Detour completed

2 March 2006
4:00 PM

Puerto Montt harbor
Low tide in Puerto Montt’s harbor near sunset.

For frequent readers here, details about long bus rides and early arrivals have gotten pretty hackneyed. Oh well: the truth of the matter is that we arrived in Santiago—once again—at 6:30am this morning after—yes—a 14-hour bus ride. When we finished working with Habitat for Humanity in Temuco last Friday, we found the Pullman Sur buses back to Santiago booked full until Wednesday. That left us with a four-day gap to fill. We filled it with a detour south to Puerto Montt.

If you’re trekking south, Puerto Montt is the last major city before you hit Chilean Patagonia. We arrived Saturday evening at the bus terminal, situated just 200 yards from the Pacific Ocean. Despite it being summer, and despite the fact that Puerto Montt is only as far south as South Bend, Ind. is north, there was a chill in the air when we arrived. That chill remained except when it was joined by torrential downpours.

What is there to do in Puerto Montt? Well, if you pony up some cash, you can see penguins on the nearby island of Chiloe. Wild penguins. We tried to be economical with our time and money; we left the penguins for another trip.

Sunday we explored the city and admired the coastal view. At high tide, I saw fishermen casting away with fishing line wrapped around coffee can contraptions. At low tide, people waded out onto rocky beaches collecting shellfish. One angler brought in a three-foot fish. Another couple left the beach with giant bags full of oysters, scallops, and their ilk.

In the afternoon we saw a matinee of Fun with Dick and Jane, the first movie that I’ve seen in theaters in over seven months. It was a thoroughly surreal experience. For 90 minutes, surrounded by English words, music, actors, and images, I felt like I was back in the U.S. When the end credits rolled, I didn’t think we’d be exiting into a Spanish world again. In the theater lobby there were Coming Soon posters for all these movies that I had no idea were coming soon: Pirates of the Caribbean 2, X-Men 3, Cars. How quickly you lose touch.

Caitlin in the woods
Caitlin rests a moment in the lush green woods at Alarce Andino National Park.

Monday we went for a 21km, eight-hour hike in Alerce Andino National Park. While it wasn’t grueling, it was wet and cold. The weather didn’t cooperate. It alternatingly dripped, drizzled, and stormed all day. We did get some great views of lush forests and an impressive waterfall at the end. There was a giant snail too. On the way down the mountain, Tom and I greedily plucked giant blackberries that lined the trail. I ate enough to make a sizable batch of blackberry jam.

Tuesday we met Maureen and her brother Kevin who is visiting from the U.S. They arrived in Puerto Montt the morning before we left. We browsed the city some more, grabbed a seafood lunch (it only seemed right—we were at the sea), and hopped our 4:30 bus home. The next 14 hours, you already know.