Caleta Tortel, Villa O’Higgins, and Crossing The Border

So we caught our first bus in over a month. Hitchhiking was completely out of the question, and we didn’t want to miss our only chance out of Puerto Rio Tranquilo. We boarded the bus and had seats on the left, which meant we were going to have an amazing view of the lake for the duration of the ride.

Our first view of Caleta Tortel, Chile!

Our first view of Caleta Tortel, Chile!

A nice pano of the village.

A nice pano of the village.

{Traveler’s Tip.. Sit on the left!! You drive along the lake basically the entire way, and it’s gorgeous!!}

Relaxing as we took the day walking around all the different walkways.

Relaxing as we took the day walking around all the different walkways.

Found a crazy vertebrae from some sea creature in Caleta Tortel.

Found a crazy vertebrae from some sea creature in Caleta Tortel.

Some amazing views in this port town.

Some amazing views in this port town.

The whole ride, we couldn’t stop staring out the window at the aqua blue water and beautiful mountains. Before we knew it, we were in Cochrane and needed to figure out how to catch the next bus to Caleta Tortel. We found a darling little coffee shop that sold tickets and had wifi, so we hung out there for a couple hours waiting for the next “bus”. This bus was actually just an oversized van that we squeezed in with six young college students leading us to have great Spanglish conversations. Finding a place to sleep in Caleta Tortel proved to be harder than expected, but we eventually found a cute little hospedaje. We had our own private room with a private bathroom and a nice breakfast from the family. They had just built their house and were trying to make it into a hostel type accommodation, and we were their guinea pigs.

Down on the cypress walk ways in Caleta Tortel, Chile.

Down on the cypress walk ways in Caleta Tortel, Chile.

So pretty when you look back onto Caleta Tortel.

So pretty when you look back onto Caleta Tortel.

Again looking back at Caleta Tortel.

Again looking back at Caleta Tortel.

We spent two nights in this nice quaint town located in a small port. There is only one road that leads to the town, and no streets within in the town itself. Anywhere you want to go in this town must be done on foot, and requires lots of walking up and down stairs! In fact, the beautiful Cypress wood walkways are what Caleta Tortel is famous for. The walkways combined make up several kilometers of boardwalks that wrap around the shoreline of the town going up and down and in and out of each house and shop.

The beautiful board walks in Caleta Tortel.

The beautiful board walks in Caleta Tortel.

A boat waiting for some repairs in Caleta Tortel.

A boat waiting for some repairs in Caleta Tortel.

For the three days we were in town we, walked around to explore, relaxed while reading books, and Jason found a new hobby… whittling. We were planning on staying in the town for a total of three nights and catch the Monday morning bus out to our next location, Villa O’Higgins, but quickly found out that only one company operated buses out of the town twice a week: Saturdays and Tuesdays. Due to the border crossing in Villa O’Higgins, we had to catch the Saturday bus out of town. Luckily, the bus turned out to be a first come first serve basis for seats and we were able to land two seats to the end of the Carretera Austral.

Villa O'Higgins, Chile! The end of the Carretera Austral!

Villa O’Higgins, Chile! The end of the Carretera Austral!

Getting to Villa O’Higgins was quite the treat; we ended up getting into our first car accident!! The bus that we were in was going a little too fast down and around a blind corner and all the while there was a truck coming from the opposite direction going a little too fast up and around the corner. In the blink of an eye, we had swerved barely missing the truck by no more than an inch or two, fished tailed, over corrected the car in the nick of time to make us not fall down a cliff, then hit a huge rock that made us catch some air. Upon landing, we hit another rock causing the front tire to pop and have a bent rim, and then rolled to a stop. The damage: a van of startled passengers, a young family with a 4 month old who were very shaken-up, a screaming baby, a broken brake line, a front right tire popped, a bent rim, and a little front panel damage. Thank God that He was looking after all of us, because that could have easily been a fatal day for everyone in that van, had we gone down the cliff into the lake just on the other side of the road.

This is where the accident in Patagonia took place!

