Puerto Montt is a small town perched on a series of hills overlooking an interior bay. In the distance, on a clear day, you can see right across to the Andes on the other side. The Andes are the backbone of South America and they run right across this continent falling abruptly into the ocean at Tierra Del Fuego. The town of Puerto Montt has a busy port and bus terminal and is the main transport hub for the south. I must admit that when you first look at it, it does give the impression of being a little seedy and disreputable – like a wench or prostitute who looks at you alluringly but only wants to take your money. Most travelers heading south will end up in Puerto Montt at some point. Most will however, take one look at the aspect of this town, wince their eyes, crease their foreheads, and decide to head on. Those desperate for a rest will most probably stay at the more salubrious and ‘better eye candy’ looking Puerto Varas 20km away.
So what does Puerto Montt have to recommend it? Not much from a cursory glance – but once you stay here a while your eyes relax and you begin to notice that it is not so bad after all. There is a respectable shopping mall, a cinema and various other outlets. It even has a theatre, some half-decent coffee shops and a McDonalds. It has a lively fish market and an open air market that rings with the cacophony of medieval commerce. For most of its denizens it is home sweet home. Not many tourists come here. Those that stay beyond a couple of days, start seeing hints of pleasures that lurk in the shadows. Like a women you first see and are not attracted to, but after a day or two in her company, you start noticing the black lace underwear. For I admit there is something seedy about the place though I don’t quite know what. Perhaps it is the dodgy looking bars and pubs, or the rubbishy market stalls, or the garages, or the shops selling Chinese goods, or the fast food joints. Or maybe it’s the wild pariah dogs that roam the streets at night in packs of three looking for trouble and bitches on heat.
As I said not many foreigners venture here, and as such, I am a thing of curiosity attracting puzzled glances. The girls here seem to see deep mysteries in me that gives me a halo of the foreign and exotic! But now that I am leaving – it is a good feeling. Like escaping from Alcatraz. So I am looking forward to ‘escaping’ – I stare at my bus ticket, as if it is my passport out. Travel is strange. I remember longing to come here, jittery with excitement to get away from Santiago’s urban manic sprawl. And now I am jittery with excitement to be getting away.
Travel really is strange. It seems to me just a series of ‘longings’ attached to each other like beads on a string. One longing ‘bead’ followed by another longing ‘bead; followed by another – always wanting to be someplace else – someplace new, and then longing to get away from that ‘old’ place to someplace new. A series of jumps – and all places ultimately disappoint in some way or another. But it’s when we look back at a place, from someplace else, that we see it in under a kinder light.
Travel is strange.
My time here has been a wonderfully rewarding and rich experience. I have had the pleasure of making many Chilean friends and in the process have become a part of the ‘family’. Despite my chronic lack of Spanish – communication has been possible, and I know that over the course of the previous month – with my trips to the Campamentos and the numerous meetings and the parties and activities and everything else – I have struck a rich seam of experience. A rich seam that I will be mining for the rest of my life, when the memories have settled. Settled like dust.
Goodbye Puerto Montt.