[at-l] Hitchhiking, Chilean style
mfactor at gmail.com
Sat Jan 1 15:18:59 CST 2011
OK, so do hitches on another continent count? I have plenty of hitchhiking
stories (mostly good) on the AT, PCT, etc., but my favorite hitch was in
Chile where we got a ride that should have lasted hours but ended up lasting
days, with stops at hot springs, a town destroyed by a volcano just two
months earlier, and a ferry ride to the largest island off the coast of
It was April 2009 and I had been hitchhiking with Wim, a Dutch guy, for a
couple of weeks. Along the way, we met Angela and together we hitched and
bused to travel. At one point the three of us got a ride in truck with
Abdias, a young driver. With only three seats in the cab, Angela ended up
sitting on Wim's lap.
We were trying to get to Chaiten, a town that had almost been wiped off the
map by a lahar (volcanic mudslide) in the Spring of 2008 when a volcano that
had been dormant for 9000 years came back to life. The government completed
some reconstruction in the town in January of 2009 only to have another
lahar wipe out the town the town - again - in February. It was now two
months later, in April, and the government had given up and wanted to
abandon the town completely and relocate everybody to a town further up the
coast. The volcano was still active, spewing large amounts of ash into the
air and building yet another ash cone that could turn into another lahar
should more heavy rains come.
When we mentioned our destination to locals along the way, we kept hearing
that there were no buses, there were no places to stay, etc. The road was
open however and the ferry from there to a large island off the coast was
running so we were going to try to get as close as we could. Not only that,
as we got closer and closer, we kept hearing that there may be more services
available there then we were otherwise being led to believe.
So, here we were in the cab of a truck, getting bounced and jolted as our
driver navigated the unpaved Carratera Austral, the spectacular highway that
runs nearly 800 miles through Patagonia and southern Chile. After hours of
driving on this rough road, he dropped us in a town along our way. It's
here our paths were supposed to diverge. We said adios and never expected
to see our driver again. We checked into the only inn in town, explored the
town for a while (there wasn't much to see), and eventually were served
dinner at our inn.
We were surprised to see our driver come in. His plans had changed and he
now had deliveries to make in Chaiten the next day so was checking into the
same inn. Would we like to continue with him the next day? It was
extremely uncomfortable to fit the three of us in the cab of the truck but
it was hard to refuse such an offer. So, we agreed and as it turned out, he
was willing to let Angela sit in the back with the side door open as we
continued our trip the next day. She spent most of the time riding in the
back (her choice - we were willing to take turns) but when we got closer to
Chaiten, she had to move to the front so there wouldn't be any problems with
the soldiers who were now guarding the town.
As we got closer to Chaiten, we started seeing just a little bit of ash
covered ground, then hillsides devastated by heavy loads of ash or
pyroclastic flows, and finally we got to the actual town where the lahar had
plugged the river, jumped the banks, and inundated the majority of the
town. When the lahar stopped moving, houses were either pushed off their
foundations or filled with the cementlike combination of mud and ash.
We stopped to stretch our legs and wander the town a bit. Wim and Angela
stayed in the town center while I went with Abdias as he made his deliveries
to a couple of the small shops that were still struggling to make it in the
mostly abandoned town. I helped unload lots of soda and other goods.
With very few services left in town (no electricity, no schools, etc.) most
of the townspeople had also given up but there were maybe 60 people left who
didn't want to leave. They had to use generators for electricity. The town
was dark at night. Headlamps or flashlights were necessary to just walk
around. At night, it was obvious which houses were occupied and which
There were a couple of inns still being run on the hills surrounding the
town center. Our driver checked into the one that offered meals but they
had no more rooms. They could still offer us dinner however. So, we
checked into the other inn across town which didn't offer food and then
walked back to get our dinner.
It was eerie walking through the dark town, not being able to see any
landmarks. Back at the inn, we sat with the owner and her friends, eating
sopapillas as temblors shook the house. Moving around during the day, they
weren't nearly as obvious but sitting still, they were very obvious. Even
more so when they jolt you awake in the morning.
Abdias had wanted to get the ferry out of town the next day, but there was
no room for another truck so he was going to be stuck in town another day.
Wim, Angela, and I wanted to check out the hot springs that we had passed on
the way into town and since our driver was interested and had a day to kill,
he offered to drive us. He did let us pay for his entrance fee but that was
all. He wouldn't let us contribute to gas or pay for meals, etc.
We swam and lounged in the hot water, had lunch and then went in for another
dip. I had enough and Abdias had to get back to town so we left Wim and
Angela to hitch back on their own.
The ferry across to the island of Chiloe is expensive for a truck. So,
being an enterprising truck driver, Abdias had found a guy with a van that
wanted to get across, too. There were no formal facilities for this so they
found an embankment and after much trial and error, with pallets that really
shouldn't have supported the weight of the van, and angles that weren't
going to work, they managed to load the van into the truck. They would get
two vehicles across to Chiloe for the price of one. It was definitely worth
leaving the hot springs early just to see them load that van.
After they loaded the van, I stayed behind near the coast to watch the
spectacular sunset. A film crew was getting footage at the same place.
Then walked back to town for dinner at the same place, the only place to get
a meal. Wim and Angela hadn't shown up but I wasn't worried. There was an
inn near the hot springs if worst had come to worst. When I finished dinner
and got up to leave to walk back, my hosts wouldn't let me walk back alone,
across town - a lone gringa in the dark, etc. One of the other guests
volunteered to drive me back so I at least managed to tell him to relax and
enjoy the rest of his meal before taking me back.
I was sitting with the owner when Wim and Angela returned. The inn near the
hot springs was full but they had no problems getting a ride back to town.
The next day, we took the ferry across to Chiloe. There was a sense of
relief to be getting further from Chaiten which that morning was glowing red
in the ash cloud.
Once on the island, Wim and Angela stayed in the port town while I continued
with Abdias to the next town where after four days, I said goodbye to our
wonderful driver. It was just a few miles to town off the Pan American
Highway but it was dark so when I got into my next vehicle for a ride to
town, I didn't realized I had actually hitched a taxi (no charge!?!) to get
I continued to hitch a lot in Chile and Argentina, much of it alone, and for
the most part felt very safe.
More details from my journal at
Visit my Travels and Trails web site at:
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