It´s hard to imagine a place more beautiful than Patagonia…or more wet. Water seems to ooze from every orifice, cascade down the face of every mountainside and fall from the heavens above. We were welcomed back onto our bicycles and the wandering lifestyle as soon as we arrived on the island of Chiloé. It is akin to stepping back in time. The kettles were constantly warming on the wood stoves of most houses and the damp, salty, coastal aromas reminded us of riding in Nova Scotia not that long ago. We are continuously surprised and grateful of the generosity that we receive while traveling and southern Chile is no different. As we rested on the beach on our first day on the island, German and Mariela, a Chilean couple, delighted us with local history, shared their home with us and invited us to use their kayaks, which we gratefully accepted. For a week, we climbed up and down steep hills, shared conversations with the locals and dodged the rain four out of the seven days we were there.
In Quellon, we met up with our friend Femke and took the night ferry to Chaiten, situated at the northern tip of the famous Carretera Austral on the mainland. We arrived to persistent rain and an ominous sky. It was a fitting backdrop to a town that is struggling to revive itself after enduring two devastating eruptions of Volcán Michinmahuida. The first in May 2008, and the following in February of 2009. The bustling port town of about 4000 was utterly destroyed and the population has dwindled to 500-600 of the most die-hard Chaitenitos. They are kind and generous, but you can see in their eyes the heartbreak of losing their town and their determination to rebuild and start again. As we road out of town, we saw a truck that was painted ¨Levántate Chaiten!¨ Lift yourself up! Among it were others signs that damned the government for leaving them ´behind´. Almost a year later, their houses have been burglarized and they still have no running water or electricity. The damage was palpable, many of the houses buried under 5-6 feet of ash and mud that had raged through with a torrent of water as the nearby river swelled and engulfed the homes.
We walked around the town and saw haunting images of homes having been left in a hurry, children´s toys scattered, blankets embedded in the ash, clothes and furniture juxtaposed against walls, five feet off the original ground. As the wind and rain pelted us and we tried to construct some resemblance of breakfast, a local resident invited us in for tea, before we said farewell to two groups of other French cyclists and a bus load of friendly Germans to head on south. The three of us were in good spirits as the freedom of the open road pulled us despite the oppressive rain. Gortex is no match for Patagonia and luckily we knocked on Rodrigo´s door. We only had admired his house for the dry eave under which we had hoped to eat lunch, but he graciously invited us in for tea and great company. We continued for a week of unrelenting rain, but the first day we saw the sun, we basked in its warmth, fished under its brilliance and was in awe of the breathtaking scenery that we had missed under the cloud cover. We instantly realized that even one good day, makes all of the challenging ones worthwhile. We are refueling in Coyhaique, fixing bikes, making granola bars and being treated to pizza and conversation with newly found friends. Tomorrow, we set out….bound for Villa O´Higgins and then on to Argentina.