• 30 June 2017

From Puerto Montt towards Chiloe Island on bike in Chile.

From Puerto Montt towards Chiloe Island on bike in Chile.

From Puerto Montt towards Chiloe Island on bike in Chile. 1024 576 Gürkan Genç


After leaving Bariloche, I returned to Chile on an amazing route and was slowly advancing on the Todos Los Santos Lake watching the spectacular view of the Osorno Mountain. I’m on my own in the boat. As I had mentioned in my previous article, there aren’t many people traveling in this region in winter and also this road was the only toll road between Argentine and Chile. There aren’t any other roads around the lakes in this region. There are settlements, though not crowded building complexes but single-family houses and the communication is done by boats in the region.

The lake is surrounded with mansions, shelters and houses hidden in the forest. I thought about how some people live in such an amazing place at the end of the world. While the boat was sailing across the lake I found myself saying “dude, how many places I liked in Chile recently”. The beauty of the nature of this country is so unique and I didn’t ride on the legendary Carretera Austral yet.

When I came ashore at Petrohue, I continued recognizing that all the enterprises were closed due to winter season. After this point there is a high quality paved amazing bicycle road till Puerto Mont for 80 km.

Since it was raining for days, an avalanche occurred flowing from the Osorno Mountain to its skirts and the road was covered with thick mud. A large area was affected from the avalanche. More than 50 trucks and 10 bulldozers were trying to clean the highway. I guess half of the mountain had slid down.

I had already spent half of the day on lake in the ferryboat. Therefore, I had to set my tent somewhere before arriving in Puerto Montt. I had mild front wind and it was raining. At this point, what I was thinking was that whether I would be able to set my tent somewhere protected from the wind since the zipper and the zipper teeth of the outer cover were damaged. How and where would I be camping? I found a few suitable camping places but couldn’t trust to the wind changing its direction continually. It seemed not possible. There was a small town called Puerto Varas just ahead. I thought to ride there and to find a tailor to solve the zipper problem, so had one of those night rides which I don’t like at all, on top of it under rain. The tailor issue remained to the next day.

Puerto Varas was a nice small town. I can say that the income of this town depends on the people from the surrounding single-family houses coming to shop for their daily needs. Its lake shore is beautiful.

I was told that this town is very crowded in summer. This region depends on tourism income and governmental support. I went to two hostels in the town, but the prices were some high and credit cards were not accepted. Since I was trying to save some money (nothing left in reserve) I tried to avoid using the ATMs for cash withdrawal (because every time I draw cash from ATMs in Chile about 15 USD was charged no matter how much money I was withdrawing, on top of it the difference in exchange rates make the money disappear from my Turkish bank account). It suits my book to use credit cards. Anyway, at the end I found a hostel, its owner was Venezuelan: Backpackers Casa Mogouya. The hostel was empty since it was winter season. But in the region, no matter if there aren’t tourists or tourism the prices are always high if you are heading down to south and increase further at the down. The reason I think is the transport expenses of the goods to the south.

I met Catrina, a French woman, in the hostel. She was coming from Patagonia and advised me to go to Chiloe Island. Looked on the map and said why not? I can enter form one side of the island and exit from the other side. Talking to the owner of the hostel I told him that I strolled around in the town but didn’t see any tailor. Really, there is nothing related to tailoring in the region. Every household has its own sewing machine. It is hard to find someone doing this as job. I can say this applies to the whole Patagonian region. There isn’t any tailor dude!! He showed me place on the map and I went there. Alright, the tailor had a sewing machine but had neither a zip nor anything fitting to my tent. I looked at the zippers he had, the longest one was not more than one meter but I needed a longer one. In addition, I needed a double-sided zipper. I went back to the hostel. Dude, I don’t know what to do. I might buy a new tent, I cannot traverse Patagonia with a damaged tent, no way…. Meanwhile, I was taking my stuff out of the bag. Then, the double sided zipper on my The North Face trousers came in my mind and the retainer box and insertion pin was the same size of that of my tent’s zipper (My trousers were packable in its own pocket). I went back to the tailor and told, that is rather showed him (I don’t know the language): “Amca (means uncle, as elderly men are called in Turkish) unravel this zipper from my trousers, then unravel the end part of the zipper on my tent, place the end part (I showed the retainer box and insertion pin) from my trousers and sew it”. And I explained what I wanted quite well. Or I thought I did…

