Monday, May 27, 2013

la Ruta Bimodal

Our turn northbound back on Ruta 7, the Carretera Austral, took us into Parque Pumalín, another one of  Douglas Tompkins lands (see our post about Parque Patagonia) that is now a protected Nature Sanctuary in Chile.  Best of all, there is a hot springs (entry just US$3!) just up the road from the southern entrance to the park.

We tend to wear a lot more clothes than most.  Our gear at left.  Normal people gear at right.  El Amarillo hot springs
(I guess we wear a lot more clothes than most. Our gear at left. Normal people gear at right. El Amarillo hot springs)

Entry sign, Sector el Amarillo, Parque Pumalín
(Sector el Amarillo, Parque Pumalín)

The road into Parque Pumalín
(The road into Parque Pumalín)

Mike with huge nalca (Chilean rhubarb) plant.  Parque Pumalín
(I think this is the world's biggest nalca plant. At least it's the world's biggest nalca plant that I've ever seen...)

Just 25 km north is the town of Chaitén. A volcano eruption in 2008 destroyed the town, not only from the ash but also because the volcanic activity caused the Blanco River to change its course, now flowing directly through what once was some of the town. During reconstruction, all important regional functions were temporarily relocated to Futaleufú, where they are now going to stay. We saw a lot of stickers on people's cars and storefronts to bring back Chaitén, suggesting that it was a government decision to let this town die.

house filled with volcanic ash, Chaitén
(house filled with volcanic ash)

The northern stretch of the Carretera Austral is known as the Ruta Bimodal because of its split between land and sea. While in Chaitén we asked at the tourist info stand about camping in the area, hikes, and the ferries running north. He told us that we needed to reserve/buy our tickets at least a day in advance to ensure we had a spot. This was contrary to what we had seen online, that if you want a ferry from Chaitén to Chiloé you need to reserve ahead (and schedule appropriately, as it only runs a couple of times a week). Turns out the advice to reserve ahead was wrong, especially with a motorcycle - it was easy to get on the ferries. But it was fun trying to get a ticket.

At the NaviMag office in Chaitén it was as if the two of us were causing some unknown problem, so much so that no one wanted to acknowledge us. The customer in front of us purchased the exact same ferry ticket that we wanted to buy.    When they were done, the worker got up, didn't look at us and went to a back office. Minutes later she came out and still wouldn't look either one of us in the eye. It was very strange. When asked about a ticket for the ferry, she said the system was down. This was not true, as the customer beside us purchased a ticket after we were told the system was down.  After many questions to try to figure out what we should do (can we come back later, do we need to reserve, ...), we finally got out of her that we can just go to the boat and talk to the captain to get on. It worked out fine, but what a silly way for it to work out!

Waiting for the ferry.  Caleta Gonzalo
(we weren't the only ones waiting for the ferry at Caleta Gonzalo. In fact, we weren't even the only ones without a ticket. Some cars didn't get on and had to wait til the next day)

ferry approaching.  Caleta Gonzalo
(la Ruta Bimodal in action)

The first ferry from Caleta Gonzalo to Fiordo Largo was a short one, just over 30 minutes. Then everyone races off the boat in true Latin American style to be the first ones on the next ferry, just 10km away. And unless you drive slower than the tanker truck, the boat will not leave you behind. This second ferry is a few hour ride, but had a snack bar (open until the line dies away, then it closes) and some comfy booths good for watching action movies (theirs, not ours), napping, and playing cards. There were also some pretty views from the deck.

Fjords between Hornopirén and Leptepú, Ruta Bimodal, Carretera Austral
(Fjords between Leptepú and Hornopirén)

We arrived in Hornopirén fairly late in the evening, and tried 2 campgrounds at the edge of town, but both were closed (for the season?). While asking a delivery truck driver where a cheap hostel would be, the guy accepting deliveries said we could stay with him at his boardinghouse. It was a fine place and he was a real nice guy once you got through his initial seaside gruffness.  The grocery store in town was about the only thing open the next morning for breakfast - yet another unplanned Sunday in a town.

Bay at Hornopirén
(the bay at Hornopirén)

More boats waiting for high tide.  Near Gualaihué
(Lots of boats waiting for high tide in this region. This near Gualaihué)

Coastal view between Gualaihué and Caleta Puelche
(coastal view between Gualaihué and Caleta Puelche)

Fish farm between Gualaihué and Caleta Puelche
(Fish farm between Gualaihué and Caleta Puelche)

From Hornopirén we headed towards Puerto Montt, where we needed to change some more Chilean pesos into US dollars to prepare for our return to Argentina.   We actually had two more ferry rides waiting for us that same day.  The first one to end our time on the Ruta Bimodal.

Ferry at Caleta Puelche
(our last ferry on the Ruta Bimodal. At Caleta Puelche)

On to Chiloé we went...

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