Chile 11: Wind, Clouds and King Penguins

  By now we had two goals: visiting the only colony of King Penguins and reaching Ushuaia for New Year.   As we drove southward the wind increased and it grew colder by the minute, light rain set in that sounded like hail hitting the vehicle. Around us nothing……really nothing. Flat country-side for miles on end, no trees, no hills, no estancias. We started wondering whether tonight would be the night where we had to sleep inside the vehicle without opening the rooftop tent.   As we deliberated our options, a small hut appeared on the horizon – amazing that it withstood the gale. As we got closer our decision was taken – we shall park next to the shelter on the lee side. Since wind in Patagonia normally blows from the west, the door opened to the east and to the roadside. As we came closer we realized it was not inhabitated – this is a type of shelter for herders passing with their flocks. One room was reasonably intact and still had floor planks -the other must have been used as firewood. The stench was barely bearable – a herder with his flock and dogs must have stayed here for a while. Judging by the graffiti on the walls the herders must be lonesome and longing for their loved ones. We moved in, happy to have found a little niche in this nothingness. After a supper and a tea the world looked much more attractive again. Next morning we were greeted with an overcast sky, the world looked a lot friendlier then and in the distance we could see the large shearing shed and winter quarters for the animals on the estancia. An hour later we reached Parque Pingüino Rey in the Bahia Inútil – too early, it was still closed. However, the local ranger ( very knowledgeable, also having visited Cape Town’s penguins in Boulders Beach as part of a Penguin Conference in the previous year) had mercy with us and allowed us in early at 10:00 to make good use of the prevailing sun which just poked through the clouds for about an hour (the park opens at 11:00). The King Penguins used to breed in substantial numbers along the Magellanic Channel, then disappeared as the fishing depleted the channel. Since about 7 years they have returned and commercial fishing is no longer allowed. Their numbers are slowly increasing again, currently there were about 100 of which are 30 breeding pairs. They also stay here for the entire year as there are sufficient Sardines in Inútil Bay. We considered ourselves lucky being able to see Penguins of all ages here – some still in their infant brown downs, some moulting into adult and some with eggs breeding. King Penguins reach a height of 1,20 meters and age to 25 years. Here we also met Sven and Iris from Germany travelling in their double storey Mercedes Sprinter and we might  see them again in Ushuaia as they were travelling in the same direction as us. From the park we continued along a good gravel road, a very remote area, drove through the village Cameron with the Communa Zimaukel and observed some ducks along the coast. Along the road we saw many trees strangely formed by the constant winds of this region – reminding us of some trees at home in Cape Town that also grow in the direction of the South Easter winds. Just before Parador Russfin, as small hospedaje that seemed to have catered for the gold miners many years ago, we left the road and found a clearing in a small forest providing us shelter from the wind for the night and with an idyllic view over the plains. Since we would be passing over the border next day into Argentina, we had to finish all fresh produce – Asparagus with Ham – not a bad meal in this desolate area. We had done 20000km since we had started in September in Montevideo and we realized, that travelling this part of the continent requires a lot of distance driving, much more so compared to our first 11 month going north in 2016. The next morning greeted us with drizzle and 8 degr. C , we left early, passing some old gold digger machinery at Dragua Aurifera. Along the Y895 road we spotted four grey foxes ( Zorro gris),  some guanacos with foals (or what is a small camel called?), passed some beautiful old estancias, normally situated in depressions with some wind shelter through small forests. Here we  met a gaucho along the road, who was keen to know where we were coming from and heading to. We reached the 257CH again that took us down to San Sebastian, the border town, where we stopped next to the police station (less wind) and prepared a hearty breakfast of eggs, bacon and mushrooms – ensuring that border control does not have a chance to seize it. Passing the Chilean border here was quick and the Argentinian side is about 15km drive, again no problems and was quick to enter.   Entering another country always means to find a supermarket as soon as possible, in order to stock up again. In Rio Grande we found a La Anonima  - thereafter we proceeded to find our next stop for the night. Little did we know what weird place we would find for the night.       This post covers 27th to 28th December 2017

