Chile (& Easter Island)

The 4,300 kilometre-Long, Laid-Back, Colourful, Hospitable, Straitlaced, Isolated & Largely Remote South American Anomaly


Colourful Valparaiso, Chile. October 8, 2015

Chile & Easter Island

Chile was the last country I was to visit on my 6-month, June through December 2015 jaunt through South America. Things didn’t start well in the country meaning first impressions weren’t great. But it seems, and first impressions aside, I saved the best for last. I grew to really love Chile, especially its general air of laid-backness, its regional remoteness, its wonderful colourful wooden architecture, & its hospitable locals. Chile was to become my favourite country in South America.

Steaming Volcan Villarrica as seen from Pucon, Lake District, Chile. October 11, 2015.

Steaming Volcan Villarrica as seen from Pucon, Lake District, Chile. October 11, 2015.

brazil_fluttering_flag_256Chile was different, is different. It’s something of a South American anomaly. Somewhat isolated from its neighbours by vast natural barriers – the Atacama Desert in the north along the border with Peru & the Andes & vast ice caps of Patagonia along its eastern & southern border with Argentina – Chile stands alone in the region in terms of its visual aesthetics (all that colourful wood-and-tin architecture) and its economic & governmental stability; the general lack of corruption in, & straitlacedness of, Chilean society is something you come to notice and appreciate when, like me, you visit the country having travelled through the rest of the region. As a result, and as I travelled south, I found myself drawn more and more to the Chilean side of the Andes mountain range as opposed to the Argentinian side; I crisscrossed the border between the two countries more than a few times (eight times actually). Although my South American itinerary meant I missed the whole northern part of the country, the areas I explored south of the capital Santiago more than made up for that. Ultimately I spent more time in Chile than any other country on the continent & I blogged most from the Chilean road than anywhere else. Here is a recap of my travels through the country as posted from the road at the time with, where applicable, links to dedicated location postings.

Read all postings from the road in chronological order or jump to specific postings using these links.

ARRIVALIntroduction/Border Crossing
EASTER ISLAND/RAPA NUIEaster Island
CAPITAL REGIONSantiago & Valparaíso
LAKE DISTRICTPucon
CHILOEChiloé
AYSENCanal Moraleda, Coyhaique, Carretera Austral/Ruta 7 & Cochrane, Caleta Tortel, & Cochrane To Chile Chico
PATAGONIAPuerto Natales, Torres del Paine National Park, & Punta Arenas

Archived Postings From The Chilean Road (In Chronological Order)

ARRIVAL / BORDER CROSSING

Date || September 26, 2015
Location || Santiago, Chile (map-pointer-icon)

Here is a list of things that I lost today on a day of highs & lows, a day of alpine cross border travel, and a day when I arrived in Chile, my tenth & final South American country.

Waiting, waiting & waiting some more at the Los Libertadores border between Argentina & Chile. September 26, 2015.

Waiting, waiting, waiting. The 7-hour bus journey from Mendoza, Argentina, to Santiago, Chile, was only a 5 hour drive. The other two hours were spent here at the Los Libertadores border crossing between the two countries, somewhere where things move at a snail’s pace. It looks it but it wasn’t that cold, still t-shirt weather for me. At the Los Libertadores border between Argentina & Chile. September 26, 2015.

Travel mug.
Canon camera battery charger.
Sigma 30mm f1.8 lens.
Lowpro Passport Sling bag.
Three shirts.
Toilet bag with electric toothbrush, 3 month supply of contact lenses, man smells & general grooming paraphernalia.
Oakley microfiber bag (although not the sunglasses themselves).
Bits-n-bobs bag with, among other items, socket adapters, cables, & coins I’d been collecting from each South American country.
Sleeping shorts / PJ bottoms. Yes, even my PJs. I mean, c’mon.
Any respect for cross border customs officials.

All the above were in the very top of my big bag. They were there when I put the bag on the bus leaving Mendoza, Argentina, earlier this morning but they were all conspicuously absent when I arrive here in Santiago, Chile, some 7 hours later. I’m not one to point fingers but the only people to handle the bag in the meantime were the Chilean customs officials during the stupidly long 2 hours I spent crossing the border today. I’m savvy enough by now so my big bag is never entrusted with the guardianship of items I deem essential to my day-to-day travels; I’ve always said were I ever to lose some or all of its contents it would be an inconvenience. Not the end of the world but an inconvenience. And an inconvenience it was spending the last 4 hours dashing around Santiago dropping the guts of €100 to replace most of what I was relieved of (needless to say that wasn’t how I planned on getting acquainted with the city, one of South America’s largest). There wouldn’t have been such an urgency to do so were it not for the fact that I’m flying to Easter Island early in the morning. And because I am that is why right now, & the bad start to my Chilean exploits aside, I’m still in a pretty upbeat mood.

Andean scenery descending from the Los Libertadores border between Argentina & Chile. September 26, 2015.

Andean scenery descending into Chile from the Los Libertadores border between Argentina & Chile. I was looking forward to the journey today knowing that I was going to cross a section of the Andes. The scenery in parts was smashing, if a bit overcast. En route, & on the Argentinian side of the frontier, we passed through Parque Provincial Aconcagua, location of 6962 metre-high Cerro (Mt.) Aconcagua, the highest mountain in South America. Indeed it’s the highest peak outside of Asia, the highest peak in both the western & southern hemispheres, & is a popular alpine challenge in these part during the climbing season of November through March. September 26, 2015.

EASTER ISLAND

Date || September 27, 2015
Location || Easter Island, Chile (map-pointer-icon)

Every time I stopped to remind myself today that I was on Easter Island brought a little smile to my face. It’s beyond super cool to be here on what is one of the remotest inhabited place on earth, a 23 kilometre-long triangular island out in the middle of the Pacific Ocean 3,000 kilometres off the South American mainland & some 2,300 kilometres from the next inhabited island. Yes, it’s way beyond super cool.

A moai statue at Tahai on Easter Island, Chile. September 27, 2015.

My first sighting of an Easter Island moai statue. Tahai on the outskirts of Hanga Roa on Easter Island, also known by its Polynesian name of Rapa Nui. September 27, 2015.

Hanga Roa & Tahai
It was a long day today. Woe is me I know but even a 4:45 a.m. alarm call, a 3-hour flight delay (computer issues with the Boeing 787 Dreamliner) & a 5-hour flight didn’t in any way dampen my mood. A late afternoon arrival on the island meant I didn’t venture too far from my comfortable base for the 6 nights I’ll spend here, Residencial Vaianny in the village of Hanga Roa, the island’s only settlement & home to its 7000 population. I’ll be breaking out over various parts of the island beginning tomorrow but this evening I ventured 10 minutes outside of town to Tahai, my first Easter Island site and the nearest gathering of the famous moai statues.

Dusk pictures at Tahai on Easter Island, Chile. September 27, 2015.

Conditions upon arrival today were glorious; it was sunny & warm. However, the clouds rolled in as the sun was setting with scant breaks in the clouds – with 6 nights here, I have time on my side in order to hopefully get some good sunset pictures. This image was captured at a rather blueish dusk, which is late out here – it was approaching 8 p.m. when I took this picture (Easter Island is GMT-6 hrs). I stood here for some time looking beyond the iconic moai and out over the vastness of the calm Pacific as the last light of my first day on the island slowly, slowly, slowly died. While here I might just have reminded myself how I’d been looking at pictures of this place for aeons. And I also might have, once again, commented silently to myself how cool it was to be here now making my own pictures. And yes, I might also have smiled a few times too. I’ve a few miles on the clock but I still feel oh-so privileged to be here & will hopefully never take moments like I had this evening for granted. Tahai on Easter Island, Chile. September 27, 2015.

There’s more to come from enchanting Rapa Nui. Lots more.

Date || September 28, 2015
Location || Easter Island, Chile (map-pointer-icon)

I spent the day today being awed some more by Easter Island. It was a pleasant day in these parts, at the end of which I was treated to a rather nice sunset.

Sunset at Tahai on Easter Island, Chile. September 28, 2015.

Sunset at Tahai on Easter Island, Chile. September 28, 2015.

Playing with a Easter Island sunset. Tahai, Easter Island, Chile. September 28, 2015.

Playing with an Easter Island sunset. Tahai, Easter Island, Chile. September 28, 2015.

I still have way more time left here than I have spent but I know already I’m going to miss this place.

Date || September 29, 2015
Location || Easter Island, Chile (map-pointer-icon)

Easter Island is small enough to explore by bicycle, assuming you have the time and energy. I have both so today saw me breaking out from Hanga Roa on my luminous green mountain bike to skirt the island’s 16 kilometre-long southern coast. Dotted with ahu, platforms for the once proudly erect moai statues that mostly now lay fallen in the vicinity, the coastal road ends at the island’s most spectacular sight, the awe-inspiring Ahu Tongariki.

Ahu Tongariki, Easter Island, Chile. September 29, 2015.

Ahu Tongariki, Easter Island, Chile. September 29, 2015.

Ahu Tongariki
One of the world’s most sensational sights & the largest ahu to be found on Easter Island, 200 metre-long Ahu Tongariki is home to no less than 15 moai. Completely destroyed by a tsunami in 1960, one so powerful it carried some of the 30-tonne moai upwards of 90 metres inland, a joint Japanese-Chilean restoration project to return Ahu Tongariki to its present form was completed in 1995.

Lineup. The 15 Moai of Ahu Tongariki on Easter Island, Chile. September 29, 2015.

Lineup. The 15 moai of Ahu Tongariki on Easter Island, Chile. September 29, 2015.

Ahu Tongariki as seen from Rano Raraku on Easter Island, Chile. September 29, 2015.

My first sighing of Ahu Tongariki as seen some distance away from the slopes of Rano Raraku, a crag, or hulking mass of volcanic tuff (compacted volcanic ash) where all the island’s moai were carved. This quarry, the island’s moai production line, is home to about 400 moai in various stages of completion – some are still attached to the bedrock while others are laying in pits awaiting transport to their ahu. Needless to say they aren’t anywhere these days. Ahu Tongariki as seen from Rano Raraku on Easter Island, Chile. September 29, 2015.

Fallen giant. A toppled moai at One Makihi, Easter Island, Chile. September 29, 2015.

Fallen giant. All of the 400 or so moai that dot the coastline of Easter Island were toppled, it is believed because of tribal warfare resulting from the collapse of the societal system that that once prospered and which produced and erected the statues, again it is believed, as a form of ancestor worship. Some of the moai have been restored to their perch, but very few with the 15 moai of Ahu Tongariki the most famous example. The majority, just like this giant at the site One Makihi not far from Ahu Tongariki, lay where they fell all those years ago. A toppled moai at One Makihi, Easter Island, Chile. September 29, 2015.

There’s more of the island to explore beyond its southern coast which, admittedly, holds the bulk of Ester Island’s must-sees. I’ll tour the island again in a few days’ time when the pending hurt, mostly saddle sore & sunburn, has subsided (and I think I’ll hire motorised transport next time). I might just have to take it easy again until then.

Date || September 30, 2015
Location || Easter Island, Chile (map-pointer-icon)

It rained today on Easter Island. A few times. Just light showers. Nothing major. Apart from the drizzle it was a glorious day on this little Pacific high volcanic island. High volcanic islands are one of 4 types of Polynesian islands, islands created as a result of strong eruptions through fractures, or hot spots, in the ocean floor (the islands of Hawaii were created the same way, as I blogged about some time ago on my last visit to that particular corner of Polynesia). I know that little titbit of information because today I brushed up on my geology in the island’s excellent Museo Antropologico P. Sebastian Englert, somewhere I spent a good chunk of the day being further schooled on all things Easter Island.

Museo Antropologico P. Sebastian Englert, Hanga Roa, Easter Island, Chile. September 30, 2015.