This is where the accident in Patagonia took place and caught some air. You can see a small dark spot on the right near the rock where the van left the ground and the other dark spot next to the green plants where it landed. 

We were literally 20 minutes outside of Villa O’Higgins when this accident occurred. So after this had happened, the driver called in another van and it was there in no time. When we had arrived, we got word that the ferry had just left that morning and that there wouldn’t be another boat going out till Wednesday. So we were stuck in Villa O’Higgins for at least four nights.

Lago O'Higgins in Villa O'Higgins, Chile.

Lago O’Higgins in Villa O’Higgins, Chile.

{Traveler’s Tip.. when going to Villa O’Higgins to do this border crossing, make sure you have extra cash on you, as well as extra food. We would also recommend doing this border crossing during high season only, so you don’t run into some of the same problems we did.}

It was so windy at the top of this hike. But it was so much fun and beautiful.

It was so windy at the top of this hike. But it was so much fun and beautiful.

The local fast food in Villa O'Higgins, Chile.

The local fast food in Villa O’Higgins, Chile.

There was a group of people that we had met on the bus ride so we all joined forces and ended up finding the best hostel in town. Another guy showed up on bike and joined our epic team. After Monday had come and gone, there seemed to be a core group of 8 people: Maarten, Martin, Ga Bi, Bouka, Sarah, the baby, and the two of us. We found out that the weather was too bad for the ferry to be taking off on Wednesday, so they cancelled the boat’s departure. (Keep in mind they cancelled it two days before, and the weather was so nice on Wednesday, so we think it was all just because they didn’t want to go). We were stuck in this little village with no ATMs and very few places that accepted credit cards for who knows how much longer. We were getting a bit worried, as the baby was quickly running out of formula, and we were all running out of money. Luckily, by Wednesday they “guaranteed” that a boat would be departing on Friday for the border crossing.

Our lovely family we made while staying in Villa O'Higgins, Chile.

Our lovely family we made while staying in Villa O’Higgins, Chile.

We all did a hike together as well.

We all did a hike together as well.

{Traveler’s Tip… When staying in Villa O’Higgins stay at Hostel El Mosco!! It’s an amazing hostel that you can camp at for 5,000 CHP while still using the kitchen and showers, or you can stay inside for 9,000 CHP. The owners are super nice and friendly, and the kitchen/common area are extremely clean and first class!!!}

This was our hostel we got to know all too well!

This was our hostel we got to know all too well!

IMG_5773

The most spectacular breakfast ever, made by our friend Maarten from the Netherlands!

Our time in Villa O’Higgins consisted of really getting to know one another, playing a lot of cards, drinking boxed wine, eating a lot of chocolate and cheese, making pancakes, sleeping in really late, staying indoors a lot because of how bad the weather was, and doing two hikes within the town. Once we had gotten the news that Friday was the day to get out, everyone couldn’t have been any happier. We literally had a little celebration party because of the good news. We had been in this town for six whole days that had literally no activities and the smallest variety in food imaginable: and we were getting outta there!

Fin del Cerratera Austral!!!

Fin del Camino Cerratera Austral!!! End of the Cerratera Austral Road.

The day finally arrived!!! We were going into Argentina once again. It was the morning of departure, so we quickly broke down our tent, packed our stuff, made breakfast, and got onto the shuttle to the ferry, which was 7km ride down the road. We finally made it to the end of the Carretera Austral! From there, we were told it would be a 2 hour ferry ride, half marathon hike (22 kms) which was supposedly possible to hire horses for, a 45 minute ferry ride, and then we would be in El Chalten!

We were so happy to finally be on a boat leaving Villa O'Higgins.

Maarten and I celebrate because we were finally leaving Villa O’Higgins.

We were so happy to finally be on a boat leaving Villa O'Higgins.

We were so happy to finally be on a boat leaving Villa O’Higgins.

{Traveler’s Tip.. Be sure to have food, shelter, and something to keep you warm if you plan on doing the ferry/trek/ferry exchange across the border!! And bring extra money for a ride into El Chalten!}

The views were spectacular!

