At the beginning of a new year, we find ourselves at Villa O’Higgens in Chile. We are experiencing this town as Fin del Mundo – the end of the world! It feels as if we have travelled back in time – the first telephone (yes, telephone, not cell-phone!) was installed in 1993, and the first road only arrived in 1999. Up to then the inhabitants were dependent on long ferry trips.
Snow capped mountains and ice fields surround the town – we are in awe and are really enjoying the place, despite the cold!
The well-known, beautiful scenic road in Chile, Carretera Austral, ends here in a Southerly direction. From here you can only travel South in Chile by boat, on foot, on horse-back or on a bicycle, there are no roads. Actually, to get here you have to make at least 3 ferry crossings, such is the topography of Southern Chile. Below the Landy is being told how to reverse onto the Don Fernando at Puerto Yungay.
There are hundreds of islands and lakes, we have never seen such an abundance of water. The waterfalls just gush with such force from the cliffs next to the road that we park our Land Rover for a free wash under these every now and then. The rivers we cross are so powerful, it seems the whole bridge and car will go with down the river. The colour of the lakes just takes your breath away, they are a beautiful turquoise blue. We are in awe of such an overpowering amount of water.
But it is also bitterly cold because of all the snow and ice on the mountains surrounding O’Higgens. Even the good sunny days are very cold. Below we are in the middle the day in the middle of summer.
We hiked to Glacier El Mosco, but unfortunately there were rockslides which closed the viewpoint and we ended up in a predicament – stuck on the mountain without climbing gear. We only arrived back at camp nearly 11 hours from starting, so tired, but having experienced pristine rivers and forests which remind us of Jurassic Park, birds that are so tame they startle you with their chirping a meter away, so inquisitive.
One of the great things here is the daylight which lasts until 23h (in summer that is, during winter it is the opposite). On many occasions we only get back to camp from a hike at 21h, but this also makes the day very long.
We spent five wonderful days in O’Higgens and started to know some of the locals and they would go out their way to greet us. A few houses have a a sign in the window which says “Hay Pan Amasado”- Oven-baked bread here. These breads or sopapiia’s (fried bread which we know as vetkoek in South Africa) is to die for! The lady of the house would be standing there 21h in the evening, baking or frying bread at a coal stove when you enter, and the warmth and incredible the delicious aroma of the room will crumble any will-power.
We met two brothers who are students in Santiago during the year, but for the 4 months that O’Higgens can generate money, 15 November- 15 March, they work for an adventure company, TAS. During the other 8 months it is too cold and no tourists go there. Their fees for excursions were a bit more realistic and we booked them for a kayak excursion on the Rio Mayer. It was raining and ice cold at 8h the morning when they came to collect us, and me and Vivian were sure of eminent frozen bodies if we capsized. Fortunately, they postponed the trip to the afternoon at 15h and the weather was a lot better. It was an amazing experience, although very cold when the wind came up. One really experiences the river, the wild geese on the water and the surrounding forests in a different way. We were lucky to see our 3rd and 4th Huemules watching us very closely from the banks of the river.