The desolate clowns of Chaitén
We were going hiking, that was the plan. The National park near the town of Chaitén was supposed to be gorgeous. The hikes beautiful. There was only one problem; we couldn’t do any day hikes there as there was only one bus a day to the park. We could go there, but we wouldn’t be able to return to the town on the same day. For multiday hikes we would need a tent, some sleeping bags wouldn’t be too bad either – but none of us had anything. Well, except for a tiny little gas stove, but gas stoves don’t really work well as shelters.
We could always – as the extremely helpful and cheerful guy (the cheerful part is also irony, just so you know) in the tourist information told us – just go and then go straight back again (wow, such a great idea, now why didn’t we think of that?), but that didn’t sound too tempting. So we decided to spend the day in town (not that we really had a choice, we barely got a ticket out of town for the next day).
There are a few things you should know about Chaitén. Firstly the town is tiny, there’s nothing going on there. People just pass through, either to travel on the Carretera Austral or to go hiking in the national parks nearby. Nobody knows how many people are left there, maybe five hundred, maybe a thousand. It’s pretty deserted (but still the empanada lady has good apple empanadas). Secondly, and more interestingly, half the town is in ruins after the Chaitén volcano erupted in 2008. The town was covered in ashes, and a few days later a flood, mixed with the ashes from the volcano eruption, destroyed everything on its way.
The ruins are still there we soon discovered. Houses half covered in ashes. An abandoned high school. An almost completely covered house far out on the beach. Now if that isn’t a perfect location for some “clowning”, I don’t know what is.
And who are these beautiful clowns you may ask. Meet Emma from Scotland and Rebecca from England. We’d been rafting together in Futaleufu, being on the first raft that flipped that season. We’d tried river kayaking together (on a lake), frustratingly practicing to roll the kayaks around (with some half luck), we could do some clown shooting together as well.
Being stuck in Chaitén ended up not being too bad after all.