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October 26

October 26, 2008

A place like Chiloe makes it easy to understand nature worship. In particular, the personification of the weather, which is fickle and vacillating here. The few days we’ve spent camping have already seen us fall into a pattern of making mock “deals” with the sky-god, as Max did last night when she declared:

“Alright Sky, I expect you to remain clear until eleven o’clock in the morning when the bus comes to collect us from the national park. After that you can do what you want with the rest of the day.”

At that point we’d had a day thoroughly marred by rain, not even having been able to leave our tent until about two o’clock in the afternoon, though after that things had cleared up nicely. At least that hadn’t been our only day in Parque Nacional Chiloe – in the afternoon yesterday I ran across some Germans at the ranger’s office who’d had the bad luck to come down for a day trip and attempt the beach trail during a period of constant rain and wind. A forlorn bunch they were, beaten back to the park entrance by the weather.

This morning, the Sky-God kept its promise to us and we woke to a partly cloudy sky with no hint of rain in it as far as the eye could see. We would, it seemed, have ample time to dry and take down our tent, and we would not have to suffer the indignity of dashing about desperately, from shelter to shelter in the rain.

There was a professional vibration to the morning as we competently set about dismantling the campsite. Instant oats in warm milk were consumed once more; dishes were washed in the outside basins at the toilet blocks; self-inflating mattresses sat upon; flysheets draped across tall bushes to dry; and sleeping bags and tents stuffed and rolled back into their bags. We fed the dog who’d attended us all through the previous evening some warm milk, which he appreciated. I’m fairly sure he hadn’t eaten in a while, even though it’s clear that he is, or was, somebody’s pet. He was terribly keen to play fetch, even with damp, muddy rocks on which he threatened to cut his lips in his enthusiasm, so we had to restrain ourselves with him a bit.

Everything was eaten, cleaned, sorted, sectioned and re-packed by about half past ten, and we arrived with our backpacks at the gateway entrance to the park with five minutes to spare before the Interlagos Expreso back to Castro was due to arrive. This turned out to be a stroke of luck, as the bus arrived five minutes early, and it didn’t seem as if it would’ve stopped to wait.

The Sky-God was as good as its word, and not a drop of rain fell before we mounted the bus, and even more astoundingly, at about five minutes to eleven it did begin to rain, and continued to do so, gently, until we arrived in Castro an hour or so later, passing up Calle San Martin, still very familiar from our stay a few days ago. It was only a whirlwind stop, a brisk five hundred metre walk between the two bus terminals. Castro, like every town we’d passed through, was alive with hundreds of locals in the municipal centre for the local government elections. It was reassuring to know that the intensity of political advertising we’ve seen about the place was actually in aid of a polling day – it would’ve been disturbing otherwise.

We were both suddenly possessed of an awesome hunger, and bought two completos — hotdogs with chopped tomato and mayonnaise — and two empanadas de carne before jumping aboard the Cruz del Sur 12:15 service to Puerto Montt, feeling a twinge of guilt only after having consumed them at speed.

It was a rather nondescript bus ride at first. Two men behind us conversed loudly and enthusiastically for the hour or so between Castro and Ancud, mostly on the topic of the election, but also on something involving “hundreds of mysterious disappearances”, which I thought might have been to do with Pinochet, but I wasn’t paying enough attention to their droning dialogue. Max, meanwhile, had plugged her headphones resolutely into her ears and dropped off to sleep.

On the vehicle ferry between Chiloe and the mainland, the sun was right out again, and we hopped off the bus for a hot chocolate at the ferry coffee shop. From the gunwhales of the vessel, we had an exciting view of several sealions sloping easily up and down through the mirror-like calm waters of the channel, as well as pelicans, cormorants, and several types of gull. I am really enthused about the local wildlife, and I think this place would be a bird-watcher’s paradise (the “robber hawk” was the first thing I saw when I unzipped the tent-flap this morning, again – stalking about the grass only a couple of metres away). I imagine that as we get further south, and still further on the Antarctic journey that’s coming up, we’re going to see even more amazing stuff.

They were expecting us at Hospedaje Rocco back at the western end of Puerto Montt, and had kept a room aside. It is a funny place, with a slightly obsessive-compulsive host who micro-manages her guests in the kitchen and at the front door – and yet despite this attention to detail they don’t, for example, have a key to our room. They also charge like wounded bulls for all the optional extras – breakfast is expensive, laundry very expensive, internet access very expensive, and so forth. Still, it’s a friendly joint.

There wasn’t much of what had turned into a beautiful, blue-skied day left by the time we’d settled in – we were left with enough time to make a trip to the supermarket for a pre-prepared chicken and gnocchi dinner to heat up back at the hostel, to have a cup of tea, and to walk to the local internet cafe to reacquaint ourselves with the world at large. An interesting factoid about Chile: the sale of alcohol is prohibited on polling days. I wonder how that would go down in Australia. After all of that, it was more or less game over for today.

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