Friday, January 12, 2007

Puyuhuapi, Patagonia, Chile

We split our selected stretch of the Carretera Austral (see previous post for info) into two sections. Our first stop, Puyuhuapi, bears the distinction of being the smallest hamlet we anticipate visiting on our South American travels. We reached it after a six-hour bus ride from Chiaten. The single lane, gravel "highway" winds through fjord land covered in dense temperate rainforest. That, coupled with rainy weather, meant we didn't see all that much during the drive, and stepped out of our bus into rather drippy, dreary surroundings. Frankly, I wasn't sure I wanted to be in this village of 505 souls. They didn't even have Internet!!! (Yes, we're hooked. And they did -- supposedly -- have Internet, available to the public at one terminal in the corner of a cafe, but the connection was down and we didn't hear very good accounts of its operation when "up".)

Thankfully, the weather improved, and having esconced ourselves in the cheery Germanic surroundings of "Casa Ludwig", so did our mood.

This town actually has a rather fascinating history. It was established in 1936 by four young Germans from Sudetenland, the German portion of Czechoslovakia later annexed by Hitler. Because of the subsequent war, the planned emigration of more settlers from their village in Europe was forbidden -- all exit visas were cancelled by governments wanting to keep the young and able-bodied at home to bolster the military in the looming conflict. So these four gents cleared the land, built homes, and created, among other things, a custom rug factory. We are told that you can still send a design to be knotted into a personalized rug by Chilote women using hand looms. (We even met one tourist from the Bay Area of California who was travelling there to hand deliver his design.)

The last of these four intrepid pioneers passed away in 1996, and four classic Germanic homes remain in town as reminders. Casa Ludwig is one of these, and his daughter was our host! Jolene learned that she had been away at school in Germany during the Pinochet years, lived in Santiago for a time, then returned to run the hostel started by her mother in the 70's when the road builders needed lodgings. (Our room was the attic window at the top.)

South of Puyuhuapi lies Parque National Queulat. Like many in Chile, it's nascent infrastructure leaves much to be desired, but we enjoyed lovely hike over well-maintained trails to a hanging glacier. This glacier sported a snout into the lake below when the settlers first arrived, but has receeded since that time. The glacier's face played hide and seek behind the clouds, but paid us the courtesy of calving a couple of times (above) as we watched, sending "white thunder" rolling around the natural amphitheater.
The rest of the time, we just enjoyed the mesmerizing interplay of waterfalls and wind.

After our hike, we thought we would splurge on a "real" meal in Puyuhuapi's only fine dining establishment. We enjoyed a delicious meal, but whether from something in food or another of those interesting and too-friendly Chilean bugs, we spent that night and the next day prostrated by symptoms of stomach flu that I will not attempt to describe here. Thankfully, we managed to stagger our symptoms so that we could look after each other, and our host was happy to let us loll abed until we recovered.

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