Cochrane

The room’s cold, that kind of cold that makes you not want to get out of bed. I cracked the window in the middle of the night sometime to get some fresh air and it’s still open. I don’t know what the temperature is but I’d say camping is out for tonight. Instead of heading out of town to look for campsites, I scarf breakfast and try to find a new guesthouse. I find a room above a convenience store for about $20 and throw my stuff down. Even though Cochrane’s a small town I’d done a really poor job of searching for places to stay last night when I arrived – I’d searched the east end of town, but in the west end there are half a dozen guesthouses and hostels on every block. When I ask a staff member for a key to my room she waves her hand dismissively – “We don’t have keys for the rooms, nothing happens here.” Haha, alright then.

Need to get docs printed off for my new job so I scour town but don’t have any luck. It’s still early though and most things seem to open late here, like 10 or 11. I head up a hill to the Hollywood-style “Cochrane” sign to get a better view of town. It’s definitely bigger than it looks in Google Maps:

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As I’m coming down the hill I see another monument with a drink in its hand, very similar to the one I saw in Coyhaique. I found out later this day that they’re monuments to yerba mate, a popular South American hot beverage. I haven’t tried the stuff yet – haven’t seen it around except in raw, unprepared form – but my curiosity is now piqued.

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Take a walk down by the river and visit the farmer’s market, mostly closed but a few souvenir shops are open, then cut through the main plaza. It’s mostly devoid of people but has some deer-related art here and there and many of the more important buildings ring it, including the supermarket (closed at the moment) and the church.

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Also at the edge of the plaza is a cafe, so I swing by for a caffeine pickup. I can’t believe my eyes when I see that the menu has real salad on it – not just tomatoes and onions – because it’s been so hard to find vegetables lately. I’m not terribly hungry but I order one anyways, kind of a multivitamin. While I’m waiting I peruse the cafe’s collection of literature, unsurprisingly it’s entirely Spanish but the owner brings me over a book that’s bilingual and all about trekking and traveling in this part of Patagonia. It’s pretty awesome and it includes detailed step-by-side info for my next border crossing, albeit in the wrong direction, information that has been elusive or contradictory online.

I won’t go too heavily into details, but it’s a border crossing that apparently requires some hiking, riding in a 4WD vehicle for a ways, crossing a lake on a ferry, hopefully seeing a glacier up close, possibly a horse, and possibly another 4WD vehicle. There are a lot of variables involved, i.e. the timing of the boat, whether I can catch vehicles here or there, what the weather will be like, and how my money will hold up. I have several hundred dollars stashed on my person – a mix of US dollars, Chilean pesos, Argentinian pesos and Canadian Tire money – but if I lose any or get ripped off I could be in some trouble, and I guarantee there won’t be any bank machines in Villa O’Higgins (there aren’t even any in Cochrane, except for stupid Banco Estado ones that don’t seem to accept my Canadian cards). All indications are that there *is* one is El Chalten on the Argentinian side of the border, but if it’s out of order or doesn’t accept my cards I could be in some serious shit there too. Regardless, it’s really good to have these details in-hand now, which is one goal I’d hoped to knock off today; I’d been planning to hit up one of the tourist info booths around town to see what they knew but all of them appear to be closed. Also, it looks like I can pay for the boat (at least) using a credit card, which is a huge relief – it’ll be one of the larger expenses, costing in the neighbourhood of $80 USD.

Beginning on the first page of the book is an introduction to what traveling in Patagonia is all about – self-sufficiency. What the book is really talking about is having the right equipment for what you’re trying to do, being able to fix your own mode of transportation in the event it breaks, and having a plan for when things don’t go according to plan. I’ve been thinking about this a lot lately, and while it’s pretty amazing down here regardless, backpacking solo with inadequate equipment – not to mention being out of shape – is definitely not the way to do this leg of South America. Being subject to the mercies of buses and the very rare taxi kind of sucks – so many days wasted, so many places that are simply inaccessible because taxis don’t want to go (or it’s prohibitively expensive), and so many guided trips that require a minimum number of people to buy-in. Were I to do this again I’d definitely try to find a beater, and I’d recommend anyone thinking about backpacking this stretch to do the same. I’ve seen a lot of older 4×4 pick-ups here in the $3000 to $4000 range, so it’s not the same as countries like Colombia or Ecuador, where vehicle prices are extortionate.

On my way out of the cafe I swing past the supermarket again but it’s closed for a siesta. I absolutely love this advertisement for beer, though.

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Somehow I manage to restrain myself from purchasing a 2-4 of Cristal elsewhere, and as I’ve walked most of the town now so I go back to lie around the room for a bit, then kick myself in the arse and try to accomplish part two of my plan for the day – see how far and how hard of a walk it is to the national reserve outside of town here. I don’t plan on doing any big trails today but I want to do that tomorrow. Maps show it’s about 4 km but I don’t know what the topography’s like, if it’s a shitty steep road I might grab a taxi tomorrow, otherwise just hoof it.

En route I notice a house in the shape of the yerba mate cup. Big time Baader-Meinhof Phenomenon:

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Also en route I notice this bumper sticker, and as is the case with the yerba mate cup, once I realize what it is I start seeing it everywhere. Seems not everyone likes DT in these parts.

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Turns out it’s not a bad walk at all, not flat but pretty easy. A few hundred feet past the entrance is a small cabin and inside is the park ranger, who is without a doubt the prettiest park ranger I’ve ever seen. Yowza. I ask her about scoring a trail map and she responds in fluent English, giving me a map and also the breakdown on all the trails. The smallest loop is estimated at nine hours and about 20 km. There’s also the option of taking a boat from the embarcadero (a few hundred feet further toward down the path) down the river and into Cochrane Lake, and it drops hikers off about 10 km down the trail. That sounds alright but hiking the riverfront / lakefront sounds good too, reckon I’ll just come back first thing in the morning and hoof the whole thing.

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The view of the river from the ranger station:

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Back into town where I head back to my room to chill again. The sound of dogs barking, inescapable since Puerto Montt, is part of this small town’s soundscape as well. I really don’t know how people here can deal with it, it’s been driving me absolutely nuts. Even with earplugs in I can hear them giving traffic and pedestrians an earful.

I noticed the town’s main general store is open, and since I need a few things for the hike tomorrow and I haven’t checked it out yet, I stop in. Pretty awesome. One aisle is food. Another is car stuff. The next is booze. The last is guns and ammo.

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Apparently here in puma country carrying a firearm isn’t a half-bad idea, and I’ve heard that to buy a gun in Chile you only need to prove you can buy a gun in your home country. It’s tempting, and would be especially badass if I end up on horseback at some point during the crossing (apparently a possibility), but they ain’t cheap and it’d suck to have to hand it over to the Argie border guards. It’d also be a great way to eliminate the incessant barking – with extreme prejudice. (Kidding, dog people. Maybe.)

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