Archive for October 18th, 2008

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October 18

October 18, 2008

Damn – I’ll never get my cup of tea now. Well, not today, anyway. After melting a small hole in the thumb of my brand new polypropylene glove insert moving a burning log, and pouring almost-boiling water over my other hand as I tried to decant it from camp-pan to bottle, I don’t think I can be bothered any more.

Not that this should be taken as any indication of my feelings toward today, which has been a lot of fun.

Hospedaje Rocco was quiet as the grave when I was first to wake this morning at half past six. The shower recess was cramped and dim, but the water was hot and plentiful. We stuffed our things almost whilly-nilly into the piles of coming-with-us and not-coming-with-us, stashed three bags of not-coming-with-us under the hostel stairs, and made off into the morning in the direction of the bus terminal, as today we were off to the giant semi-island of Chiloe, and its northernmost settlement of Ancud.

En route we had breakfast at a small place closeted at the very back of an otherwise thoroughly closed artesan’s market. Coffee of the sort where they provide you with the jar of instant so you can serve yourself, and a cheese sandwich each, I suspect because the waitress thought we wouldn’t be able to understand any other dish she might name (I saw another fellow having a nice-looking soup, and a second with a grilled fish fillet).

Although our packs were loaded heavily, we had only our packs for once – I had no giant FILA shoulder-bag full of souvenirs and other crap into the bargain, and was feeling mobile. At the bus terminal, the Queilen bus we had tickets for arrived late, and in the interim we talked to a girl from Nice called Alexandre, and her loopy but entertaining Chileno friend Francisco. After the scarily multilingual Belgians and Danish we’d been hanging around in Valparaiso, it was reassuring that Francisco spoke four languages, but three of them rather badly indeed. He left us at the platform, having only come to see Alexandre off.

The bus finally arrived and with it, grey skies and persistent rain. Chiloe, a large land mass amongst the fjords and canals of Patagonia, is technically an island but is connected to the mainland by well-established vehicle ferries. The bus had to wait about ten minutes to board, but once we were on our way we were able to disembark and enjoy the view a little, as grey seas gave way to grey, stark promontories about us. There was a little snack shop on board, which we didn’t visit.

It turned out that Alexandre had been working as a tour guide to the Royal Palace in Monaco before coming away, which I found vaguely interesting. In addition to great English, she could also speak fluent Chinese, and said she knew four or five thousand Chinese characters.

We parted ways with Alexandre at the Ancud terminal on arrival – she’d had the sense to book herself into a hostel, whilst we, more hardily (or foolhardily) had decided to try to camp. It was still raining persistently as we flagged down a collectivo and took a short journey into town from the southeast and out of town by the north, reaching Fuerte San Antonio on the northwest corner of Chiloe, adjacent to the campground we’d imagined ourselves patronising at a point called Arenas Gruesas.

Ancud was low-lit under the pale sky and quiet, a place today for hurried people in raincoats with umbrellas. It had the look of a fishing village about it, and one half expected to see burly men in heavy blue cable-knit sweaters wandering about with pipes. Along Arenas Gruesas was a string of places offering “Cabanas, Hostal & Camping”, but most seemed to be unattended, as if the owners had decided there was no chance of any tourist showing up on such a day. At one, we dialled the guardian’s number persistently from a telephone in a little gatehouse, while an enormous red spaniel-setter type dog looked on timidly, only to be told, on the fiftieth ring, that the place was closed for camping until high season.

After looking in on four or so places, we finally had some luck at the end of the road, where the owner, a small, dark man called Hugo, instructed us to choose a site at our pleasure. We spent fifteen minutes or so inspecting all twenty spots on his territory for wind and rain shelter, and pitchability. Each had its own “casita”, a roofed two-sided shed with a light and powerpoint, and most had a rustic fireplace in some sort of repair. After that it was down to the length and dampness of the uncut grass, and proximity to the toilet block. There wasn’t a single other person camping, and I wouldn’t be surprised to discover we’re the only people currently living in a tent in all Chiloe.

As we made to set up, the rain politely stopped, and remained so until our tent was in place. We’d decided to put it up as much under the casita as we could manage to protect ourselves from rain, and use the shelter from the next site along for cooking and hanging about. The rain began immediately, but we celebrated the founding of our new colony with a hot drink (Max – Milo, me – lousy tea) prepared on our spanking new camp burner.

I insisted we should do something with what was left of the day, so we walked to the fort, in the rain, getting very wet, and then into town, in more rain, getting even wetter. Once there, we found the Regional Museum was shut on Saturday afternoons, and gave up. Our pants were soaked through, as were our supposedly rainproof jackets. Next time, I shall get a different type of rainjacket!

Nothing remained but to enjoy the day. Fortunately, the rain stopped for good at about five o’clock, and I was able to persuade Hugo to part with a little firewood. We spent the rest of the evening tending to the fire, drinking cheap wine, and putting together a dinner of ravioli, onion, capsicum and tomato sauce that was a long time coming, but all the more special when it did arrive as a consequence. The firewood was waterlogged to the point that each faggot had to be cooked for minutes before it would begin to burn, and thereafter spat boiling water from its extremities. In fact, the adversity of the conditions meant that tending to the fire was challenging all round, and it threatened to go out several times before about eight o’clock, when Max successfully got an enormous log to catch fire.

After doing the dishes, boiling some water for drinking, and clearing our things away, it was time for bed.

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