rain forest and then arrived in a large valley surrounded by high granite mountains, some with snow still clinging. And this is the middle of summer! The horses were incredible machines, picking their way across rivers and creeks with care. The weather was unusually clear, so I extended my stay to 3 nights in the mountain lodge. Very few tourists come up there, and one day I was all alone, taking meals on the porch with views of the mountains. A condor was sighted in the late afternoon, hovering over the distant peaks, which then soared to the east, toward Argentina.

It is rumored that Butch Cassidy and the Sundance Kid drove their cattle over this mountain pass to a slaughterhouse in Cochamó. They soon tired of this life and returned to banditry.

La Junta , above Cochamó

The trip down was something else, as the rain began slowly and became quite strong during the ride. The trail was a wet and sloppy mess. When the horses were not walking over boulders and planks and fallen trees, it was mud and more mud. The river was swollen and my horse (La Luna) appeared to have difficulty midstream. We made it across, but in my attempt to keep my balance, I forgot to lift my legs and my boots were full of water. It was a thrilling day. We were greeted below with tea and pastry. Then a 2-3 hour bus ride back to Puerto Varas for a great fish meal and a warm bed.

La Junta , above Cochamó

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© 2002 Roger Emanuels