Easter Island’s Museo Antropologico P. Sebastian Englert was/is awesome. Named after Father Sebastian, a German capuchin missionary who studied the way of life and language of Easter Island society, the museum is short on flashy interactive displays, fancy lighting, & overbearing guards (& it’s minus an entrance fee too). What it does is deliver good information in a simple & concise manner, covering everything from Easter Island’s formation to its early colonizers, to the rise & fall of its indigenous societal plan, & of course the full spiel on the astonishing & unique Neolithic statue cult that saw the production, erection & ultimate toppling of the iconic moai, the enduring symbol of the island. ‘The island of mysteries’ is what the museum claims Easter Island to be, stating that in 300 years of contact with the western world, the island has been represented as a place of unexplained mysteries. Very true – there seems to be an enigma around every corner out here – and it’s the mysteries that add to the fascination of this enchanting place. Museo Antropologico P. Sebastian Englert, Hanga Roa, Easter Island, Chile. September 30, 2015.

A female moai on display in the Museo Antropologico P. Sebastian Englert, Hanga Roa, Easter Island, Chile. September 30, 2015.

I never gave a second thought to the sex of the Easter Island moai (hands up if you did). The feminists out there will be happy to know that yes, indeed there were female moai, with breasts and all, although not very big ones & not too many – only about 10 moai display feminine features out of a total of 887 moai registered (as per figures displayed in the museum). This small female was unearthed as a torso in 1956 by a Norwegian Expedition before being whisked off to Oslo. Amazingly the head was uncovered some 30 years later, in 1988. A request was put in and the torso was returned to Easter Island to be reunited with the head, both now on display to appease the likes of me. Museo Antropologico P. Sebastian Englert, Hanga Roa, Easter Island, Chile. September 30, 2015.

I spent the rest of the day walking a bit of the coast, staring at more moai, & loafing around the leafy, fragrant streets of Hanga Roa – I stopped by the town church to say hi to someone who’s dearly missed (it reminded me of a typical community hall, boxy & functional) & had a few coffees in a few cafes. Oh, and I found time for a selfie.

Selfie at Tahai, Easter Island, Chile. September 30, 2015.

I don’t do selfies – you can probably see why – and I certainly would never upload one to my blog. Not normally. But I’ll make an exception for Easter Island. Plus, it was a slow photography day. dMb selfie at Tahai, Easter Island, Chile. September 30, 2015.

All of today’s shenanigans brought me invariably to that time of day, sunset down at Tahai, about as ritualistic an event as you’re going to get on present-day Easter Island.

Post sunset silhouette at Tahai, Easter Island. September 30, 2015.

It was busy this evening for sunset at Tahai, busier than I’ve seen it thus far – tonight was my 4th Easter Island sunset. Very few clouds meant the day was smashing but the sunset itself a little too perfect – you need a cloud or two. The post sunset sky was much more photogenic. And I know I’ve already uploaded a few Tahai sunset images but I can’t get enough of the sunsets meaning my blog can’t either. Post sunset silhouette at Tahai, Easter Island. September 30, 2015.

I’ll be back on the road tomorrow, this time on a scooter, touring the portions of the island I’ve yet to see (& maybe even revisiting places I already have). Here’s hoping the good weather of today has the decency to stick around for tomorrow, day 5 on the island. Wow, day 5 already. Time really does fly when you’re having fun & unfortunately there was never a truer word spoken on Easter Island.

Date || October 1, 2015
Location || Easter Island, Chile (map-pointer-icon)

By now I’ve navigated all the roads on Easter Island. There aren’t many. Any stretches of tarmac I didn’t cycle on day 3 were driven today, day 5, as I spent the day zipping around the island dodging cows and wild horses – Beep! Beep! – on my 100cc Yamaha. It got me to the parts of the island I had yet to see and even to parts of the island I’d already seen. There are some places you just need to visit more than once. Sometimes a lot more than once.

Yamaha at Ahu Tongariki, Easter Island, Chile. October 1, 2015.

My Easter Island wheels lording over the car park during a stop at Ahu Tongariki. At 20,000 Chilean Pesos (€26) a day, this beast is twice as expensive as a bicycle to hire (yet half the price of anything with 4 wheels) but requires way less than half the energy required of anything with peddles. Plus, it will also get you from A to B many multiples of twice as quick, even heeding the island’s 40-60kph speed limit. All that means it’s a much better option for getting around. I’d probably pimp this with a few dMb logos if not for the fact that they have my credit card on file. Yamaha at Ahu Tongariki, Easter Island, Chile. October 1, 2015.

Today was a different kind of Easter Island day; despite the clear skies of the morning & afternoon, there was no sunset. Nope, not even a vague inkling that one was trying to break through the spoilsport blanket of clouds that seemed to come out of nowhere towards the end of the day – playing the Easter Island meteorology game is exhausting. There was also another surprise in store when, & for an hour or so mid-afternoon, I felt like I was back in the Caribbean.

Anakena
You wouldn’t come to Easter Island for a beach holiday but were you to hanker for a swim when here then the sands of Anakena, on Easter Island’s mostly rocky northern coast, would be a damn fine place to do so.

Anakena, Easter Island, Chile. October 1, 2015.

Anakena is a place revered on Easter Island as local lore claims it to be the location where the founding king of Rapa Nui, who led his people to the island by canoe from the Polynesian islands far to the west, first set foot on the island. To say it is pretty is an understatement. The secluded, picture-postcard crescent-shaped bay with golden sand & backed by swaying palm trees is as idyllic as it gets, except for the fact that it could be any beach on any paradise island. What makes it unique to Easter Island is the moai statues found here sitting proudly atop two ahu, Ahu Nau Nau, home to 7 moai (see next picture), & Ahu Ature Huki. The lone squat moai atop Ahu Ature Huki (small spec on the hill to the right of the image) invariably plays second fiddle to the 7 Ahu Nau Nau moai, but it has a story to tell. A trailblazer of sorts, it was the very first moai on the island to be re-erected to a platform; it took 12 (crane-deprived) islanders a mere 18 days to raise the 25-tonne beauty way back in 1955 – any other moai found on an Easter Island ahu these days was erected/restored post this date. Anakena, Easter Island, Chile. October 1, 2015.

Of the 7 moai originally mounted on Ahu Nau Nau, only 5 survive as complete statues to this day. They are some of the best preserved moai on the island thanks to the fact that they were submerged in beach sand until their restoration in 1978.

The 7 moai of Ahu Nau Nau in Anakena, Easter Island, Chile. October 1, 2015.

All Easter Island moai were carved in a highly stylized manner & even though it is thought the statues were created over a 500+ year period, with production peaking in the 15th century, all share the same characteristics, excellently demonstrated by the moai profiles of this picture. All have rounded bellies & with arms placed tightly by their sides, so tightly in fact that they can appear armless; all have long-fingered hands that are always placed across their abdomen; and their heads are long & rectangular, with long drooping ears, pointed chins, prominent, angular noses & thin, tight lips. Another prominent moai feature is their headgear, the dark-red pukao, cylindrical topknots worn today by only a few of the moai standing on Easter Island ahu, 70 being the figure mentioned in some quarters. Themselves weighing upwards of 12 tonnes, the pukao were quarried in a separate part of the island before being placed on the erect moai. No one knows how this was done, a monumental task even for the hydraulic cranes of today. Likewise, there’s only speculation as to what the topknots represent, though they are likely just a simple representation of a topknot, a decorative headdress. This is the largest concentration of mounted topknots on the island. Some like their Easter Island moai con (with) topknot, some prefer them sin (without) topknot. I’m all for topknots, especially beautifully preserved, deep-red ones like those seen here, so needless to say I loved the moai lineup here at Anakena. Ahu Nau Nau, Anakena, Easter Island, Chile. October 1, 2015.

Things on this day were about to get real special.

Rano Raraku
On day 3 I visited Easter Island’s Rano Raraku, the tuff (compact volcanic ash) quarry on the east of the island where all Easter Island moai were carved. A gigantic megalithic workshop & the biggest monument from ancient times in the whole of Polynesia, Rano Raraku’s slopes are dotted with dozens of moai of various size, orientation & in various stages of completion – some are still attached to the bedrock while others are fully complete, laying here, there & everywhere in pits awaiting transport to their ahu. I revisited the site today in the hopes of getting better pictures than I did on day 3, when the conditions were dull & overcast. Not only did I get some pictures I like but getting up close to, & even on top of, some of my new Easter Island besties was one of the most memorable travel experiences I’ve yet had.

Rano Raraku, Easter Island, Chile. October 1, 2015.

The head moai statue on the outer, sea-facing slopes of Rano Raraku. All Easter Island moai were chiselled out of tuff rock until they were attached to the bedrock only by a thin keel at their back. When complete, except for their eye sockets which were always fitted when the moai was erect on its ahu, they were freed and slid down the quarry’s slope to be temporarily stored in pits prior to being transported to their ahu. Of course how the 20 to 25-tonne (on average, some finished statues weigh 90 tonnes) statues were transported is one of the biggest Easter Island enigmas (as is how they were erected once they arrived at their platforms). Theories abound, everything from island lore claiming the moai walked to their platforms using their mana (supernatural power or force) to being rolled via wooden rollers, the most widely accepted theory & accepted reason for the deforestation of the island. This moai, located today well away from the Rano Raraku rock face, was probably completed, or very close to, and was awaiting transport to its designated ahu. Needless to say it went on further and today it just one of many I-never-reached-my-full-potential moai lining a well-trodden path on the outer slopes of Rano Raraku. Easter Island, Chile. October 1, 2015.

Rano Raraku is a volcanic crater of tuff, the slopes on either side of which were used as an open-air moai carving workshop. Thanks to a designated trail, the outer slopes see the vast bulk of the visitors but moai are to be found on the inner slopes of the crater too, a beautifully peaceful place where seemingly few venture and a place that’s home not only to moai but also to a picturesque crater lake. I explored the crags & hills of the inner slopes today, making friends with a few of the permanent moai residents as I did.

Hanging out in Rano Raraku crater on Easter Island, Chile. October 1, 2015.

Gas craic they were, the lads, if a bit dry. Most of the moai heads in Rano Raraku do have bodies. They are full statues buried or encroached upon by surrounding soil over the years (think iceberg, with only a small portion visible). Walking among these moai figures was like being in some sort of Neolithic statue theme park, except it was real. Very real. I also had the whole scene, one of the most gorgeous places I’d ever been to, all to myself. It was beyond awe-inspiring, oh-so memorable. But little did know it was only going to get better. Hanging out in Rano Raraku crater on Easter Island, Chile. October 1, 2015.

Rano Raraku crater, Easter Island, Chile. October 1, 2015.

I clambered up to the rim of the Rano Raraku crater, not sure if I was supposed to – there was a trail, albeit an obscure one. The very last portion of the accent, to the very rim of the crater, saw me pull myself up onto a rock to access the ledge. Once there I looked down, only to realise I was standing on the massive face of an unfinished moai. I stopped dead. I was frozen. It was an amazing moment and as I lived it the obvious kept coming to the forefront of my thoughts – how the hell, upon completion, did the carvers ever proposed getting the thing down (before reminding myself they’d somehow managed it many, many times already)? Once I was finished pondering and taking in my surrounds I found the time for this picture, one I know I’ll treasure for a long, long time. Rano Raraku crater, Easter Island, Chile. October 1, 2015.

The view from the ridge of Rano Raraku crater on Easter Island, Chile. October 1, 2015.

The view from the ridge of the windswept Rano Raraku crater, looking towards the east of the island and the 15 moai of Ahu Tongariki, was something special (everything about today at Rano Raraku was). Having a massive unfinished moai up here with me was just the icing on the cake. Easter Island, Chile. October 1, 2015.

My day was done once I came down, both literally & metaphorically, from my second visit to Rano Raraku. I’ve two sleeps, one full day, left on Easter Island. I’ll have my Yamaha for the duration. I’ll also have an Easter Island to-do list, now full of ticked boxes. Completing the list only took 5 days. It could be done quicker – a lot quicker – but this is no place to be rushed. Two sleeps. Umm, I guess it’s better than only one.

