Argentina & Chile,

7th March - 28th March 2010

[8 - Pasarella Azur to Cochamó

- End of Los Hitos Trail]

  Kelson on the ferry, buttoning up to counter the chill.

Having missed the bus on our final push from Primer Corral to Llanada Grande in the pouring rain, a farmer arranged for a mini-bus to pick us up on the road beyond his farm.


Thursday 18th March

The rain we had hoped would hold off finally came in the early hours of the morning, when I awoke to the sound of light drizzling on my tent's flysheet. We woke at 6 a.m. and began packing, setting out after breakfast as soon as it became light around 08h00, an early start required, as we were aiming to reach a bus at Llanada Grande around 11h00 that would take us to a ferry point, ultimately signalling the end of walking as far as Los Hitos was concerned. Returning to the bridge but not crossing it, the route swung left as we climbed away from the river. Passing through a forest of trees, the path levelled out and we reached a farm. By now the rain was quite heavy and worse still, the farmer informed Elena that we would miss or had missed the bus. An alternative arrangement was hatched and the farmer organised instead for a taxi to take us to the ferry, if we reached the top of the hill, wherever that was. Leaving the farm and walking through a section of forest, we suddenly encountered a clearing, where heavy machinery and massive road-works had effectively cut a track, 10 to 20 metres across, up the hillside through the forest, in turn scarring the landscape forever and coming as an immense shock to us. Was this the price to be paid for progress?


As roads are being constructed to access the remote interior, the scarred landscape came as a huge shock. In the pouring rain, we had to battle on up the hillside to meet the mini-bus.


Waiting for the ferry at Lago Tagua Tagua.

We trudged steadily up the hill, sometimes in the rain, one foot before the other on gravel and mud, for what seemed like an hour or more, in the direction of Lago Azul. With some of the others covered in a white poncho which extended over their rucksacks almost taking on the shape of a camel, I jokingly enquired of Harald: "One hump or two"? Eventually a mini-bus came by, driven by a woman who looked distinctly Indian. our hearts sank as she drove down to where precisely we had started our walk to pick someone else up, before returning. We had walked a distance of roughly 45 km from La Pasarela campsite over some four days. We all piled in, rucksacks and all, rain-soaked and wet, whereupon the mini-bus sped along the rough surface of the road all the way to the ferry at Lake Tagua Tagua. Forgettable Chilean pop music warbled from a tape the taxi driver was playing. At the ferry point, a wooden hut the size of a room provided shelter from the cold as we cooked up a broth on the gas cooker whilst waiting for the ferry, which arrived within the hour at around midday. In the interim a bus bringing other passengers arrived, possibly the one we had missed. Along with a number of locals and a few vehicles, we boarded the old vessel which we hoped would get us safely across the lake. For a few moments at least, the sun came out and bathed the forest-covered mountains above the lake, swathes of mist still hanging in the air. Finally reaching the far end of the lake, a decrepit old bus with moth-eaten, broken seats transported us to the village of Puelo, where more passengers were then picked up. Wooden structures passing as homes revealed the obvious insufferable poverty of the locals, mostly in the fishing industry, coupled with their very basic living conditions. It seemed like a rather miserable place to live but who were we to judge?



On the ferry across Lago Tagua Tagua. (L-R) Xandra, Elena and Harald.


Central and Southern Chile has historically been inhabited by the tribe of Native American Indians known as the Mapuche tribe. Most of the locals on board seemed to display Indian features and one wondered as to their origins and bloodline. Historical documents do not provide clear evidence as to the exact origins of the Mapuche tribe from which many in the region are descended. This tribe is also to be found in Southern Argentina. The native peoples were swiftly decimated by Old-World diseases such as measles, smallpox and influenza, but a mixed blood population rapidly replaced them, boosted by settlers from the Basque country. The Spaniard colonists would refer to the Mapuches as Araucanians. Although the number of Mapuche people in Chile has declined over time, they still constitute 4% of the total population of the country. Their population is concentrated in the region of Araucania further north. The Mapuche tribe is actually composed of Indians of varying ethnicity. However they share a common religious, social and economic structure. Furthermore their common linguistic heritage also binds the group together. The influence of the Mapuche tribe extends all the way from the Aconcagua River and the neighbouring Chiloe island travelling all the way to the eastward region of Argentine pampa. In Argentina, disputes over cattle and sheep led to the Indian wars of 1880, under Colonel Julio Roca, who virtually exterminated the indigenous peoples in order to take their land.

