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Perils of Polly: Fog and clouds shrouded the scenery

Posted: May 25, 2012 - 9:49am
We saw lots of Chilean cowboys and border collies herding sheep and cattle along the Carreterra Austral.  Polly Crawford
Polly Crawford
We saw lots of Chilean cowboys and border collies herding sheep and cattle along the Carreterra Austral.

Editor's note: Polly Crawford was a reporter and associate editor of The Peninsula Clarion from 1985-1988, when she wrote "Perils of Polly." She also has written a series of "Peril" columns about Australia, Asia, and Central America. Her perils continue in Argentina and Chile.

Puerto Tranquillo is a campground nestled between two cliffs right on the edge of the General Carrera Lake along the Carretera Austral in Chile. It has showers, picnic tables, and fire pits, and was nearly full when we pulled in at dusk.

It must have received its name in a similar manner as Greenland, as its environment was the opposite of its name -- anything but tranquil! I should have known it was a sign of what was to come the next couple of days.

My sister was a stickler for having to have our vehicle parked bubble level, so we weren't able to make use of the windbreak that each campsite was afforded. Our heads would have been about an inch lower than our feet!

I would have preferred to have my head an inch lower instead of having to listen to the tent being torn apart by wind all night long. It must have been whipping along at more than 60 mph. Finally, in the morning as we were taking the tent down, one of the fiberglass poles split, overcome by the force of the wind. Alas, no duct tape!

We stuffed everything into the car and off we went, more gravel, and then suddenly it turned to pavement as we neared the rather large town of Coyhaique. English people at the campground had told us about a restaurant that serves a good steak, so we stopped there for lunch and to get gas. We had also heard that to go further north, we would need to buy a ferry ticket to somewhere and Coyhaique was the only place to buy one.

The girl at the ferry ticket office spoke English, and we soon discovered that there was only one ticket left during the next two weeks at one ferry terminal: Chaiten. We bought it.

At the gas station, I pulled out the tent pole and tried to ask for duct tape. There was no comprehension of that, and I didn't even know if Chile had duct tape, so I settled for what turned out to be just plain scotch tape. The service station man wound it around and around and I could tell it was probably going to last the rest of the trip, so was satisfied. We paid about $60 for the gas and drove off.

Suddenly my sister gasped. The gas tank wasn't full. It wasn't even half full. In fact, it didn't look like hardly any gas had been put into the tank. What had we paid $60 for? We turned around full of righteous indignation, and drove back to the station. In my limited Spanish, I tried to convey that they had cheated us out of gas. They tried to convey that the pump must have just quit without filling it up. They filled it up the rest of the way and held out their hands for another $60. We were incensed. But arguing in the foreign language is not easy. We drove off, chalking it up to the cost of travel in a foreign country. It was the only time we believe we were ripped off during the whole trip, so not too bad. Maybe it was the high cost of the scotch tape they didn't charge us for!

We had pavement for several more luxurious miles, and then back to gravel. We camped at the side of a truly tranquil lake, and this time, in the morning, the driver's seat broke: the seat back was permanently up against the steering wheel.

We needed a wrench. One of the last Spanish words I learned before leaving home was the word for wrench, which is the same as the word for key: llave. The owner of the campground lived in a house high atop a hill. She had said to come if we needed anything. So I hiked up. She has also said she wakes up early in the morning, but that wasn't true. I rousted her out of bed.

At first she couldn't find a wrench, but finally she looked in the bed of one of the pickup trucks sitting there, and produced a huge pipe wrench. It would work.

We finally were on the road, and noticed the sky had clouded and drops were falling. We passed a sign telling us we were entering Queulat Rain Forest. Yep. We were. And it began to rain. And rain and rain and rain.

Now the road was steep, curvy, with loose gravel, and wet. I was glad we had standard transmission, but never wanted to gear down to first gear. I had to keep it in second gear going up those hills to keep from spinning out. We ran into mile after mile of construction which loosened up the dirt and gravel even more. I gunned it and plowed through, spitting gravel out at the curves. This was some white-knuckled driving and not the least bit fun. Plus, fog and clouds shrouded all the supposedly fantastic scenery so we were deriving absolutely no benefit from the arduous miles.

I couldn't wait to reach Chaiten! Or could I?

Check back next week for Polly's next perils.

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