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Escaping the rains of southern Chile by ferry

Posted: June 8, 2012 - 10:50am
Polly Crawford
Polly’s means of escape from the rains of southern Chile — the ferry to Puerto Montt.

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.

Despite the wind and rain, the ferry from Chaiten to Puerto Montt was operational and we were the first ones on. We were leaving the gravel, rain, and wilds of southern Chile. For eight hours we didn't have to drive, think, or make decisions. It was eight hours of pure relaxation -- bordering on boredom for myself and my hyped-out sister.

Unfortunately, because the ferry was running a bit late, we wouldn't arrive in Puerto Montt until close to 10 at night. That meant I'd be driving through a large city at night, not knowing where I was going. I didn't relish that thought.

We began asking questions. Where should we go? What was the best road north? Where is there a campground?

We found English travelers who had been on this route before. They agreed we needed to get out of Puerto Montt straightaway, which is also what Lonely Planet had said. Los Varas was the place to go that was more suited to tourists. They all told us we'd be able to find a campground along the lake.

The rain followed us to Puerto Montt. After the ferry docked, we were the last ones off. First in, last off. We looked for the Pan-American Highway north. Chile's not too wide. Surely one big major highway would be it. It was.

About 30 km later, we turned off to Los Varas. The rain had died down to a drizzle, but the lights were still reflecting in the wet roadway. We turned onto a road that looked like it would go around a lake. This was quite different from southern Chile. Posh hotels and casinos, fancy restaurants, and gated communities ringed the lake. A campground would be hard to find here.

Finally the lights faded and we were in more of a countryside atmosphere. Everything was dark. There were no lights at all, although we could see the lights of houses. How would we possibly find a campground in the dark?

We saw a large sign flash by. On a hunch, I screeched the brakes and backed up, angling my headlights toward it. Sure enough, it said a campground was down that gravel road. We turned. About a quarter mile down, the road did a dog leg to the left. A huge house was in front, and off to the right was a road to a campground with a gate in front.

"Well, there's a campground back in there. Too bad we can't get to it," my sister sighed.

"We could go through the gate and knock on the door of the house," I suggested.

"We both looked at the Spanish sign that said Beware of Dog. "Maybe not."

"Let's just park for the night here. There's enough room on the side of the road. We're almost at a campground."

We pulled off as far as we could, and suddenly a car came racing down the road, barely slowing down for the right-angle corner. "I don't think this is a good idea!" I said.

Then another car came and slowed down. With my poor Spanish, I deduced they were also looking for a campground. The car was stuffed with six adults. One of them pointed to the sign, which had a phone number on it. I shined my flashlight toward it, and added that we didn't have a phone.

No problem. They made the phone call. I thought it would be for them, but after they talked to whoever answered the phone, they said good bye and drove off. I thanked them, but wasn't sure what for.

Soon two teenagers came out of the house, opened the gate, and led us back into the campground. They were obviously proud of it, with its swimming pool and covered shelter. They also said that since it was raining and the weekend was over, they only had one guest. We never saw that one guest. We chose our spot, paid our $32, and soon discovered the water had been turned off. They smiled and nodded. It would be turned on in the morning.

After they opened the gate, two other vehicles strayed in, asking us bunches of questions we couldn't answer. One was a single older man that looked the true stereotype of a Chilean cowboy: the hat, the belt buckle, the boots, and the poncho. He was very friendly, but he spoke like he had marbles in his mouth and I couldn't understand a single word of his Spanish.

By now it was close to midnight, so Sue and I hunkered down in the Kangoo without our tent up. At least we had a covered picnic table to get out of the rain. This was our fourth solid day of rain, and we were getting tired of it. Surely it would let up enough for us to enjoy the Lake District of Chile -- the elite and most touristy part of Chile.

Check back next week for the next installment of Polly's perils.

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