Thursday, February 10, 2011

Puerto Montt - favorite places

Hostal Vista Hermosa, a friendly and clean B&B with very reasonable rates. It is close to the bus station and next door to the police station, so it is quite safe here. Owner Señora Patricia is a very warm and welcoming host.

The view from Hostal Vista Hermosa lives up to its name: "Beautiful View."

Most tourists visit the fish market and restaurants at Angelmó

I didn't even get to the small restaurants that abound. I just chose a tray of freshly-steamed centolla (king crab) and a tray of raw machas (razor clams), bought a lemon, a roll and a glass of wine. Perfect.

I recommend having a coffee after a fish lunch at Angelmó. Nearby is the tiny coffee shop/gallery Café Angelmó. Javier Mansilla is often working on a new painting while his wife Cecilia serves coffee and homemade kuchen, among other delights. Javier's paintings fill the walls of the café. I treasure one of his paintings in my home in California.

Another favorite lodging is Hostal Trén del Sur, owned and operated by Mario Orellana. The building is constructed from recycled wood and contains antiques with train themes and historic photos of Puerto Montt.

Joanna is a capable and helpful person at the front desk.

The Hostal recently opened a new restaurant that features a unique menu of "slow food." Chef Paula has created dishes that will put this restaurant on the map as the most innovative in Patagonia. Prices are very reasonable. Here is Carlos preparing the tables while I work on this blog.

But my favorite place of all is on a friendly horse far from town. Calbuco Volcano is in the background. Juan was my guide for a 20-kilometer ride near Puerto Montt.

Wednesday, February 9, 2011

Pumalin Park

Pumalín Park is a unique project of Douglas Tomkins from the United States. In an agreement with the Chilean government, he has purchased a large part of northern Patagonia with the purpose of creating a protected nature reserve. His intention is to eventually return it to the Chileans as a national park. At the time of purchase, several international companies were bidding for the land in order to extract valuable virgin forest resources. It is now a private reserve open to the public. In the northern sector there are a few cabins and a restaurant available to tourists. Throughout the park there are campgrounds that provide running water and covered spaces for tents. Rainfall in Pumalín reaches 12-18 feet in some years. The lush forest contains a huge variety of small and large species of plant growth. I joined a group of tourists for a visit to the park on a rainy day. It lies just a few miles north of Chaitén where I was staying for a few days.

Pumalín Park contains many hiking trails that have been carefully maintained. In a land where rain is almost a daily event, these wooden walkways through swampy land are sturdy and (usually) above water.

There are enough species per square meter to keep a biologist happy for a month.

Young Canelo, sacred tree of the Mapuche people.

Happy hiker

Ancient Alerce tree (fitzroya cupressoides) that resembles the California Redwood, especially the similar bark and their ability to live 3-4,000 years.

At the foot of Chaitén Volcano. Steam is escaping from vents and the caldera. Note the return of life in the trees and the abundant ferns on the ground. The volcano erupted May 2, 2008, after 9,000 years of dormancy.

One of hundreds of waterfalls in the park.

Tiny ferns grow at the base of this cliff, then larger species are found at higher levels. At the top of the cliff are small and large trees.

Click here
to view a slide show with more photos and music

Monday, February 7, 2011

Chaitén lives!

Chaitén is a town in northern Patagonia that was created in the 1940s as a port to ship lumber and livestock north to Puerto Montt, 213 miles north. The rough geography of the area has always prevented a land route to be built. In 2008 it had a population of about 5,000. On May 2 of that year the nearby Chaitén Volcano erupted. It was a small mountain, and geologists figure its last eruption was about 9,000 years ago. On that day in May, it spewed a cloud of ash that over the next weeks and months grew as high as 30 kilometers, almost 20 miles. The cloud followed the natural winds east of the Andes and reached the Atlantic Ocean, and possibly as far as South Africa. Few Chilean towns were affected. Here is a photo found on the Internet shortly after:

The town was evacuated immediately as people left their houses and all their belongings, expecting to return soon. Ships took them north to Puerto Montt and east to the island of Chiloé. The ash fell in the immediate area and filled the nearby river. As torrential rains followed the eruption, the Blanco River filled with ash and could not contain its banks. It overflowed and changed its course, raging through the southern sector of Chaitén, carrying houses and vehicles to the sea. Here is another photo from the Internet which shows the destruction caused by the river:

At first the Chilean government decided to abandon the town and began to build a new one further north. Residents resisted these efforts and were able to convince authorities that it would be safe to return. I visited Chaitén recently, 31 months after the eruption. About 500-600 people have returned and are desperately trying to rebuild their lives. Water is brought in by truck and electricity is provided by individual generators, all which is expensive for people who have been without work for over two years and who have limited funds to rebuild. The following photos show Chaitén in February 2011.

