Days 25 – 33 (19th- 27th Dec)
Day 25 – Chaiten to Castro
We said goodbye to Chaiten and took the ferry to Quellon on Chiloe Island, where we arrived in the mid-afternoon. We’d had blue skies with fantastic scenery all the way, with amazing landscapes of the Andean foothills and volcanoes beyond, as well as good company. It’s amazing how quickly you get to know people when travelling, and there is always good advice to be had from other travellers’ experiences.
Quellon turned out to be a rather ugly port town and when we saw our booked accommodation for the night, we quickly found a café with wi-fi to cancel it and decided to ride on. We ended up in Castro, Chiloe’s capital town, and luckily found a cabana in a small development with secure parking, which was very near to the famous Palafitos – these are picturesque houses built on stilts which were originally fishermans homes. They used to moor their little boats underneath the houses, and are now painted in attractive pastel colours but are a little run down like the majority of homes in Chile.
Day 26 – A day in Castro
We visited the UNESCO-rated Cathedral in the centre of town, a beautiful wooden structure which is painted in garish yellow and purple on the outside, but inside remains in natural wood, with many beautiful, religious statues dotted around the perimeter walls. Apparently, there are over 150 wooden, shingle-clad churches in Chiloe and we have certainly seen a number of these on our travels across the island.
The main street in Castro was very frenetic, with street vendors selling anything from Christmas paper to electrical goods, fruit and vegetables, and several small supermarkets selling more or less the same products which lined the road. We wondered how the street sellers managed to make any money to stay in business, but everyone seemed very happy and contented.
Every town in Chile seems to have groups of wandering dogs, and Castro was no exception. Their main interest, apart from sleeping in or by the road, was to chase the passing vehicles, us included. We saw one unfortunate dog that had obviously been hit by a car and had broken its pelvis. It was dragging its back legs as it walked but appeared to manage surprisingly well and seemed to be accepted by the other dogs. Having spoken to many locals about the dogs, we have learned that in January there will be a new government initiative to chip them and hopefully tackle the issue by neutering them.
Day 27 – Castro to Puerto Montt
The next day we headed up to Puerto Montt, to the Navimag offices to pick up our ferry tickets, and to find accommodation for the night. Luckily, we found a Hospedaje just around the corner from Navimag, which had the biggest garage we had ever seen. The floor was completely covered with ceramic tiles, and there was a black spiral staircase which led up to our accommodation on the first floor. There was an aged Toyota Corolla ‘Liftback’ car parked there which was probably about 30 years old and in pristine condition…. definitely the poshest parking place for the sidecar so far!
Days 28 to 31 – On the Navimag ferry from Puerto Montt to Puerto Natales
The next day we took the 3-night ferry from Puerto Montt to Puerto Natales. We met some fellow motorcyclists whilst waiting to depart, and it was interesting to hear about where they had come from and were going to, the conditions of the roads, and the variety of accommodation in which they had stayed. Two had been on the road for over a year and a half, one on a heavily-laden 650cc Suzuki V-Strom, the other on a more modestly-laden BMW 1100GS, along with a 250cc Chinese trail bike. We also became friendly with a young Dutch chap, Marten, who we first met on the quayside – he’d been on the road for over two years with his VW camper which he’d bought with 340,000 km on the clock and had now taken this up to 400,000 km. The engine was apparently now on its last legs and we sincerely hope he reaches Ushuaia (the End of the World) before it terminally conks out – there is only 400 miles or so for him to go!
The ferry finally left two-and-a-half hours later than expected, but everything here seems to run on ‘Chile time’ – no one seems to be in any rush and the Navimag booking system seems very outdated and somewhat haphazard, but none of this rubbed off onto the good organisation of the ship, once we were on-board.
We were shown to our cabin which was very comfortable – unexpectedly, we’d been upgraded to a cabin with a window looking out over the stern of the ship, with views in 3 directions. Whilst we waited to set off, we were amused to see sealions sunbathing on the ship’s big plastic mooring buoys which must have warmed up in the sunshine – they were jumping on and sliding off, being very possessive of the space once on top and generally playing like children!
After setting sail, we had a safety talk, navigation route talk and then supper which were all excellent, and chatted with fellow passengers. The majority seemed to have come from Germany, but we heard Spanish, French, Italian, Australian and even Russian.
The following morning, we had another talk on the Flora and Fauna which we were likely to see on our voyage through the Patagonian Fjords. The variety of birds included Condor, Albatross, Penguins and various sorts of gulls, along with Seals, Dolphins and different types of Whales which would, if spotted, would be an amazing sight for us.
