Puerto Chacabuco, Chile: Finding Meaning in a Most Unusual Place
“There is absolutely nothing there!” Jo was laughing as I asked her about Puerto Chacabuco, our next port of call in Chilean Patagonia. As one of Seabourn’s Destination Services staffers, Jo was helping passengers book last-minute tours for this unplanned stop. With an instantly likeable smile and a twinkle in her eye, she continued to make her point. “There is a hotel. That is all. Unless you go on an excursion, you might as well stay on the ship.”
Puerto Chacabuco had been added to our itinerary after a medical emergency had forced the Quest to leave Antarctica two days ahead of schedule. Rounding Cape Horn was our first bonus day; this would be our second. It was a place I knew nothing about, but Jo’s determined stance intrigued me. I wanted to see for myself what a town with “nothing there” really looked like.
Herb and I planned our Puerto Chacabuco outing over breakfast with new friends Shelly and Chuck, who also favored a low-key day ashore rather than another jam-packed excursion. We decided we would walk the town’s streets, with no destination in mind except checking out the hotel Jo had told us about.
The four of us boarded the ship’s tender for the short ride to the port, surrounded by the mountainous and glacial beauty we had quickly come to embrace along the west coast of Patagonian Chile. Except for a few red-roofed buildings in the distance, the view was strictly scenic, untouched, undeveloped and unequivocally stunning.
Puerto Chacabuco became the main port of the Aisén Province in 1991, after ashes and erosion from a volcanic eruption impacted the navigability of the Aisén River, causing the port to be moved from its original location in the town of Port Aisén. A sign at the pier welcomes visitors to the “Gateway to the Chilean Patagonia.”
We followed the road to the red-roofed buildings, which turned out to be a small neighborhood overlooking a park and the harbor. Nearby stood the hotel we had wanted to find – the Loberias del Sur – cupola-topped with an arts-and-crafts style entrance that evokes the feeling of a lodge, the kind of place that fits in perfectly with its surroundings.
We returned to the main road, passing brightly-painted houses, a small church and a school. And then almost as quickly as we had started our walk, we reached the edge of town. A highway stretched out before us, with the next town 14 kilometers away.
We turned around and headed back toward the pier, taking the next street over from where we had begun. I was thinking about Jo’s words, admitting to myself that this was definitely more of a gateway town than a destination, when we happened upon a house that suddenly crystalized the meaning of the moment. Framing both sides of a weathered wooden door were delicate pink roses, turning a simple home into a striking statement. At first glance, Puerto Chacabuco might appear to be a town with “nothing there,” but for the people who call it home, it’s a place that has everything.
It’s easy to overlook the little things when traveling. We seek out the museums and the monuments and the mountains and rarely take time to slow down and look beyond the tourist attractions. We may not have visited one of the grand cities of Patagonia that day, but in a way, we discovered something far more significant: The humanity of people trying to make their world a little sweeter, a little more beautiful…like vines of roses around a front door.