Friday, March 25, 2011
Barely Across the Andes
Soon, the night turned to morning and naturally, the chorus grew louder. When the clock struck five we gave up on sleep and rose to meet our Swiss inn-keeper for our arranged ride to the bus station downtown, fifteen minutes away. We were convinced, given his heritage, that he'd already be up and waiting for us with the engine running. He was nowhere to be seen. Watching each passing minute with growing concern, we were certain the bus, in typical Argentine fashion, would not leave even thirty seconds late. Twenty minutes before six, we knocked on all possible doors, waking up everyone at the bed and breakfast including thankfully, the large rottweiler, our wildly barking saviour. Shirttails hanging out and rubbing the sleep out of his eyes, our inn-keeper appeared at last. Without further ado, we departed for the bus station: a cloud of dust attempting to travel back in time down a bumpy dirt road.
Customs and immigration were cleared at Paso Mamuil Malal; a fairly lengthy process for a bus since all luggage has to be taken off the vehicle, checked into Chile and loaded again. With passports stamped and officially in the country with the longest coastline in South America, we traveled on paved roads coiling through a breathtaking landscape of stark contrasts: deep gorges, icy blue rivers, tall mountains, lush forest and as we descended, hectares of rich farmland sitting in the shadow of the majestic Volcano Lanín (12,389').
We arrived in Valdivia with no plans or itinerary other than a rented car and a flight out of Santiago: the backbone of our travel in Chile, the Navimag ferry had been taken out of service a few days earlier, thwarting our plan of observing exotic marine life whilst drifting south on a ferry through the dazzling fjords of Chile.
Instead, our journey was planned en route and included a few close calls but always somehow unfolding without a hitch. It took us to where our guide book ended and very few people ventured: the coast between Hornopirén and Ralún.