After 3 hours I returned and what did he do? I had sewed my trousers on the tent. On top of it he didn’t unravel the zipper but just sewed it to the top stop of the tent zipper. A long silence happened. I was angry to the madness. He must have read from my eyes, he put his hands on his eyes. I yelled AMCAAAAAAAAAAAA. I took the scissors and unraveled my trousers from the tent. First, I tore the zipper from the tent and also the top part of the zipper on the tent. Then, placed the zipper of the trousers on the tent and placed on the sewing machine. “Sew it!”. He apologized understanding his mistake and didn’t want any payment for this. But my tent was fucked up. Dude, how come to sew trousers on a tent? After everything had happened I wished I had taken a photo but I couldn’t think of taking a photo at that moment, no blood had rushed to my brain. Anyway, I couldn’t replace the zipper teeth but at least the zipper slider works up and down.  This will hold for a time.

Carlos told us that he would bake special Venezuelan bread for dinner in the hotel. I said I’ll buy minced meat, yoghurt, avocado and salad greens. When I came back in the evening I saw that this Venezuelan bread was exactly the same which I had to eat in Africa for months traveling in rural areas which I didn’t like at all. There its name was simsi, well its name changes from country to country. Seeing my facial expression:

– What’s up, don’t you like it?

– Is this Venezuelan bread?

– Yes.

– Actually, this is not Venezuelan bread. It is one of the main nutritional sources in Africa and its name changes in every country and continent. Between 1500 and 1700 AD the slaves were transported to Venezuela by Dutch ships to work for sugarcane plantations and with them African culture of course. Well my friend, I’m sorry but this is not your cuisine but belongs to African culture. You can search this on Google.

– I didn’t know that. Thank you Gurkan.

I have to say that its taste was better with minced meat, yoghurt, avocado and salad greens. The next day I said good bye to everybody in the hostel and set off to Puerto Montt.

I was to be hosted by the couple Gulsah and Emre hosting backpackers and motorbikers in their house but since their children were infected with lice they told me quite politely: “Dear Gurkan, we don’t want you get also infected, it would be very uncomfortable for you”. They were right and I found a place to stay nearby from Ioverlander app which was very cheap.

Emre was quite pleased to be in this region. He was working for a Turkish second hand company in Puerto Montt. His wife Gulsah told that it was hard for them at the beginning (She is right without returning to Turkey to live in this permanently cold and rainy geography must be hard) but then get used to the life here. Their children were born here. Also they were very pleased by education and kindergartens in this region. Gulsah added a detail:

  • Gurkan I was worried to labor here because everything was unknown for us. But the health care before and after labor and child care was so different. Nothing like that in Here, special care is given to protect new born and the mother.

It is quite understandable. The population of Chile is only 17 million, 7 million of which lives in the capital city and surrounding settlements. Going down to south the number of settlements decreases but there have to people living also. The town Puerto Montt with its port and fisheries is an important settlement. Even, it is the biggest town located at the beginning of Carretera Austral. Down till the town O’Higgins there isn’t any town as big as this.

– Gurkan do you know, here is also a Turkish grocery. Its owner is Erdogan.

– How come? Are you serious? Let’s go there.

Well, at the other end of the world in Puerto Montt there is a Turkish grocery. Erdogan is a very funny guy who came years ago to this region, opened this grocery, got married having two children. We had nice conversations. When I was there he was talking about selling the grocery and entering the Kollektivo business. This Kollektivo is like a shared taxi system as in Turkey called dolmus. He had 3 vehicles and intending to increase. In this town there wasn’t UBER taxi system in 2017 but maybe has started now. By the way, talking about UBER it came in my mind; the Google map of UBER in Chile was a nice application. They are developing this application from day to day and the same problems arise between the taxi drivers and UBER drivers throughout the world. That is there are legal drivers selecting their customers and ripping off foreigners everywhere in the world. Because of them fair taxi drivers suffer. If you don’t get organized then you suffer. Anyway, I’ll miss the conversations we had with Erdogan in the store while drinking soup and dipping our bread slices into scrambled eggs.

