ICE AND MUD IN NO-MAN’S-LAND
Stephen Timm finds himself in South America, between two countries
At the end of one of the most remote highways in the world, in a no-man’s-land between Chile and Argentina, lies one of the world’s last great wildernesses. The only way to cross it is on foot or by bike.
That was perhaps why, like a growing number of travellers, I found myself on Chile’s Carretera Austral — a mostly gravel road that stretches over 1,200km between the southern port town of
Puerto Montt and the isolated hamlet of Villa O’higgins, where it dead-ends at the foot of the Southern Patagonian ice field. From there the only way to keep going south is by boat on Lago O’higgins and from there to hike or bike into Argentina.
Having come halfway down the highway from the city of Coyhaique I made the decision on a whim to head on to Argentina.
After a night’s stay at a local hostel (now one of several in Villa O’higgins since the road linking the small town opened just under 20 years ago), a van transported me and my fellow passengers to the port on Lago O’higgins, a few kilometres out of town. There we boarded a small launch.
As we sped across the clear blue water, with Argentina on the one side and Chile on the other, imagined what it would be like to be soaring high above this all.
I had contemplated the option of flying over the lake the previous night in Villa O’higgins. A pilot, I an Austrian-american who had moved to Chile for some peace and quiet, had been quite convincing. Accompanied by his 11-year-old daughter and armed with a laminated folder filled with aerial close-ups at his side, he promised to fly me from the local airstrip and over the great O’higgins glacier, which is steadily receding, and then to make a turn past the famous rocky peak of Fitz Roy.
It might be my last chance to glimpse the great glacier before it disappeared, he said. On a map I noticed a small landing strip alongside the same track I would be tramping down the following day. He could set me down there, I thought. But I stuck with the boat and walking.