The Magic of Caleta Tortel

Saturday, February 5th, 2011


Caleta Tortel is an astonishingly unique village at the end of the road in Southern Chile. A maze of boardwalks fill the void where in other towns one would find roads, sidewalks, alleys and boulevards.

There is no pavement in Caleta Tortel. Only wooden boardwalks. All the houses are wooden shacks built on stilts. All the furniture is made of local cypress wood.
The town is perched along the side of a cliff on the edge of the coast, it’s boardwalks like the canals of Venice, leading up, down, around and around. Wooden planks, some level and many involving dozens and dozens of stairs, link tiny wooden shacks.

These same planks for tiny ‘town squares’ and even a ‘town park’ where more planks have been used to build a teetor-tattor and wooden slide.

Caleta Tortel, as I said, is at the end of the road. It’s a long and winding few hours from the frontier town of Cochrane, following the Rio Baker as its mouth widens into the Pacific. Stunningly beautiful driving through rugged and lonely landscapes.

We parked in the town’s only parking lot, high above the houses, where we pulled our luggage out of the truck and began the hike to our inn. I pulled my bag up and down the stairs, it clinkedy-clinked against the wooded planks.

Rain was rolling in, so we hurried back into the forest, eventually making our way to the top level to find the suprisingly tasteful EntreHielos Lodge run by the stylish and enterprising Maria Paz Hargreaves. What a find!Entrehielos

We wandered the boardwalks just before dusk, climbing up and down the stairs. Kids were kicking a soccerball around a wooden platform. A band had just performed at the main plaza (wooden plaza) and was gingerly moving its instruments back down to the water so they could be loaded into an outboard and taken to the next outpost.
The mint-green ocean drops off quickly here into a drastic and intense landscape of fjords, thick forests and icefields. Head down to one of the many docks to hop in a boat to explore the glaciers in the area.

The issues here are complicated, as the town moves from lumber towards tourism, and wrestles with issues like fresh water supply, waste management and electrical power.

This is without a doubt one of the most magical, distinct, one of a kind and charming villages in South America.

While my true image of Patagonia remains the windswept empty plains of the eastern slopes and not the rainy forests of the southern Pacific Coast, this extremely isolated and character-rich village at the end of the world sums up what draws so many of us to Patagonia. It’s truly magical.


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