Chile 10: Torres del Paine, Puerto Natales, Punta Arenas, Shipwrecks and Replicas

    We woke up early – weather clear and calm, an ideal day to reach Base de Torres. The trail started at the Los Torres Hotel where parking was available. From the parking it is approx. 1-1/2km to the start of the actual trail, as yet we did not knew what was lying ahead. The trail led upwards along a river with scenic views and passed the Chileno Lodge and camping site – pretty full this time of year as this is a popular overnighting spot to do the W-trail. We carried on, after another 7km the hectic steep section started leading to the foot of the Torres pinnacles. By the time we had reached this section the weather had completely closed up. Nevertheless we proceeded and reached the lago at the foot  - unfortunately the Torres covered by clouds. Seeing the condors soaring around these peaks was wonderful. As it grew colder we made our way down again, knees suffering. By the time we reached the vehicle again we had done a 21km round trip in 12 hours and could feel the pain – age setting in? The park offers a variety of interesting fauna and flora. On the way down we rested at the Chileno Lodge and had a decadent hot chocolate and muffin – very worthwhile stopping here and resting a bit. Although the weather was not as it had promised in the morning, we enjoyed this trail.   The evening rained out, after a stormy night we woke up to more rain, but enjoyed some cake and cappuchino in the comfortable rented camper of our Austrian neighbors Rudi and Gisa before we drove down to the Paine waterfall and on to Lago Azul. While enjoying the trip leisurely observing the many Guanacos with young, the Torres cleared up for a while offering us a photo opportunity from this perspective. From here we drove back to the entrance near which the camping site Serrano is situated – a privately run site with wooden shelters, good ablutions and hot water -a pleasure to stay at. Since the angling season had closed a week earlier, we had no problem finding space – we believe it is better to book here when entering the park to ensure a spot. On our way to the Grey Glaciar ranger station we hoped to see the elusive Huemul -not lucky, only see Patagonian scrub hares. Due to the rain it was not worth proceeding further to the glaciar and we turned back -on the way the mountain massif opened up long enough to do a panorama photo or two. Still on our list were to Salto Grande and do the trail to the Cuernos lookout. Rain did not make it a pleasant walk and we are forced back- the raindrops felt like icicles when they hit the face – the wind was strong and visitors with children had to guard them not to be blown over. Another night on Serrano camping compensated and a hot spaghetti went down very well. Next day we proceeded back towards Puerto Natales with the caves en-route that we had skipped coming up. We stopped at the immense 200m deep Cueva de Milodón – the cave so named after the finds of the extinct Milodón, a giant sloth that used to roam Patagonia with other extinct species. In 1895 Hermann Eberhard found the remnants of this 10000 year old sloth. From here we reached Puerto Natales again. Before darkness we did some essential shopping and then found refuge at Camping Güino for P6000pP – all structures made from galvanized sheeting in true Patagonia style like so many old houses. They had a kitchen where all campers could prepare food and spend time inside this heated room and also offered a laundry service. We took some time out to enjoy the colourful wall paintings depicting the life of the original inhabitants of this area, the Aoniken and Kaweskar Indians. The mural is by artist Angelino Soto Cea and is restored every ten years since it was first painted in 1996 on the walls of the municipal stadium. Buildings in Puerto Natales are generally colourful and many are still constructed from corrugated sheets. While we proceeded down the Ruta 9 towards Punto Arenas we had a good sighting along the road of two birds of prey devouring a skunk – the whole area was smelly of the typical garlicky odour of a skunk. Spring was in the air and very evident near Rio Tranquilo. En route the wind was picking up and the clouds remained spectacular. Just short of Punta Arenas we visited the well-known open-air marine