Week 7: Cochrane, Tortel & Porto Natales

This week I made my way down further south and ended up in Cochrane. It’s a really nice little village surrounded by snow-capped mountains. On the carratera austral there are no hostels so the only option is to camp or stay in expensive hospidaje, which are shared accommodation in a family’s house. In Cochrane, the woman of the house was a bit of a grinch.  I asked for some sugar to try and improve my daily breakfast of gruel (porridge with water) and was blatantly refused.  There were killings when I burnt one of her pots with my porridge and the second with my rice. My current roomies are two 80 year old Chilain women (god only know they are in this place or me for that matter!). I’m really looking forward to a bit more civilization in the next week in ‘normal’ hostels.

In an attempt to get away from the grumpy woman I decided to explore Cochrane’s Parc Tampoca, a huge national park only a 4 km walk away. There are multiple routes  in the park but I opted for the easy 4 hour trail still bruised and sore from the night on the mountain. I wanted something easy-going. Once again I had the park to myself. The stunning 4 hour trail turned into 11 hours of desperate struggle trying to get off the mountain range. I mixed up the routes and somehow ended up on the 4 day trek trial. Horrifically lost in stunning rocky mountain ranges with huge lakes and rivers was great at the beginning but soon lost its novelty. Energy levels were quickly dwindling. With the sunset fast approaching I was getting worried. I sat down ate the last of my orea chocolate and stale bread I thought I might be a bit more rational after this. I genuinely was more frightened on this mountain because I was completely isolated, I only had a thin rain coat and no food.  I was also planning on how to defend myself against pumas in the middle of the night (apparently they are famous in this particular national park). There are about 7 different routes in this park divided by lakes and rivers. I somehow ended up on the completely wrong side.  It’s not high season yet so the trails aren’t that well paved so it’s easy to get lost. I was almost coming to terms with the fact that I’d have to spend another night on a mountain  (I’m becoming a seasoned pro at this stage). I climbed for about an hour to get to a view point to try and see how to cross the river and eventually stumbled across a bridge and got onto a trial which led me back. The park ranger had started to look for me so it all ended well thank god. Myself and Patagonian mountains have had a rocky start (if you will pardon the pun).  Myself and the grumpy woman were both delira to say our goodbyes the following morning. I robbed a few teabags for the road and made my way towards Tortel.

Parc Tampoco, Cochrane
My only companion for the day, Parc Tampoco
Not the worst place to get lost in, Parc Tampoco Cochrane

Tortel is a tiny village with a population of only 600 people. The entire village is built completely on stilts. It’s beautiful but probably one of the most remote places in Chile. You can’t even buy an egg in this place so the prospect of any fruit or vegetables was hopeless. Their diet consists  mainly of bread and some industrial plastic cheese. We were kicked off the bus into a raging blizzard. I spend over 2 hours in the rain looking for the ferry man (apparently he owns the ‘supermarket’ too). The ferry company would only accept cash and obviously there in no bank in Tortel so luckily I had enough for the ferry but not enough left to buy food for the next two days. For breakfast I made my usual concoction pasta, tuna and mayonnaise. With no money for food for the day I transported the remainders of the pasta in a dirty cereal box I found in the bin and few loose plastic bags. Later that day I ended up eating the pasta with my hands sharing it with another homeless Australian man I picked up wandering the streets. It’s moments like this and you genuinely feel like a wild beast ( I’ve  started to resemble too).  Long gone are my days of dining in Michelin star restaurants.

Views of the tiny village of Tortel
Tortel, a village sitting entirely  on wooden stilts
A brewing storm in Tortel

Drenched and absolutely frozen I ended up at Casa Maria. Maria was a different specimen altogether. She  had no visible teeth and was missing a significant amount of her fingernails. She abruptly let me in insisting I paid up front. Maria wouldn’t give you a crumb off her shoe. Thankfully I met some gas people in Maria’s and we drank carton’s of wine and sang Elton John ballads for the night. The 3 guys I met had been stuck in Tortel for 4 days and were slowly loosing their minds in Casa Maria. The ferry only leaves once per week and its really the only reason people come to Tortel. One of the germans remarked that I looked like a wild dog as I entered Maria’s Casa. He was seriously impressed with my natural formed dredlocks.  This nicely coincided with someone earlier that day repeatedly calling me signor ( I am technically a Sinorita).  In fairness to the lad i’m getting more masculine by the day. You don’t need a picture for this so I’ll leave it up to your imagination as to what I currently look like….