The views were spectacular!

God is so good!

God is so good!

Just breathtaking!

Just breathtaking!

The water produces such an amazing color due to the way the glaciers cut through the land!

The water produces such an amazing color due to the way the glaciers cut through the land!

Heading for Argentina!

Heading for Argentina!

When we left, we had a good idea of the timeline and the services that were to be provided to us on the half marathon hike. We knew that there was one car or some horses that shuttle people to the end of the trail for a small fee. So the plan was for Maarten to ride his bike, for Sarah and Bouka to take a car/horse ride with some of the heavier gear and the baby, and for the rest of us to hike. If there were going to be any hassles or problems in the midst of our border crossing, we were prepared because we have all the necessary gear and food to be fine if we were going to miss ferry number two at 5 o’clock, it was our friends we were worried about.

We made it to the Chilean Border Control.

We made it to the Chilean Border Control.

So, the eight of us and about 50 other people arrived at the Chilean customs office at 12pm while expecting horses or a car to be waiting for all of us to get a ride. But, it didn’t appear that the horses were there and the guy who supposedly had the only car around was way out in the woods working on something.

Ferry boat #1.

Ferry boat #1

Long story short, the man never showed up and by the time we all decided we needed to figure out another option of getting to the dock it was nearly 1:30, just 3.5 hours till the departure. In a moment’s time, we convinced the Carabaneros (Chilean police) that the women and baby should catch a ride on their quads while the guys hike 13.1 miles as fast as they could to the dock. We loaded the girls’ backpacks with all the heavy stuff and said our sweet goodbyes not knowing when we would see each other again. The guys took off and just hoped that they would all meet up with the girls at the same time at the end of the trail.

Sometimes when you are put into a situation and there is no option for failure, there is only one option: success. That was this situation to a T. We had a limited amount of formula for the baby, only our tent and hammock for places to sleep, and the limited amount of food that we brought that everyone would have to share if we did not make the ferry. There was simply no room for believing that the 8 of us would not make that ferry at five, and that gave us the strength to meet this improbably task of hiking a half marathon in just 3.5 hours.

The Fitz Roy Mountain range in Argentina, that was our destination!

The Fitz Roy Mountain range in Argentina, that was our destination!

As the guys take off, they don’t waste any time with getting up to speed. They set a fast, blistering pace and kept it the whole time regardless of hill, mountain, flat, or down, they never once faltered. In the first hour, they covered 9kms (5.5 miles). In essence, they were almost running and it wasn’t just an easy jog, it was difficult brisk walks up hill, speedy down hill running, and quick turnover on the flats. Few words were exchanged, many sweat drops fell, few sights were enjoyed, but we were on a mission—catch that 5pm departure.

Chilean Side

Chilean Side

Argentina Side

Argentina Side

The guys left well before the girls and ended up making it 5kms (3.1miles) up the road before the girls past on the quads. They made it to the end of the road and came to the trailhead that was right on the Chile/Argentina border. The girls had only arrived 45 minutes before the guys. But the trail that was ahead was a difficult one. It was 6kms (3.7 miles) with large roots, narrow paths, steep slants, large mud-holes, and an uncountable amount of streams to cross. This needed to be done all with a baby, backpacks, and a stroller. Luckily for the girls, the guys caught up to them only about a kilometer into the trail. At this point, it was a quarter after four and we needed to still go three miles down this crazy trail.

This sign never looked so good. We were exhausted, yet we still had a deadline and a few miles to go before any celebration could be had.

This sign never looked so good. We were exhausted, yet we still had a deadline and a few miles to go before any celebration could be had.

What happened next was a demonstration of sheer willpower, Godlike abilities, and not allowing for defeat! Jason and Martin caught up with the girls first, said hello and with no second thought took extra backpacks and the baby stroller off the hands of the women. If everyone hiked down together no one would have had the chance at making it to the ship. So the guys decided to make an attempt at getting down to the dock on time to possibly persuade/bribe the captain to postpone the departure if need be.