Date || October 2, 2015
Location || Easter Island, Chile (map-pointer-icon)

I was up before the sun this morning. Not only was I up before the sun but I had made my way, in the pre-dawn darkness & drizzle, to the other side of the island in a bid to get to Ahu Tongariki, the island’s de facto sunrise location, in time for the sun to show. I needn’t have bothered. It was a nasty, cloudy start to the day & even though my optimism en route convinced me that conditions would improve, they didn’t. Not for sunrise and not for any part of the day thereafter, day 6 on Easter Island & my last full day savouring its wonders. It wasn’t a total bust however as I did get to spend some time, 20 minutes or so, alone with the 15 Ahu Tongariki moai before others turned up to spoil the solitude, & to join me in being disappointed by the sunrise no-show. For those 20 minutes it was just me, 15 towering moai statues, darkness and the sound of the Pacific Ocean crashing in the distance. It was surreal. My camera stayed in my bag.

Dusk in overlooking the harbour in Hanga Roa, Easter Island, Chile. October 2, 2015.

Today’s sunset wasn’t up to much either. But I was still there in Tahai on the outskirts of Hanga Roa just in case, & just like I have been every night I’ve been here, to see whatever there was to see of my sixth & last Easter Island sundown. Again my camera stayed in my bag. I took it out on the way back to my guesthouse when passing Hanga Roa’s quaint little harbour, somewhere I’ve passed many times this week & somewhere that’s overlooked by Ahu Tautira, home to the only moai in the town proper. Dusk at Hanga Roa harbour, Easter Island, Chile. October 2, 2015.

The rest of today, between sunrise & sunset, was slow. I took another spin around the island, heading east again along the southern coast road and returning via the central road, a 40 kilometre loop. I drove it with very little urgency – if the Yamaha had gears she wouldn’t have been taken out of second.

Southern coastal road pit stop on Easter Island, Chile. October 2, 2015.

Me again, this time on the roads of eastern Easter Island. Sharing the frame with me here is some of the many horses that roam all over the island (along with the cows) and in the distance is the upper reaches of the moai quarry of Rano Raraku. Southern coastal road pit stop on Easter Island, Chile. October 2, 2015.

Passport stamp overlooking Anakena, Easter Island, Chile. October 2, 2015.

It’s not the island’s remoteness. It’s not the mysteries or enigmas associated with it. It’s not even the iconic moai statues. Nope, the real reason people venture to Easter Island is to get the stamp. Available in the tiny Hanga Roa Post Office to anyone who presents their passport (or just a piece of paper for that matter), the Isla de Pascua (Easter Island in Spanish) stamp is the ultimate Rapa Nui keepsake. This is mine taking pride of place on page 22 of my passport. It was acquired today before hitting the road and is seen here as photographed from atop a hill overlooking the beach at Anakena, somewhere that looked so much more inviting in yesterday’s sunshine. Passport stamp overlooking Anakena, Easter Island, Chile. October 2, 2015.

The overcast conditions mirrored, or maybe even enhanced the somewhat melancholy demeanour I carried around the island with me today, the result of knowing the Easter Island end is nigh. I’m outta here tomorrow, but not before I give sunrise another chance to impress in the morning. My alarm is set & I’ve another drive in the darkness along the island’s southern coast to look forward to. Here’s hoping at the end of it that there’s something to see (at this stage I’m not even all that interested in photographing it). It’s been great so far so I can’t really expect too much more from Easter Island. That said, a sunrise over Ahu Tongariki would be a nice send-off.

Date || October 3, 2015
Location || En route to Santiago, Chile

And so it is done. This chapter is over. I’ve just taken my latest last bittersweet glimpse of Easter Island. It’s over my left shoulder, getting smaller and smaller and smaller.

The southern coast & eastern portion of Easter Island as seen after take-off of LAN flight LA842 en route to Santiago, Chile. October 3, 2015.

I’ve just taken off & I’m en route back the South American mainland. My 7-day holiday within a holiday – South America – within a holiday – my general being – is over. It was an amazing last week experiencing a truly amazing location, one big outdoor museum, the remnants of a unique cultural phenomenon that thrived in isolation on a small island in the middle of the vast Pacific Ocean. An iPod shot of the southern coast & eastern portion of Easter Island as seen after take-off of LAN flight LA842 en route to Santiago, Chile. October 3, 2015.

I did get a nice send-off. There was a sunrise this morning, and it was pretty (as sunrises tend to be).

Sunrise at Ahu Tongariki, Easter Island, Chile. October 3, 2015.

Sunrise at Ahu Tongariki, Easter Island, Chile. October 3, 2015.

I’ll be honest, I was happy to just take in the spectacle this morning, happier to savour it than photograph it; I didn’t even bring the ‘big’ camera, opting only for the smaller one. But I did take a few pictures.

Awaiting sunrise at Ahu Tongariki, Easter Island, Chile. October 3, 2015.

Awaiting sunrise at Ahu Tongariki, Easter Island, Chile. October 3, 2015.

I knew pre-arrival that Easter Island was going to leave an impression. I just underestimated how much of an impression. I’m going to miss the island but god only knows I’m taking enough media – both in digital & print form – with me to remind me of a location like no other, certainly like no other I’ve ever experienced.

To see lots more photography & read more insights from my time on Easter Island, check out my dedicated Easter Island posting.

SANTIAGO

Date || October 7, 2015
Location || Santiago (map-pointer-icon)

In hindsight, Santiago was always going to struggle. We, the city & I, didn’t exactly get off on the right foot, with me being forced to spend my first introductory hours here running around the busy multilevel Costanera Center, the largest of Santiago’s many flashy shopping malls, attempting to replace items stolen from me en route to the city. Of course that wasn’t Santiago’s fault but what is it they say about first impressions. Strike 1. That was last week & before, just before, my departure for Easter Island. Returning to Santiago from such a wondrous location didn’t help enamour me to the city either – I’ve explored the city while suffering through something of a post Easter Island downer. Strike 2. Add to the mix the realisation that there really is an absence of any must-see attractions in the Chilean capital – Strike 3 – not to mention the fact that it has been overcast & chilly – yes, it has been chilly in Chile (sorry) – since my return to the city from the middle of the Pacific Ocean. Strike 4. So yes, poor Santiago never really stood a chance. But it gave it a go.

On the platform of Quinta Normal Metro station in Santiago, Chile. October 6, 2015.

On the platform of Quinta Normal Metro station in Santiago, Chile. October 6, 2015.

Santiago, although boasting some fine monuments, museums and restaurants, is not a destination city like Rio or Buenos Aires.

– Rough Guide to Chile

Santiago || Chile Central
I’ve spent the last three days here the Chilean capital, the cultural, economic & historical hub of the country & easily its largest city – the greater Santiago region stretches for over 40 kilometres & is home to 7 million of the country’s 17 million population. Three days is probably more time than it deserves. Actually it is more time than it deserves. But I’m in no particular rush & I was occupied for some of the time completing the course of retail therapy I began prior to my departure for Easter Island. Even allowing for shopping, three days is more than enough time to check out the city’s tree-lined central square, Plaza de Armas, the present-day nexus of the city’s Historic Centre and the symbolic centre of the Chilean nation; to stroll through a few parks; to visit a few of the various city barrios (neighbourhoods); to enjoy the scenery in the city’s unique stand-up coffee bars; to check out some of the city’s many museums; and to take the quirky funicular to ogle at all of the above from atop Cerro San Cristobal, the highest point in a relatively flat city. That’s what I’ve gotten up to over the last few days, all the while with a gloomy, grey blanket of clouds overhead – I haven’t seen the sun since I was on Easter Island, which seems so long ago now.

Cerro San Cristobal, Gran Torre Santiago & Sanhattan
At over 800 metres high, Cerro San Cristobal, a rogue 4 hill Andean spur that seemed to lose its way from the (much) larger Andes range nearby, is the highest point in the largely flat capital. It’s also, and despite being hilly, the city’s largest green space.

The Gran Torre Santiago, Latin America's tallest skyscraper, as seen from Cerro San Cristobal in Santiago Chile. October 6, 2015.

A portion of Santiago as seen from Terraza Bellavista on Cerro San Cristobal. The lookout is accessed via a rickety 500- metre-long Funicular. Installed in the 1920s, it’s still going strong today and was designated a Chilean National Historic Landmark in 2000. I held off coming up here in the hopes of getting a clear day – seemingly the views of the snow-capped Andes in the distance are smashing proving that, and for all its lack of must-see sights, Santiago does boast one of the most dazzling backdrops of any city on earth. Of course it was overcast when I was here so I didn’t see a dazzling anything, just a sprawling city. Seen here is Latin America’s tallest skyscraper, the 300 metre-high Gran Torre Santiago in the city’s economic boom financial district, a.k.a. Sanhattan, at the base of which is the aforementioned Costanera Center. Santiago, Chile. October 6, 2015.

Architecture
You’re never quite sure what to expect from Santiago architecturally – in that regard it’s a bit of a gallimaufry. Ugly shopping arcades sit beside churches & nicely preserved colonial buildings, all of which are overlooked by towering glass skyscrapers. This ragbag look is largely the result of earthquakes – hundreds have rocked the city, one of the most seismically active on earth, since its 1541 founding by Spanish conquistadors looking to expand south from Peru – & haphazard rebuilding coupled with large-scale building sprees, especially in the 60s & 70s.

A modern-day glass skyscraper towering over the Basilica de la Merced in central Santiago, Chile. October 5, 2015.

A picture of architectural contrasts showing one of Santiago’s modern-day glass office towers in the vicinity of one of the city’s finer colonial-era churches, the Neo-Renaissance Basilica de la Merced, probably my favourite Santiago church (& there are a few). Santiago, Chile. October 5, 2015.

Museo Nacional de Belle Artes in Santiago, Chile. October 5, 2015.

Needless to say, as a former colonial-era capital Santiago has its fair share of fancy buildings. This is the Museo de Bellas Artes, one of the nicer buildings in the city. Built to commemorate the centenary of Chile’s 1818 independence from Spain, it’s a copy of the Petit Palais in Paris & houses a fine collection of work by Chilean artists. It’s located on the edge of the city’s Parque Forestal. Following the course of the city’s Mapocho River, it’s a pleasant place to stroll, a narrow park with long rows of trees & winding footpaths. Museo Nacional de Belle Artes in Santiago, Chile. October 5, 2015.

An empty & largely disused Estacion Mapocho in Santiago, Chile. October 6, 2015.

The massive expanse of an empty Estacion Mapocho, an immense stone & metal railway station built in 1912 to serve as the terminal for the now disused Santiago-Valparaíso railway line. Closed in 1987, it was remodelled & in 1994 it opened as a cultural & exhibition centre & concert venue; it has hosted the likes of the Dalai Lama, the Spanish Royal Family, Stephen Hawking &, emm Slayer but today it was nice and empty while playing host to me & my wide-angle lens. Estacion Mapocho, Santiago, Chile. October 6, 2015.

Markets || Feria Municipal La Vega & Mercado Central

A fruit vendor in Feria Municipal La Vega, Santiago, Chile. October 6, 2015.

Activity in Feria Municipal La Vega, the city’s main fruit market. This place doesn’t attract many tourists even though it’s located just across the road from the much more touristy Mercado Central, Santiago’s main market & one especially famous for its seafood (& high seafood prices). Feria Municipal La Vega, Santiago, Chile. October 6, 2015.

Cafés con Piernas || Cafes with legs
They have good coffee but Santiago isn’t really a café lounging kind of city. It does, however, have many Cafés con Piernas, literally, cafes with legs (legs indeed).

Haiti Cafe in central Santiago, Chile. October 5, 2015.

Serving both males & females, Santiago’s stand-up coffee bars are staffed exclusively by easy on the eyes girls, girls that wear tight-fitting, revealing uniforms, high heels & big, big smiles; they are… & how do I put this?… very friendly. They are also elevated behind the counter – a prominent cleavage looks even more prominent when forced to lean forward I guess – and they serve good, cheap coffee. You just best not hang around too long for fear of being branded a perv, something you’ll definitely be branded should you pull out a camera in here. (In my defence, I had just bought a new lens and I was keen to try it out. Honest). Haiti Cafe in central Santiago, Chile. October 5, 2015.

Barrios || Bellavista
In a city of many barrios, neighbourhoods, Bellavista, a warren of leafy streets, is probably Santiago’s best known, certainly among the travelling community – the vast majority of Santiago’s hostels are located here in what is regarded as the cultural heart of the city.