The riverbanks are being reinforced though not all the houses have been removed yet. This was once a street.

And some houses survived the flood. The hotel just reopened two months ago, about 30 months after the eruption. It was relatively undamaged, but the cleanup required a big effort. Some of the back area had to be rebuilt, and Señora Silvia claims that a coat of paint does wonders! Room price is reasonable and each room has a private bathroom. My room had a clear view of the volcano and the steam clouds. Telephone (mobile) 6826 0680.

The volcano today is spewing clouds of steam but seldom ash. Lava flow was never a problem, as the lava has been determined to be the densest found in a volcano. In fact it moved upwards and caused the mountain to grow a little in altitude.

The town square is a green park that invites roaming horses to graze. Since ash had covered the entire town in the flood, any areas free of ash have been cleared, by machine and by hand.

Along the waterfront, looking west toward Corcovado Volcano. I had seen this mountain a couple of weeks ago from the opposite side when I left Chiloé island.

On my last day in Chaitén, I joined Nicolas who runs Chaitur, the local tourist agency, for a drive south to Villa Santa Lucía. It was one of those rare days in Patagonia when the sky is clear and the temperature unusually warm. I had traveled this 46-mile segment of the Carretera Austral more than once, but never on a clear day. This was my first glimpse of the mountains.

Michimahuida Volcano

Yelcho Glaciar, River and Lake

Click here to view a video slide show with more photos

Wednesday, February 2, 2011

La Junta

The Carretera Austral is a 770-mile longitudinal road that was created beginning in 1976 by the Chilean military. The area from the Argentine border to the sea is seldom more than 100 miles and has been populated by a few hardy settlers who relied on reaching the outside world by horse or by boat until the Carretera was built. At times an environmental disaster that blasted through mountains and forests, it has since provided the means for more people to settle and create new towns. These people depend on raising livestock in the interior and on fishing and extraction of shellfish and seaweed along the uneven and extensive coastline. But the greatest economic boon has been tourism. Despite the fact that most of the road is a one-track gravel road, many people brave the challenges of travel by vehicle and bicycle. I previously posted photos in 2002 (Click here) and 2007 (Click here).

This year, after spending three weeks on the island of Chiloé, I traveled south by ship to the coastal village of Raúl Marín Balmaceda (previous post). After several lovely peaceful days I came inland to the Carretera Austral, stopping in the town of La Junta.

The 47 miles of gravel road follows the Palena River and takes about two hours by van with a bad rear axle.

The sky varied from torrential rains to glorious sunshine as we passed by impressive waterfalls large and small.

Having eaten only fish and shellfish for five days, it was obvious that there would now be red meat on the table as we passed by fields of livestock and humble farmhouses.

La Junta (pop. 3,600) means “The Meeting” or “Joining” and is where the Rosselot River joins the Palena in northern Patagonia. The town is a supply center for the surrounding countryside and has the only gas station for many miles north and south. There is phone and Internet service though the nearest ATM machine is about 200 miles away.

I found an upscale lodge (Hotel Espacio y Tiempo) with a well stocked bar and restaurant, one of very few places in Patagonia that accepts credit cards.

Unfortunately, I am reminded that a solo traveler without a vehicle is at the mercy of the occasional van that carries passengers. I had wanted to explore the northern part of the highway, but there is only one opportunity to reach Chaitén where I have a reservation on the Don Baldo north to Puerto Montt. The highway ends there and ship is the only way to continue. The public van leaves Friday morning at 6am.

Without a car there is little to do in La Junta. I’m always happy just walking the road north or south, or along the roads east and west to Lago Verde and Raúl Marín. Fortunately there is a great trail maintained by the national forestry service.

And when the rain becomes heavy, there is the refuge of my lodging where there is always a fire in the wood stove and a good Internet signal.