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Sailing up the coast

Tuesday, November 29th 2005

The boat north was supposed to be going at 11pm but when I bought a ticket I found out it was running late and would not be leaving until 3am. I had many hours to kill but luckily Carlito, the owner of the place I was staying, said I could wait in the hotel even though I wasn't paying for an extra night. He was waiting up for the ferry as well, as his daughter was on board, and I spent a lot of the evening trying to improve my Spanish by talking to him. He turned out to be an ardent Pinochet supporter, and was quite aggrieved that after years of legal wranglings, the ex-dictator had just been stripped of his immunity from prosecution and put under house arrest.

Carlito's view was that the general was 90 years old and should be enjoying a quiet life instead of facing jail, and that although lots of bad things happened during the dictatorship, the responsibility for them lay not with Pinochet but with other senior government people. Carlito was not just a fan, he'd actually met Pinochet on several occasions and had had dinner with him when he visited Chaitén. "A lovely man", he said earnestly. He asked me what I thought, and I tried to explain my feelings on the situation while avoiding getting kicked out and having to spend the small hours on the streets. In the end my Spanish wasn't really up to making complex political arguments, and we talked of simpler things until 2.30am. Then he drove me to the ferry terminal and I got on the boat, looking forward to a long journey up the Pacific coast.

We pulled out into the ocean at about 4am, and I watched the lights recede until we were in inky blackness, then slept uncomfortably on a reclining chair. I had wanted to get up and watch the sunrise, but in the end I slept through it and by the time I awoke it was broad daylight. A small serving hatch opened and I got a slightly oily-tasting coffee and a sandwich, and went up on deck to watch the mountains on the shore slowly drift by. We were sailing through the straits between the island of Chiloé and the mainland, and the waters were calm. I found a ladder up to the top of the boat, which had a sign saying 'crew only', but two old men climbed up it and told me no-one would mind, so I went up as well and enjoyed the panoramic views of islands and boats dotted across the sea.

We arrived at Puerto Montt at 3.30pm, almost seven hours late, and I hurried to the bus station to get a bus to Pucón, a couple of hours further north and situated at the base of the constantly erupting Volcán Villarrica. I got there at about 11pm, checked into a hostel and headed straight for the shower, finally getting out of my shoes which were still damp from Pumalín.

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