At first Jason ran with the collapsed baby stroller on his head until it became too uncomfortable and straining, then he opened it up and began to go 4X4’ing baby stroller style. The entire time down towards the dock, Jason and Martin were running. They knew that it is going to be unbelievably close to the deadline. After it seemed like no more streams and mud would be present, a huge swamp appeared, and instead of investigating the driest cleanest route through, the guys just ran through it! Muddy and dirty, who cares, they had a ferry with our names on it, and it was leaving with or without the group. It was now 10 till 5 and we finally got our first glimpse of the lake and dock with the ferry patiently waiting. We knew we had to go all out, push through the pain, and get there on time: it was go time.

Jason and Martin totally forgot about going through Argentinean customs before entering the boat. Moment of truth, they made it to the border control just a minute before 5, went through as quickly as possible and rushed onto the boat. They had kindly requested that the boat wait no more than 30 more minutes for the rest of the group to board, strongly emphasizing that there was four-month-old baby being packed on the trail. The ship captain kindly obliged! WE MADE IT!!! What a relief.

At last we were on the Argentina boat headed for El Chalten.

At last we were on the Argentina boat headed for El Chalten.

As the ship took off, we all had a sense of peace and calm. We couldn’t believe that we made it on-time with the amount of factors going against us. We were praying during this whole process and man, the Lord came through for us. He truly knows our limits and would never put us through anything He knows that we wouldn’t be able to handle and He did just that. Jason was pushed to his limit and wouldn’t change the situation for anything in the world. He saw first hand how the Lord challenged, tested, and in the end, came through! Glory be unto Him!

Unfortunately, this would be the best view we would have of this magnificent mountain range. One day, we will return!

Unfortunately, this would be the best view we would have of this magnificent mountain range. One day, we will return!

Once we landed on the other side of the lake 45 minutes later, we had no idea how we were all going to be getting into El Chalten. It would be an additional 45-minute car ride on a dirt ride to town. We all walked up to a small campground nearby and discovered that we could hire a minivan to transport us all. The man was charging 25 dollars or 250 pesos to get into town. (Which was a completely outrageous price, but when you’re the only one out there I guess you can charge that much.) Heather decided that we should go check our options elsewhere. So we left the main group in search of a cheaper way to get into town. Just as we walked out the gate, there was a guy walking up to his car and Heather asked where he was going. The man replied, “El Chalten. If you want a ride, I’ll pick you both up in 10 minutes. I want to take a picture of the lake before I leave.” Again, only the Lord could have made this possible in the most random spot to be!

This was the most delicious steak we have ever had!

This was the most delicious steak we have ever had!

After getting up at 6am, catching a bus at 7am, getting onto ferry #1 at 8am and traveling for a few hours, arriving at the other side at 11:30am, going through Chilean customs and debating on how to get to the next ferry, we left at 1:30 to hike/quad to Argentinean customs, get on ferry #2 at 5:45, get a random ride into El Chalten at 7:30, setting up camp at 9pm, then finishing our day off with an amazing steak and potato dinner with a beautiful dark beer at 11pm. This day was filled with every type of emotion and feeling imaginable. It was some of the worst days/weeks, yet probably some of the best days/weeks we have had on our trip.

What a crazy adventure to go on to meet great people and make life-long friends. Remember the cyclist Maarten that we met at the hostel when we got stuck in Villa O’Higgins? Well, he is flying over to the states next week and joining us on a month long cycling trip down the Pacific Coast Highway starting August 3rd!! And Ga Bi and Martin from Germany are already looking forward to meeting up with us when we move to Scotland in December. Friends like these make journeys like the one we just wrote about totally worth it!!

GET OUR MONTHLY(ish) NEWSLETTER
Become a part of the ArboursAbroad Family! Receive our newsletter along with freebies (like our budget guide) straight to your inbox!
Here's where we tell you your email address will not be sold or shared with anyone else... but seriously, who does that anyways? Don't worry about a thing 🙂

2 thoughts on “Caleta Tortel, Villa O’Higgins, and Crossing The Border

Leave a Reply

%d bloggers like this: