Almost the final installment in our marathon catch-up session!
The next series of stops on our journey utilized the ¨lovely¨city of Puerto Montt as a base.Beyond the views of volcanic mountains surrounding Golfo de Ancud and being a transportation hub, the city has little to offer. Its neighboring city, Puerto Varas is much more attractive, but the downside to that is that it is, of course, very touristy and expensive.
Our first journey from Puerto Montt was to the Chiloe region: the most southern point of the 5 freeway.Upon recommendation from that hostel owner we ran into in the bus station in Santiago, Scott, we took a bus into the small village of Chonchi not knowing what to expect. When we arrived, we found that, like Valparaíso, Chonchi was a working port town - here trucks were actively loading container after container of frozen salmon from one of the many hatcheries all day and night long.
Not sure whether our "reservation" at the hostel had been received, we decided to race the two other gringos to the Hotel Esmeralda to ensure ourselves a spot.We "won" by choosing a route not listed on the hotel directions…you have to be cunning out here, you know! However, karma got us in the end…we did get first pick of the rooms the eccentric owner showed us, but for them, he pulled out an additional choice that, according to Aaron, far surpassed our crappy room with a view.(I couldn't bring myself to looking!)
But luckily the room wasn't the reason we took that 12 hour journey…our destination was Isla Lemuy. Isla Lemuy is reached by a 15 minute free ferry ride from Chonchi. With little more than "the ferry is down the road" and "just turn right" directions, we successfully boarded the ferry and began our exploration. Although we didn't find the hiking trail or the rental boats, we did find a single road leading towards the main village of Puqueldon. We made a quite pathetic attempt to hitchhike, never made it to our "destination", but after 8K of eating fresh blackberries from the side of the road and seeing some incredible countryside, we were more than fulfilled.
The next destination from our hub was Cochamò. Without knowing more than the owner was recommended by Scott, we booked a three-day horseback tour via email and hopped on a local bus.
Three hours later, we arrived in Cochamò, greeted by the very sweet Ida. She led us inside her home, showed us to our room, and had us follow her into the kitchen. (By the way, they had the most amazing view from outside their kitchen window!) There we met Ciro, our guide and her husband, and for the next 20 minutes the two of them doted on us, rushing around the kitchen preparing bread, homemade plum and blackberry jam, and tea.
Like I mentioned earlier, we did not really know anything about what we had booked or who we had booked with before getting on the bus. We were pleasantly surprised with Ciro and Ida and their beautiful home, but then the next series of surprises began. Very quickly we learned that maybe we should have asked more questions ahead of time.
The first embarrassment was that we were expected to provide all of our own food. This would have been no issue had we not arrived in a town with a total population of 2000 at 8pm, but this was not the case. "Ohhh….yea….puedes comprar…¿te gusta sopa?...y…uhhh…¿te gusta sopa? Ya, sopa. Ya sopa." is all we heard! (you can buy…and…do you like soup? Yeah, soup.Yeah soup.) Luckily, we found one store open in the morning and were able to buy oatmeal, tuna, rice, eggs, and soup - and this was all that they had to purchase!
Luckily the next couple of shocks were things we could deal with…it wasn´t 12000 pesos per person, per day. It was 12000 pesos per horse per day and we would need to pay for his horse and a pack horse as well. Although we had only brought just enough pesos to pay for 24000 pesos per day, luckily we had an emergency stash of US dollars to make up the difference! We also would not be staying in local's homes as the brochure had advertised, we would be camping…lucky for us we had our tent and sleeping bags with us.
Once we were on our way, all anxieties and hesitations quickly subsided. Cochamò is known as the Yosemite of South America and for a very good reason. To get a small idea of what we were able to see, imagine El Capitan, but instead surround yourself with these spectacular sheer granite walls and domes. The vegetation was oddly very similar to what we had seen in the jungle and we were even fortunate enough to see a group of lorries. Then there were the turquoise waters of the Río Cochamó, complete with natural rock water slides and waterfalls. All this with a real gaucho guide!
Despite a half-day of pouring rain that limited our trip a bit and aching backsides, Aaron and I had to agree that this was some of the most incredible scenery that we have encountered thus far. When we returned to Ida in Cochamó, with only ten minutes to spare before the departure of the final bus back into Puerto Montt, Ida insisted that we sit down for a "quick" lunch of lamb stew, fresh rolls, sweet dessert peaches, and tea. After downing our meal in minutes, we said goodbye to Ida and Ciro, heavier only by a good home-cooked meal and jar of honey and homemade blackberry jam.