Colourful & bohemian Barrio Bellavista in Santiago, Chile. October 6, 2015.

What started out as a location for 19th century aristocratic families to build their fine country houses, most of which still stand amid flowing gardens, quickly blossomed into a district of artists & intellectuals. Today Bellavista is a colourful & bohemian (meaning it’s ok for some areas to be somewhat rundown & downright edgy) district awash with graffiti & street art, & full of galleries, unconventional this & hip that. It also boasts many raucous cafes & bars, busy during the day but even busier at night with students, travellers, artists & writers. Bellavista, Santiago, Chile. October 6, 2015.

The Governmental Blip || The Pinochet Years
Ever since its independence from Spain in 1818, Chile has had a history of political stability & orderly government, a rarity for South America & a large part of the reason why today the country is developed, ordered, relatively affluent, and non-corrupt – Chile boasts the lowest levels of corruption in Latin America. However, the past hasn’t all been rosy.

The Londres 38 detention centre in central Santiago, Chile. October 6, 2015.

The only blip on the post-colonial governmental copybook was the infamous military regime of the 70s & 80s, led by the dictator Augusto Pinochet. During this era, when all forms of political dissent were brutally suppressed, there were 4 detention & torture centres in the Santiago region, only one of which survives today thanks to a long and protracted battle by survivors, victims’ families and human rights groups. Over a one year period, between September 1973 & September 1974, 96 people, all considered opponents of the Pinochet dictatorship, were murdered here in the rooms of a house on Londres 38 in the Paris-Londres barrio (neighbourhood) of the city, a pretty district of sinuous cobbled streets overlooked by 1920s mansions. Today the 3-storey house, open to the public & simply called Londres 38, is used for exhibitions, workshops & talks on the dark past but when I passed through its rooms, with creaky floors & musty smells, were solemnly empty save for pictures on the walls and random pieces of furniture dotted here & there. The Londres 38 detention centre in central Santiago, Chile. October 6, 2015.

VALPARAISO

Date || October 9, 2015
Location || Valparaíso, Chile (map-pointer-icon)

It was good to get out of Santiago. Silly I know but I felt like I was travelling again. I didn’t go very far, only some 120 kilometres northwest of the capital to the city of Valparaíso. This is Chile’s only major seaport, an historic, colourful & ramshackle kind of place strewn over vast hills surrounding a major bay. But that rather compendious description falls well short of adequately describing what is Chile’s most unique & remarkable city, the closest you’re going to come to finding anywhere in the world a city-sized outdoor art gallery.

Pasaje Bavestrello, Valparaiso, Chile. October 7, 2015.

Pasaje Bavestrello, Valparaíso, Chile. October 7, 2015.

Valparaíso || History
While the Spanish chose present-day Valparaíso as the site for their new colony’s port way back in 1542, it wasn’t until after independence in the early 19th century that the good times came to the city, the result of it becoming the main maritime port of call on South America’s Pacific coast.

The Ascensor Artilleria overlooking the port & bay in Valparaiso, Chile. October 8, 2015.

Today’s Valparaíso is a quirky, gritty port city draped over an amphitheatre of steep hills around a wide bay. Those hills, full of ramshackle buildings, vistas & snaking alleyways decorated by local artists, are accessed by unique age-old ascensores, funiculars, like the Ascensor Artilleria seen here overlooking the city’s bay & port. Valparaíso, Chile. October 8, 2015.

Valparaíso mushroomed as a result of its trading clout, its prosperity attracting European immigrants & foreign investment & businesses to the city; during its golden age it was known by international sailors as “Little San Francisco” and “The Jewel of the Pacific”. However, the constant scourge of looting by pirates, fires, the last as recent as 2014, & earthquakes dodged the city throughout its history; a tremor in 1906 was particularly destructive, razing most of the city. These ongoing hardships coupled with the opening of the Panama Canal in 1912 signalled the city’s inexorable decline. Enjoying something of a 21st century renaissance, Valparaíso, home to Latin America’s oldest stock exchange, the continent’s first volunteer fire department, Chile’s first public library, and the oldest Spanish language newspaper in continuous publication in the world, is today home to the legislative branch of the Chilean government & is still a vital working port, a somewhat rundown & shabby one complete with a typical port-city vibe – some parts of the city are in a more advanced state of decay than others and are downright dangerous areas to wander.

In the Cerro Polanco district of Valparaiso, Chile. October 8, 2015.

Cerro Polanco is hilly & colourful, just like the rest of the city, not to mention one of the less salubrious parts of town; after taking this photo I was barked at by a considerate local to put away my camera. I heeded the advice but it was tough wandering the district’s warren of snaking graffiti & art-ridden alleyways without a camera. In the Cerro Polanco district of Valparaíso, Chile. October 8, 2015.

Ascensores || Antiquated Lifts
Riding into the hills on one of Valparaíso’s age-old funiculars are just as much a part of the Valparaíso’s experience as wandering its colourful alleyways or wondering how gravity hasn’t yet gotten the better of the dilapidated hillside dwellings.

The undercarriage od the Ascensor Artilleria in Valparaiso, Chile. October 8, 2015.

The undercarriage of Ascensor Artilleria in Valparaíso, Chile. October 8, 2015.

Built between 1883 and 1916 to give easy access to the steep hillside neighbourhoods of the city, Valparaíso’s 16 remaining ascensores, 15 of which are Chilean National Public Monuments (1 is in private ownership), are nothing more than a shed on steeply-inclined tracks, one that is hauled up and down the short distances from top to bottom every few minutes. Collectively declared one of the world’s 100 most endangered historical monuments by the World Monuments Fund in 1996, & while looking, feeling, smelling & sounding every bit as antiquated as one would expect, they still serve the city with remarkable reliability, just like they have done for eons.

Ascending the Ascensor Artilleria in Valparaiso, Chile. October 8, 2015.

Approaching the top of Ascensor Artilleria. Built in 1893, this is probably the most popular of the city’s remaining ascensores. The short ride from bottom to top, which will set you back a whopping 300 CLP (€0.40), deposits you at a lookout terrace in the Paseo 21 de Mayo offering sweeping view of the city, its port & the whole bay of Valparaíso. Valparaíso, Chile. October 8, 2015.

Valparaíso || Dwindling Dwellings
While exploring the city’s hillside residences, & with dilapidated hillside dwellings all around me, I was at a loss to explain how gravity hasn’t yet gotten the better of the wooden, brick & corrugated iron structures – although earthquake damage is all too evident in some areas.

A row of corrugated iron buildings in the Bellavista district of Valparaiso, Chile. October 8, 2015.

A row of corrugated iron buildings in the Bellavista district of Valparaiso, Chile. October 8, 2015.

Valparaíso is a heap, a bunch of crazy houses.

– Pablo Neruda, Chilean poet-diplomat & politician

Valparaíso || Street Art
Vistas & funiculars aside, the undoubted highlight of Valparaíso for me was its labyrinth of colourful alleys in the residential hillside areas of the city. Everything from walls to lampposts to footpaths to steps have all received sprucing up from a bevy of local artists. It’s quite the colour overload & there’s no escaping it.

In the colourful, twisting lanes of Cerro Concepcion, Valparaiso, Chile. October 7, 2015.

In the twisting lanes of Cerro Concepcion, Valparaíso, Chile. October 7, 2015.

The colonial city of Valparaíso presents an excellent example of late 19th-century urban and architectural development in Latin America. In its natural amphitheatre-like setting, the city is characterized by a vernacular urban fabric adapted to the hillsides that are dotted with a great variety of church spires. It contrasts with the geometrical layout utilized in the plain. The city has well preserved its interesting early industrial infrastructures, such as the numerous ‘elevators’ on the steep hillsides.

– UNESCO commenting on the Historic Quarter of the Seaport City of Valparaíso

Corrugated iron housing in Cerro Concepcion, Valparaiso, Chile. October 7, 2015.

A corrugated iron abode in Cerro Concepcion, Valparaíso, Chile. October 7, 2015.

Bellavista, Valparaiso, Chile. October 8, 2015.

The aptly named Bellavista (beautiful view) district of Valparaíso, Chile. October 8, 2015.

Dog tired in Valparaiso, Chile. October 8, 2015.

Dog tired in Valparaíso, Chile. October 8, 2015.

But, and given its storied past, Valparaíso does boast some rather nice buildings, buildings that don’t look like they will topple with the next brisk breeze & slide down the hill to the port.

The Armada de Chile building on Plaza Sotomayor in Valparaiso, Chile. October 7, 2015.

Located in Plaza Sotomayor, one of the city’s many plazas & the focal point of the city’s port region, the Armada de Chile building is currently is home to the headquarters of the Chilean Navy. It’s a gorgeous blue & black hunk of a building that looked great when late afternoon light was reflected onto its façade from a nearby tower block. The Armada de Chile building on Plaza Sotomayor in Valparaíso, Chile. October 7, 2015.

Valparaiso, Chile. October 8, 2015.

Valparaíso, Chile. October 8, 2015.

THE LAKE DISTRICT - PUCON & PARQUE NACIONAL HUERQUEHUE

Date || October 11, 2015
Location || Pucon, Chile (map-pointer-icon)

OK Chile, now we’re talkin’. This is more like it. I like cities, their buzz, their conveniences, their museums, their architecture, colonial or otherwise. All that malarkey is grand but, and given the choice, I’d take a steaming, snow-draped, perfectly conical volcano set against a crystal clear blue sky any day.

Steaming Volcan Villarrica as seen from Pucon, Lake District, Chile. October 11, 2015.

Steaming Volcan Villarrica as seen from Pucon in the Chilean Lake District, a region of lush farmland, forests, lakes, & snow-capped volcanoes.

The above was the view that greeted me a few minutes ago stepping off the overnight bus in Pucon, the lakeside adventure capital of the Chilean Lake District, from Santiago, about 800 kilometres to the north – most directions in Chile are either north or south given the country’s narrow topography. Volcan Villarrica, perched by the lake of the same name, is only 2853 metres high but its perfectly conical shape makes it look higher. One of the most active volcanoes in the world & the centrepiece of the Parque Nacional Villarrica, it last spat the dummy in March of this year and as a result its smoking summit is presently off-limits (dang… I can just imagine what the views are like from up there). However, another nearby volcano, a boring dormant one, is open for business. I’ll be hoping for good conditions again tomorrow when I’ll plan to tackle that but today is, and always was going to be, all about the rugby &, to a lesser extent the football. Come on Ireland.

Date || October 13, 2015
Location || Pucon, Chile (map-pointer-icon)

It’s a day for ducks here in Pucon. I can see those ducks out the window in front of me but can barely see the lake for the rain, the same lake those same ducks haunt (in a non-phantasmal way). Needless to say the scenic, smoking, snow-cloaked Villarrica volcano that I know is out there is hidden from view too. I’m glad I saw this place at its best upon arrival a few days ago now because it has been downright miserable since; it was cold yesterday & today it’s both cold & wet, an indoorsey kind of day here in the Chilean Lake District.

South America itinerary. Pucon, Chile. October 13, 2015.

Going Down || Today was a good day to get some structure into the rest of the trip south, something I’ve needed to do for a while now. Knowing I’m going south is about as straightforward as it gets. I’ll be making the 2500 kilometre trip from here to Ushuaia in Argentina’s Tierra del Fuego – as far south as I’ll go on South American terra firma & whose motto is ‘The end of the world, the beginning of everything’ – mostly through Chile; as far as I can discern, Argentina has the better roads, Chile the better adventure. I won’t exactly be breaking out claiming hitherto undiscovered lands for the Irish State but lack of infrastructure in sparely populated regions, hostile topography, a capricious climate, & the need to rely on sporadically scheduled transport means things could be a tad less convenient, for want of a better word, from here on out. It, whatever awaits on the southern horizon, at least reads as quite the escapade, one that now has a face thanks to the crude itinerary I sketched over a few coffees while sheltering from the elements in a Pucon café.

