There is a saying in Patagonia. It goes, he who rushes loses time. We were told this one on the ferry from Chiloé to Puerto Cisnes (our introduction to Patagonia) by an incredibly friendly Chilean diver who was full of chat for quite some time, which was great seeing as there was nothing to do on the 13h ferry. The scenery was beautiful, so that was a plus, but the night sleep across three hard as rock seats was a minus.
We arrived into Puerto Cisnes, a town around 4 hours from where we needed to be (Coyhaique) but the closest we could get on the days we needed to travel (ferries and buses from the north go once a week…), only to find that the one bus a day to Coyhaique had left 4 hours ago. Fantastic. He who rushes really does lose time!! So we opted for the only other means of transport available to us, hitchhiking. Given the infrequent transport links in Patagonia this is a common mode of transport (sorry mum), which made it not too surprising that we were picked up by the first car we stuck our thumb out to.
A Jehovas Witness metal worker was off to pick up a friend in Coyhaique. He was a lovely travel companion (for Katie as I understood very little of the convo in quick Spanish) who often stopped off to let us take pictures of the glorious mountainous countryside and told us all about his favourite drinks.
We arrived into the town to try and find wifi to text Diego, the farmer who’s farm we were due to work on for the week, only to not hear anything back for 7 hours with no idea of his address or telephone number. Now here is where the story gets a little complicated: when we were deciding where to volunteer, it came down to the farm or a brewery. The brewer was completely honest and told us his sales were low so there wasn’t much brewing to be done so we opted for the farm. The brewer (Sebastian) however told us the name of his bar and told us to swing by for a beer. When we didn’t hear back from Diego all day (even after an hour in a taxi trying to find the farm with the cryptic address we did have) we thought we’d swing by his bar, Hudson Bar, for a beer and to see if he was around. Best decision ever. The bartender quickly called Sebastian, and he came as a knight in shining armour to buy us beer and take us back to his house which he warmly threw the doors open to. By the time we’d had a few beers and went back to his home, we’d heard from Diego and he was on his way to pick us up. A dilemma ensued in which our gut instinct and conscience kicked in telling us to stick with our prior engagement and off we went to the farm.
Very quickly we established that Diego had in fact forgotten all about our planned visit, wasn’t expecting us and therefore had nowhere for us to sleep. We stopped off at his parents house to pick up a spare mattress, ended up sleeping on his living room floor as three other volunteers were occupying the single spare room (already on mattresses on the floor). Another volunteer who had been there for a few weeks let us know there wasn’t enough work for 5 of us (thanks for making us feel welcome guys) and Diego was asking a friend to take us. Needless to say this was our cue to say we’d gladly head back to the town and stay with Seba, who had not only offered us his spare room but also questioned our plans as he thinks Patagonia is too vast and wonderful to spend/waste a week in one place, especially with our schedule.
So seeing as he’d given us a roof over our heads, the next day we worked on the farm for a few hours building a fence and sanding down some glass bottles to make vases out of (almost as fun as it sounds); but our main motivator were the 9 6-week old puppies they had, which occupied most of our time (excuse all the photos!)
Back we hitchhiked to the town, only to find out the ENTIRE town had lost wifi connection so we had no way of telling Seba we had changed our plans, so off we trotted back to his bar in the hope he would be there. Our knight in shining armour showed up just a few minutes later and, again, welcomed us into his home which would be our base for the next week.
The only worry Seba had about us staying was his dog, Vito, a big German shepherd who is ferociously protective of Seba and dislikes anyone who comes near to him. The first day was spent with him in a muzzle, which was too sad so we decided to join Seba on a walk and throw a few sticks which did the trick and we soon enough made a new friend. The walk took us along the gorgeous River Simpson, where we quickly ran into a crazy lady waving a stick saying that we needed to get off her land (not her land, very much public domain), as Vito had killed her sheep the previous day (Vito hadn’t been anywhere near there). A very odd 10 minute shouting match later we hurried away after she starting being very rude indeed – very odd encounter. We rounded off the walk by driving up to a wonderful view point above the city and sharing a thermos of mate, a loose leaf tea drink common in South America drank out of a pumpkin container and drunk through a metal straw. Whilst Katie was a seasoned drinker, it was my first encounter. SO STRONG, but very tasty.
We decided to make the most of our change of plan and see the region of Aysen. We spent our weekend at General Carrera Lake, which is shared with Argentina and is huge. 224,000 hectares to be exact. Its green-blue waters are mesmerising, but the bitter wind and rain reminded us that we are in the very heart of Patagonia.
We stayed in Rio Tranquilo, a tiny village of about 4 roads that acts as a base for travelers seeing the wonders of the lake. The glacier walk was a little out of our price range, so we opted for a trip to the marble caves, which was almost jeopardised by the weather but luckily we found one company willing to take us out. A very wavy lake made for a slow and slightly scary 30 minute ride to the caves but what we saw was well worth it.
Formed 320 million years, they used to be underwater but tectonic movement brought them above water and years of erosion created the marble effect. The molecular composition of the material is hexagonal, which is why it looks so ‘dimply’.
The rest of our stay there was for resting and wandering and eating cazuela (a Chilean broth with meat, corn & sweet potato which we fell in love with).
We were hoping to meet Seba and his friends close by at Cerro Castillo, a great mountain for a hike, but the weather messed with their plans too so we headed straight back to Coyhaique where we spent the next few days with Seba and his friends. We cooked them dinner and had an evening of pisco sours (the Chilean recipe… Perhaps a tad less tasty than the Peruvian…) and games followed by an evening at Seba’s friend Jano’s house where we were treated to homemade lasagna and tips for our onward travel.
Our first experience of Patagonia left us full of gratitude for the warmth and generosity we encountered. It also made us realise we needed to slow down our pace if we were to fully enjoy Patagonia; pace of life here really is switched down a notch, and I think we might just like it here.
Our next stop, a short flight from Coyhaique to Punta Arenas, the most southern point on our journey.
Bye for now x