Return to Chaiten

In the morning we decide to try pumping up the tire to see how fast the patch is leaking. Pulling a compressor of the shed, the tire’s up quickly and it seems to be holding. Waiting… waiting… half an hour later it’s still got a lot of air pressure. We top it up and figure that it SHOULD last us the remaining 30 kilometers to Chaiten and it does.

First things first, Edgar tries to buy new tires while I hit the bank. I can’t believe it… The stupid Banco Estado machine won’t accept my debit card or my Visa card, same problem I had upon arriving in Santiago (same bank too). Edgar’s out of luck too, no one has tires that’ll fit his rims. There is a place here that can properly patch his tires though, hopefully well enough to get him the approx. 150 kilometres through the mountains and into a larger town on the Argentinian side of the border.

While getting the tires patched, this line of soldiers on horses goes by:

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We hit up the ferry office to see about boats to Puerto Montt but the next isn’t for five days so he decides Argentina’s the way to go. When I tell him about how much the bank sucks he reaches into his van and hooks me up with an American hundred dollar bill, at the very least I can get that changed and it’ll last me the ~3 days I need to get the next bus to Coyhaique, where there are apparently plenty of bank machines. He totally saved my ass, he says no problem, get his email address and PayPal info and he says I can wire it back to him (which reminds me, I still have to do that!) He hits the road and I hit the same guesthouse I’d stayed in three nights back.

While checking my email downstairs I get to talking to a local guide named Nicholas who speaks completely fluent English without much of an accent. Turns out he lived in English-speaking Quebec and Vermont for several years. There’s a Swiss couple staying here that I’d spoken to briefly, he’s taking them on a day-long excursion tomorrow and is wondering if I want to come. It sounds good but I don’t have that much money to screw around with, I explain the ATM situation to him. He says if I’ve only got a credit card and need some cash, he can go throw some diesel in his truck, have me pay using my card and then give me the cash. Sounds like a good offer but I’m not sure if I’ll need it, he says if I change my mind and find myself in a jam for money just swing by his office around the corner and we’ll make it happen.

I swing by a restaurant and grab a steak sandwich and a huge plate of fries, my first real meal since the night before I left Chaiten… almost three days. So good. So, so good.

I take the afternoon to lie in bed, drift in and out of consciousness while streaming a Rangers-Flyers game. A few minutes after the game ends I hear a knock at my door and I hear Edgar’s voice – “James?” “Yo! What the hell?” Out of the five tires he had with him only one hadn’t given him any issues to this point, but a short distance out of town he got a puncture in it as well. He’s not even bothering to continue by road, he’s just going to grab a ferry to a larger town with a real selection of tires and get some more heavy-duty ones thrown on. “On the plus side, this means we can drink some beer this evening”, he says. Hell yeah it does.

We look around for a place our buddy at the vineyard had recommended called El Volcan and we find it without too much trouble but it’s closed. Really want to give it a try so rather than eat somewhere else we decide to kill some time – we walk across town to the supermarket, pick up a bottle of rum and head back to the guesthouse. The dude of the Swiss couple is hanging out in the dining room, we offer him a smash but he declines so we grab two glasses and get into her.

After a couple more drinks we head back over to check it out again and walk out just in time to get nailed by heavy rain and hail. My pants are soaked and my boots are completely annihilated. I can’t wait to buy new ones when I get to Coyhaique. We get to El Volcan and it’s still closed. A second place that was previously open is closed as well, but we finally find a place that’s open – it specializes in fish (unfortunate for me and my allergy) but they’ve got some pork chops in the back so they throw those on. They turn out awesome, and the huge salad they throw on the side provides me with some very much-needed nutrients.

Back to the guesthouse we kill most of the remaining rum and call it a night. No idea what to do tomorrow – the weather’s supposed to be lousy. Wait and see I guess.

Zzz…

The forecast was wrong – today’s gorgeous. I slept in well past Nicholas and Swiss’ departure time of 8 though, I can tell by the sun. Open my laptop and it’s showing 10.

I get up and have breakfast and despite three cups of coffee I’m feeling really lazy today. There isn’t much to do really, since there are no buses south today, I’ve already walked around town and my boots aren’t really any good for any sizable treks. After almost two hours of just screwing around and downloading podcasts I decide I should go take advantage of the weather, first walking up to the coffee shop to buy a bus ticket for tomorrow and then over to a mostly-abandoned side of town that I hadn’t really explored before. There’s a river cutting through the middle of this part of town, all of the buildings on the other side seem to be decrepit.

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I follow the river down to the beach where it’s low tide and I walk down it for about an hour. Not a lot of life around, a few birds and a lot of driftwood.

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Nice but uneventful walk, I head back to the guesthouse. What a lazy day, no idea what to do with myself. Wouldn’t mind doing some more walking but my rotten old boots are almost completely shot at this point, it’s getting pretty uncomfortable to walk any real distance in them. I stream another hockey game and read up on some destinations further south.

Around dinner time I get antsy so I go back out to explore town again. I follow the Carretera Austral south of town, over a river and to the south of town.

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Hey, there’s a bar! “Pub Rincon Bohemia”. It’s closed but I can see someone cleaning inside so I go up and knock on the door. Are they open tonight? Yup. When? Eight-ish. Do they accept cards? You bet. Awesome.

Back to the guesthouse again and I run into Edgar in the hall. He’d just walked past Cafe El Volcan and it’s open now – am I in? Yup. Is he in for the pub after that? Yup.

El Volcan is empty when we walk in but the wood stove is cranking out the heat and there’s jazz on the stereo. We grab a couple of dark, local beers while we look at the menu and it’s possibly the best beer I’ve had on this trip; I can’t recall the name but it’s from El Amarillo, just south of Chaiten, in a stubby bottle and with a black condor on the bottle. I get some steak and a salad and it’s pretty decent too. As we’re eating the Swiss couple from the guesthouse arrive, they’ve just finished their day of touring around, and three groups of locals show up as well. Are the Swiss down for the pub? Maybe, but they tell us the place to be tonight is at the community center, there’s a big fundraiser there and that’s where the whole town will be. Might have to check that out too.

The streets are almost empty and all of the houses and shops in town seem deserted on the walk south over the bridge. The pub’s lit up now – there’s a string of purple lights hung over the eaves strobing it up. Dance floor lights are visible through the windows and the music’s pumping too, looks promising! But… it’s empty. We decide to at least stay for a beer. The interior is so bizarre, the rustic furniture and wood stove make the light show and bass line seem out of place. A few people show up but it’s still pretty dead so we decide to bounce and maybe try again later.

It seems like all the cars in Chaiten are surrounding the community center, dozens of kids running around outside and dozens of adults smoking just outside the entry way. A handful of 20-somethings are standing a little further away with beers. Inside there are bits and pieces of a band and an MC standing on a stage at the front, kids running in every direction, bleachers on both sides packed full and a lot of people standing on the floor, looking like they’re waiting for music so they can get down. The band seems to be having some technical difficulties and the MC is killing time by getting people to clap and (unsuccessfully) to get some kind of chant going. We wait for about five minutes during which time I fail to find a bar. Alright, this is lame, we bounce.

On the waterfront is one more place we decide to try, a restaurant where it seems like a fair number of people like to hang out and drink. There are eight or nine people inside when we go in but no one’s really social, everyone’s pretty relaxed. We go through three or four beers a piece while watching a NatGeo Channel special on Ebola, it’s overly dramatic and kind of silly. Alright, we give up and crash back to the guesthouse.

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