museum, the Museo Nao Victoria, that displays a replica of the Não Victoria, the ship with which Fernando Magellan had circumnavigated the globe and who had discovered the Magellanic Straight at the time. Also a replica of the HMS Beagle can be entered, the ship with which Darwin and Captain FitzRoy had travelled to this remote region. For the night we found a room in the Hospedaje Aventura Austral as camping in town is virtually non-existent. However, we could only stay for one night and could not stay the next for Xmas. What a luxury for us – central heating, a hot shower, breakfast included, all while the wind howled outside. For supper we walked to the Café Sarmiento at the outlook Mirador Cerro de la Cruz. The good Wifi at the hostal allowed us to call family to exchange Xmas wishes and greetings before we looked around town and admired more art and painted buildings, all well done. Then we headed south to drive towards the southernmost lighthouse, all along the Straights of Magellan and in the hope to find a sheltered wild camping spot somewhere along the way. We saw Sea Lion, Cormorants and Canquen Colorado, a type of duck we had not seen before. When we reached Cabo San Isidro, chatted to Martha in her southernmost kiosk in Chile, the weather started clearing. To reach Cabo Froward Cruz de los Mares, the southernmost point, is a 32km hike – not what we wanted to do on this Xmas day. On our drive back we found a wonderful spot, sheltered and quiet, in a little forest along the way – only one other family camping about 300m away. The wind died down completely – so unusual for Patagonia and a true gift on the day - we could lit candles for Xmas supper! During the night a drizzle set in, we erected our tent and awning, the wind stayed down and allowed us to enjoy the moment in this remote part of the earth. During the 25th December  there was some more family activity, some music and quadbikes, but towards evening everybody left and we were the only ones remaining in the area. Along the channel we counted about 40 delapidated Chinese fishing vessels, many wrecks and rudimentary shelters. From Punta Arenas we followed the Ruta 9 north and off onto the 255 at Governador Phillip.The road remained spectacular in its flatness and clouds. At Terminal San Gregorio with its desolated buildings and rusty shipwrecks, we took some time out. To cross the Magellan Straights a short ½ hr ferry trip is required from Punta Delgada to reach Punta Espora – the ferry ran regularly and the cost was P15000 for 2 persons and the vehicle. Finally we had reached Tierra del Fuego ( Fireland). The day was drawing to a close and there was no camping site or hospedaje to be seen, the wind intensified and the temperature plummeted.   There were no trees, no little forests, no hills, no nothing to shelter here. Flat countryside. What now?     This post covers 19th to 26th December 2017

Chile 9: Marble Cathedral Caves, Parque Patagonia, Ferry Trip Yungay to Puerto Natales

We started early, keen to get better photos of Cerro Castillo –but the mist and rain foiled our attempt. We continued further down Ruta 7, past Volcano Hudson (2500m), a lot of damage to the trees from the last eruption was evident. Rio Murta was beautiful, Lago General Carrera further on presented itself in a turquoise colour enhanced by the grey clouds and rain. We crossed at Puerto Murta and ended at Puerto Sanchez – one place from which tours to the marble caves can be done by boat. However, Pto Sanchez was quiet and deserted, the route scenic, but we drove back to see what tours and camping we could find at Tranquilo, a little village making its living from the marble caves. For the night we camped at Camping Pudu on Lago Gen.Carrera for P8000 pP and we booked a boat tour for the next morning for P10000 pP and hoped for acceptable weather. At the campsite there were decent shelters from the incessant winds and intermittent rain as well as good ablutions – we opened the awning and enjoyed a good glass of wine with our camping neighbor –Eric from Utah – the cold evening persuaded us to creep in early. At 9:00am the next morning we left by boat with guide Daniel and captain Ignatius and two other tourists towards the Catedrales de Marmol and the Cavernas, an hour round trip. It was overcast, not sunny and we knew that photographing on this excursion would be a real challenge. Lago Carrera nevertheless was a lovely turquoise colour, in sunshine it must be extraordinary. Despite the wind we found the caverns to be quite sheltered and the boat could enter some of them. Even though the weather was a challenge we found this excursion very worthwhile doing – only afterwards we found out