Volcano factory

Trip Start Aug 03, 2010
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145
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Trip End Feb 01, 2012


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Flag of Chile  , Los Lagos,
Monday, November 14, 2011

Chile feels a lot like the states in many ways, but as we continue south on the Carretera Austral (the Southern Highway) it's getting more and more remote, and feels like we’re in a foreign country again, with chickens in the road and random sights like a shirtless guy with a giant cabbage under his arm. The route travels south along the rugged Pacific coast of mainland Chile and requires  a few ferries to cross fjords, we also waited about an hour while a small plane and then a helicopter landed on a section of the highway that doubles as an airstrip.

The highway goes through Pumalin Park, which stretches from the Pacific to the Andes. The land, purchased by an American billionaire, was donated for the purpose of conservation and protecting flora and fauna, like the elusive pudu and the alerce tree. We saw the best examples yet of very large, ancient alerce here.
 
     

 


      
 It is a rainforest, so everything is vibrant green and covered with mosses, lichen and ferns. Flowering trees make for sweet smelling air and beautiful mountainsides (when visible through the clouds).

  We stayed in four different campgrounds over a period of a week and saw only one other group of people on a trail, although others pass through on the highway. Each campsite has a picnic bench with a roof over it to escape the rain, a luxury for us since Rover is pretty crowded when we’re both inside. We spent rainy days listening to frogs and watching clouds exposing and enshrouding the mountains. On nice days, we walked almost every trail the park has to offer with destinations like waterfalls, waterfalls and lakes. The trails are excellent and easy to follow with sturdy bridges, railings, ladders and even walkways over the muddy stretches. 

We went to the town of Chaiten to stock up on food and to reserve space on the once-a-week ferry to Chiloe island. We met Nicolas, a local, who told us of the devastating eruption of the Chaiten Volcano in 2008. In addition to blowing ash up into the wind, the ash flowed like a river down the volcano and through town. Homes and businesses were destroyed, but people were evacuated beforehand, so no one was hurt. Many have not returned, the town has half the population it used to and they’re still in the process of cleaning up the mess. He called Chile a volcano factory, with three recently spewing ash and about 60 "active" (meaning they could potentially erupt at any time).

A little south of town is Amarillo Hot Springs, it felt fabulous to soak in hot water for a couple hours, I think I’ve never felt so clean. Another section of Pumalin Park is accessed nearby. It was here that we got as close to a pudu as we’ll probably ever get. We found pudu prints (about the size of the deer prints from home) on a trail that weren’t there the day before… if only we’d stayed up all night and could see in the dark. I bet it was adorable!

A road going deeper into the forest was closed to cars because it was eroded beyond recognition, they must have some very wet winters. Hundreds of trees had fallen willy nilly across it, making for a challenging hike (no convenient bridges or railings here). It led to a valley resembling a moonscape where the volcano ash had flowed. Plants, mainly nalca, were just starting to pop up through all the gray. This section of the park has large grassy areas resembling a golf course, it’s where the ash flow washed away the trees and undergrowth, so they planted grass to make it presentable.

For the first time in 16 months we set our alarm so we could make it to the ferry on time. Chiloe Island here we come!

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