12th December 2003
Coyhaique lies within a valley at the confluence of Río Simpson and Río Coyhaique, with Cerro Macay in the distance. It was just a twenty minute drive from Camping San Sebastian and we were looking forward to a campsite or hostal with hot showers - the campsite last night had showers but they were glacial cold!
Used to the standard Latin American grid system in most of the towns we had visited thusfar, it was a bit disorientating when we arrived at the pentagonal Plaza de Armas with 10 streets radiating off the main square. The street pattern becomes the more conventional grid about a block out which makes navigation a bit easier again. We found somewhere to park and then headed into the centre to drop off our laundry and get some more information about the drive south of Coyhaique to Villa O'Higgins.
We stopped at the tourist office who were incredibly friendly, and tried to answer our questions about driving along the Carretera Austral, ferry services and crossing the border into Argentina. They confirmed that we were unable to cross the border at Villa O'Higgins and that our planned route across Paso Rabollos would be the most scenic, although they were unsure as to whether there was customs and immigration at that crossing due to its remoteness. We then headed to one of the travel agencies, Patagonia Adventure Expeditions, to see if they could clarify the situation regarding Paso Rabollos and confirm driving requirements for Argentina (our guidebook said amongst other things that we needed to have a rigid tow bar in our vehicle and would be fined if the police found we did not have one). They were really helpful but seemed to think that there was no customs office at the Paso Rabollos crossing we were intending to use and we would therefore not be able to get our Carnet stamped. It looked like we would just have to chance our luck.
After some lunch at Cafe Ricer, just off the Plaza de Armas we had a wander around and popped into an Internet cafe to catch up on emails and update the website before heading out of town. We had decided to stay at the Albergue Los Salamandras in a wood about 2km south of town on the road to the old airport. The track up to it is very steep and there was not much chance of camping from the landy as the car park was beneath the main lodge and the campsites in the woods up above. So we parked the car and decided to stay in one of the rooms - it was only a bit more than camping and we would have a proper bed (6,000 Pesos/£6 per person including breakfast versus 3,000 Pesos for camping).
We can really recommend the hostal. There is a great wood burning stove, kitchen use and a comfortable TV loft with lots of cushions. The dorms/rooms also have heating and electrical sockets. The hostal is really friendly and the lady that runs it is very knowledgeable about the whole area and had many suggestions about lesser-known places to visit.
Whilst we cooked up our dinner later that night we met a Belgian couple
who have taken a year off from work and have been travelling around South
America. They explained that in Belgium you can take a year off every
three years and return to the same job. But you can only do it three times
in your working career. It is just a case of being able to afford it.