I saw the fish processing plants owned by European companies in this region along the road from Puerto Montt to Chiloe Island. In these plants the fishes are either processed or directly frozen and then send to every corner in the world. Most probably the salmon we eat as Norwegian comes from Chile actually.

There is a ferry from Pagua to Chiloe Island but till I arrived there it started to shower. I don’t mind if I get wet down to my ass in hot weather or the weather temperature could be minus 30 or 40 °C I won’t bother. But if it is both 0 °C and showering then this doesn’t fit. Dude, I’m freezing to the bone. Why not to stop under such weather but continue? But no. I’m already here, it is not dark yet and I’m chattering yet. So, I have to cross to the other side. They didn’t ask a fee for my bike to Chiloe Island. They didn’t take much money from me either. It took 15 minutes to cross to the island from the main land. When I came to the island it was getting dark and I needed to find a place with this rain shower.

A small town named as Chacao. I just made a small tour in the town. There were 2 hostels, but it was such a quiet town that there was no need to pay and stay at a hostel. There was a covered pier directly at the sea side. I set my tent inside this pier. The noise of the waves throughout the night didn’t bother me. But in the morning the seagulls were making noises as if they were inside my tent and not on the roof.

Due to rain shower, I couldn’t enter the dirt road going over Caulin. If I would have entered that road, I and my bike would have been swallowed by the mud.

The Route 5 was quiet since I set off early in the morning. Anyway, there isn’t almost any traffic unless a ferryboat comes to the island. It was good so because as it was generally in Chile this road also didn’t have shoulder till the town Ancud. Really interesting. No wide shoulders as I was used to in my country, but the road was nice. Arriving in Ancud the situation changes, the traffic increases but the road has shoulder.

One of my friends following my travel for years: “Gurkan, my Chilean friend Adriana Yanez whom I met in Europe is living there. I’m sure you’ll get along with each other. You can send her a message”. And I sent a message. Wow, she was an amazing person. Her family has become my family and she one of my best friends. Adriana was a well-known person in the whole Chiloe Island.

She was reorganizing the native fishermen in the region against the big companies and defending their rights. She had traveled in many parts of South Africa on her bike. She was a good fisherwoman, scuba diver and sea captain. They hosted me in their house for one week. I told them to turn the house in a hostel and they are using their house as a hostel now. We were talking with her mother via cell phone using its dictionary app. Now, she has learned some English and me some Spanish. She was saying to Adriana: “Tell Gurkan to come back. I’m missing him. We can do our homework together”. Hahahaha

I went out for fishing on Pacific Ocean with her father and caught the biggest fish in my life. We ate this for dinner, but it wasn’t tasty at all. Anyway, I don’t like fishes from oceans no matter from Atlantic or Pacific but like inner sea fishes very much.

The region lives on fishing. The Spanish came late to this region therefore the language in general differs from that spoken on mainland. Anyway, you can directly recognize that the anatomy of the people on the island is different.  The European look on the mainland disappear on the island. The Chilean government made a research about the islanders in 2002 and found out that 97 % of the inhabitants were Mapuches. I’m not an osteologist but spending some time on this island, I can tell that the inhabitants look like the people in north China (inner Mongolia) and Mongols. I also found out upon a small internet research that there have been researches related to this subject. Also, it was recorded that some of the symbols presently used by Mapuches were the same as that in Chinese culture. It is still unknown during which period and migration wave they had come to this geography but 10000 years ago from Asia.

By the way, mentioning European, I visited the wall remains on the northwestern side of the island from Spanish time and the city museum. This island was occupied by Spanish in 1567 but since it was remote, the people living on this and surrounding islands hadn’t been aware of the independency war. During the independency war of Chile, serious battles were done with Spanish kingdom. By the way, the people defending the island for the king were the Mapuches. They were described as very strong and fearless soldiers in travel books. In the end the region came under control of Chile and Ancud became the capital of the island. At the beginning of the 20th century a German primary school had been established in this region.  The school projects of Germans in foreign countries established before First and Second World Wars were improved and wisely adopted in the second half of the same century by other countries. I’ve been observing this situation for the last 8 years on the roads. In October 2010 bits of the puzzle had started to fall into place….

