I have been home for 3 weeks now and I haven’t written a single blog post in all this time. This is how bad it is. I never realised how much free time and inspiration I had whilst I was travelling. All my respect goes out to serious bloggers who blog regularly and somehow find time for it all.
Anyway. Where did I leave off? Ah, after our fiasco on Carretera Austral, we had to return to Chaitén, to see if we can get a ferry back to Puerto Montt, where someone could have a look at the bike and actually confirm if the trip is over or not.
We returned to Chaitén on a Friday evening and were slightly worried about finding a place to stay. Just before leaving hostel ‘Llanos’ that same morning, I noticed that they had put up a sign in window stating that they are not accepting guests. Maybe they just wanted a little time off for New Years, who knows. As we were standing in front of the hostel, we decided to try our luck, despite the sign still being there. The old lady opened the door and after our mumbled explanation that the bike is broken and we had to come back, she just shrugged and let us in, no questions asked. What a legend. We were the only guests in the hostel, of course. The next morning we went to ‘Naviera Austral’ offices to find out when the next ferry might be and turned out there was one on Monday at 1am. So we had two days to kill in Chaitén.
Luckily, just upon our return we met a guy named Igor, who was working at the local tourism office. He was super friendly and told us that he and his friends are regularly organizing trips to the nearby volcano Chaitén or other sights around the area. Igor runs a Facebook page – Rutapatagonia7, where they publish photos and stories from all the trips they organize and passionately promote eco tourism and Chaitén itself, trying to attract more tourism to the area. Don’t know what eco tourism means?
‘tourism directed towards exotic natural environments, intended to support conservation efforts and observe wildlife.’
As we were really stuck for ideas on how to entertain ourselves and neither of us had ever hiked a volcano, we eagerly agreed.
Early Sunday afternoon we arrived at the office to wait for two other participants – a father and son from Argentina. I was relieved that our group was so small, because one of the reasons I hate group excursions is that feeling of a terribly organised school trip where you are constantly tripping over someone elses feet and you have to stop and wait for people all the time.
I was mildly surprised when I saw Igor with a massive rucksack filled to the brim – it turned out he is carrying lots of water, snacks, even flasks of tea and coffee. I already liked this guy.
The trip started with a little safety talk, covering sun protection, water and few general rules, then jumping in a van and driving for about 20 minutes outside of the town. From the car park, there was a 5 – 10 minute walk across a vast area where, even after all the years since the eruption of the volcano, the damage is visible and still will be for many years to come.
After crossing a small mountain stream, the actual ascent can begin. Most of the hike up consists of large steps formed out of the fallen tree trunks – these were formed after the eruption as, unsurprisingly, this disaster attracted many people to the area. The whole hike up took maybe slightly more than an our, but, although, not too steep, it was tiring and we had to stop many times for water breaks. Igor was an extremely good guide, chatting with us all the way up, telling us about the flora and fauna around us, answering tons of questions and just encouraging us whenever we were feeling tired. There were plenty of great views on the way up and all of us were frequently snapping away.
The hardest part of the climb is last 300m or so, where it becomes increasingly steep, there are no steps, just slippery sands and not much to hold on to. I was dreading coming down there.
After conquering the steep hike, we finally arrived at our destination. And there I realised that we are not actually hiking to the uttermost top of the volcano. Firstly, because it would take ages and, secondly, because it would be dangerous – it is still furiously smoking up to this day.
Despite my initial disappointment, we could still see remains of lava around us and there was a great sense of satisfaction having conquered the exhausting hike, plus we had heard many great stories from Igor. But the best was yet to come – Igor left us to play around with photos and exploring, whilst he went off to set up a little lunch spread. As part of promoting local tourism, he makes sure, he brings up some local food for everyone to try – like cheese and some boiled eggs (certainly free range!), he even toasted some bread over a little camping gas cooker! How brilliant is this guy?
We spent about an hour just munching on our food, chatting, enjoying the rest and the surroundings. Then it was time to go back. Despite all my fears, I managed the steep slope down fairly well, with only few occasional slips.
The guided hike up cost us 25 000 CLP each if I remember correctly. If it might have seen a bit of a high price initially, after the experience, I feel completely differently. The hike, the stories, the food and the whole experience was worth the price and more.
If you ever find yourself in Chaitén, make sure you find Igor and his friends. You will never regret it, because he will take you on an adventure.