I was dehydrated and felt hungover despite not having had a drink the night before. No idea why but our bunk was sweltering, the Swiss couple’s alarm clock has a thermometer on it and it was reading 30 centigrade in the night. I slept like shit and only the “breakfast is ready” PA message could entice me to get moving. One interesting thing though – while the boat’s motor was still running, the rocking was gone. We must have moved out of open waters and back into an archipelago.
Sure enough we had, with the island of Chiloe visible to our northwest and the beautiful mountain ranges around Chaiten visible to the east. It’s hard to think that it’s been something like six or seven weeks since I passed by them in the opposite direction on the Carretera Austral. The haze off the water creates a weird effect though, the mountains just look like they’re floating in the clouds…
That’s Corcovado, just south of Chaiten in its eponymous national park. The Chaiten volcano, which exploded half a dozen years ago or so, stuck out like a sore thumb with its crater at the top and no snow, as the rocks continue to give off heat. I’m not out long before I hear an announcement that Percy’s giving another presentation in English.
I go down and it’s flora of the region, admittedly not something I’m terribly interested in but I do take note of which plants he says are edible, who knows, might come in handy once I get back on solid ground. The other thing I took note of was something called the “Devil’s Strawberry”, it looks like a strawberry but Percy was emphatic that we shouldn’t eat it.
I’m paraphrasing, but his personal anecdote went something like “I tried it once and I had the worst diarrhea for four days straight.” (He looks to the ceiling and holds his guts.) “After I recovered I wasn’t sure if it was to blame, maybe it was something else, so I tried it again and I had diarrhea for another four days, oh, it was terrible.” The presentation wasn’t all that memorable but this guy’s a hell of a speaker, I could listen to him talk about watching paint dry. At one point he was telling us about a practical joke he played on his friend, I don’t even remember the prank but I completely lost it when he shrugged his shoulders and declared, “I am always making the stupidity!”
We grabbed lunch together and I took an extended siesta, sleeping in until 3:30. Back up to the deck and it’s unbelievably beautiful, like a perfect August day in Nova Scotia, nice sea breeze and nothing but blue skies. A few of the girls on board are lying out on the deck tanning, a big change from Patagonia. I watch Chiloe drift by and it looks great, verdant with farms and small fishing villages, if someone told me I was looking at the south shore of Scotia it’d take me a while to notice any indicators to the contrary.
With my headphones on and laid out in the sun I start thinking about what to do when I get off the boat. After a maintenance day in Puerto Montt – I’ve been wearing these pants for almost a month straight now – there are three ideas I’m kicking around:
- Chiloe Island: There’s a penguin colony here and a couple of national parks. The culture’s supposed to be a lot different from the rest of the country as well.
- Hornopiren: I’d be retracing my steps here but my last visit was somewhat foiled by lousy, hole-filled boots and cold, wet weather. I’ve got new boots and it’s warm, could really do it right.
- North: I don’t know much about what’s between Puerto Montt and Rancagua, I just took an overnight bus last time. Must be something to check out. I don’t want to go too far north though – it’s gotta be damn hot up towards the Atacama now.
I suck back the coffee, watch the mountains go by and pretend to read while really checking out the girls on the deck. I strike up a conversation with a German couple I’d spoken to briefly, they new where Nova Scotia was and had even shipped their vehicle to Halifax for a road trip in 2010. I was stunned to discover that they were still on the same trip, five years later. They’d been driving around the Americas the whole time, only flying home to Germany once a year to visit the family. They showed me a pic of their rig – it’s a big Volvo truck that has had the back converted to camper, soooo rad. Having done Patagonia they were en route to Brazil next and planned to continue driving around until mid-2016. After that they’d take a single year off and then spend two more down in Australia, with plans to eventually do the whole globe. At that pace I reckon it’ll take them 15 to 20 years, but I guess that’s the right way to do it. “Please tell me you have a website”, I begged. Yup, they do.
An announcement came across for one more presentation, this time on the culture and tourism of the Puerto Montt and Chiloe region. Percy delivered it in his usual hilarious style, eyes wide while mentioning that there are fifty species of potato, declaring that “Each one is more delicious than the next, YEEESSSS!”, shooting his finger into the air. The really interesting part is a lake about thirty clicks north of Puerto Montt called Llanquihue, which I’d heard of but didn’t realize was so close. A former German settlement, it has retained most of its German architecture and culture, with most people apparently continuing to speak German to this day. It’s also got a volcano and a national park right next to the lake… Hmmmm… Add a fourth item to my list of potential ideas… Actually, I’m pretty much sold on the idea. After I ask him if he’d recommend walking around the lake – it’s about 200 kilometers but he says if you can do it, it’d be a great way to do it. I’m really looking forward to sleeping outside again and this sounds like the perfect place to do it.
After hanging out for a while with a German chick who’s working in her country’s consulate in Rio, I spend most the remaining evening hanging out with the Swiss. Roger’s got a couple of beers in his backpack and offers me one – I try to decline, surely his girl must want one – but they insist so we crack them and talk about, what else, travel. He’s the second person I’ve met on this trip who has walked the Way of St. James, and he did it with little more than a sleeping bag, sleeping under bridges, public gazebos and church awnings when he needed shelter from the rain. I’m super jealous, but then I tell him about the Mongol Rally and it turns out he’s obsessed with getting to Central Asia and Mongolia and has already converted a VW van into a campervan basically for that purpose. At the end of the evening we exchange contact details and they insist that if I ever come to Switzerland I stay at their place, which I’m more than happy to agree to.
A little past 11:30 we dock just down the road from Puerto Montt. The ship’s too big to go right into town so it has to use this alternate pier 15 km away. They don’t kick us off though – we can stay on board for the evening and have breakfast in the morning, then take a shuttle bus into town. Handshakes and high fives with the Swiss, goodbyes and good lucks to the other folks I’ve been hanging out with and I head to Hospidaje Polz, the guesthouse I’d stayed in before, to throw down my shit and start getting down to business.
First things first, I check to see if my Australian visa has been approved yet – if it has, I’m heading there ASAP, but unfortunately, it hasn’t.
Next priority, a haircut.
A clean pair of shorts or pants is imperative. I’ve been wearing this last pair of pants for a few days short of a month, they haven’t been washed once and they’ve been slept in many times. They were covered in mud but a few walks in the rain sorted that out. Funkalicious, no doubt. I grab a pair of swim trunks at a department store, who knows, maybe I’ll find some good places to swim.
Due to another extended siesta I miss the laundromats’ closing hours and I’m forced to stick around another day to get that sorted. I don’t mind too much, it means I’ll have a Wi-Fi connection for Saturday night and can watch the Bruins game.
With all my ducks in a row I’m ready to get out there and do something again. Between Punta Arenas and the boat it feels like I’ve been sitting around a lot and I’m ready to shake off the dust. I don’t really have a clear idea of how long it’ll take for my visa to come in but until it does I might as well keep moving.