March 11, 2009

Leaving Chile

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On the Alejandina
On the Alejandina
The Road to Puerto Ibanez
Road to Puerto Ibanez

My Eyes On Chile
Pros and Cons for the Visitor

For the traveler, Chile is very expensive in comparison to other countries in the Americas. In accommodations for same quality of services, only Canada is more expensive. Yes, hotels and guesthouse cost more per night than in most places in the USA. For a low-grade double, you will pay at least $35 everywhere in Chile. Only substandard accommodations can cost less. For example, a double with a shared bath was often quoted at $26 per night and a bed for one person in dorm room at $12 per night.
Restaurant food was costly too. Meals in ordinary restaurants started at $5 for a sandwich and a meal would run at least $8 per person. Beer cost $3 per bottle. Only the wine was inexpensive.
Generally, there were only three bargains in Chile: bus transportation, wine and seafood. The cost was about $1 for every 60 miles of travel. Drinkable wine cost as little at $2 per bottle. Seafood cost no more than beef and pork.
Travel by car in extremely expensive. Not just because of gas prices, but more because of the system of toll roads. The Chilean government sold the concession a few years ago and now the people pay large fees to travel on two or four-lane roads, at least $3 every 60 miles. Some of the roads are good, but some need repair. Personally, I consider this method of paying for roads extremely onerous – especially when the wages of the people are so low. Since we did not travel by car, the tolls did not personally effect us.
But the other costs made the travel very uncomfortable for us.

What we enjoyed the most was our friends in Talagante and the kindness of a stranger in Concepcion and our hosts in Quellon. Beyond that we were not enthralled by Chile. We enjoyed Vina del Mar a bit, especially our time with Matt. Only Valdivia was really charming to us.
True, the natural beauty of Chile is spectacular. Nearly everywhere one could see the mountains. In the south lakes, rivers and fjords were wonderful sites.

The graffiti in and around Santiago was disturbing, to say the least. The eyesore is left to fester. Why the people allow it to continue is surprising. Except for Vina del Mar, we found the cities in the north and Concepcion to be dirty, reminding us of Mexico. Every mile south seemed to be cleaner and cleaner. Coyhaique was clean and free of graffiti. Chile Chico was pristine.

Unlike Argentina, the people trust the police. There are no roadblocks and no unnecessary intrusions by the police into the lives of the Chileans. There is almost no corruption in the country and the government is fairly transparent.
For the traveler it is of little importance, but I want to mention something that I found disturbing: The constitution enacted by the Pinochet dictatorship is still in force and the only way to change it is by an act of congress. The system to elect representatives to this congress is almost devoid of real democracy. The ruling parties can get a representative elected with less than 20% of the vote and a candidate with more votes can lose to someone with fewer votes. They have a stable and progressive government for now, but there are no guarantees that it will continue that way unless somehow the constitution is amended to allow true proportional democracy.

We say visit Chile to see your friends. We say see the natural beauty in Chile. We say be sure to bring a wallet full of money to Chile and expect to spend it all.

We left Quellon on the ship Alejandina at 10 o'clock on Saturday night. The boat ferries passsager and vehicles as far south as Chacabuco, which is the port for Aisen, Chile. There are no berths on this boat, only seats that remind you of the coach on an intercontinental flight, only the rows were six-across. for the first six hours the ship seeemed nearly full, so we could not not stretch out across seats. A large number of passengers got out at Melinka and we took of advantage of the situation to get more comfortable. Comfortable is a relative term here, so don't think that is was easy. We woke in the morning and ate some of the food we brought and got cups of coffee. This Sunday was sunny, clear and warm. A perfect day to view the islands and fjords of southern Chile. When the boat put into a harbor, locals came onbord to buy fruit and vegtables, or to pick up expected freight. Occasionally a truck would pull off. The only diversion was movies, mostly dubbed into Spanish. I spent a lot of time on deck watching and enjoying the views and the sun. That night there were only a few passengers of the more than 100 that started with us. So we stretched out again and tried to sleep. The next morning we ate and drank coffee and enjoyed a bit of the view. We finally arrived in Chacobuco about noon on Monday, some 38 hours after embarking from Quellon.

We shifted gears now, boarding a bus to Aisen. In Aisen we got on another bus ($2.50 each) heading for Coyhaique. Two hours later we were in the prettiest town so far in Chile. We waited until 5 o'clock to ride to Puerto Ibanez. The van driver ($5 each) took us around Coyhaique to pick-up other passengers and freight. We headed out of town just before six. The drive was beautiful. The terrain was quite different, drier and looking more like the western US than the fjords we had just passed through. We arrived shortly before sunset. We got tickets ($8 each) for the ferry in the morning that would take us to Chile Chico. Then we hunted for a hostel that would accept the small sum of Chilean money in my pocket about $24. The lady at the Hospedaje Don Francisco was kind enough to accept us. She started the hospedaje six years ago and we were her first Americans. The hot showers we took that night began to restore our souls after two days of non-stop travel.

On Tuesday we walked to the ferryboat terminal after breakfast. We left at 10 and arrived in Chile Chico at 12:30. We quickly found the bus to Perito Moreno, which cost $8 each and seemed a bit high for a two-hour ride compared to Chile. At Perito Moreno we were able to buy tickets for El Calafate. Here I got a shock. The price of our tickets, $50 each, were two to three times the cost for other bus companies in Argentina. Unfortunately there was no other transport. I asked the agent if would there be food served, as is the usual custom in Argentina; the answer was NO! Shocked again! I asked if it was semi-cama; he said YES. The bus came an hour later and we got on. No, it was not semi-cama. This bus left at 5 o'clock and we would ride all night long. Half the roads were gravel and I could not get comfortable. There was no blankets or pillows. The TAQSA gave the worst service of any bus company in all of Argentina or Chile; I was disgusted. Something very strange happened when we boarded this bus. All the passengers were young foreigners. What was going on? We rarely saw a foreigner, yet they appeared from nowhere. While I was pissed about the greedy bastard that ran this bus company, my fellow travelers chalked it up to being in Patagonia. What the hell were they talking about? And did they have no sense of value? We rode through the night and arrived in El Calafate about 9 in the morning.

So went our journey from Quellon to El Calafate.

Snow-Capped Mountain from the Deck of the Alejandrina
Snow-Capped Mountain

Posted by bill at March 11, 2009 10:33 AM