Coyhaique and Northern Patagonia

Island on the way to Coyhaique

Island on the way to Coyhaique

I arrived at Puerto Montt on Saturday, and was to be at the ferry terminal by 9 AM to prepare for my scheduled departure. Puerto Montt is in the Southern end of Chile, very much feeling like it’s at the end of civilization. The railroad stops here, as does the paved highway. Further on are some dirt roads, but for the most part you either leave the way you came, or head out by boat, as I was going to.

There were already about 50 people as I arrived, with more trickling in as time passed. The most curious thing I discovered as I talked to the other passengers was that different people seem to have been given times to show up. While I was told to arrive at 9AM, others weren’t told to get here until 2 PM, just before the departure time. I wondered if some people had been told to arrive at 4PM or later, and ended up missing the boat, the whole thing was rather curious.

The boat can carry as many as 400 passengers, with two large rooms packed with 200 seats each, in addition to a small number of cabins and berths. The boat wasn’t nearly filled to capacity on this day, and many of the travellers were native Chilean. We also had access to a little snack bar, a small sheltered area on deck, as well as the rest of the open deck. The weather was perfect, which meant people were wandering all over the ship, and not solely confined to the indoors areas.

Welcome to Chile Chico

Welcome to Chile Chico

The scenery on this first day was nice, though not particularly stunning. The early part of this trip hugs coastline that is often desolate and sparse, and the water was relatively devoid of any defining features. This would change on the second day, as we began to make our way through the series of narrow islands and channels near Chacabuco. Small islands with a variety of different environments dotted the water, and I very much would have liked to jump out of the boat and just take a quick tour around them.

Later that day we reached our destination Coyhaique, and had the joy of scrambling to get my luggage with 200 other people all trying to accomplish the same thing. Afterwards I found out that many of the cheaper hotels in the area were either booked, or weren’t suitable. I was forced to check into one of the fancier hotels in town, which was actually a nice change of pace, and as I managed to talk the owner down in price, it wasn’t terribly expensive.

The next morning I set out to explore Coyhaique. It’s rather an interesting little town, perched on the side of the mountain as it is. It was Christmas Eve, so there was a natural festive spirit about the place as well. While I had planned to journey off the beaten track and check out the countryside, I ended up just walking around the town the entire day.

Rio Baker

Rio Baker

I was now ready to travel into Argentina that night. There’s no road directly from Coyhaique to my destination, so I’d have to hop on a bus to Puerto Ibanez, and then take a ferry across Lake Carrera to Chile Chico. The road to Puerto Ibanez was narrow and bumpy, and almost entirely deserted. I can only recall see a few cars pass us in the other direction the whole journey, though this being Christmas Eve, I suppose most people were hunkered down with friends and family by this point. We crossed the paths of many little farms along the way, and even a few people on horseback. It feels just like I would imagine the old west did back in the day, with plenty of open land for miles around, and scattered farms staking their claim to the land.

We arrived in Puerto Ibanez by 8 PM, with the sun still shining brightly. I checked into the hotel (luckily there were rooms, as it seemed to be the only hotel in town, and wandered around for a bit. The small town has a rodeo stadium near the lake, which I was dying to get into, but there was nothing scheduled. I headed back to the hotel to see if any events were planned for this evening, but short of a small Christmas tree in the corner this would be like any other night, so I went to my room and relaxed for the night.

I hung around the town the next day, as my ferry was scheduled to cross the lake the next morning. This was without a doubt the laziest Christmas Day I have ever spent, and I’m not complaining. For a couple hours I headed out and found a nice relaxing spot to read, where there were no signs of civilization anywhere around me. After I headed back to town, I returned to the hotel and socialized with some of the other travellers and the hotel staff.

I was ready to cross the lake the next morning at 11 AM. This ferry was very small, and carried just a few cars and maybe 30 people on it as we crossed over the pristine lake. The crossing took about two hours, and the changing blue and green waters were really serene. The surrounding brown hills also provided great contrast to the water.

Chile Chico

Chile Chico

Chile Chico was even more of a frontier style town than Puerto Ibanez. The houses and cars were a little more beat-up, more people on horseback roamed around right in the town, it was great. I wanted to stay in this town a little longer and talk to people, I had scheduled transportation to get into Argentina, so I had to head off. This town is just 10 KM from the Argentina border, and I took a colectivo to get me there. The guidebook had said we’d have to drive through a small ford along this road, which I was looking forward to, but a bridge had just recently been built over it.

Los Antiguos is Argentina was a drastic change from Chile Chico, feeling very modern by comparison, which was actually disappointing. From here I would catch a bus that would take me on a 16 hour ride into the heart of Argentina, saying a fond farewell to the frontier lands behind me.