Backpacking Eight Months On the Road By Bus Through South America
By David Rice
Page Twenty Three
Santiago, Chile, Backpacking by Bus In South America
Eight Months On the Road
By David Rice
From El Chitan I headed north on a local bus and later I would hook up with a series of buses that go over the Carreterra Austral highway, a road in varying states of repair that runs right beside the Andean peaks. This route has beautiful scenery with high lakes surrounded by mountains but the roads in places are barely passable after a harsh winter. The towns along this route were tiny villages, just coming out of their winter slumber as they bloom with springtime flowers and flowering fruit trees. Lupines crowded the roadsides while cherry trees and apricot groves grow beside the road. Many rivers came streaming from the mountains, feeding these lush valleys as the winter snows melted. Guanaco, llama, and Emus grazed in the wild, far out in the fields and meadows below the snow-capped mountains.
I kept working north through this idyllic scene on a network of dirt roads, gravel tracks, and finally pavement as I headed for Puerto Aisen where I would catch a Navmag cruise ship north through the archipelago and back to my starting place at Puerto Montt.
In Puerto Montt I boarded a Navmag passenger and cargo ship combination for an uneventful passage through the maze of islands that form the archipelago and I made landfall at Puerto Puerto Varas, (Montt). Before I could get too far from the dock, a lady approached with an offer of a room in her home and I took it. I wanted to stay two nights to rest and didn't have the energy to shop for a place.
Rested after a good nights sleep I toured the area by local bus making a day trip out to Puerto Varas, a quaint town on Todos los Santos Lake and taking another bus through a beautiful valley to the foot of Calbucao and Osornos Volcanoes at the village of Petrohue. From the village I hiked along the river and then up to the Osornos Volcano for a memorable view of the river valley between the two volcanoes. I returned to Puerto Varas (Montt) in late afternoon my memory full again of images of this incredible natural beauty. I rose early the next day to catch a bus to Santiago, a 28-hour trip.
After arriving in Santiago I took the metro to the house where I had first stayed on my way south. The lady had a full house but had another place where she offered me a private room on a tree-lined street for the same price.
I had earlier made a reservation via the internet for a trip by the airline Lan Chile to Easter Island. Once I arrived in Santiago I confirmed my reservation and they booked me on the following day for a $700 round trip flight, a figure about twice what a Chilean pays.
The airline flies three times a week to Easter Island, 2,500-miles off the Chilean coast. Locally called Rapa Nui by its 2500 residents, 70% of whom are native Pascuenses, speakers of a Polynesian language, Easter Island officially speaks Spanish.
Our jet touched down at Hanga Roa airfield and from there I walked the entire island the first day, about 12 hours of hiking. The path took me through all the heads, including some that had been knocked down by a huge wave and had been replanted with the help of donations from the Japanese. Volcanic rock was everywhere and although the Island had been denuded of trees long ago, there now are Eucalyptus trees growing.
Most heads faced inland with just a few facing the sea, one of the many enigmas that still defy researcher's understanding as they try to make some sense of the Island archaeologically. The stones tell them that the inhabitants started carving the colossal figures in the 7th century AD and continued up until the 15th Century. The rest is a mystery
I stayed in a private home out on the tip of the island at the edge of the ocean where I paid $35 a night. I stayed four nights, plenty of time to see the whole island, including the volcano, the standing heads, and the quarry where the ancient people carved the heads.
I was hitchhiking one day when a local gal picked me up. I asked about all the horses that I had seen roaming free.
"Oh yes," she said, in a matter of fact way, "We eat them"