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Puerto Montt / Carretera Austral + North Dec 2019 - Situation

Posted: Fri Nov 08, 2019 2:37 am
by confusedtraveller

I have planned to come to Chile to do the south and north since August, I would appreciate it if the forumers / expats could give me some tips / perspective on the current situation now, and what you expect in the next month.

I also want to thank you for the interesting insights and perspectives of where Chile is and how Chile works - I have been reading the recent threads and got a lot out of this forum.

A bit about me: solo traveler, early 50s, from Canada, been to many places backpacking over the years around the world, not a stranger to South America, but it will be a first time in Chile. Probably the movie Cielo last year shot in the Atacama desert with the skies and Atacama Giant shots inspired me, though always wanted to see the wild ruggedness of the south since forever. Immersive traveler, curious about everything, like to hike, adventurous and not timid yet have judgement. Intermediate Spanish.

Specifics questions:
1. So what is the situation in Puerto Montt? I am still seeing disturbances on youtube from Nov 7. Original plan is that this will be my first stop right from Canada (after hours of flying) and where I pick up the car and likely to be very tired (aka most vulnerable).
2. What about along the way on the Carretera Austral? Original plan to get to Villa O'Higgins and then back, hiking in the rainforests, glaciers along the way. I have read about previous protests in Aysén something like 2012. Still additional specific grievances to vent along with the national discontent, or no worse than usual? CONAF parks seem to be operating - any reason to worry hiking alone?
3. Temuco. Originally on the return, planned to go to Temuco (probably along more foothill roads) to see Mapuche museum and read about some Mapuche restaurant before returning to Puerto Montt to drop car off. Still good idea given situation?
4. What about North? Idea was to fly from Puerto Montt to Antofagasta, then do the far north thing (San Pedro, Oficinas, Geoglyphs...) with rental car and then return to Angofagasta. Then bus it to La Serena and head into Elqui Valley with the telescopes and all that. I am aware of some protests, but seems like things are functioning reasonably. Further details?
5. Also, I have yet to book any internal flights / cars / hotels - was about to do that mid-Oct, and well.... I know I need to be even more flexible than usual, but any rules of thumb as to how far should I think about booking in advance that would be customary in Chile (prices, availability...)?

I know no one can predict the future precisely, but your insights and perspectives can help me figure out probabilities a bit better.

I have been watching 24horas .cl (and others) from here, and have seen the rather tone-deaf, belated responses and lacklustre public performance, so that, plus some of what I read here, is not giving me much of a warm and fuzzy by the time I would be there.

I am trying not to bail out just yet and am still trying to make this work, so any additional insights and perspective would help immensely!

Re: Puerto Montt / Carretera Austral + North Dec 2019 - Situation

Posted: Fri Nov 08, 2019 10:39 am
by admin
outside the urban areas, I would not expect much in terms of disruptions. perhaps the occasional cut of route 5 for various protests, just pay attention to the news and you should be fine.

Re: Puerto Montt / Carretera Austral + North Dec 2019 - Situation

Posted: Fri Nov 15, 2019 3:14 am
by confusedtraveller
Thanks very much for the advice.

I think I will head to Puerto Varas on the first night instead of Puerto Montt, and then make my way south down Carretera Austral and carry on from there. I am getting the impression that Puerto Montt is a more rough port town than I had expected, judging from the continuing incidents after the general strike on Tuesday I am reading in the Chilean news.

I am expecting this to be a "long strange trip". While I am not unfamiliar with going to places with all sorts of political tensions, and I have seen some protests, stone throwing and tear gas in South America, I haven't been to a place in the midst of a full-blown nationwide political crisis such as this, even if most of the places I intend to go to tend to be in wilderness / countryside areas which don't seem to be the main focus of the action (e.g., not countryside guerilla activity).

Hasta la llegada en Chile en apenas dos semanas.

Re: Puerto Montt / Carretera Austral + North Dec 2019 - Situation

Posted: Fri Nov 15, 2019 6:41 am
by vamoschile
I would agree with Admin you biggest disturbance will be the ruta 5 sur blockades where the protests might light tires/pallets on fire. If there is a blockade and they stop your car just dance with them so they will let you proceed. Depending how far south you go on the carretera austral if becomes very remote so just keep that in mind as you travel because I doubt emergency responders are quick to respond in the current conditions.

Re: Puerto Montt / Carretera Austral + North Dec 2019 - Situation

Posted: Fri Nov 15, 2019 7:17 am
by admin
all our contacts down in the patagonia are reporting nothing going on.

most of those towns they would have to include the sheep to have sufficient warm bodies to form a proper protest.

Re: Puerto Montt / Carretera Austral + North Dec 2019 - Situation

Posted: Fri Nov 15, 2019 7:19 am
by admin
puerto montt is a dump on a nice day. the protesters are just doing some remodeling to the downtown. It really was never much of a tourist attraction.