that a 2 hour trip was also possible giving more time to photographers (we also learned that to photograph the caves is better in winter when the lago’s level is lower). Next stop was the Valle Exploradores with a glacier that used to come right down to the road. By now it has receded a few km inland and we trailed up to the viewpoint to have a look, getting a good idea of the rocks, gravel and grit that a glacier pushes up. With guided tours it is possible to walk into the glacier. About 8km before Glaciar Exploradores we had lunch at the Hostal Campo Alacaluf established by the German couple Thomas and Katrin with their little daughter Daniela some 20 years ago – this was unexpected in such a remote place. According to Katrin it is possible to drive further on to the town Bahia Exploradores and to catch a smaller boat from there to visit Glacier San Rafael – these must have been the boats we had seen on our trip to the glaciar a few days before. Booking can only be done 24hrs ahead from Puerto Tranquilo and not at the Bahia (costs do not seem to be that much lower than the expensive catamaran we had taken, but we could not confirm actual rates). We spend the night again at camping Pudu. Our route took us along Lago Bertrand to Puerto Bertrand, the origin of Rio Baker. This must be the bluest river in the world. Flowing out of Lago Bertrand, the Rio Baker carries 900m3/sec of clear, turquoise-blue water until it drops down a small waterfall ( 1km to walk to the mirador) where it joins up with the glaciar-milky Rio Nef, whereafter the colour is no longer that dramatic, but the landscape is. Along the way we enjoyed the edible Calafate berries that were ripe and sweet this time of the year. In Cochrane we ended up having a very good lunch at Doña Ada together with Reinhard Schneider and a colleague from the German embassy in Santiago, whom we already had met the previous day. The fillet steak was outstanding and it was one of the rare occasions where we were asked how we would like the steak – normally it is served well-done and that is it in South America. We turned back northwards to enter Parque Patagonia – another park by the Douglas Tomkins Foundation and this was where their headquarters is. Again this park is beautifully appointed, everything in top condition and full of trails laid out and well sign-posted. This mountainous region must be one of the most scenic Chile has to offer. We camped on the parking area of the camping site West Winds (for tents only not vehicles), not far from the Admin buildings and hotel. We saw plenty of guanacos, hares, parrots and Magellanic woodpeckers. Driving further down the Carretera Austral we took a detour to the village Caleta Tortel – a town without vehicles and only wooden walkways. From here we drove to Puerto Yungay, approx. 100km north of Villa O’Higgins, the end of the Carretera Austral. We arrived in Pto Yungay, a town of around 11 inhabitants, on time to catch the ferry to Puerto Natales that we had booked. The ferry, Crux Australis, was waiting and we left around 20:00 for its 42 hour journey. We were not too happy since the cost was double for the vehicle compared to what we had been told before – Peso 117000. Although this ferry trip through the fjords should have been a highlight, it was spoiled by the inclement weather we had – almost continuous rain, sleet, wind and mist – we could see almost no mountains or glaciars along the route. The food left much to be desired and so did the comfort of the seats which reclined for sleeping. Midday we reached Puerto Eden, a fishing village with mainly indigenous inhabitants of Indian descent, inside the massive 3.525mill ha national park Bernardo O’Higgins. The town has virtually no vehicles or roads, mainly walkways. To our surprise many people boarded here to go to Puerto Natales. The channels from here were narrow, many islands inbetween, tricky to navigate in such horrible weather conditions. Whenever the weather gave us a few minutes respite we went on deck, saw dolphins, Skuas, Albatross and even an otter.   Next day around 12:30 we arrived in Puerto Natales, the weather had cleared a little and we proceeded speedily to the park Torres del Paine, as the weather predictions forecast rain for the coming weekend.   Entry was P21000pP for a 3-day period. In the park are some places where overlanding vehicles can park, however without ablutions. We drove through the park to the Laguna Amarga entrance and ranger station, where at least there were some toilets in walking distance. Next to us camped Rudi and Gisa from Austria, who also wanted to attempt to trail up to Base de Torres next morning if the weather would permit. This would be in total a 20km trip with a 1km very steep section to get to the crater lake at the foot of the Torres peaks. We were expecting some interesting cloud formations in Patagonia, but did not expect such crazy formations so early into our trip down to the south tip. This post covers 13th to 18th December 2017  

