Wednesday, February 01, 2006

Quellón to Caleta Gonzalo

My cabin, "Pudu" at Caleta Gonzalo. Everything in Pumalin Park is done with class, and these cabins are exquisite little refuges.

At my campground in Quellon this morning, I slept until 8:30. Felt somewhat lousy - raw throat and achy muscles. For the past two days, my body has been besieged by something. Other than suspected bouts of "food poisoning", it has been a long time since I’ve been ill. (Come to think of it, this is how my body usually reacts to the Fall-to-Winter change of seasons. Perhaps I'm reacting to the colder climate down here in the South?)

Amidst a dewy landscape, the tent was soaked inside and out. As the sun rose a little higher, however, everything quickly dried out. Packed up, checked out and set off for the grocery store to gather some provisions. The internet café closed. (Those lazy bones! They stay up too late at night!)

Refilled at the “Esso” station. The attendant, on some kind of "power trip", filled the tank then waved me over to his office quite a distance away. Then, rather than come out of the office with the receipt for me to sign, he waved me to his desk. ("Asshole!")

Returned to “El Chico Leo” for desayuno: "Nescafe", bread with honey (from a waxed paper carton) and some eggs scrambled with bits of ham and cheese. The food tasted good. I think my body needed it.

Drinking so much "Nescafe" takes me back 35 years to when I first started drinking coffee. That's when “Tasters Choice” instant was considered gourmet coffee!

At another table sat four young men with big mugs of beer. It was 10:00 a.m.!


During the ferry crossing from Quellón to Chaiten, I had the opportunity to meet several groups of travelers:

From Cordoba, Argentina, Gabriel Demo and Jorge Etcheverry are riding Honda Africa Twins around the region.

From Santiago, Juan Pablo Cárdenas and Cristian Monaco are en route to Parque Pumalin. Interestingly, Cristian's father Jay "Monaco" Monaco lives in Santa Rosa, California (my latest hometown) and worked at the well-known Napa Valley restaurant, "Pinot Blanc".

Next, are Aitor Intxausti and Ibon Zapi from San Sebastien, "in the Basque country" (not Spain?) These two guys are doing it the hard way, bicycling around South America!

Crossing from Quellón to Chaiten, Chile. Park Pumalin is just off the port bow!

The decks were pitching a little more than I anticipated. I had used only a couple straps to hold the bike (the crew had actually strapped it down.) So, I occasionally glanced out on the vehicle deck to see if it remained upright.

I often observe people (in this case, the ship's crew) working, performing their jobs, and wonder “what am I doing?”

El Capitan kicking back

Sheep on the "sheep"!

It's a five-hour crossing to Chaiten, much longer than I expected (though I’m not sure where the expectation came from!) It gave me a chance to write some notes. The final two hours were through very calm (even drowsy) waters.

The fellow running the food concession showed me pictures on his laptop computer. They were taken during the crossing just two days ago and showed a whale breaching the surface numerous times. He asked if I wanted to copy them, but I said “they’re yours! I need to see a whale myself!”

Approaching Chaiten

Chaiten is larger than I expected. I took a quick spin around town to have a look, then started up the road for Pumalin. From Chaiten, it is about thirty miles to my destination, the cabins at Caleta Gonzalo. Within a short time, I was facing some soft gravel and not liking it much. “If this is how the Carretera Austral is going to be, I might have to turn around.” The road appears to have been freshly-graded. After about ten miles, I saw a grader coming down the road at full speed, heading for Chaiten. I’m sure the driver was laughing as he passed me.

Some patches where he had evidently filled in ditches were particularly difficult. And on this stuff, you have to go against instinct and give it some throttle, just when you most want to slow down. It requires having confidence in the machine and your experience, and ignoring the slight voice of panic.

I came upon a group of backpackers from Concepción, Chile looking for a ride. They had been there at the roadside for five hours, and had seen about ten vehicles. Most of the vehicles were small cars, packed full with vacation and camping gear. No room to squeeze in anything (or anyone) else. They were right at the El Volcan Campground, which, from the Pumalin brochure sounded like a good place to stay.

I gradually accepted the fact I’d be constantly on edge riding this road. There were several bridge projects along the way, with detours through the work zone, and recurring areas of soft gravel, but the worst had been the first twenty miles.

Burned-out Alerce trees in Pumalin Park

The cabins are tucked back against the forest, in an idyllic setting. They look out on a fjord. Checking in at the café, the woman behind the counter said I was lucky: someone couldn’t make the ferry this evening, so there was one cabin available.

"Cuanto cuesta?" (How much?)

"Cinco mil ($10)."


When I pulled out my credit card, she clarified:

"cinquenta mil."

$100. "Oh! (shit!)"

(And that doesn't include breakfast!)

But I had to stay. If I could spend $150 to experience the extravagance of Cancún, I should certainly splurge on an experience of a far different nature. These are wonderful cabins, with the highest quality fixtures, down pillows, hand-woven wool blankets and rugs. Rough cut woods. Everything demonstrating a regard for durable high-quality natural materials.

My cabin at Caleta Gonzalo in Pumalin Park. I owed it to myself to stay a night in this quite different kind of luxury.

A few yards from my cabin, the ferry landing at Caleta Gonzalo

At the café later, I looked over the menu. A quotation from Alice Waters speaks of our food selection being a way to honor and respect our bodies (a lesson I would do well to learn!) It also refers to the importance of coming together at meals. A vital part of life as a social being, currently under assault from "fast food" and "modern" lifestyles.

Typically, they serve a fixed menu. Tonight's dinner consisted of pumpkin soup, lasagna with congrillo (a local fish), and a brownie with raspberry sauce. The "house wine", Vina Misiones de Rengo Cabernet Sauvignon 2004 (from the Valle de Rapel region) is very nice! Everything is made from "the most organic ingredients available." A delicious meal, in modest portions.

While dining, a gentleman from another table introduced himself. “Jose Manuel” asked if I had come from the south. He had passed a motorcycle today. When I told him I was heading south, he said he could tell me all about the road.

He and his wife have just purchased a 4,000-hectare (10,000-acre) ranch in southern Chile. They intend to establish a tourist business: most likely hiking and horseback riding.

He returned after dinner to study the map with me, pointing out the sights, describing each stretch of road and its condition, locating gas stations. He was a wealth of knowledge.

He said I must cross to Argentina via Estancia Chacabuco, a 75,000-hectare parcel that Doug Tompkins has recently purchased. That will take me over to Puerto Raballos and Argentina. He later returned with his laptop to show me photos of the route. In the photos, he was towing a boat with his truck!

After dinner, I went out under the stars with binoculars, the Milky Way arching from horizon to horizon. The light from Sirius, Canopus, Alpha Centauri, amazing fiery sparkles. The "Magellanic Clouds", star clusters, a fireball meteor. What a spectacle! And out in the water, the sound of some animal periodically surfacing for air.

At the nearby ferry ramp, people are camping, awaiting tomorrow morning's boat. "What are they doing in my resort?"


Tim Spires said...

That looks like a place you could stay at for an extended period of time! Maybe even a lifetime!

timtraveler said...

I certainly wouldn't mind having this as a getaway!