I left Ancud and came to an area close to Cocotue the north of the island where penguins come to rest depending on the season. Of course, during winter time there weren’t any penguins. But the dirt road and the view were satisfying. While I was camping at a point near the cliff I said: “Dude, it rained so much, what if an avalanche happens”. This was one of the beautiful spots I camped in the island: 41°56’38.7″S 74°01’45.3″W.

Again at this point, mud and rain made my V brake pads worn out. I hadn’t checked for spare one for a long time assuming I still had a couple in my bags. But looking in my kit bag under rain and mud and seeing any I felt shocked for a short time.

Well, nothing to do, I won’t use my brakes for the next 120 km. I continued like this till the biggest city Castro in the south. While staying at the backpacker hostel Familiar, I found a bicycle shop and bought some small necessities before continuing. In this city the colorful fishery houses were made of metal plates and the church was worth for sightseeing.

By the way, during a talk in the hostel I heard that UFOs were seen in the island. I’m traveling for years on bike and sleep outdoors in my tent but have never come upon one. What to say, I hope I’ll see also an UFO one day. Oh, well, there was also a rumor that the women were involved in witchery. I saw this situation in some countries in Africa. People accuse native communities living in remote areas with witchery and Voodooism. The continent has changed but people didn’t change. Well, human is everywhere human…

Well, I can say that the part of the Pacific Ocean between the island and the mainland looks like an inland sea. In this area there is an incredible environmental pollution due to salmon farms. Don’t ask me the number of those farms. Almost every inch of the sea surface is covered by those farms. This is a really wild production. The farms were built not only on the sea but also on the lakes of the island. How brainless people you are! Don’t do this to the fresh water resources of the island at least. The natives of the island are fighting against the government for this. But the demand for salmon throughout the world is so high that even this high amount of production is far from enough.

I entered the island from the north by ferry and it is possible to go to the mainland from the south of the island. There are ferries to many places departing from Quellon. It is possible to see beautiful untouched areas on a ferry travel. I stayed at Hostel El Parque in Quellon. The owners were very nice and made a good discount. Shortly walking along the beach I felt myself in another place hard to describe or best I must say in another time period.

The ferryboats departing from this region were also serving the small islands around.  Well, I wanted to go to one of them, I don’t remember its name, but they didn’t sell the ticket to go there. It was an island where only Chileans were allowed to go. When I asked for the reason, I was told: “It is an island where only native fishermen go to”. Anyway, I went to Port Roul Marin Balmaceda a very small remote village taking the ferry departing from Quello at the opposite site. While I was getting out from the ferry, the natives boarded the ferry not to go anywhere but for shopping. The bottom floor where the cars were parked was like an open market. To my surprise, touching small settlements in the region the ferry boat also served as an open market till Puerto Aysen.

The population of this at most 30 houses sea village was high though it was winter. The average age of the people was quiet high. If they would have any health issues, the nearest ambulance had to come from far away. The best hospital might be in Puerto Montt. The situation I came upon in Europe previously had also started in rural areas of Chile. The old people were living alone. During my Carretera Austral travel, the four people who hosted me were above 70 years old living alone. As I mentioned already, going down the country to the south the population decreases. Especially, it is hard to keep the young generation in the South. This was the same in Europe, the young generation didn’t want to live in villages. Well, this situation affects the agricultural economy seriously. For example, the children of farmers sell their land to others after the death of their parents. The new owners either don’t understand anything about agricultural business or if so do only small scale farming and use mostly the land for themselves or just leave it empty as it is.

For example, I saw this in Africa a lot. In the farm where I stayed in England, the teenagers had told me that they didn’t want to live in a village or small town after graduation from high school. But the situation in Chile is different because there isn’t any land suitable for agriculture. So, hydroelectric plant, lumbering, fishing and tourism were done. That is, whatever you do, it seems that you destroy the nature on the other hand.

The Carretera Austral route in the line… Let’s see how it is.



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