Chile 8: Volcano Chaitén,Parque Quelat and glacier San Rafael

The morning at Parque Pumalin was cool and misty and we took our time to get ready. By 13:00 the fog had lifted and we drove to the foot of Volcan Chaitén which we intended to ascent. Although only about a 2km to reach the point, from where it is possibly to look into the caldera, we underestimated the trail – first 984 steps while ascending and the last few 100m gravel on the steep section. We found it really tough – probably because of the tummy bug we had battled with on our return from Chiloé. The vistas were absolutely stunning and it was a good example where one could observe the devastion which an errupting volcano created – thousands of trees that died in the pyroclastic wave. The caldera has two little lakes of different colouring and there is still a lot of smoke emanating from the mountain. Some advice: start early ( we did not), take sufficient water, the walk is tough on the knees –especially coming down. By 18:30 we were back at our vehicle. Since this took up our day we decided to spend another night inside Parque Pumalin. As we were about to leave next morning, we discovered a small 40-50cm antelope – the Pudu, which we had not yet been able to observe before. Going south we again passed the village Amarillo, along Lago Yelcho and enjoyed the views of the Andes, mountains still covered in snow, the melt running in clear streams everywhere. The Carretera Austral (Ruta 7) passed through Villa Santa Lucia (where 2 weeks later on 18th Dec, 12 people were killed here through a landslide, burying part of the town under mud), Villa Vanguardia, we traversed many sections being a rough gravel road, then passed many enthusiastic cyclists (including  family of 5 where the dad towed a kid on his bike – must be extremely exhausting!) and got overtaken by many a motorbiker – this route is extremely popular due to its beauty. In La Junta we indulged in an ice cream for lunch and decided to buy some Christmas decoration for Tembo Hakahana (our vehicle – meaning fast Elephant). As we continued towards Puyahuapi we could not drive further due to a massive landslide being cleared and had to drive to the waters edge to load the vehicle on a temporary ferry to circumnavigate the section. Landslides seem common on this stretch of road with its sheer cliffs. We arrived at Parque Quelat at 18:00 – the park closed at 17:00. Nevertheless, we were allowed in (entrance P10000 for two) and we were lucky to find the last open camping spot. The morning was misty and we started the trail to Ventisquero Colgante (hanging glacier), a trail of just over 3km through rain forest with different ferns and moss, fuchsia magellanes abound as well as a variety of other flowers. The view of the glacier was most rewarding – a real treat for the eyes and the soul when finally reaching the end of the trail. We spent almost 2 hours at this mirador not wanting to leave this magic spot with its view on the glacier high up and its milky waters flowing into Lago Tempano below. Arriving back at camp via the hanging bridge we paid our P20000 for two nights camping to Juan Carlos, the friendly caretaker.   Next morning we passed another family on bikes negotiating the loose gravel road, this time 2 kids cycled, the third was drawn in a cart by father Tom. When we arrived in Mañiuales we felt peckish and while looking around we saw two jogger prams for kids parked in front of a café, each decorated with a South African flag. This we had to investigate and on entering, met Mike Sewell and his friend Roger Cameron from SA. They were busy jogging down the entire Carretera Austral, some 1300km, at a rate of around 30km per day, except Sundays. They started in Puerto Montt and wanted to finish in Villa O’Higgins as part of their Project Patagonia. We had lunch together and then viewed their three-wheelers with all their belongings (and we thought we had little space!). We would probably meet again along the road. Lupines everywhere - pity that people spoil nature with illegal dumping. We managed to get to Coihaique in time to book a catamaran to travel from Puerto Chacabuco to Laguna San Rafael, where we hoped to get close to the glacier of the same name. We booked at Patagonia Blue with Morena Morales (a whacking P 380000 for two!) Since there is only one operator from here, booking is essential – it is also possible to stay in their hotel Loberias del Sur in Chacabuco, however, the US$ 280 was too expensive so we took a cabaña in Puerto Aisén at Ayelèn Cabañas the night before.   