Parque Nacional Huerquehue
As mentioned previously, this Chilean Lake District is a region of lush farmland, forests, lakes, & snow-capped volcanoes. I passed through lush farmland yesterday en route to Parque Nacional Huerquehue, and once there I walked through forests & around lakes while being treated to views of far-off snow-capped volcanoes. Well, one snow-capped volcano, that very same one & the region’s big Big Cheese – Volcan Villarrica.

Reflections on Lago Tinquilco in Parque Nacional Huerquehue, Lake District, Chile. October 12, 2015.

The most popular trek in the 125 km² Parque Nacional Huerquehue, one of 96 state protected national parks in Chile that combine to protect 20% of the country’s landmass, is the Sendero Los Lagos, Lakes Trail, a 14 kilometre loop trail that takes you up through dense forest, past waterfalls, and around 5 of the parks lakes ultimately to an area 1300 metres above sea level that is dense with the amazing araucaria, a.k.a. the Monkey Puzzle tree. This is Lago Tinquilco, tinquilco being a native Pehuenche Indian word meaning ‘calm waters’, one of the hike’s 5 lakes & the largest of Parque Nacional Huerquehue’s 22 lakes. The lake was anything but calm when I skirted its eastern shore towards the end of the day but heading into the park earlier in the morning, when this image was captured, the waters were indeed calm, a striking picture of reflecting beauty. Spot the rogue orange abode among the endless greenery to the left of the image. Reflections on Lago Tinquilco in Parque Nacional Huerquehue, Lake District, Chile. October 12, 2015.

Scenery in Parque Nacional Huerquehue, Lake District, Chile. October 12, 2015.

Going up, up, up towards the trek’s 1300 metre ceiling, one passes a few lookouts. This is the view from the trail’s 953 metre-high lookout number 1 showing Lago Tinquilco in the foreground and the smoking, snow-blanketed Volcan Villarica some distance off. Captured about 1 hour into the 6 hour round trip hike, the weather deteriorated after this such that the volcano wasn’t visible on the return some 5 hours later. Scenery in Parque Nacional Huerquehue, Lake District, Chile. October 12, 2015.

Argentina || Take III
My plans for heading south, as beautifully conceptualised & committed to paper as they are, won’t come to be for a few days yet. Tomorrow I’ll be going east, not south, a short distance across the border back into Argentina. It’ll be my third time crossing a South American border into the country, and it won’t be the last before all is said & done. There’s a volcano over there, the 3776 metre-high Volcan Lanin, that I want to scale, not to mention a rugby game I’d like to take in while in Argentina. I’ve a little more planning to do regarding the nuisances of that particular outing, planning I’ll happily do in Argentina itself as I wait for the weather to improve. I ain’t scaling anything in this rain.

CHILOE

Date || October 24, 2015
Location || Ancud, Chiloé, Chile (map-pointer-icon)

It would seem I need to be on an Chilean island in order to guarantee sun. That was the case on Easter Island some weeks ago now as it was here in Chiloé, an archipelago of islands (barely) off the Chilean mainland. Such was the driving rain that I didn’t even get off the bus a few days ago while it was parked on the deck of the ferry for the short trip across the Canal de Chacao from the mainland. However, a few hours later the sun was out, my mood was lifted, and I was getting acquainted with Ancud, my base for the last three days of rural Chilean tranquility, a pretty & surprisingly historic little seaside town on the tip of Isla Grande, the largest of Chiloé’s islands & the only one that’s populated.

Fuerte de San Antonio in Ancud, Chiloe, Chile. October 21, 2015.

Founded in 1769 as a Spanish stronghold, the Ancud region would become the very last foothold of the Spanish crown in South America. That’s quite an historic titbit for such a quaint little fishing village on an island off the Chilean coast. It was here, at the town’s small Fuerte de San Antonio, in January 1826 that the last pocket of Spanish resistance to the independence movement sweeping South America finally fell. Today the reconstructed fort offers great views of the Golfo de Quetalmahue and beyond to the Pacific Ocean, not to mention an abundance of beautifully-smelling gorse bushes, an evergreen shrub that blankets most of rural Chiloe and one that brings me back to my childhood having grown up surrounded by them. Late afternoon at Fuerte de San Antonio, Ancud, Chiloé, Chile. October 21, 2015.

Chiloé || Churches, Shingles & Palafitos
Although the all-conquering Spanish took control Chiloé in 1567, it remained relatively isolated from the mainland due to the fierce resistance the mainland Mapuche to European colonists. Tranquil & once-isolated, Chiloé is today as it was way back when – a picturesque rural haven of rolling farmland, forests, & traditional fishing villages full of shingled wooden architecture.

Shingles & shadows. Conchi, Chiloe, Chile. October 22, 2015.

Shingles & shadows in the village of Chonchi, Chiloé, Chile. October 22, 2015.

The slow life here on Chiloé has always revolved around fishing but increasingly tourism is making its mark. A place rife with myths & legends, people come here to ‘escape’ the mainland & to ogle at the island’s unique wooden-heavy architecture, mainly its astonishing collection of 18th & 19th century wooden churches, some UNESCO World Heritage listed, & its palafitos, waterside timber houses precariously propped up on stilts.

Boat maintenance at low tide in Castro, Chiloe, Chile. October 22, 2015.

Boat maintenance at low tide fronting a palafito in Fiordo de Castro in Castro, Chiloé‘s largest settlement & the third-oldest city in Chile – it was founded way back in 1567. Castro, Chiloé, Chile. October 22, 2015.

Chiloé’s Palafitos
The only remaining example of such structures left in Chile, Chiloé is renowned for its palafitos, traditional shingled fisherman’s dwellings perched on stilts above the water. Old, rickety & downright dilapidated most of them may be, but that admirable trio of characteristics just makes them all the more picturesque.

Palafitos at low tide in Castro, Chiloe, Chile. October 22, 2015.

Palafitos lining Fiordo de Castro at low tide in Castro. For the afternoon I snooped around Castro it was the lowest (farthest) ebb of the tide, low tide in simple speak. Would the palafitos have been more picturesque with the water of the Fiordo de Castro lapping their stilts? Maybe, maybe not. But at high tide I wouldn’t have been able to capture this shot, one I got by wading out into the low tide muck among smells & discarded rubbish of the exposed riverbed, not to mention into a hostile stamping ground of some very irritated Castro gulls. Castro, Chiloé, Chile. October 22, 2015.

Palafitos in Castro, Chiloe, Chile. October 22, 2015.

A picture of colourful palafitos that haven’t felt water in quite a while. With the palafito the idea was that one could moor their boat at the back door and walk through their abode to the street fronting it. The remaining Castro palafitos are some of the oldest structures still standing in the city, one that has been rocked by many a natural and man-made disaster over the years – the earthquake of 1960, the most powerful on record, was particularly destructive. Today, very few palafitos, most of which look, at least from the water, like they’ll be washed away on the next high tide, serve their original purpose with many having been spruced up & converted into boutique hotels and chic restaurants & cafes. Castro, Chiloé , Chile. October 22, 2015. Palafitos in Castro, Chiloé, Chile. October 22, 2015.

Digging for razor clams at low tide in Castro, Chiloe, Chile. October 22, 2015.

Digging for razor clams at low tide in Fiordo de Castro, Castro, Chiloé, Chile. October 22, 2015.

Chiloé’s Churches
The unique shingled architecture of Chiloé reaches its zenith when it comes to its collection of wooden churches.

The spires of Iglesia de San Francisco in Plaza Armas, Castro, Chiloe, Chile. October 22, 2015.

The spires of Iglesia de San Francisco de Castro overlooking Plaza Armas in Castro, Chiloé, Chile. October 22, 2015.

The defining characteristic of the Chiloé landscape are the over 150 incredible wooden churches that dot the islands, a unique architectural feature of a unique archipelago. UNESCO has enlisted 16 of the churches on their World Heritage list, two of which I visited, the Iglesia San Francisco de Castro in Castro & the Iglesia San Carlos de Borromeo in the village of Chonchi. Generally built facing the sea and with either a beach or plaza fronting them, architecturally they didn’t vary much in style; although sometimes colourful & covered with walls clad with wooden tiles or shingles, they were largely rectangular & bare on the outside with a front three-tiered, hexagonal bell tower (or two) their defining feature.

Fronting UNESCO-listed Iglesia de San Francisco in Castro, Chiloe, Chile. October 22, 2015.

The largest of Chiloé’s churches is the yellow & purple Iglesia San Francisco de Castro in Castro. Designed in 1906, it’s an amazing ironclad wooden structure that is a mixture of Classical & neo-Gothic styles. On a beautiful day in Castro, I knew the evening shadows would suit the wonderfully shingled facade well so I hung around for the spectacle. It was worth the wait. Fronting the UNESCO-listed Iglesia de San Francisco de Castro in Castro, Chiloé, Chile. October 22, 2015.

The Churches of Chiloé represent a unique example in Latin America of an outstanding form of ecclesiastical wooden architecture. They represent a tradition initiated by the Jesuit Peripatetic Mission in the 17th and 18th centuries, continued and enriched by the Franciscans during the 19th century and still prevailing today. These churches embody the intangible richness of the Chiloé Archipelago, and bear witness to a successful fusion of indigenous and European culture, the full integration of its architecture in the landscape and environment, as well as to the spiritual values of the communities.

– UNESCO commenting on the Churches of Chiloé

The wooden interior of the UNESCO-listed Iglesia de San Francisco in Castro, Chiloe, Chile. October 22, 2015.

The interior architecture of Chiloé’s churches didn’t vary much either – regardless of their size, all churches have three naves separated by columns with the larger buildings supporting barrel-vaulted ceilings. Both the interiors I poked around blew me away; everything from floor to high-vaulted ceiling was wooden and impeccably preserved & presented. This is a section of the interior of Castro’s Iglesia San Francisco de Castro, a wonderful blend of the island’s native hardwoods that’s beautifully illuminated by rows of stained-glass windows. Castro, Chiloé, Chile. October 22, 2015.

Conchi, Chiloe, Chile. October 22, 2015.

More colourful Chiloé wooden architecture, this time the of Museo de las Tradiciones in Chonchi, south of Castro. While Chonchi’s big draw, and the sole reason I paid the village a visit, is its sky-blue, UNESCO-listed church, the village, founded in 1767, also boasts the most sheltered harbour on Chiloé. As a result its bustling little waterfront is busier than one might expect for a settlement of its size. Chonchi, Chiloé, Chile. October 22, 2015.

My time in Chiloé is up. I’m leaving the island via ferry in a few hours. A midnight departure for the 28-hour trip – from Quellon, in southern Chiloé & the official end of the Pan-American Highway, to Puerto Chacabuco in Chile’s wilderness Aysen region – equals the best part of two nights on a ferry, one without beds, just seats. I knew choosing Chile as my route south was going to be inconvenient so I guess the inconvenience starts now (but seemingly the fjord scenery en route is worth the jaunt). Two nights without a bed. I can do that.

AYSEN - CANAL MORALEDA

Date || October 25, 2015
Location || Canal Moraleda, Aysen, Chile (map-pointer-icon)

Fifteen hours I’ve now spent cooped up in the bowels of this vessel & I’m still really not too sure what to make of it. Built neither for comfort nor speed, it’s seem to be a kind of vehicle/cargo transport that just happens to have a seating area, but very little else. I get the impression they take paid foot passengers like me as a way of earning a little bit extra pocket money, although a quick scoot around tells me they don’t attract many and those who do embark on a trip are hardly going in debt to do so; at 16,200 Chilean Pesos (€22) for the 28-hour trip, it’s confusingly cheap, even allowing for the absence of facilities. The Queulat. A pleasure boat it surely is not.

A life ring of the Valparaiso registered Queulat (slowly) plying the Canal Moraleda en route from Quellon, Chiloe, to Puerto Chacabuco, Chile. October 25, 2015.

A life ring of the Valparasio registered Queulat (slowly) plying the Canal Moraleda en route from Quellon, Chiloe, to Puerto Chacabuco, Aysen, Chile. October 25, 2015.

