Pumalin and the Hudsonian Godwit.

If you look at a good road map of this part of Chile you will see that to get to Puerto Montt from Chaiten you have to take one of two ferries.

The direct route is to take the Caleta Gonzalo ferry to Hornopiren (the short ferry from Caleta Gonzalo to Firodo Largo only gets you onto an isolated 10km stretch of road, you then have to return!) The more scenic route (so we have been told) is via the island of Chiloe. For this route you take the ferry from Chaiten to Quellon.

Four hundred kilometres south in Coihaique, we had made the decision to go via the island of Chiloe and booked our ferry accordingly (about $240USA for a 6.5 metre vehicle and two people). Our ferry was booked for Saturday and we arrived in Chaiten on Wednesday. Rather than change our booking to Thursday (the ferry only goes twice a week) we decided to explore the area north of Chaiten. A good choice.

Not wanting to spend a night in Chaiten we shopped, ate, Internet'd, ATM'd and headed to Santa Barbara a few kilometers north. This idyllic wild camp has a black volcanic sand beach and great views with a volcano in the distance. (S42.855188 W72.798428). Recommended.

On Thursday morning we headed north to Caleta Gonzalo. Most of this journey is within the remarkable Parque Pumalin. Compared with other parks we have seen in Chile, Parque Pumalin is better organised, better signed, has better information (but only in Spanish), better camp sites (for tents) and the buildings look like the UK's National Trust built them and Farrow and Ball painted them. It is also free! But apparently...

...a lot of Chileans are not happy with Parque Pumalin.

Why? Because it is owned by one man, a USA citizen, and it bisects their country (Chile is a very long and very thin country). The fact that the same man owns the adjoining land in Argentina adds to the unease. See www.parquepumalin.cl.

After one night at the centre of the park and a good meal at the park cafe we returned to Santa Barbara and watched dolphins swimming very close to the beach.

Early on Saturday morning we drove to the ferry loading ramp just outside Chaiten. Our ticket said we should be there by 10:30. We were an hour early so as to be at the front of the queue. To pass the time some of the backpackers waiting for the ferry had their photographs taken in front of Mog.

The ferry was due to leave at 12:00, then 13:00 then... It actually left at 15:06. In spite of some initial jostling, the loading procedure was well organised and we think everybody with a ticket got on. The trip takes five or six hours, depending on whom you ask. We arrived in Quellon at 21:30 as it was getting dark. We drove 500 metres East along the water front and parked for the night at S43.121158 W73.608798. If we had looked at Quellon in the daylight we might not have slept so well.

When we woke, the bird-life just outside our window was impressive (or so I'm told).

As well as the usual gulls and cormorants there were a dozen Hudsonian Godwits (Limosa haemastica).

(In case you don't know, Hudsonian Godwits are large shorebirds that breed in Canada and Alaska. Each year they migrate to South America, often without stopping.)

Quellon is, without doubt, the dirtiest town we have seen in Chile. In a couple hours wandering round on Sunday morning we also encountered more drunks than we had seen in the whole of the rest of Chile.

The photographs below were taken on major streets between the ferry landing and the (good) supermarket. Not a place to hang around longer than necessary.

We have not yet reached Castro, but so far the island of Chiloe is not living up to its considerable reputation.

Now we have been to Castro and it is still not up to expectations.

Stephen Stewart.

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