The day went like this:
We caught a bus, our first vehicle, from Esquel at 8:00AM which then drive us to the border between Argentina & Chile. It did not cross the border, only dropped us off. Then we went into the miniature office to get our exit stamp from Argentina and had our backpacks scanned (for what, I do not know). The next step was to take a microbus , vehicle #2, to the Chilean Border Control; a much larger, more official looking building.
We unloaded from the microbus and entered into the building. Crossing an international border usually brings about a little anxiety from most people, but crossing into Chile has always been a little troublesome in our recent history. Regardless, after a declaration of what we were bringing in and a thorough check of our backpacks, we were allowed into the country on the regular 90-day tourist visitor. Yesah! After getting stamped, we hoped back on the microbus which then proceeded to drive us to the town of Futeleufu.
Anyone serious about whitewater rafting or kayaking should know or get to know this little town. It is the main hub for adventurers seeking thrills on the Class V river of the same name. Kayakers and rafters come from all over the world to surmount this beast of a river that even experts have trouble conquering. Our guide book mentioned that it would cost a minimum of $100 USD to do some rafting on the “futa,” but we needed to keep a move on.
We continued our journey by hitchhiking from Futeleufu to the Carretera Austral, otherwise known as Ruta 7. The Carretera is an adventure in and of itself. It connects Puerto Montt to Punto Arenas by road.
Even though Chile has been called “a hitchhiker’s paradise,” it turns out that hitchhiking from a town off the Carretera Austral in the south is quite a bit more difficult. After 2 hours of walking in the scorching sun (the sun is stronger in the southern hemisphere since there is a hole in the ozone down here), 3 American kayakers on their way to kayak another river in the area picked us up in vehicle #3 and drove us for about 10 minutes until they needed to turn onto a side road. Though it was just a short time, every little bit helps when hitchhiking. If we could get to the Carretera, we figured it would be much easier to hitchhike, but we had no idea how much further it was. With no other choice and without a map, we continued walking down the road that we were told leads to Ruta 7.
After about another hour of walking, a couple from Argentina picked us up (vehicle #4) in Chile. They themselves were on a vacation and despite not knowing the area, were still nice enough to drive us to a little town called Puerto Ramierez where they needed to turn south to head towards Palena. We needed to continue West so we walked for another 30-40 minutes with our thumps out before a family of Chilean farmers gave us a ride (vehicle #5). They drove us the short distance until their farm and invited us to dinner, but we had to keep a move on.
The family pointed us in the right direction again and we walked on for another 30 minutes before a young family from Santiago gave us a ride in the back of their truck (vehicle #6). Since Anna had been waiting to ride in the back of a pickup (camioneta) all day, she was thrilled. During this ride, they drove us past the beautiful Lago Yelcho, which is the end for the “Futa.” After a brief stop at their vacation home, the kids, who were close to our age, spoke English, and were super nice (muy amable), then drove us another ten minutes to Villa Santa Lucia because they needed to get bread. Villa Santa Lucia is only a tiny village on the Carretera Austral, but we had finally made it.
Yet this was not the end of our journey that day. The book had warned us that it might be difficult to hitchhike on the Carretera because of infrequency of cars, but after the tiny back roads that we had just been on hitchhiking seemed so easy once we made it to the Highway of the South. We needed to only walk for about 20 minutes (through a construction site where traffic going one way needed to wait for the traffic going to opposite way) before we got picked up by vehicle #7. The gentleman in this car was on his way to work in his red company pickup truck packed full of construction materials. As he pulled along side us, he began to clean things off the passenger seat and move it into the already jam-pack rear seats.
“I only have one seat, but I am going to La Junta.”
That worked for us! This was our longest ride and also the most uncomfortable as I squished my lengthy body onto the passenger seat that was moved all the way forward and had Anna on my lap. By the time we got to La Junta, my legs had fallen asleep and my left hip, which was contorted the whole time, did not like it when I stood up. This was the end of our hitchhiking experience (for that day) as we had finally made it to our final destination of the day.
Tips for hitchhiking:
1. Have a final destination in mind
2. Hitchhike with a map – Sernatur gives out great regional maps at many tourist information centers
3. Hitchhike with at least one other person
4. It is much easier to hitchhike once you are on the main roads
5. You meet lots of people while hitchhiking so be ready to talk. Most will probably tell you something that you do not know, and if you are lucky, even offer you a meal.
Note: Hitchhiking is a common method of travel in southern Chile because of infrequency of buses to the remote towns in the South.