Aysen
Needs must & this vessel is one of the only options, maybe the only option, for getting south into Chilean Patagonia from the island of Chiloe, whence I came (that is without flying, chartering your own vessel, or backtracking to the mainland & sitting on buses for an equivalent length of time). As I type I’m en route south down the Canal Moraleda, passing the jagged, forested, fjord-rich coastline of the Aysen region of the country, Chile’s last frontier & the final region of the country to be opened up in the early 20th century.

Canal Moraleda, Aysen, Chile. October 25, 2015.

Perennially rain-swept, Aysen is the wettest, wildest, greenest & narrowest part of a narrow country. It’s a very sparsely populated, cut-off region with a largely backward outlook & feel, one still boasting areas of untouched wilderness – fjords, snow-capped peaks, lakes, river, Ice Age glaciers, & rainforest. Compared with the rest of the country, transport options here are few, roads even fewer, & with many an inconvenience. This ferry just happens to be the first of the Aysen inconveniences for me. (Not that it’s really inconvenient. If anything it’s a welcome break from the South American bus norm.) Canal Moraleda, Aysen, Chile. October 25, 2015.

I’m 15 hours in with 13 to go, assuming the schedule is adhered to. Chance would be a fine thing. When all is said & done I’ll be deposited, at stupid o’clock in the morning, in somewhere called Puerto Chacabuco. From there I’ll get to Coyhaique, Aysen’s capital, where I’ll decide what’s next. Until then I’ll continue to do laps of the Queulat; attempt to sneak into areas I shouldn’t; buy coffee from the vending machine, the only outlet the Queulat provides for spending money; watch a few more episodes of Mad Men; try to stop wondering why there are no other stick-out-like-a-sore-thumb travellers on this thing with me (maybe I should have ventured south through Argentina after all); & try get some sleep before disembarkation, impossible unless they turn off those damned TVs.

Movie time to pass the tedium on the Queulat en route from Quellon, Chiloe, to Puerto Chacabuco, Aysen, Chile. October 25, 2015.

Movie time. This image makes the Queulat’s interior look more inviting than it actually is; it’s the angle. TVs in the emm, lounge area playing dodgy movies with even dodgier dubbing. Lest I sound like a grump, but it’s kind of annoying. On the Queulat en route from Quellon, Chiloe, to Puerto Chacabuco, Aysen, Chile. October 25, 2015.

UPDATE || October 26, 2015
Location || Coyhaique, Aysen, Chile (map-pointer-icon)

There was no 4 a.m. disembarkation as the trip actually took 33 hours, not the advertised 28, coasting in Puerto Chacabuco as it did shortly after 9 a.m. this morning. And yes, they did turn the TVs off & I did manage to sleep. On both nights.

AYSEN - COYHAIQUE, CARRETERA AUSTRAL/RUTA 7 & COCHRANE

Date || October 27, 2015
Location || Cochrane, Aysen, Chile (map-pointer-icon)

Before the 27-seater bus pulled out of the bus station in Coyhaique earlier this morning the bus driver handed out doggy bags to all on board. OK I thought, this is going to be an interesting 6+ hours.

In the five-sided Plaza de Armas in Coyhaique, Aysen, Chile. October 26, 2015.

Plaza de Armas, Coyhaique, Aysen, Chile. October 26, 2015.

Coyhaique
Home to some 50,000, half the region’s total population, Coyhaique is the largest settlement in this part of the world by some way. The capital of Aysen, the Chilean region that I – “Aye Aye Captain” – sailed into early yesterday morning, Coyhaique is a pretty place with a laid-back vibe, clean mountain air & a distinctive frontier town look and feel. Short on attractions, it is somewhere where you’ll struggle to find things to do or reasons to detain you. The rest of yesterday saw me recovering from 2 nights on a Chilean ferry – I visited a few central Coyhaique cafes & engaged in a spot of people watching in the town’s unusual five-sided Plaza de Armas, where I took the above picture, easily the prettiest part of town. After that it was time to hit the road. Time to hit the Carretera Austral, a.k.a. Ruta 7.

Cochrane, Aysen, Chile. October 27, 2015.

The streets of Coyhaique en route to the town’s small bus station for the early morning bus south on the Carretera Austral/Ruta 7 to Cochrane. Coyhaique, Aysen, Chile. October 27, 2015.

Ruta 7 || Carretera Austral || Southern Highway
Aysen is a big place. Narrow but big. 110,000 km² (or thereabouts) big. That’s 14% of Chile’s landmass. Of course a big chunk of that 14% is made up of uninhabited islands off the coast & vast tracts of inaccessible mainland wilderness. So it’s kinda remote, too. Cut-off. I sailed into it on a boat. Enough said.

Given the huge surface area and the challenging topographical conditions of the region, the road network does not cover all locations.

– Detail as taken from the Route Map of Aysen I have in my possession

Ruta 7

My 465km Ruta 7 Jaunt || Coyhaique to Cochrane (335km) to (Caleta) Torel (130km)

The so-called road network referenced above, such as it is, is really only one road – Ruta 7. Officially known as the Carretera Austral, it also answers to the name of the Southern Highway (liberties are clearly being taken calling it a highway). Billed as Chile’s most spectacular road, it stretches 1,250 kilometres from Puerto Montt in the north to the tiny isolated hamlet of Villa O’Higgins in the south. It’s the only road brave (or stupid) enough to venture south into Aysen, passing as it does through rural Chilean Patagonia & providing limited access to a large portion of Chile’s southern territory to its 100,000 inhabitants, half of which live in Coyhaique. Construction on the project, by the Chilean Army’s Engineering Command, only began in the mid 1970s – until then access to parts of the region was only possible via boat, air or via probing roads emanating across the border in Argentina. First opened in 1988, the last ferry-assisted stretch to Villa O’Higgins wasn’t complete until 2000 (there are 3 ferry assisted sections of the complete Ruta 7 in total). It’s there in Villa O’Higgins that Ruta 7 ends, finally halted by the topography & specifically Campo De Heilo Sur, one of two massive ice caps that sever this part of Chile from the other wilderness that is the very extreme south of the country (& the very extreme south of the South American continent).

By the shore of Lago General Carrera in Puerto Rio Tranquilo, Aysen, Chile. October 27, 2016.

A bus breather by the shores of Lago General Carrera, South America’s second largest lake, in Puerto Rio Tranquilo while heading south on Ruta 7 from Coyhaique to Cochrane. The 335 kilometres of Ruta 7 I rode today, & despite an obvious lack of tarmac/asphalt (very little of Ruta 7 is paved, yet), was smooth enough. Bumpy at times but smooth enough; I’d certainly no need for that doggy bag (although others did put them to use). All told I was pleasantly surprised. I was distracted too. The scenery en route was nice, once I was able to see through the dust & especially once I was out of the bus itself. Puerto Rio Tranquilo, Aysen, Chile. October 27, 2016.

Lago General Carrera in Puerto Rio Tranquilo, Aysen, Chile. October 27, 2016.

Lago General Carrera as seen from Puerto Rio Tranquilo during a break in the journey south to Cochrane via Ruta 7. Aysen, Chile. October 27, 2016.

Cochrane
The last ‘major’ stop on Ruta 7 heading south, Cochrane is a small sleepy ranching town laid out on a grid with streets of unkempt greenery fronting wooden houses. I didn’t see many locals on my ramble this afternoon but there were plenty of chickens running away from me as fast as possible.

Lago Brown, Cochrane, Aysen, Chile. October 27, 2015.

On Lago Brown in Cochrane, Aysen, Chile. October 27, 2015.

Plaza de Armas, Cochrane, Aysen, Chile. October 27, 2015.

Cochrane has a central plaza too. It’s not five-sided but it’s still nice, the centre of which is marked by this rather neat monument which I’m assuming is some reference to the local fauna; the small Tourist Information kiosk on the plaza wasn’t manned to verify (there is one here, honest). Plaza de Armas, Cochrane, Aysen, Chile. October 27, 2015.

Cochrane, Aysen, Chile. October 27, 2015.

I made a beeline for the hill overlooking the town when I laid eyes on the Hollywood sign atop it that Cochrane has going on. Cochrane, Aysen, Chile. October 27, 2015.

Although there is only one road around here, there aren’t many locals subjecting themselves to it & thus buses depart in either direction infrequently – once a day at most. I’ll be on another bus tomorrow, continuing my jaunt south on Ruta 7 a further 130 kilometres to the town of Caleta Torel, the reason I’m heading south on Ruta 7 in the first place.

AYSEN - CALETA TORTEL

Date || October 29, 2015
Location || Caleta Tortel, Aysen, Chile (map-pointer-icon)

And now for something not just a little different but a radical break from the Chilean norm (or the South American norm for that matter). Caleta Tortel. I’ve never seen anywhere quite like this before.

On the boardwalks of Caleta Tortel in Aysen, Chile. October 29, 2015.

On the boardwalks of Caleta Tortel in Aysen, Chile. October 29, 2015.

I didn’t really have a reason for travelling this far south in inconvenient Patagonian Chile other than the fact that I wanted to see more of the country. I, and even accounting for my fastidiousness with regard to itinerary planning, wasn’t even aware of a place called Caleta Tortel before arriving in the region a few days ago off the ferry from Chiloe. But not long after arriving in the out-of-the-way logging settlement yesterday afternoon I knew the combination of its unique system of elevated walkways & its secluded setting was going to make this the highlight of the time I spent in Chile’s remote Aysen region.

Low tide in Caleta Tortel, Aysen, Chile. October 28, 2015.

Low tide in Caleta Tortel, Aysen, Chile. October 28, 2015.

Caleta Tortel
Sitting in the middle of the Northern & Southern Patagonian Ice Fields, the modern-day remnants of the Patagonian Ice Sheet, a massive ice field which covered all of southern Chile during the last glacial period, & at the outflow of the Baker River to the Pacific Ocean, Caleta Tortel is a highly unusual logging town located at the end of a short, foraging branch off the region’s Ruta 7, one that eventually succumbs to the hostile topography. A scattering of houses on steep forested slopes running around a pale emerald bay or cove (caleta means cove in Spanish), the settlement boasts an oh so unique intricate walkway system of local cypress as built by the Caleta Tortel’s wood-loving inhabitants. In a town lacking any roads, the walkways provide the only means to travel between the different areas of the settlement & its houses.

The boardwalks of Caleta Tortel in Aysen, Chile. October 29, 2015.

The boardwalks of Caleta Tortel in Aysen, Chile. October 29, 2015.

There are many, many kilometres of cypress walkways & elevated boardwalks running from one end of Caleta Tortel to the other, not to mention off into the hills above; the settlement, with a population of a little over 500, is a surprisingly spread-out place. Over the past few days I have pounded most of those kilometres, ascending & descending thousands of steps in the process.

Gathering wood in Caleta Tortel, Aysen, Chile. October 29, 2015.

Gathering wood in Caleta Tortel, Aysen, Chile. October 29, 2015.

There’s nothing to see in this carpenters Shangri-la – no museums to visit, no colonial architecture to photograph, no cafes to lounge in or bars to drink in. But Caleta Tortel doesn’t need attractions – it’s the uniqueness of the place itself that is the attraction. Everything, from the streets to the plazas to the buildings, is wooden and the only means of motorised transport is via boat; even the seldom used community police car is a boat, moored peacefully for the whole time I was in town. The place will keep you enthralled for about as long as you give it. It did me.

A weathered house off the boardwalks of Caleta Tortel in Aysen, Chile October 29, 2015.

A weathered house off the boardwalks of Caleta Tortel in Aysen, Chile October 29, 2015.

Given the absence of a natural harbour or any obvious landing points, the density of vegetation & steepness of the hills around the cove, I couldn’t help but wonder how there came to be a settlement of any kind here at all. But there is & it’s a fully operational albeit sleepy settlement at that, one with a post office, schools, shops, a weather station, bank, guesthouses & restaurants, all of which hold very erratic hours. There’s even a central Plaza de Armas, a large elevated wooden veranda overlooking the bay in the middle of the settlement. No doubt about it, Caleta Tortel tries hard to be normal when it’s anything but.

A boat repair yard in Junquillo, Caleta Tortel, Aysen, Chile. October 29, 2015.