  Sibylle and Xandra don't look too happy or perhaps they're feeling the chill! Kelson enjoys the ferry ride. Ah, all smiles now! Clare, Xandra and Sibylle.

A distinct chill in the air on the Lago Tagua Tagua ferry.



Approaching the Puelo side of Lago Tagua Tagua.

We arrived in Cochamó after an hour-long bus trip from Puelo and were immediately charmed by the unassuming nature of this little fishing village on the Pacific, nestled in a bay surrounded by towering peaks of the Andes. There was little evidence of any damage caused by the recent earthquakes. Since having left El Bolsón, we had not encountered any tarred roads, not even in Cochamó. Yet this was not uppermost in our minds at this precise minute. We walked from where the bus dropped us off along a road down the hill towards the harbour and found Restaurant Reloncavi, constructed of wood, as indeed are all buildings in the Cochamó and Puelo area. The proprietors were immediately sent into a frenzied state of activity - suddenly they were being invaded by Gringos (more pertinently, Seffricans i.e. us!) wanting plates of food and beer as if they (we) had not eaten in days! We ordered, ate and consumed enough beer causing Ralph to declare rather unceremoniously that......he was "pissed". A kitty was initiated to pay for the meal and any other expenses that were to follow.

The ferry docks at the Puelo side at Lago Tagua Tagua; Boarding the bus at Lago Tagua Tagua, taking us via Puelo and ultimately to Cochamo.


Additional photos courtesy Ralph Pina, Harald Weber & Andre Greyling.

Arrival in Cochamo and our accommodation, the first thing on Kelson's mind is an empanada at the Panaderia!


Cochamó's livelihood is also derived from the numerous salmon farms that can be seen across the bay. According to the National Geographic February 2010 article on Patagonia, however, it turns out that "After Norway, Chile is the world's largest producer of farmed salmon. The Norwegian companies that began salmon farming in Chile came here because the fjords were unspoiled. That is no longer the case. Like nearly every form of concentrated animal agriculture, salmon aquaculture creates an excess of waste. Here salmon farms deaden the water, creating anoxic conditions, and have led to the spread of a lethal salmon virus called infectious salmon anemia. The solution of the salmon-farming companies has simply been to move south into clean waters. Already the companies have taken out new leases on stretches of water throughout the southern fjords" [Copyright 2010 - National Geographic].

View across Cochamo Bay and local church.

Kelson and Ralph chilling out! Additional photos courtesy Ralph Pina, Harald Weber & Andre Greyling.

Settling in at Cabanas Mondymar, our Cochamo accommodation, our first priority was the washing!


In the interim Elena and Kelson had found accommodation in the same street as the restaurant. A few houses back up the hill stood Cabanas Mondymar, with its two cabins and a great view over the bay. Some washing began in earnest and covered every available space outdoors on the veranda and washing line. Some went out shopping and explored the village. The cabin boasted a small TV with satellite and Ralph wasted no time in finding a channel broadcasting football, much to my delight as well, though not so the others. Uncertainty and indecision reigned as to what we were having for dinner. Kelson began making a potato and green salad whilst a decision was eventually taken to order take-away salmon locally, which arrived overcooked and proved something of a disappointment. It mattered not as the wine and beer went down well and we were too exhausted to bother. So ended a very long day indeed, rewarding yet in many ways frustrating in terms of what might have been. Speaking for myself, a good night's sleep in a comfortable bed followed.


Patagonia, Argentina & Chile

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