Ruta 7, also known as the Carretera Austral is wedged tightly between the vertical hillsides of the Andes mountain range on one side and steep, loose gravel plummeting into the ocean on the other, along some 770 miles of breathtaking, jagged coastline along the southern regions of Chile. This road, as long as the distance between San Francisco and Seattle, not only provided access, but also brought tourism, education, medical and dental care to the 100,000 or so residents landlocked prior to its completion in 1999. As a point of reference, approximately 800,000 people live in San Francisco.
|You would think we'd be at sea for days...|
The ferry from La Arena to Puelche is the shortest and northernmost of three ferries in this region that bring cargo and passengers further along where nature governs and no road can be built. The other two run from Hornopirén to Ayacara, and from Ayacara to Nueva Chaitén. From Nueva Chaitén, the Carretera Austral carries you to its end at Villa O’Higgins.
At a geographical point of no return we consulted our map and a bus driver to assure there was an ATM and a gas station on the other side before we spent our last pesos on the ferry ride. A place to spend the night was rated less important, as was eating, since like ferrets we has stocked up on snacks and water. The minute we boarded, a sense of eerie beauty descended on us; the ferry moved through a foggy, grey landscape at a gentle speed, with a red tailed hawk aboard for a free ride and penguins diving for fish alongside: Dreamlike.
From Puelche there are two ways to get to Hornopirén, where the ATM is located: the coastal route or Ruta 7. Daylight was fading, so we chose the shorter, interior and direct north-south ruta 7 to secure pesos and a roof over our heads before the night enveloped us in her darkness. We were told that once we hit the south shore, we just needed to turn our noses to the east, and Hornopirén would be at the end.
Overly brightly lit, like any ATM, this modern convenience was easy to find and operate. Cash in hand, we set off to find a roof over our heads which proved more difficult (remember, it was high season) and interesting. Finally, a simple inquiry in a supermercado (think bread, canned goods and some local vegetables) turned into a long discussion about heritage as the European roots go deep in this part of the world… It also helped us secure a room at Hotel Hornopirén, which is clean, quiet and well run. No frills or disappointments.
And as we came to find out the next day… an awe inspiring view of the inlet.
See for yourself: Early Morning Walk In Hornopiren, Chile