A boat repair yard in Junquillo, Caleta Tortel, Aysen, Chile. October 29, 2015.

As unique as Caleta Tortel is today, I can only imagine how it was say 15 years ago. It’s hard to fathom but back then it was even more isolated than it is today. Only as recently as 2003 was access to Caleta Tortel granted by road with the completion of the branch road off Ruta 7. Telecommunication access – phone & more recently Wi-Fi – to the outside world is an even more recent development. One, the road, got me here while the other is enabling me to blog about it.

Boardwalk walking in Caleta Tortel, Aysen, Chile. October 29, 2015.

Boardwalk buddies walking in Caleta Tortel, Aysen, Chile. October 29, 2015.

The weather wasn’t great for the 2 days I spent here in Caleta Tortel. It was raining upon arrival yesterday. It was downright miserable. Today was slightly better; it was still bleakly overcast but at least it was dry, meaning the steps of the Caleta Tortel boardwalks & walkways were less hazardous than they were yesterday. I would have have loved to see the settlement bathed in sunshine, even for a few minutes & at any time of the day, but it wasn’t to be. I even got up today for sunrise, hopeful that the earliest part of the day would yield favouriable conditions, a safe bet in most cases. It didn’t. That said, & the conditions aside, I still found the place immensely photogenic; it’d be hard not to. Here are a few more captures to round off the last few days on the boardwalks of Caleta Tortel, about as unique a world location as I’ve ever had the privilege of visiting.

Playa Ancha, Caleta Tortel, Aysen, Chile. October 29, 2015.

Yes Caleta Tortel has a beach. More a sandbar at one end of the settlement, it’s called a beach (Playa Ancha) but it’s not a beach in the truest sense of the word – a sign at the end of the walkway providing access warns that Playa Ancha is ‘Unfit For Bathing’. Whatever about bathing, it’s certainly fit for photography; at low tide, when it feels like you can wade right out to waves of the Pacific Ocean itself, the views back towards the cliff-hugging settlement of Caleta Tortel & the far-off peaks are smashing. Playa Ancha, Caleta Tortel, Aysen, Chile. October 29, 2015.

An overview of Caleta Tortel in Aysen, Chile. October 29, 2015.

This was my first look at Caleta Tortel, a view the bay/cove (caleta) at the northern end of the settlement as seen from the car park area at the end of the branch road off the Ruta 7, 465 kilometres & some 9-10 hours drive on a gravel road from the regional capital of Coyhaique. As far as cars or buses can go, from here Caleta Tortel is all boardwalks, all unique. Caleta Tortel in Aysen, Chile. October 29, 2015.

A shaggy dog resting on the boardwalks of Caleta Tortel in Aysen, Chile. October 29, 2015.

There’s nothing unique about the Caleta Tortel dogs. As with most places in Chile, dogs far outnumber humans on the boardwalks of Caleta Tortel. I picked up many a friend during my rambles; without fail they’d first bark at me from afar with uncalled-for hostility before warming to me as I approach & then accompanying me until such time as they got bored. This was one of my shaggy companions over the past few days resting on the boardwalk outside the entrance to my guesthouse after an afternoon ramble today. Caleta Tortel in Aysen, Chile. October 29, 2015.

Caleta Tortel, Aysen, Chile. October 29, 2015.

This kid didn’t know what to make of me as I was photographing him & his home. Then I put the camera down and waved. He waved back, with hola & smiles included. Caleta Tortel, Aysen, Chile. October 29, 2015.

Logging statues in Plaza Orompello, Caleta Tortel, Aysen, Chile. October 29, 2015.

This, I’m assuming, is a monument to the logging origins of Caleta Totel in the settlement’s Plaza Orompello. Surprisingly, I didn’t see and nor is there any obvious signs of the settlements logging past or present. No piled lumber, no yards, no log processing plants, no catchment areas. Nada. Plaza Orompello, Caleta Tortel, Aysen, Chile. October 29, 2015.

A disused boat laying by the Baker River outside Caleta Tortel in Aysen, Chile. October 28, 2015.

A disused boat resting by the Baker River on the outskirts of Caleta Tortel. Further than the boardwalks go, this riverbank area was extremely photogenic with blue waters & misty, snow-capped peaks towering in the distance. By the Baker River outside Caleta Tortel in Aysen, Chile. October 28, 2015.

Boardwalk reflections in Caleta Tortel, Aysen, Chile. October 28, 2015.

Yesterday may have been a wet day but at least that meant puddles on the Caleta Tortel boardwalks. And puddles mean reflections. It has been a while since I played with reflections. Way too long, something I put that right yesterday evening. Boardwalk reflections in Caleta Tortel, Aysen, Chile. October 28, 2015.

The wet boardwalks of Caleta Tortel in Aysen, Chile. October 28, 2015.

The wet boardwalks of Caleta Tortel in Aysen, Chile. October 28, 2015.

AYSEN - COCHRANE TO CHILE CHICO

Date || October 30, 2015
Location || Chile Chico, Aysen, Chile (map-pointer-icon)

Retracing my steps on dusty Ruta 7 brought me back from Caleta Tortel to Cochrane for one more night. Yes, sleepy Cochrane is something of a transport hub in these remote parts of Chilean Patagonia. And yesterday, on the evening I arrived back in town, the town’s central Plaza de Armas was busier than it had ever been on my previous visit a few days earlier.

A Halloween parade by Plaza de Armas, Cochrane, Aysen, Chile. October 29, 2015.

A Halloween parade by Plaza de Armas, Cochrane, Aysen, Chile. October 29, 2015.

I was killing time earlier today waiting for the once-every-two-days bus out of Cochrane east to Chile Chico on the border with Argentina, when I decided to pay a visit to the inviting-looking cafe on the corner of Plaza de Armas, somewhere that had been closed every time I’d sauntered past it over the previous 3 days; somewhat understandably, places in this unrushed part of the world seem to open on a whim.

Nacionpatagonia Cafeteria off Plaza de Armas, Cochrane, Aysen, Chile. October 30, 2015.

I ably killed the time I needed to kill this afternoon in Cochrane’s Nacionpatagonia, a small café cum artisan woolen mill. The café was manned by a delightful old man, Gabriel, who, and despite the language barrier, was able to tell me he was at the forefront of an ongoing campaign to prevent big business erecting pylons through the pristine Chilean Patagonian landscape – the café also seemed to have a role as a sort of campaign office. He was also very interested in me, specifically where I came from (his National Geographic map of Europe had Wicklow labelled, enabling me to pinpoint on the map, via a blue ink circle, exactly where home was) & he was noticeably pleased when I was able to assure him that these days there is no longer any cross-border hostilities between northern & southern Ireland (I also had to confirm that yes, The North is still part of the U.K.). However, the best part of the few hours I spent here was when Gabriel left for lunch, locking me in in the process. Of course he checked with me to see if doing so OK before telling me he’d be gone for 10 minutes – it was more like half an hour – during which time, & not surprisingly, no one came to the door looking for a coffee (large windows on two sides meant it would have been somewhat awkward situation for me if they did). Before he left Gabriel told me to help myself to coffee in his absence. I’ll admit I was tempted but those shiny chrome coffee machines have way too many knobs to mess with, plus they emit high-powered steam. I did tend to the jumpy Santana CD Gabriel left playing, about as adventurous as I got while locked in a café overlooking a plaza in a sleepy Chilean Patagonian town, a time killing session I’ll not forget in a hurry. Nacionpatagonia Cafeteria off Plaza de Armas, Cochrane, Aysen, Chile. October 30, 2015.

Skirting the southern shore of Lago General Carrera, South America's second largest lake, en route from Cochrane, via Puerto Guadal, to Chile Chico, Aysen, Chile. October 29, 2015.

I’d been treated to views of Lago General Carrera some days ago now en route to Cochrane but today I saw quite a bit more of what is South America’s second largest lake, one that stretches east of here into Argentina where it changes its name to be called a very Argentinian Lago Buenos Aires. The bus I rode today from Cochrane here to Chile Chico hugged the lakes southern shore, the windy, dusty dirt road dipping up & down and weaving side to side. The going is slow but the views of the rocky, sharp-peaked mountains encircling the lake, & even through dirty windows, were nice. Lago General Carrera en route from Cochrane, via Puerto Guadal, to Chile Chico, Aysen, Chile. October 30, 2015.

Magical (Magico) Chile Chico, the self proclaimed Wonder of Patagonia (Maravilla de la Patagonia). Aysen, Chile. October 29, 2015.

My last stop on this particular visit to Chile was Magical (Magico) Chile Chico, the self-proclaimed Wonder of Patagonia (Maravilla de la Patagonia). A small, agricultural town (it’s known through Chile for its cherries), Chile Chico is only 6 kilometres west of the Rio Jeinimeni border with Argentina and 8 kilometres from the Argentine town of Los Antiguos (UPDATE || Los Antiguos was from where I was to start a long bus journey through Patagonian steppe in getting to get to my next stop of El Calafate in Argentina). Chile Chico, Aysen, Chile. October 30, 2015.

SOUTHERN PATAGONIA - PUERTO NATALES

Date || November 6, 2015
Location || Puerto Natales, Chile (map-pointer-icon)

Chilean Patagonia’s second largest settlement, Puerto Natales is a small, charming waterside town which really has nothing going for it except for the fact that it’s the access town for the Chile’s famed Torres del Paine National Park.

Blanco Encalada, Puerto Natales, southern Patagonia, Chile. November 6, 2015.

The access town for Parque Nacional Torres Del Paine some 120 kilometres away (yes, the park is kind of remote), there’s not a whole lot to do here but, and even though it’s so far south and so remote, it is still typically Chilean – a laid-back town of friendly locals & low-rise, colourful, galvanised, wood-and-tin architecture. Buildings on Blanco Encalada in Puerto Natales, southern Patagonia, Chile. November 6, 2015.

Puerto Natales || Chile Take 3
The weather was good on the afternoon of my first full day back in Chile & Puerto Natales looked good as a result, especially its waterfront area.

The remains of the Braun & Blanchard wharf in Seno Ultima Esperanza (Last Hope Sound) with the peaks of Torres Del Paine in the distance. Puerto Natales, southern Patagonian Chile. November 6, 2015.

It says it all about Puerto Natales that its only real attraction per se is the badly eroded remnants of a wharf, the Braun & Blanchard wharf, reaching out into the Seno Ultima Esperanza (Last Hope Sound). That said, it’s a strangely photogenic sight, especially with the peaks of Parque Nacional Torres Del Paine in the distance. The channel that Puerto Natales sit on was named by the 14th century explorer Juan Ladrilleros who came upon it when at the end of his tether searching for the western entrance to the Magellan Strait further south. Puerto Natales, Patagonian Chile. November 6, 2015.

Moves in the Skate Park by Seno Ultima Esperanza in Puerto Natales, southern Patagonia, Chile. November 6, 2015.

Moves in the Skate Park by Seno Ultima Esperanza in Puerto Natales, southern Patagonia, Chile. November 6, 2015.

Strays & Torres del Paine traveller services. That's Puerto Natales, southern Patagonia, Chile. November 6, 2015.

Strays & Torres del Paine traveller services. That’s likable Puerto Natales in a nutshell. Puerto Natales, southern Patagonia, Chile. November 6, 2015.

The realisation hit shortly after taking to the grid-like streets of Puerto Natales that I much prefer Chile to Argentina, or more appropriately Chile to southern Argentina. The town is the first stop on this my 3rd bite of Chilean cherry & on all three occasions I’d entered the country from Argentina. Which country has the better sights is a debate for another day but right now I prefer being in Chile to being in Argentina. I’ve one more stop in the country, Punta Arenas, before crossing into South America’s most southern province, Tierra del Fuego (& Argentina again). The end is nigh. The end of the continent that is.

The low-rise, wood-and-tin buildings Puerto Natales, Chile. November 9, 2015.

The low-rise, wood-and-tin buildings Puerto Natales. Picture captured en route to the bus station for the bus to Punta Arenas. Puerto Natales, Chile. November 9, 2015.

