Stories from South America: Coyhaique

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We woke up at 3am, grabbed our bags, and headed down to the apartment lobby to wait for our shuttle. We’d been down there for about 2 minutes before a group of drunk 20somethings sat beside us to ask us questions and invite us up to the 17th floor for a party, which we respectfully declined, when our shuttle arrived.

40 minutes in a shuttle. 1 hour in an airport. Starbucks, ghetto airport security, sunrise flights, and we were off to Puerto Montt and Balmaceda. During the first leg of the flight I sat by a man named Manuel, who spoke enough English for us to talk about Santiago, Coyhaique, and the hundreds of pictures he showed me. The second leg was far more entertaining, as I sat next to 8 year old Andres, who taught me Chilean rock paper scissors, beat me in glow hockey and tick tack toe, and patiently spoke with me in my broken Spanish for the full hour flight.

Then, finally, we arrived to the Balmaceda airport, complete with one terminal and two gates. I repeat, two gates.. Finally I’ve encountered an airport to rival McGhee Tyson Knoxville. We snagged a shuttle ticket, and within minutes were driving through the Chilean countryside to Coyhaique.

I booked the hostel that last year’s group stayed in, and received the confirmation one month prior.. but when we arrived, the driver hesitantly pulled away and we were greeted by large metal doors painted with bright blue ink and graffiti. A large man in a ratty t-shirt opened the door and asked if we had reservations, informing us that the hostel permanently closed two days prior. He gave us a key and said we could stay for discounted rate, but he would happily drive us around to find a new location. With this lovely introduction to Coyhaique, we took our key and made our way to the plaza to buy warmer scarves and hats, book a tour of the Marble Chapels, and find a nice (open) hostel.

At about noon we were talking to some women who had made hats, and a large siren began to blare, soon covered by out of tune and out of time church bells. We asked the women what was going on, and came to find out that this happens every single day at 12 noon: the siren of a tornado warning and clashing catholic church bells.

We were still homeless at this point, and then a MIRACLE occurred. We booked a boat tour, walked up the street, and found a hostel with four beds left. It had towels, heavenly blankets, and the nicest owner I’ve ever met, so after writing an apologetic letter to Sergio the man in the ratty tshirt, we grabbed our bags and moved into El Nevado.

FRIDAY

The following morning we woke up early to grab breakfast from our lovely hostel owner and meet the shuttle for the marble caves: 5 hours down the road. We drove and drove and stopped for a quick view in Cerro Castillo national park, then continued to drive and drive through the rain and road construction. The drive was beautiful, but boy was it long. We finally arrived to Puerto Rio Tranquillo, where we jumped out of the van, grabbed life vests, and waited for our boat. Upon determining we were about to eat lunch, a small kitten made her way to us, and jumped on our laps as we tried to keep peanut butter safely out of her reach. This battle raged for a while, until the boat driver motioned for us to come down for our 45 minute ride through the caves.

They were small, but they were beautiful. The water was a stark aquamarine, clear and stretching on for miles. We rode through the spray into the caverns beneath large rocks, colored in stripes and smoothed off with small dents. There were so many Chileans with us, it was clear that the marble caves are something that people desperately want to see. So after our brief time on the water, we hopped back into our shuttle and continued the 5 hours back into Coyhaique.

SATURDAY

Saturday was a day of unknowns. We did some googling and found a kayak company, so early in the morning we found a taxi in the deserted streets of Coyhaique and we took it to a random lodge down the road. We walked in and asked a man where the company owner was, and eventually the manager of the lodge came to see what we were doing. He told us the owner was out of town, but he called anyway, arranged for another company to meet with us, and asked two of his cooks to drive us back into town. Chilean hospitality can be so overwhelming at times! They were fantastic, and the men dropped us in the plaza right in view of a majestic rainbow.

We had several hours to kill, so we made our way to Café Mayo, where we enjoyed coffee and time to sit and read and recap. After several hours there we migrated to our hostel for lunch, then to the plaza to meet a tour guide who told us it was too windy to kayak. So he suggested we hike in the area, and pointed out a taxi for us to take.

Within ten minutes we were dropped off at Reserva Nacional de Coyhaique and handed a trail map. We arranged for the driver to pick us up in three hours, so we headed off into the woods. Roads, sticks, “casa Bruja”, and dark clouds filled our journey until we broke through the trees (kind of) at Lago Verde. We decided to take the trail around the lake, which led us into the thickest, darkest woods I’ve ever encountered. This meant one thing: make a snapchat horror film. Lindsay added ten to fifteen videos to her snap story of us doing creepy things in the dark woods until we finally made it out into the sunlight and back to our path. The views of Coyhaique were beautiful, and the trail was leisurely and peaceful. We beat our taxi driver to the beginning, and after about an hour of waiting we met him up and found dinner near the plaza.

One of the great things about the plaza is the street vendors. We met a man making jewelry who crafted treble clef earrings for me right before my eyes. His name was Stefan, and we watched in awe as he made copper rings and bracelets there on the street. When we left Stefan, we sat in the plaza for a great portion of the evening taking pictures of the children running in circles and riding their little cars. The lighting was perfect, and the children were everywhere. One toddler waddled up to us as his parents instructed him to greet us with a kiss. He was made for the camera, that’s for sure.

Eventually we made it back to our hostel for our final night in Coyhaique, filled with hot chocolate and our leftover snacks.

SUNDAY

Sunday we wandered around for one final time before our shuttle picked us up and took us to the airport for Santiago. This weekend was one of adventure, unknowns, and adorable children. So basically it was fantastic.

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