Saturday, January 29, 2011

Carretera Austral, Chaiten to Coyhaique.

I was confused about the bus schedule leaving Chaiten, and so finally decided to hitchhike. Soon I was on my way in a Chilean police car. That evening I finally reached the strange, silent little town of La Hunta. All the hostals have matching wooden signs out front, and all are closed. Door after door I knock until finally one opens for me. Next I go in search of food and it is the same story. Finally in one resturant a women opens the door. "No food here but I will take you" she tells me and then drives me to her mothers house, who fed me a meal of carne, potatoe salad, and crepes for desert. Next morning I am headed to puyuhuapi, but change my mind at the last minute to go instead to Villa Amengual, where there is a big festival with a rodeo and concert. The town is unindated with Chilean travelers and I make the first use of my tent, setting it up in the yard of someone's house with 100 others. The rodeo starts that afternoon. It is mostly talk, with the announcer going on for 10 minutes and then finally a guy gets on a poor horse and tries to stay on for 8 seconds. This goes on for hours. Later that night is the concert, a popular Chilean band who fuses modern with traditional sounds and instruments. Next morning I join the hordes of other hitchhikers leaving the town. Traveling solo, I quickly secure my first of 4 rides that finally bring me to Coyhaique where I spend two days relaxing and preparing for the rest of my journey south.

Monday, January 17, 2011

Carretera Austral, Under a Smoking Volcano

As I was waiting to board the ferry, I learned that Chaiten was badly damaged by a huge volcanic blast from a mountain that had previously been unknown as a volcano. The people where just begining to return, and water and power was being restored but barely. And, oh yes, the volcano was still smoking. And so what do I decide to do? Jump off the boat and on a bus and flee as fast as possible? No, instead I volunteered for three days to help a group of scientists with an ongoing study that is looking at the rate of recovery of the badly damaged forests in the area. At this time, the study is looking only at insects (larger animals have not begun to return yet) and my job for the next three days is to help set up pitfall traps, essentially plastic cups filled with antifreeze (to preserve the unlucky insects) and set level with the ground under a protective board covering. The traps were set up in areas representative of various levels of damage, plus undamaged rainforest as a control. I struggled over massive tree falls and densly foliated undamaged rainforest, was serenaded by a huge variety of birds, bitten by hoards of biting flies, photographed stunning flowers, and had my blood sucked by a leech. The highlight was climbing through undamaged rainforest up a steep hill to where a tree grew up and out from the hill in such a way that you could walk out on it and be eye level with the canopy and the birds. All together it was another fabulous unplanned exerience, and part of what continues to draw me to traveling in the way that I do.

Arrival on the ferry to Chaiten

The mountain on the right is not the volcano, but the shape of the mountain looks a bit suspicious considering.

Massive destruction of previously dense rainforest

On the third summer, life is returning and the brightness of the green is amazing as it fights its way through thick grey ash.

A close up of the flowers growing up the tree in the top photo. Trees that are sheared of their branches become a home to fresh vines and actually begin to grow fresh branches.

Bamboo starts to grow new shoots

Mosses and lichens find small niches to begin growing

Destruction of homes around the water, where ash floods inundated them

Still people return to Chaiten and begin to rebuild their lives.

The volcano looms overhead, still smoking as a reminder and a warning

Friday, January 7, 2011

Puerto Varas, Chile

After a bit of time off from traveling I planned an escape from the cold Alaska winter by flying into summertime in Patagonia. All together I will spend one and a half months in Chile and ten days in Bolivia. I arrived in Santiago, which is a very nice city, but not caring for cities, I rushed off in a southernly direction. A very comfortable night bus brought me to my first stopping point, Puerta Varas, where I spent two days relaxing, socializing, and planning the next step of the journey. The most popular way to Southern Patagonia from there is a 48 hour bus ride which takes a route through Argentina. However, I was very intriqued by the less traveled route which combines ferrys, buses, hitchhiking, and finally even walking across the border at Villa O Higgons, the most southernly place you can get to in Chile before the roads end and subsequently reconnect through Argentina in the southern Patagonia of all the photos. I was a bit nervous about trying this route, as I heard it is difficult and you can get stuck for days, and I also knew if I tried it that I would need to find a tent. As luck would have it I ran into two Italian guys at the hostel that evening who not only encouraged me to try it, but where also looking to offload their tent. I then needed to wait one more day to get the ferry which would take me to my first stop along the route, Chaiten. And so finally I was on my way to new adventure.