Before we left Coihaique we also booked the ferry trip with Marcel (good English) at Austral Broom to travel from Puerto Yungay to Puerto Natales. The ferry runs only once a week on Saturdays taking about 42 hours. In Coihaique we stayed at El Camping where we met Rob Rowley and Valerie Lobe,who were also exploring the area. Rob is a merchant sailor, mussel farmer and boat builder in New Zealand and Valerie an Ocean Biologist who has visited Antarctica many times. We explored the Valle Simpson and Lago Elizalde, the road ending at Lago Caro, saw Cerro Castillo from a different side.   En route we met our South African runners again, negotiating the somewhat uneven roads. Next day we moved to Puerto Aysén, enjoyed a walk through the little village and felt cosy in the heated cabaña before driving to Chacabuco next day for the San Rafael glacier trip. In the fjord fish farms for Salmon were passed at regular intervals. San Rafael Glacier was stunning, although it was a very overcast and partially rainy day. The glacier is 2.5km wide, 35km long and Parque Nacional Laguna San Rafael is 1,742million hectares in size and the glacier is part of the Northern Ice Field in Patagonia. The water temperature is around 2-4 degrees and we made sure not fall overboard during the trip to the glacier face by zodiac. Floating black ice was tricky to photograph and fascinated us like previously in the Antarctic. The catamaran travelled at 22-30 knots and covered the 222km in 5-6 hours one way. We were happy to return to our heated cabaña in Puerto Aysén for the evening, but not before enjoying a free glass of whiskey on glaciar ice. We had heard that visiting the hand paintings was worthwhile so we drove to Villa Cerro Castillo to explore this historical sight. Along the way we had hoped to see the rare Huemul deer - we were not lucky to find one. The drive to the town was a scenic one, passing the prominent mountain silhouette. The manos paintings were just outside the town and can only be visited with a local guide. Not as spectacular as we had imagined and the visit to the first school in the area (Museo Escuela Antigua) near the site rounded off the trip (built 1930, closed 1975) and gave us insight into how late education came to this remote area of Chile and Patagonia in general. In Villa Cerro Castillo we camped at Camping Araucaria after we found Camping Sanderos Patagonia being closed (due to renovations). A communal kitchen made the supper in the cold wind bearable before we crept into our roof tent and warmed ourselves under the double set of duvets. This camping site also offers extensive trails on horseback ( cabalgatas). This post covers 4th to 12th December 2017

Chile 7: Carretera Austral, Parque Pumalin and Chiloé Island

Travel with us along the Carretera Austral,  Parque Pumalin and marvel at the old wooden churches of Chiloé Island. From the scenic pass and road along the Rio Futalefú we changed from the 231CH on to the 235CH towards Chaiten. The road passed along the east side of the Andes mountains, Lago Yelcho next to us. At the small town of Amarillo we turned off into Parque Purmalin, one of the most beautiful private parks established by Douglas Tomkins, past owner of the companies Northface and Esprit and his wife, a director at the clothing company Patagonia. The establishment of these parks, of which there are three, went through a very controversial phase as never before have foreigners bought such vast tracts of land in Chile and initially the motive was unclear. Today, these parks are the most beautiful and well appointed parks in Chile and we can strongly recommend a visit there. Tragically Douglas Tomkins died two years ago while on a kayaking expedition – luckily his wife is continuing the sterling conservation efforts in the region. We drove into the park – no fees were collected until 15th December, when the holiday season starts. We camped at camping site Ventisquero, with its neat shelters and ablutions (just ducha natural – no hot water provided) and beautiful views of active volcanoes Michimahuida (2404m) and Chaiten (962m), the latter which last erupted in 2008. Trails to the glacier (20km round trip) and to a viewpoint (40 minutes) can be taken from the camping site. Christos, a greek cyclist in his orange tent next to us, was very happy to share a scrumptious pasta dinner with us, the 1300km long Carretera Austral was taking its toll and he still had far to go as he wished to travel right down to Ushuaia. He was working in Germany and was fluent in German and English. In the morning we trailed to the viewpoint from where we enjoyed the wonderful sight of Volcan Michimahuida and its glacier. Afterwards we retraced the 9km out of the park (a narrow route through forest –not suitable for large rigs) and found the offices of the ferry company Naviera Austral in Chaitén to book a place to ship across to Quellón on the island Chiloé. The ferry only departed on Saturdays and Tuesdays at 10am, however tomorrow it would only depart at 18:30 so that we would arrive very late in Quellón. Cost was Peso 97000 or around R2300 for vehicle and 2 pax. So we decided to travel northwards on the Carretera Austral to the other Park Pumalin, the Volcanoes section. As before, entrance was still free and we found a spot with a good view of the active Chaiten volcano – our intention was to climb it the next morning. The night got cold, tea with Rum helped to keep us warm, but it rained next morning and we had to skip the ascent to the crater. You can imagine our disappointment. Waiting for the ferry we spent a short while on the seaside promenade – or what is left of it today after the ash of the volcano pushed out the sea and now it is a desert. We took some time to look around Chaitén and enjoyed the wooden and sheet metal houses and buildings. Late afternoon we finally embarked and after 5 hours arrived in Quellón, close to midnight. Then we drove along the last bit of the Panamericana and found camping at Cabańas Millaguen – to our surprise Tobias Bähler and Gubi, the Swiss bikers we had camped with at the wine estate Viu Manent, also had taken a cabańa here. Next morning greeted us with drizzle, the lapa allowed us shelter to prepare a hearty breakfast under roof . Afterwards we decided to drive the few km to the official end of the Panamericana, the famous trucker route from Alaska to this southern point in Chile. The monument is unspectacular yet it was a milestone on our travels. The day was passed with driving to Yardad, we saw the first wooden churches that Chiloé island is so well-known for. In the fjords and bays were many mussel farms, we continued along the Costanera Pedro Montt and were amazed how high the difference between low and high tide was (at low tide many boats lie on dry land).   We passed San Antonio, where many salmon factories reside, the farms themselves must be further out. After turning off Ruta 5 we aimed for Colonia Yungay and then on a small gravel road to Parque Tantauco, a large private area with good facilities and 2 spots at Camping Chaignata, from where hikes up to 8 days are possible. The road to the park was in a dismal condition and took us a good 3 hours, best be driven with a 4x4 or a vehicle with high clearance. Since the holiday season only started on 15th December we paid a lesser tariff of P3500 per person and P10000 for a camping vehicle. We only stayed one night and took a walk down to the lake with its gulls and ducks. On the return journey we stopped to see the 800yrs old Futa Mañu tree called Manio Abuelo (grandfather) and to follow a walk through the forest. Beforehand it was required to disinfect the shoes to prevent contamination that could interfere with the sensitive frog habitat.   From here we drove toward Chonchi, in the background the Andes visible and volcanoes near Chaiten from where we had started on the mainland. Along the route we came across the first wooden churches that make Chiloé worth a visit. Chonchi had a beautiful specimen as well as other colourful wooden houses. In its modest supermarket we found a “Christollen mit Marzipan” and could not resist buying two to make our forthcoming Xmas a special one (last year we could not find any familiar cake or cookies for Xmas in the northern countries – so this time round it was a special treat).   Pretty chuffed we aimed to get to Cucao along the W80 and, although there were a number of camping sites along the way, we opted to camp wild on the beach next to a small body of water, it was a windless afternoon and a stunning sunset as we were facing westerly. As we had heard of the “bridge that ends nowhere” that was worth visiting, we drove down the W-654P until we got to Rahue, bought two tickets for P3000 to visit the bridge Muelle de las Almas. Everybody here earns something from the visitors and after paying a further P2000 for parking at Quilan, we walked the 3km to the bridge – a scenic point, nice views but possibly a little overrated. Nevertheless it was a pleasant outing, forced us to have some exercise and enjoy the local flora and fauna as well as see some gauchos shearing sheep along the way. Once we reached Castro, the