Making Finger on a Big Little Island

Sorry for the oddly timed updates, Internet access has proven to be scarce in this part of the world as I’ve been continuing traveling in the south; my friend Jenà left for a few weeks of sun, family and a bounty of Mexican food.

Our second day on the archipelago of Chiloé was one of the more amazing and memorable of my travels. We left Ancud after sleeping in later than we should have, vowing to visit the town of Degañ and Quemchi in the day, with plans to continue traveling south on the island over the next few days. People we’d been talking to throughout the island had been telling us about the ease of hitchhiking throughout Chiloé, owing to the relative proximity of everything on the island, as well as the friendly nature of the islanders. It was easy and utterly safe, they said, to “hacer dedo” (literally make/do finger) throughout Chiloé.

I’d read recently that one of the easiest ways to find an intercity ride is to go to a gas station on the outskirts of the city, as truckers and other excursioners will be stopping to fill up, and will more often than not be happy for the company on their trip. Jenà and I wandered through the city and finally found a service station, looking awkwardly at the gas station attendants as we loitered around, heavy backpacks on our backs, waiting for our ride to get there.

We finally worked up the courage and asked a few people in station wagons and pickups if they were going our way, but each declined politely, saying that they were going in the other direction. Finally the driver of an 18-wheeler pulled in to fuel up and, after a brief chat, he agreed to take us as far as Degañ, which was on his way south. We climbed into the huge truck and we were quickly on the road. Jenà, who was sitting between us, struck up a conversation with him, at which point he told us that we were silly for going to Degañ, as there was nothing there.

“No no,” I said. “It’s okay, we’ll just check it out quickly and head to Quemchi afterward.”

There’s really nothing there, he insisted, but we arrived quickly and he pulled over at the side of the road.

“See that supermarket? That’s Degañ,” he said, smiling and pulling away from the curb, his tons of metal riding low on over the asphalt.

Well, there goes lunch. After a quick laugh, we lugged our bags and started trekking down the other road to Quemchi, walking along a highway surrounded by beautiful pasture and farmland as far as the eye could see. The sun started beating down on us and we quickly stripped off our outer layers, hanging them from straps on our backpacks and stopping to take pictures of the scenery in this beautiful area.

We decided to start walking the 20 km to Quemchi, sticking our thumbs out at passing cars, only to be skipped over time and time again. Still, nothing could dampen our spirits and we kept going, marveling at the nature around us. Finally, success? A pickup stopped in front of us and we hopped in the back, throwing our bags in ahead of us and diving through the small hole under the canvas, nestling up against the dusty equipment. We shot off, bumping along, laughing at our luck and high-fiving, agreeing that this is, indeed, the way to travel.

After a wonderful lunch in Quemchi, which turned out to be a very small, cute fishing village, we wandered back along the road through the hilly Quemchi back to the main road. We employed the same tactic, walking while flashing our thumbs at passing motorists, until a Chilean man walking nearby advised us to wait at a nearby intersection for a ride, as people would be less likely (and we wouldn’t like to climb) the tall hill in front of us.

We followed his advice, reminding ourselves to be patient, and we soon caught a ride with a young couple in a nice sedan, who drove us half of the way back to Degañ, where they pulled off to go to a family party. We climbed out and settled on the grass near the side of the road, me with my new mystery novel and Jenà looking through postcards she’d just bought. We meekly waved our thumbs at passing cars, more than content to stay in the sun for a bit longer, and only after a little while did we get picked up, from a man leaving the same party to go to Degañ to buy some cigarettes.

He dropped us at Degañ and we caught a ride within 30 seconds from a man in a pickup, climbing in the front this time. The man was a contractor who lived on the mainland, he said, but he was driving to the bottom end of Chiloé for work. We discussed the then-upcoming presidential election and politics, and quickly arrived in Castro, the biggest city on the island. He drove for a few minutes in the city and, after asking directions from a police officer, drove us to the doorstep of our hostel.

Thanking him profusely, we tumbled into our room and dropped our stuff off, tan and tired from our treks, but happy to be on the road.

Right now I’m in Puerto Varas, after a few days up north in Valdivia. I’ve had an R&R day to catch up on email and blogs, do my laundry and get ready to go down south. Tomorrow I’m going to catch a boat down to Chaiten, which is a small town that was destroyed by a volcano last year, and has just recently begun to rebuild. After that I’m going to be going further south along the Austral highway, which will officially be Patagonia. I’m traveling without a Lonely Planet guide, which makes finding places a bit hard, but I’ve been able to find pretty nice/cheap places to stay and eat just by talking to people. It’s possible I’m missing out on some vital travel activities by not having the book, but that’s the price you pay for not planning ahead, I suppose.

I’ll update again when I can. Until then, ciao!

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