The weather on the first full day of the voyage was much better than we could have hoped for, given the reputation of this lower west side of Chile for mist and rain. The scenery was beautiful either side of the numerous narrow channels which run for the entire length of the voyage between the mainland and the numerous islands forming the archipelago. The ship’s resident naturalist, Percy, an amusing and charismatic character, gave the above-mentioned talks which included facts such as there are 1.4 people per square kilometre in Patagonia as compared to around 15,000 in cities such as London, thus making Patagonia one of the least-populated regions in the world. Another interesting fact we heard was that the top soil is only 6 inches deep, so the few coast-side settlements are unable to cultivate the land or even to bury the dead (there are structures built on stilts, over the sea, for interment purposes).
On the second day, as said, we had an interesting lecture about the Fauna and Flora that can be seen in Patagonia. We spent a lot of the day on deck and spotted albatross, various types of gulls, and some dolphins which had a black dorsal fin and white underbelly. The wind was picking up as we were out at sea for some of the time, so we had a rocky night till we returned to the shelter of the fjords.
The third day (Christmas Eve) started at 6am with a message over the tannoy system to say that we were approaching a shipwreck. This boat was originally meant to have sunk so the owners could claim on the insurance, but due to some bad planning it ended up being stuck on a rock. It was now, after some fifty years, extremely rusty but had become a refuge for birds, and there were even small trees and lichens growing on it. In the evening we saw a family of Orca Whales in the distance, too far away to take photographs but nonetheless exciting to see. The staff laid on a small party for the passengers, but I have to say that we retired to our cabin when the Spanish Karaoke started!
The fourth day (Christmas day) began even earlier at 5.00, with a tannoy announcement to say that we were entering the very narrowest channel between the two shorelines, and was a sight apparently not to be missed. It was a beautiful day with a wonderful sunrise which enhanced the majestic snow-capped mountains in the distance. The skill of the pilot steering the boat through the narrow channel was amazing and we will never forget this experience.
We arrived early at Puerto Natales and stood on deck watching the crew secure the ship to mooring posts with huge ropes which were put in place by the harbour men using small boats for this.
The private vehicle owners had to wait until all the foot passengers had disembarked, along with most of the lorries. After some slightly confusing administration issues with our disembarkation papers, we were on our way again having said our farewells to the friends we had made whilst on board
This was a very different Christmas day and one that we will never forget!
Merry Christmas to our family, friends and anyone who is following this blog. Please leave an occasional comment so we know there are people out there interested in what we are doing!
Day 32 – In Puerto Natales
We stayed in Puerto Natales and walked from our hotel into the town, a round trip of some seven miles. The wind soon got up and must have been around force 5 along the path we took following the sea shore – we couldn’t even hear each other talking. However, it was sunny which made it worthwhile.
Day 33 – To Argentina
We rode the 50 miles up to Torres del Paines (Towers of Rock), a very popular, mountainous National Park which attracts hikers and tourists in their flocks! Accommodation prices rocket in the surrounding area, with some campsites asking £70 a night per person in the National Park! Most people book their accommodation way in advance, so staying here was not an option for us and beyond our budget for camping. However, we were amazed at the scenery and contemplated stopping to do some walking around the ‘Towers of Rock’ but decided to press onto Argentina. However, we saw them from a distance before carrying on towards the border – they were indeed impressive.
Once at the border, we exchanged our Chilean Pesos into Argentinian ones, probably at a relatively poor border rate, but it was convenient as we needed cash in case the hotel which we would book into, later on, requested it. After completing customs formalities, we drove a few miles through ‘No Man’s Land’ which comprised an extensive area of grassland with rolling hills, this type of landscape being known as the Argentinian Steppe. As we progressed further (east) into Argentina, we saw ostriches, guanaco, foxes and numerous sheep.
We headed along part of the famous Ruta 40 towards a small town called Esperanza, which sounded much more exotic than it turned out to be! Our hotel façade and the restaurant behind it were fine but the rooms, which were tucked out of view at the rear, were very basic and in need of refurbishment, though we decided to take a room as the next town was about 70 miles away.
The relatively cool and sometimes rainy weather of southern Chile which we’ve had over the last 10 days or so gave way to warm sunshine as we rode east into Argentinian Patagonia – this was just what we needed and has now got us thinking of progressing north and into good weather, rather than heading south to Ushuaia and the ‘End of the World’ where the forecast is for rain and cold over the next week or so.