Crossing over to the border town of Futaleufu, in the lake district of Chile, was like stepping back in time. The roads are gravel, gauchos (cowboys) ride down the high street on horseback wearing Berets (what´s up with that, I thought they were French??) and you have to chase the chickens out of the way to go into the supermarket. All of this surprised me as Chile has one of the strongest economies in South American and I assumed it would feel much more advanced than neighbouring Argentina where their economy has been on the brink for years.
The scenery also changes dramatically. The predominant westerly winds means Chile gets loads more rain than Argentina and everything is a lot greener. Surrounded by beach forest, it reminds me loads of the lower North Island of NZ. Despite the chickens, I discovered a lemon meringue pie to rival my sisters (sorry Charlotte). This was to be a theme down here, while the mains are a bit bland, the cakes and pastries are excellent, a nod to the original European settlers I presume.
I arrived at 11am and was slightly irritated to discover the next bus out of town was not until the following morning but as it was nice enough place, I was happy to chill out for the afternoon. The daily bus to La Junta, about 130km away, which I was to catch, broke the day I wanted to leave and as no other buses left town for a week or so, I thought I´d try my hand at hitching. Problem was, everyone else had the same idea so at one point there were 9 of us at the side of the road which is not at all conducive to getting picked up. I eventually got a lift 30km down the road late in the day and was dropped in the middle of nowhere. After 3 hours of waiting for another ride, and close to evening, I decided I didn´t want to sleep rough, bottled it, and got a lift back to town. On day 3 I worked out there was one other bus going in a slightly different direction to where I wanted but at least it was a bus out of town! I caught this and then my hitching luck changed. I got two lifts pretty quickly, one on the back of a cattle truck with 7 other people, and then I hit the jack pot: a bus came past going to Coyhaique, the destination of my next walk, which I flagged down (common practice here). Result. It turned out the bus took this trip once a week.
It’s really strange to be put in a position where it’s very difficult to leave somewhere, I was looking at cyclists with envy. Come back transport for London, all is forgiven! Still, my crash course in hitching reminded me of three important things: a) it’s always better if you`re a girl, or have one with you 2) Many people hitching from the same place = bad c) there is a hitching pecking order; if you arrive as the third person at a junction, you can`t walk to a better position on the road in hope of getting a lift first, you`ve got to wait your turn.
Here is a video I took right before catching my first lift for the day:
It turns out that region 11, which is where I crossed over, is the slightly forgotten part of Chile and it definitely becomes more connected in the south where more tourists congregate. From Coyhaique I walked Cerro Castillo with two Spanish and Ecuadorian guys that I met, more on this in the next post. Having been slightly traumatized by the bus links, the three of us flew down to Punta Arenas, the last stopping-off point before Cape Horn and Antarctica. Punta Arenas felt like the first proper Chilean city that I visited. It has loads of art deco buildings, great pubs and it is from here that you can go to a local penguin colony. They are so cool, check out some pics:
The one slight problem with the penguin colony was that we turned up in a mini sand blizzard which made it very difficult to move and actually see the little blighters. Further more, I got sand in my camera and it broke, right before I was to visit one of the most beautiful parts of the world. Pesky penguins!