Dinner in casa Maria consisted of soup made with stale bread and garlic. This meal was complements of an  eccentric Spanish Man Gregorio.  Gregorio even carries his own saffron a proper gourmet. The saffron subsequently went missing that night  and we’re  all convinced Maria robbed it when she got wind it was worth a few dollar bills. It became quite clear nobody was getting on of this house intact.  The sheets smelled of cat piss and apparently Maria never changes them even for new guests arriving. We asked was it possible to leave our bags in the house the following day as our Ferry wasn’t until 11pm. Needless to say Maria refused. So the following day I was homeless and moniless in the lashing of rain with all the backpacks. Not the most ideal set up.

Snowflake keeping me company for my homeless day in Torel
Snowflake, Tortel’s cutest dog
Board walks surrounding Tortel
Tortel’s Port 

All delighted  we survived Tortel we boarded the 3 day ferry making our way to Porto Natales. We were allowed off the ferry in Puerto Eden for a 30 minute walking break.  Myself, Martha and Hosé found a random fruit shop and stocked up on apples amazed to find fresh fruit in the Patagonian wilderness.  We lost track of time and somehow managed to get lost in the smallest village you can imagine. Frantically trying to get back to the ferry  we starting sprinting.  We could hear the ferry’s horns ringing warning us it was leaving (we still couldn’t even see the ferry).  Maria ended up slipping off the board walk. It was a horrific fall and we knew it was bad by her screaming. She ended up breaking a bone in her knee. We had to wait for paramedics to come via speed boat with morphine and all sorts of injections. 3 hours later we were all on board an angry ferry. Poor Maria was in bits with the pain  and had to camp out in the children’s playroom for the duration of the trip. The ferry was great and a stunning journey through Patagonian fjords. It was also a great opp to learn some much needed Spanish. I happily ate the prison food and spotted lots of dolphins and seals en route. There was a lovely gang on board so the days flew.

Sun setting on the ferry en route to Puerto Natales

After arriving in Porto Natales Gregorio decided to join me in my hostel which was less than ideal (another chronic snorer). I stayed in Refugio Hosken’s which was recommended by a friend in Valpo. A fab hostel with lots of young Chilains who cook everything from scratch. Gregorio’s snoring was driving me to drink. Desperate for some space I resorted to sleeping in a tent for the night. Martha, the girl who broke her knee on the ferry kindly lent me hers.

My new home in Refugio Hoshken

In other news, I ended up throwing my visa in the bin, an easy mistake to make. Anyway with a lot of my day taken up with the police station I eventually got it sorted.  I couldn’t pitch up my tent until 11pm that night. A near impossible task. I soon realized I was getting nowhere and a gent from Germany pitched it for me. We figured out quickly the tent had holes in it and the sleeping bag was more of sheet.  I froze my arse off in the icy tent for the first night. I was so cold I ended up going into the hostel in the middle of the night to turn on the oven to try and heat up. One of the hostel workers felt so sorry for me he let me sleep in his tent. He had the complete works inflatable mattress, fleece quilts etc. I felt like I was in the Ritz! Tomorrow’s plan of action is to try and organise a trip to go trekking in one of Patagonia’s most famous national Park’s Torres Del Paine!



One thought on “Week 7: Cochrane, Tortel & Porto Natales

  1. Roisin

    I am sorry to be laughing so much at your expense!

    Seriously though, do take care on the mountains – they are clearly not for wimps! You should be with somebody before you head off.

    You are meeting quite a few grumpy hostel owners!

    But it all sounds just great.



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