We had a bit of a rocky start to our time in Chile, we had our plans all set and an agenda laid out when we found out that the immigration building at the border crossing between Argentina and Chile had burnt down! So with a slight reshuffling of our plans our 4 hour bus ride became a 12 hour bus ride and we arrived in Puerto Montt, Chile. The upside was that it turned out to be 12-hrs driving through spectacular mountain ranges and farm land punctuated by immense snow-capped volcanoes.
After dropping our luggage we went to get some food at the bar recommended to us by Perla, the Grandma-esque lady at whose house we were staying. Well that was a great idea, we walked into the bar and all conversation stopped as people gazed at us over their beers. Everyone appeared to be just finishing a hard days work and were enjoying their beer and cigarettes. As unemployed travelling loafers we clearly did not belong. It has been a long time since I was in a bar or restaurant that allowed smoking, can´t say that I miss it. We ordered the pichanga for 2, another great idea. It was an immense pile of french fries covered in steak, sausage, pickles, avocado, egg, tomato, olives and pickled carrot and it was delicious!! Turns out it roughly translates in spanish as `party`.
The next day found us on a ferry to the island of Chiloe. We spent the next 2 days watching the deluge from inside the comfort of a particularly nice hostel, lunas13. Run by a couple of enterprising & amiable young men. while. It cleared up long enough for us to hop into a car and navigate the dusty backroads to a festival in the back of some guy´s farm. There we had some fun with the language barrier and making bad assumptions, ordering dozens of empanadas when we though we were only ordering a few. A glass of wine also turned into a bottle (and at only $5 a problem I would not mind repeating). We were invited out back to share in some homemade apple cider and watch as they made chochoca. Still not entirely sure what it is but it involved a lot of pork fat and after it was grilled was filled with pork. A bit bland but an experience none the less.
After a few days in Ancud we made our way to the out-of-the-way ´town´of Chepu, if you count a town as a few houses along a road. We camped at an Eco-lodge and took advantage of the excursions on offer. Day 1 a six-hour return boat ride/hike to see the penguins. Unfortunately we did not see any penguins, but we were rewarded with an encounter with a pudu, the world´s smallest deer. They are quite shy but we were lucky to see two pudu on two different occasions. After watching all of those episodes of Planet Earth I felt like I was actually experiencing some of the stuff I had been dreaming about for so long.
Day 2 a sunrise kayak on the river. What I failed to mention before is what makes Chepu extremely interesting is that after a huge earthquake in 1960 a large portion of the forested land actually sunk a couple of meters. This altered the landscape enough to allow salt water to rush into the land and killed thousands of trees. This sunken land is therefore strewn with the remnants of this forest and is quite amazing. The eco-lodge overlooks this remarkable scene.
So we were up at 4:30am to get out on the river. We had a rare rainless morning and were able to watch the sun rise over the water. Just as the sun had finished its brilliant display we saw a creature swimming nearby in the water. Completely unconcerned by our presence a Coypu, or an extremely large water rat close to 20lbs!, came up onto the land 5 feet from us and began chomping on some grass. We sat for close to 5 mintes as he foraged around hobbling together a breakfast feast. We, though this term can only be applied very conseratively because Dale still has his arm in a cast, paddled upriver for another hour or so admiring the scenery, dodging tree stumps and spotting all sorts of different birds. It was a unique experience to be on the water in a sunken forest, especially before dawn when the logs took on all sorts of mystical shapes.