Re: Puerto Montt / Carretera Austral + North Dec 2019 - What I Saw

Posted: Wed Jan 08, 2020 1:43 am
by confusedtraveller
I traveled to Chile for 5 weeks and now back home. Fantastic trip, drove most of the Carretera Austral including branching to Futaleufú, then few north, hit pretty much all the spots from Antofagasta up and inland, and then a few days in Elqui Valley. 8000 km of driving, wished I had more time of course, but packed as much of Chile in as I could.

Other than shuttered banks and department stores downtown, small calm protests in Iquique including a brief burning barricade on the sea front road on Christmas night with a carabineros combat truck (maybe a water cannon one) standing there, and drove by a rather big 5 tire burning barricade in Puerto Montt not far from Walmart on Parque Industrial, and seeing burn marks on pavement outside of most cities, I didn't encounter anything. It was a period of calm as noted, but I can tell it isn't over.

Things functioned normally with little tension in the air (say at Santiago Airport), and in some of the places I've been, life went on seemingly completely oblivious to the Estallido Social. Saw a few political group discussions at that hotel with great pasta in Futaleufú, only met a few people such as a guy from Concepción on business in Ancud who expressed shock that this would happen in Chile, and on New Year's Eve a bunch of young Chilean friends were singing something about "pacos" while drinking merrily and watching the fireworks in Pisco Elqui, but that was it.

It is a stunningly beautiful country, interesting history and cultural mix with the Germanic-tinged south and the somewhat more Andean north.

Especially the first few days, I thought I stepped into some form of Canada in the spring - mix of sun and drizzle in Puerto Montt is just like Vancouver, west coast of Chiloé and mainland to Hornopirén like shores of St Lawrence in Québec, long days with slow sunsets, birds singing and flowers blooming under the graceful dome of Volcán Osorno as I hiked around there, dotted with quiet little towns. Now I understand why many of you are there.

Continuing down, there is the aptly-named Cerro Castillo, the Banff-like lake at the junction just north of Río Tranquilo with the snow-covered peaks and deep blue glacial waters, the confluence of the mighty Río Chacabuco and Baker with its surreal colours, an area with its drier climate reminding me of Colorado, to the friendly cove hamlet of Tortel where even the patrolling Carabineros were saying "hola" and smiling. The vast altiplanos with grazing vicuñas in the shadow of the volcanic peaks, the salares, the stars, the geoglyphs, the geysers were everything I expected in the north and more, with the bonus of stumbling into an Aymará gathering with beer-flowing and people coming from all around dancing on solstice, and the fascinating Chinchorro mummies, and Humberstone where I really started to understand what shaped Chile. And then there is New Age Star Valley Elqui, or at least most tourist-oriented businesses try hard to position themselves as such. But what was undoubtedly real are really fresh, ripe fruits and vegetables, and not only in the high-end places. This is exactly the Chile on the tourist brochures.

There seems to be a small town feel to the culture across Chile. Sure that I wasn't in Santiago, but what I am referring to is a sort of cultural mentality and ideal, and in that sense, Canada is similar (and I live in big cosmopolitan Toronto, but there still is a vague cultural mentality and ideal of a small town). It was also interesting to note that several Chileans I have talked to who have traveled outside of Chile commented that they spoke bad Spanish, that their society is too insular while at the same time Chileans have become more judgemental and competitive in ranking others by how much money they earn or things they have than in the past. I don't know how to put that in perspective because I have been there in too short a period of time, traveling as a foreign tourist moving quickly, and too limited a sample to know how pervasive that feeling is.

I found the prices to be high throughout. And I know that the average Joe can't be making that much money just by seeing the overstaffing at the shops, restaurants and offices, the numerous vendedores ambulantes, the fact that they have people sitting on the street to collect parking fees - all signs of a cheap labour economy. It seems there is almost a fixed pricing guide for restaurants regardless of quality - really great meals vs. crappy meals cost the same. There also seems to be a hustle work culture, the need to be seen as prompt, direct in their speech, more akin to North America, rather than a more leisurely interaction pace seen elsewhere in Latin America.

Would love to hear some perspectives from those of you who live there.

But this was what I saw, and I am glad I made the trip.

Re: Puerto Montt / Carretera Austral + North Dec 2019 - Situation

Posted: Wed Jan 08, 2020 8:04 am
by admin
pretty good summary all the way around.

By chance my wife andI are in Futa right now, and heading down the austral. kind of a working holiday as we stop to see various clients, and deal with various projects.

That "hustle" culture is fairly new, and is mostly in the urban and central region of Chile; although, it has been spreading. The patagonia (south of puerto montt), has managed to really hang on to the slow, small town feel.

There still is nothing going on down south as far as protests. Like I have told everyone, the protests were and are, generally in places most people would not want to go in the first place or were always rather sketchy (downtown Santiago, etc).

Re: Puerto Montt / Carretera Austral + North Dec 2019 - Situation

Posted: Fri Jan 10, 2020 12:51 pm
by Britkid
Confused traveller, that sounds like a pretty accurate description of Chile, I'm glad you had a cool trip.