SOUTHERN PATAGONIA - TORRES DEL PAINE NATIONAL PARK

Date || November 7, 2015
Location || Puerto Natales, Chile (map-pointer-icon)

Yes I know the weather down here is fickle at best but it would seem that I used up all of my southern Patagonia national park good weather credits a few days ago now further north in Argentina’s Parque Nacional Los Glaciares. The rain held off today but it was still chilly & blustery when I was hoofing it up scree slopes, through woodlands & over loose boulders in an ultimately unsuccessfully bid to get to see the distinctive & famed peaks of the Paine Massif of Parque Nacional Torres Del Paine, one of the continent’s most famous national parks.

Walking the Base de Las Torres trail in Parque Nacional Torres Del Paine, southern Patagonia, Chile. November 7, 2015.

Walking a section of the 18 kilometre-long Base de Las Torres trail in Parque Nacional Torres Del Paine, southern Patagonia, Chile. November 7, 2015.

Parque Nacional Torres Del Paine
Located near the extreme south of Chilean Patagonia in the southern tiers of the Andes, Parque Nacional Torres Del Paine is a 2,400 km² protected wilderness of mountains, lakes, rivers and glaciers. A magnet for the outdoorsy type & the undisputed highlight of South America’s Southern Cone for many, the park can & does appease those coming here looking for good hiking/trekking, climbing, horseback riding, sailing and kayaking. Declared a Biosphere Reserve by UNESCO in 1978 (it’s not one of Chile’s 6 UNESCO sites), the park’s undoubted draw is the majestic sight, if you can see them, of the park’s Paine Massif, specifically the three iconic sheer granite towers that give the park its name, the 12 million-year-old Torres del Paine, Spanish for ‘Towers of Paine’, ‘Paine’ being the old indigenous name for the colour blue. Towering to heights over 2500 metres, I first saw the towering granite trio a little over a week ago now from Ruta 5 in southern Argentina, about 100 kilometres to the north. Today was the day I was to get a closer view, a much closer view, thanks to undertaking the park’s 18 kilometre Base de Las Torres trek. The park’s most trekked trail & a single leg of the multi-day ‘W’ & Circuit treks, it deposits you at Laguna Torres, an aquamarine lake at the base of the famed Torres del Paine. I saw the lake, I just didn’t see the peaks looming behind it.

Laguna Torre at the end of the Base de Las Torre trail in Parque Nacional Torres Del Paine, southern Patagonia, Chile. November 7, 2015.

It took me 150 minutes of mostly uphill walking to cover the 9 kilometres separating the Base de Las Torres trail head from the shores of Laguna Torres, seen here. I hung around here for a few hours before retracing my steps hoping the clouds would break. They didn’t. But it was still good to just be here, one of the most iconic locations on the whole South American traveller’s circuit. Laguna Torres at the end of the Base de Las Torre trail in Parque Nacional Torres Del Paine, southern Patagonia, Chile. November 7, 2015.

The missing pieces. The Torres del Paine peaks, shrouded by cloud on this day, as seen on the rear of the Chilean 1000 peso note on the edge of Laguna Torre in Parque Nacional Torres Del Paine, southern Patagonia, Chile. November 7, 2015.

There they are, the missing pieces. While I didn’t see them today in person, I’d been looking at the Torres del Paine on the rear of the Chilean 1000 peso (€1.35) note almost every day since first entering Chile back on September 24th. I needn’t have bothered coming here at all. Parque Nacional Torres Del Paine, southern Patagonia, Chile. November 7, 2015.

UPDATE
I got/needed two bites at the Torres del Paine National Park cherry, visiting for a second time while killing time waiting to embark on a trip to Antarctica from further south in Ushuaia, Argentina. Things were different on that second visit, 2 weeks after this initial brief visit, as I spent much more time in the park subjecting myself to its multi-day ‘W’ trek. This time the weather was great & the views unhindered (although the limbs were sore) meaning I did finally get to see the elusive towers, among many other natural park delights. Check out my dedicated Torres del Paine National Park posting for more on my W trek exploits.

SOUTHERN PATAGONIA - PUNTA ARENAS

Date || November 10, 2015
Location || Punta Arenas, Chile (map-pointer-icon)

It was yesterday when I was looking even further south beyond the colourful rooftops of a windswept Punta Arenas & out over the Strait of Magellan that I first felt like I’d really come so far south. Maybe it had to do with the hitherto absent chill that’s present in the air here. Or maybe it has to do with the fact that I’d just completed the purchase of my very last southbound South American bus ticket. Or maybe it’s the fact that it has taken 5 months of overland travel to get here from a tropical Venezuela up north, over 10,000 kilometres & a hemisphere away.

The end. Overlooking the Strait of Magellan from Mirador Cerro La Cruz in Punta Arenas, Chile. November 9, 2015.

The end. Almost. Overlooking the Strait of Magellan from Mirador Cerro La Cruz in Punta Arenas, Chile. November 9, 2015.

Google tells me I’m at 53°10’S 70°56’W & that Punta Arenas is 1 of 3 settlements down here that claim, mainly for marketing purposes, to be ‘the southernmost city in the world’. It may not be end of the world here where I am right now but I have reached the end of the South American mainland; the Strait of Magellan, named after Ferdinand Magellan, the 1st European to discover these lands when in 1520 he sailed through the channel now bearing his name, separates mainland South America from Tierra del Fuego further south, a largely desolate archipelago that really is the end, the continent’s (very) southern frontier & my next stop.

I kept busy today in Punta Arenas. Yesterday too after stepping off the bus from Puerto Natales further north. Between then & now I’ve looked around the town, visited a museum (the Naval & Maritime Museum) & spent time in the city’s renowned cemetery, Cementerio Municipal.

Cementerio Municipal in Punta Arenas, Chile. November 9, 2015.

Cementerio Municipal in Punta Arenas, Chile. November 9, 2015.

Cementerio Municipal
The Punta Arenas Cementerio Municipal is an eclectic necropolis reflecting the turbulent history of this region of southern Patagonia. Crisscrossed by a network of gravel footpaths lined with immaculately clipped cypress trees, the 4-block cemetery’s rows of tombs & headstones tell the story of the town’s founding, with extravagant tombs of the town’s founders & ruling families hovering over more humble graves such as those of European immigrant labourers.

The Selk'nam Indian in the Cementerio Municipal in Punta Arenas, Chile. November 9, 2015.

A monument depicting a Selk’nam Indian, the now extinct people native to these lands prior to the arrival of European settlers, is surrounded by plaques conveying the gratitude of those whose wishes it has allegedly granted. If you touch (some say kiss) the Indian’s polished hand, tradition has it that you’ll return to Punta Arenas. I forgot to do so. Damn. Cementerio Municipal in Punta Arenas, Chile. November 9, 2015.

Punta Arenas & The Strait of Magellan
With a population of over 130,000, Punta Arenas is among the largest cities in the entire Patagonian region & the only city on the region’s Brunswick Peninsula. Capital of Chilean Patagonia, it’s a jumping off point for Chilean Antarctica expeditions. The settlement was founded as a penal colony in 1848, the 2nd attempt to settle the land overlooking the Strait of Magellan, 5 years after it was claimed by Captain John Williams, a British seaman in the service of Chile. The settlement prospered with the sheep boom of the 19th century in particular attracting many European immigrants. Until the Panama Canal opened in 1914, the Strait of Magellan was the main route for steamships travelling from the Atlantic Ocean to the Pacific. It was often considered the only safe way to move between the two oceans as the Drake Passage, separating Cape Horn (the southern tip of South America) from Antarctica, is notorious for turbulent and unpredictable weather and is frequented by icebergs and sea ice. Ships in the strait, protected by Tierra del Fuego to the south and the coast of continental South America to the north, crossed with relative ease, and Punta Arenas became a primary refuelling port providing coal for steam ships in transit. Sailing ships, however, partly because of variable winds and currents in the strait, generally preferred the Drake Passage, as they had more room to manoeuvre there.

The wreck of the windjammer 'County of Peebles', world's first four-masted, iron-hulled full-rigged ship, now beached as a breakwater in Punta Arenas, Chile. November 10, 2015.

There’s a lot of history around here and even the discarded, rusting wrecks of Punta Arenas have a story to tell. This is the wreck of the 81 metre-long windjammer County of Peebles, the world’s very first four-masted, iron-hulled full-rigged ship. Built in 1875 in Glasgow, Scotland, it was purchased by the Chilean Navy in 1898 before being used as a coal hulk (a ship that is afloat but is incapable of going to sea). It was beached as a breakwater in the mid-1960s and today is one of the more unusual ‘attractions’ of the city. Punta Arenas, Chile. November 10, 2015.

Punta Arenas Titbits
I found these titbits of information somewhat interesting when learning all about my present surroundings, as I tend to do on occasion.

Punta Arenas is an antipodal city with Irkutsk, Russia.
Punta Arenas has been nicknamed “the city of the red roofs” for the red-painted metal roofs that characterized the city for many years. Since about 1970 the availability of other colours in protective finishes has resulted in greater variety in the characteristic metal roofs.
Since 1986, Punta Arenas has been the first significantly populated city in the world to be affected directly by the thinning in the ozone layer. Its residents are considered to be exposed to potentially damaging levels of ultraviolet radiation.
Among Chileans, the city is also known for its strong winds (up to 130 km/hour). City officials have even put up ropes between buildings in the downtown area to assist pedestrians with managing the strong downdrafts created in the area.

A chunk of Antarctic ice on display in the Museo Naval y Maritimo (the Naval & Maritime Museum) in Punta Arenas, Chile. November 10, 2015.

Housed in the former city’s naval headquarters, the Punta Arenas Museo Naval y Maritimo (the Naval & Maritime Museum) was worth the look I gave it. With lots of cool period pictures, the museum is obviously full of information detailing the maritime history of the region, not to mention the formation and history of the Chilean navy & its explorations of the southern waters. However, I primarily paid a visit for its Antarctica displays, part of which is a big chunk of real Antarctic ice preserved behind glass. Just, you know, in case I don’t get to Antarctica in the coming weeks. A chunk of Antarctic ice on display in the Punta Arenas Museo Naval y Maritimo (the Naval & Maritime Museum). This was a good in Punta Arenas, Chile. November 10, 2015.

The Ferdinand Magellan status in Plaza Munoz Gamero in Punta Arenas, Chile. November 10, 2015.

The Ferdinand Magellan statue in the centre of the shady and tranquil Plaza Munoz Gamero, the town’s central plaza. Punta Arenas, Chile. November 10, 2015.

For sale off Plaza Munoz Gamero in Punta Arenas, Chile. November 10, 2015.

There are penguins around here. For sale off Plaza Munoz Gamero in Punta Arenas, Chile. November 10, 2015.

Isla Magdalena
Today I took an afternoon trip up the blustery Strait of Magellan to the small island of Isla Magdelana to ogle at the comedic goings-on of its resident Magellanic Penguins, just in case, and as I’ve said already, I don’t get to Antarctica itself in the coming weeks.

A Magellanic penguin on Isla Magdalena in the Magellan Strait, Chile. November 10, 2015.

A Magellanic penguin on Isla Magdalena in the Magellan Strait, Chile. November 10, 2015.

A pair of Magellanic penguins on Isla Magdalena in the Magellan Strait, Chile. November 10, 2015.

A pair of Magellanic penguins on Isla Magdalena in the Magellan Strait, Chile. November 10, 2015.

Moving On || Antarctica Bound?
I’ll be on that aforementioned last southbound bus most of tomorrow, 12 hours or so, en route to Tierra del Fuego & Argentinian Ushuaia, a settlement most agree, & although only half the size of Punta Arenas, is actually the southernmost city in the world. It’s as far south as I’ll go, unless I succeed in wrangling a trip even further south across the infamous Drake Passage to the white continent of Antarctica. That’s a big if, one almost as big as the 7th continent itself, a big ‘will it happen, won’t it happen‘ that has been on my mind for a quite some time. Not long to wait now. I’m almost there. Almost at the end.

I Love Patagonia. Punta Arenas, Chile. November 10, 2015.

I Love Patagonia. Indeed. And I’m sad to be leaving. Punta Arenas, Chile. November 10, 2015.

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