How to get stuck in Coyhaique (Chile) and not see Cerro Castillo

This is the blog post that I don’t want to write. It’s going to be a big collection of my travel failures. And I don’t want to talk about that. But travel isn’t always breathtaking landscapes and perfectly timed public transport. It’s also times of frustration and things not working out. Sometimes mishaps turn into grand adventures. And sometimes they just don’t. Travel is about being able to think on your toes and use misdirections to your advantage–in the words of Tim Gunn–finding a way to “make it work” despite the fact that it seems that there are no buses, no hostels, and no direct flights. Savvy travelers know how to poke around, reroute their way to a destination, take alternative forms of transport, and get to where they wanted to go even if it wasn’t the way they intended.

But sometimes, I think, the roadblocks become too much and it is better to back up, turn around and nix the plan altogether. That’s the point where I start to feel like a failure. I comfort myself with the idea that I will return, armed with the knowledge I now possess about what to do and not to do, and have the adventure I always wanted. Which in the long run is still a success, but I’d rather have done it right the first time around.

First a little backstory. My plan after I arrived in Coyhaique was to go to Cerro Castillo— a national park in Chilean Patagonia that is said to rival Torres del Paine. I planned to spend a few days hiking and trekking there and then reverse my travels and head north through Chile. Sounds good, right? I did make it to Coyhaique (spent way too much time there) and saw bits of Patagonia but not the way I planned.

View of Coyhaique from the national reserve

The journey began quite optimistically: with me upgrading my hiking boots and getting a decent sleeping bag. I headed to the bus station quite confidently to ask about transportation to Cerro Castillo. I was told that the buses were sold out for the next day, which was something I had heard could happen. During the high season, the buses fill up with locals pretty fast. Not to be daunted, I pressed for more information and was told there was a bus two blocks away that went direct. I thanked the ever helpful terminal attendant and went in search of this magic bus. Ironically, it was yellow. Two scruffy looking gentleman were lounging inside the empty bus. They seemed less than approachable, but I was determined so I inquired about the journey to Cerro Castillo. They told me with certainty that this bus goes there and would be leaving at 9am the next morning. Perfect. I returned to the hostel to pack my bags and prepare for the journey.

city of Coyhaique…kind of pretty

Early the next morning, I stood on a cold street corner waiting. When the bus finally pulled up 15 minutes late, I was anxious to get going. However, when I asked the driver if he was going to Cerro Castillo, he looked at me almost with disdain–as if wondering why I would ask such a stupid question–and said no he wasn’t going until this afternoon around 4. I argued with him a little telling him about the men from the day before but it was clear that he had no idea what I was talking about and was not budging. Frustrated, but still optimistic, I returned to my hostel to wait out the day. I was still going, just half a day later than I’d planned. About 30 minutes before the appointed time, I returned to the bus stop to see the same man packing the bus. It appeared to be almost full. My nerves amped a bit, but I approached the sour faced bus driver and repeated my questions from that morning. He barely spared me a glance as he asked for my ticket. A ticket he had not told me I needed to purchase. While I had sat around that day, locals had again snatched up all the tickets for the bus and now I really was out of luck. In retrospect, I realize I should have asked him if I needed to buy a bus ticket and where during our morning conversation. But I’d also like to point out that maybe the driver of the bus could have been a bit more helpful to a tourist and potential customer? But no matter, the fact remained that I had a full backpack and no way to get where I was going. As a more seasoned traveler now, I would say that this would have been a good time to rely on hitchhiking. And if I could go back to that day that’s exactly what I would have done. Instead I wandered around the city in a funk until I found a tour company offer a day trip to Puerto Rio Tranquilo that included a boat ride to the marble caves. I’d also heard that this was a nice village to visit the San Rafael glacier from. So I signed up. But the next tour was not for two more days. Which meant more waiting around in a city I was kind of starting to hate. I decided that after my trip to Rio Tranquilo I needed to get out of here.

Traveling in and out of Coyhaique is not always easy. I had taken a ferry down but it was expensive and I didn’t want to do that again. I wanted to take a bus, but most buses from that town take a side trip into Argentina on their way north. At that time, there was still a reciprocity tax imposed upon United States citizens entering Argentina (it has since been lifted). I didn’t want to spend $160 just to drive through the country for a few hours. What I had to do instead was buy a ticket to Chaitén. From there I would purchase a bus/ferry combination to get me to Puerto Montt. Of course the next available bus to Chaitén was not for five more days. Which meant I had three additional days in Coyhaique after my trip to Rio Tranquilo. Fantastic.

Rio Tranquilo was a bit better than my time in Coyhaique (but really anything is better than Coyhaique), but still came with some unexpected challenges; which I will share about in my next update!

picture of a yummy coffee drink to make up for the negativity in this post

Days on trip: 43
Error counter: 6 (one for failing to purchase a bus ticket and one for getting stuck in this town for another week)
Distance covered: 1984.7 km/ 1233.2 mi

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