capital of Chiloé, we inquired about the ferry from Castro to Chaitén, but were informed that it no longer operated – whether permanently or temporarily nobody could tell us for certain. Castro also had a large wooden church we visited and then enjoyed the view of the Palafitos – the colourful houses on stilts. From Castro we proceeded on Ruta 5 to Ancud,skirted around the town and took the westerly W-20 and W220 exit Pumillahue to reach Ballena Azul Camping late afternoon. The wind blew forcefully and the temperature plummeted so we decided to spoil ourselves in the restaurant with delicious Corvina (fish) and Mariscos y Queso empanadas (seafood pies with cheese). Fortunately the camping is a few meters below the restaurant and reasonably protected from the worst winds and the 11degC temperature that felt more like 4 degrees. Early in the morning we took the short trail down to the beach Ballena Azul and explored the coastal habitat. At this time of year there are unfortunately no blue whales to be seen as they return to the Antarctic regions. Ancud welcomed us with fair weather next day, we found a laundry and Unimarc supermarket.A stroll through some of the streets brought us into interesting alleys. A trip to Chiloé can hardly be complete without a visit to the museum in Ancud on the Ruta de Iglesias -it is here where we appreciated the craftsmanship behind the art of building these intricate wooden structures and the many techniques involved combined with careful selection of the right wood for the purpose. Then we proceeded towards Faro Corona, an old lighthouse that can be visited, then on to Fuerte Ahui, the fort built by the Spanish in 1779, unfortunately damaged by an earlier Tsunami, which we hoped would not repeat itself while we were relaxing on the adjacent beach. Passing through Ancud again we booked the ferry from Quellón back to Chaiten for coming Sunday and were lucky that they could take us, this is not guaranteed once the holiday season starts. Rather than looking for a different campsite we decided to return to Ballena Azul.   For lunch next day we had arranged to participate in a Curanto, a speciality prepared in a hole in the ground lined with Nalca leaves, then mussels, chicken, sausage and smoked pork are added and covered with leaves, coals on top cooked the meal over a 3-4 hour period. As starters we ordered fresh oysters – they only served them by platter of 20. Since Karin does not eat them fresh, I ate all 20 and the half the Curanto. Neither the oysters nor the Curanto tasted fresh, all a little muddy, a sign that the local farms do not seem to get sufficient fresh ocean currents. It turned out to become my worst nightmare – for the next 24hours my tummy and intestines disagreed strongly with this meal.   For the night we reached the coastal town of Quemchí, where we camped at Camping Tenaún, owned by friendly Gelmán who ran a neat and clean site behind his house. The historical wooden church “Iglesia de Tenaún”, with its 3 spires is part of the World Heritage collection on Chiloé and is kept in good condition. From here we travelled via Colegual to San Juan with the smaller church San Juan Bautista, not painted - yet the wood lasted till today. A further church was visited in Dalcahue (Iglesia Nuestra Seńora de Dolores), a town offering a variety of woolen and other souvenirs on its market place.   On our return via Castro we again visited the colourful houses on stilts, this time during high tide – much nicer. Then back on Ruta 5 we returned to Quellón and had to rebook our ferry with the operator Naviera Austral with offices on the Costañera Pedro Montt, before returning to Millaguen Cabañas y Camping for the night enjoying the beautiful views of volcanoes Corcovado and Nevado in the east on the mainland. Since the ferry would only leave on Sunday, we spent the day in camp resting and blogging. Before boarding the ferry in the afternoon the car was refueled as diesel in Quellón is cheaper than in Chaitén on the mainland. As luck would have it, while waiting in the queue for the ferry, we found a top fruiterer and indulge in fresh cherries, apricots, nectarines and grapefruit. Strange where some of the best shops on our trip were located – so when you leave or arrive by ferry in Quellón, look for the inconspicuous shop close to the quay. Our transit back to the mainland was a quiet one and we arrived on the mainland late at 23:00 ( only departed 19:30 in place of 16:00) and we once again arrived at Parque Pumalin Volcan section towards 01:00 am, pretty exhausted, but happy that it was not fully occupied (drive in, find a spot).                 This post covers 24thNovember to 3rd December 2017