Carretera Austral Day Five….Villa O’Higgins to Caleta Tortel to Cochrane
Day five started early for us, since we had to reach the RÍo Bravo landing, three hours away, to take the morning barcaza back across to Puerto Yungay, and on to Caleta Tortel where we planned to have lunch.
Caleta Tortel is a small unique village perched on the shore of the RÍo Baker delta, between the Campo de Hielo Norte and Campo de Hielo Sur. Originally, and to a lesser degree today, the main activity in Tortel was capturing the huge Ciprés de Las Guaitecas logs harvested from the forests up-river and floated down to the sea, to be loaded onto ships that would take the logs south to Punta Arenas, Puerto Natales, and north to Puerto Montt.
What is so special about Tortel is that this town of about 500 inhabitants has no roads; transportation from the parking area above the town, and within the town, is entirely via wooden walkways made from the same sturdy, resistant ciprés.
In spite of the fact that rain was threatening by the time we began our trek down to and through Tortel, we walked the entire length and breadth of the town. We discovered the home of Berta Muñoz who prepared us a very tasty lunch of beef soup and boiled potatoes, with lettuce salad, served at a table in the front room of her modest but welcoming creaky wooden home overlooking the water.
Berta lives in Tortel year around, has a few rooms with a shared bathroom with posted instructions that belie the fragile state of Tortel’s hydrologics (“Throw all paper in the basket in the corner” and “showers may not be longer than 8 minutes!”), and offers meals to anyone who happens by. We were slightly tempted to stay with Berta that night, so we could really explore this fantastically unique town, but as was our habit by now, we pushed on.
On our way to Cochrane we stopped to visit the Mellizas falls, requiring negotiating with a local Shepard to open the gate for us.
We spent the night again in Cochrane at Maria’s hotel and enjoyed a steak dinner at Ada’s Café and Restaurant (and some more delicious Santa Carolina Cabernet sauvignon).