Riding the bus south I wake up several times in the night and when the sun comes up I’m in a different world. What looks like temperate rain forest, super-lush with moss and lichen everywhere, mist hanging near the treetops, wetlands occasionally visible. Houses look completely different, made of wood and with a “northern” look, i.e. steeper roofs (for snow, maybe?)
I was lucky to have two seats to myself for most of the trip but shortly after sunrise a massive dude gets on smelling like bologna and ashtray. He’s snoring while he’s awake, however that works.
I’m sort of in and out of sleep when the bus driver’s helper-dude (hauls out luggage, takes money as people climb on, etc.) taps me on the shoulder and says “Puerto Montt, si?” Yeah man. I get dropped off. THIS is Puerto Montt? Where’s the port??
It looks like a small town on the side of the highway, not anything like the pics I googled before heading down here. They don’t even have a proper bus station to drop people off at?? I see a hospedaje on the other side of the road, run over and ring the bell. A severe-looking woman opens the curtains, glares at me, shakes her head “no” and throws the curtains shut. It starts raining.
Hike up a pedestrian overpass to try to get a better view of what’s around. See a sign that indicates the Centro is down the road a ways. Start hiking.
Twenty minutes later I’m headed down a hillside and see the port and the real city. Okay, cool.
I can’t put my finger on it but there’s something weird about the way the town feels, the way a lot of the houses look or something. Then I remember that apparently a large number of people here are descended from Croatian immigrants, and that’s it – a lot of the houses are built in a style similar to those I’ve seen in the former Yugoslavia.
I’m soaked through and freezing my ass off by this point so I walk in the first hotel I see but they say they don’t have any rooms. There’s literally no one around. Alright then. Head down the hill further to the Costa del Mar hotel… Looks baller but I go in and they’re super friendly and they give me a three-bed room for 24,000 pesos (something like $40 USD). Not that I need a three-bed room but I guess that’s what they’ve got and given I’m soaked to the bone and freezing it’s a price I’m willing to pay.
Nap for a few hours and get down to business. Walk down to the waterfront to scope out the shopping district. The waterfront is really nice.
There’s a large mall with several stores where people can dress up outdoors-y and I grab a raincoat but there aren’t any stores with actual outdoors-y stuff, i.e. the replacement knife I need and a mat to throw my sleeping bag on if I do man up and spend any nights out in the woods. I keep roaming town until I find a hardware shop with some jackknives and grab a doozy, still no luck on the mat though.
I grab some Liter Wine and go back to the hotel to relax. When I quickly make the wine disappear I head downstairs and try to buy more wine from the front desk (there’s a well-stocked restaurant downstairs which is closed but they should be able to crack it open, right?) After a lot of confusion I get a HUGE bottle of wine for $4. Like 2 litres of wine for $4, the discount because someone opened it and had one or two glasses. I drink way, way too much of it.
A knock on the door comes some time after sunrise and I’m getting kicked out of hotel, not because of anything I did but because a tour bus is showing up in a couple of hours and they’d previously reserved the whole place. I feel horrible on account of the wine but manage to drag myself onto the street and down a block to find a cheap but cool hospidaje. It’s a bizarre lay-out: on the main floor are the reception desk, a very small dining room and a spiral staircase. The staircase leads to two floors of rooms arranged in a circle around the center. I climb up to my room and pass back out for most of the day.
It wasn’t just the wine, I’ve picked up some kind of bug and I don’t dare go anywhere more than 30 seconds from the shared washroom on my floor. Ugh. This goes on for the remainder of the evening and right into the following day. The furthest I venture is to the front desk to square up for another night.
In the move from the hotel to the hospidaje I misplaced my last set of earplugs, a serious mistake. Puerto Montt is filled with stray dogs and they bark at each other – occasionally fighting for real – and at people passing by all night long. While taking a semi-drunk walk around the night before several of them came at me hard like they were going to bite, kind of unnerving.
I roam out the following afternoon and it’s a beautiful day. There was some kind of protest or sport rally happening earlier (I couldn’t see anything but I could hear a lot of banging and chanting), and now there seem to be shitfaced folks everywhere. Two guys passed out on the sidewalk outside the hostel door. One guy in his late teens, two black-eyes and a cut on his head, he’s obviously been scrapping and he looks absolutely wasted. He’s kind of crouching strangely and then I realize he’s taking a shit on the sidewalk. Jesus Christ man, it’s a busy stretch of sidewalk too, what the fuck. No one else seems to find this strange, though…
There are a lot of bums in this city and their aggressive panhandling techniques are quickly wearing on my patience. On several occasions one or more of them have blocked my path on the sidewalk and have asked me for money in a way that isn’t terribly friendly.
I hit up a couple of bars around town to see what the scene is like but either it kind of sucks or the good places are off the beaten path. As the night progresses fewer and fewer regular folks are around and more and more aggressive-looking drunks are staring me down and staggering into my path, deliberately it seems. Fuck this shitty place, I’m calling it a night and getting the hell out of here.
It’s really too bad, there are some really beautiful aspects of this place – the port itself, the hills surrounding the town, the architecture, the street art – but it’s just not much fun to walk around and constantly deal with asshole people and asshole dogs.
Back at the hotel room I’m awake most of the night on account of the dogs.