Puerto Chacabuco Chile
Punta Arenas Chile
Puerto Natales Chile
Punta Arenas Chile
Puerto Williams Chile
Buenos Aires Argentina
Puerto Iguazu Argentina
Ciudad Bolivar Venezuela
Puerto Ordaz Venezuela
Cayenne French Guiana
Pointa A Pitre Guadaloupe
Back Home in California
Hello from Castro on the Island of Chiloe Chile.
Good bye Puerto Montt; hello adventure! A half hour out of Puerto Montt the bus arrived at Pargua on the muddy banks of the channel separating it from the large island of Chiloe. A twenty minute ferry ride got our buss across the Canal de Chacao to the island. Another twenty minutes and we were in Ancud on the island's north-western coast. With any luck I hoped to find a quaint little hotel for a night or two before continuing south to Castro and Quellon. I am assured ferries are available in both towns for crossing over to the Carretera Austral, a highway which is supposed to run most of the way down to Punta Arenas, presumably with bus transportation available.
Chiloe is the first island in the thousands scattered along Chile's west coast below Puerto Montt. The country's extraordinary geography has been characterized by one Chilean writer as loca (crazy), something hard to dispute considering its long skinny dimensions alone. The Austral region below Puerto Montt is particularly "crazy." The archipelago and adjacent mainland is unique in the world. Still mostly unsettled or even explored, it remains one of the world's last wild places. At this point I am far from sure how much of it I will be able to explore. Serendipity will be my guide as usual.
Once the ferry got our bus over to Chiloe, nothing suggested we were on an island at all. This is a BIG island. The comfortable Holiday Inn Express hotel in Puerto Montt spoiled me for what promises to be hard travelling ahead. Everyone says I can expect plenty of Spartan accommodations as I work my way South. Guide books and Internet sites make it clear the trip is possible, but travelogues suggest the trip presents interesting challenges. To orient yourself geographically, take a look at this map of the area that includes Chiloe Island.
In Ancud the tiny bus station sits on a hill a mile or so from the center of town. A two hour hike of exploration took me down some colorful streets surrounding the waterfront. Many of the buildings are painted in bright colors giving the town an amusement park effect. I find it quite pleasant. Most of the hotels are also decorated in highly visible colors making them easy to spot. Two looked promising, but one turned out to be fully booked and the other had walk-in closet size rooms with hardly enough space for a double bed. Back up the hill I hiked and grabbed the next bus south.
An hour later we stopped across the street from the Plaza de Armas in Castro. On one side sits the most unusual cathedral I have ever seen in Latin America. Of wood construction, it is covered completely by corrugated metal siding and painted in Easter egg colors. It looks more like a Munchkins warehouse than a Catholic church. The same decorators who created the outrageous color schemes on buildings up in Ancud must have found work here in Castro, too. This town is most famous for the fisherman's houses built over the water on stilts, called palafitos here. Extended sections of low tide shoreline serve as the building sites for homes and commercial buildings. Here and there floating boats are moored to the poles holding up the structures. A few of the buildings are badly in need of serious repairs or abandoned. Most wear the bright colors characteristic of this part of Chile.
The pace of life in Castro is slow; no one appears to be in a hurry, including the clerks waiting on people in the stores. Ancient ones loiter on the benches scattered around the Plaza de Armas. Strollers amble along slowly, stopping often to chat with an acquaintance. Throngs of tourists wander the area searching for a suitable place to spend the night while waiting for the next ferry, many with huge camping backpacks. The open air market at the wharf features items popular with the foreign visitors; a rough fisherman's market adds to the subtle olfactory ambiance.
I am finding plenty of ATM's in Chile. That is a good thing, too. Even some of the better hotels I've checked refuse to accept major credit cards, so cash is essential. Shortly after reaching Castro I noted my supply running low and stopped at one of the ubiquitous RedBanc ATM's. It hated my bank card and immediately spit it out without so much as an apology! Fortunately, a block away is a building marked Atlas Bank with the word Citibank printed below. Well, my bank is Citibank so that looked encouraging. Their ATM machine didn't like my card any more than the previous one. Slightly desperate I checked inside. You guessed it; no one spoke a word of English. Finally, the branch manager appeared and we had a conversation of sorts... all in Spanish! During it he pointed out that Atlas is a subsidiary of Citibank and not Citibank itself. He did allow me to use his bank's phone to contact the English speaking Citibank service people who were of no help and later suggested I try the branch of Bank of Chile down the street. There, the machine tasted my card, smiled and produced a bundle of crisp new Chilean bills.
Most obvious accommodations here are small hospedajes, generally guest rooms in someones home, or hostels. It took an hour to find the best real hotel in town and once again all rooms had been sold for the night. The English speaking receptionist suggested the $50 Hotel Esmeralda a short distance away. Only a half block from the Plaza and directly across the street from an O.K. Corral Restaurant, it is not bad. One night I enjoyed a fantastic "hot dog" meal accompanied by a liter mug of (medicinal) beer there. The ferry out of Castro over to Chaiten only makes the seven hour trip three times a week and one had just left the day before! I bought a ticket for the next trip on Saturday today.
PS: Long time friend and fellow peace activist, Joe Trimble sent the following shortly after I had finished my postcard from Puerto Montt:
"I just came across an excerpt from the book "They Thought They Were Free", which discusses how and why "decent men" became Nazis.
From the cover:
"Milton Mayer, an American journalist of German / Jewish descent, provides a fascinating window into the lives, thoughts and emotions of a people caught up in the rush of the Nazi movement. It is a book that should make people pause and think -- not only about the Germans, but also about themselves."
Friends, I'm afraid that many of the insights in this book are definitely about us. I invite you to think particularly about the Latin maxim mentioned toward the bottom -- "Finem respice" -- as one (possibly the only?) approach to preventing America from following any further in the footsteps of Nazi Germany. Do you look ahead? What end do you see?
... If you prefer to read it on-line, here is the link:
Make all the music you can; we need more harmony! Joe"
The excerpt alone is worth a read... for any thinking person, on the right or left. In discussing the reality that not all Christians are saints in my last postcard, I cited Hitler as a glaring example. Joe's find adds another important dimension to the lessons of that cataclysmic period. FB