In May of 2008, as many readers know, the ashfall eruption of Chile’s Volcán Chaiten and subsequent flooding caused the evacuation of its namesake town and disrupted traffic along the Carretera Austral, the discontinuous southern highway linked to the “mainland” by ferry. According to the Santiago daily La Nación, the government has narrowed the choice for a re-sited Chaitén to Santa Bárbara (about 10 km northwest of the current site) and Bahía Pumalín (farther north, with a sheltered harbor but no infrastructure whatsoever at the moment). The latter is likely safer, but it’s uncertain how many chaiteninos will return to the area.
Chaitén presumably remains under evacuation orders, with the Carabineros police patrolling it to prevent looting, but Naviera Austral ferries from Puerto Montt, Hornopirén, and Quellón (on the Isla Grande of Chiloé) have resumed and, according to a Naviera Austral representative I spoke with this morning, the ferries are once again carrying foot passengers, in addition those with their own transportation, and it is once again possible to stay in Chaitén. Mario Urrutia of Sernatur's Puerto Montt office confirmed this, and also said it is once again possible to overnight in Chaitén, but they do not recommend it.
Meanwhile, Richard Figueroa of Sernatur's Futaleufú office tells me that Chaitén's Hotel Schilling and Cabañas Pudú, both along the waterfront road, are offering accommodations and that buses are meeting every ferry and can take passengers to the towns of Villa Santa Lucía and Palena. Anyone who wants to continue to Futaleufú, though, will have to hitch the last 48 km from the Puerto Ramírez junction. There are, however, bus services from Futaleufú south to Puerto Puyuhuapi and Coyhaique, but their northbound schedules are badly timed for ferry arrivals at Chaitén.
Another “casualty” of the eruption has been the ferry port of Caleta Gonzalo, the gateway to environmental philanthropist Doug Tompkins’s Parque Pumalín. In a telephone conversation from Pumalín’s administrative headquarters at Puerto Varas, Carolina Morgado told me there has been no damage to the facilities at Caleta Gonzalo (pictured here), but the road south to Chaitén is impassable for the time being, and thus Pumalín’s facilities - campgrounds, café, cabañas - are closed for this year.
Nevertheless, for those who can get to the region - either by the Carretera Austral or through Argentina - the whitewater Mecca of Futaleufú has mostly recovered from the ashfall it suffered during the eruption. According to Rosi Spelius of Futaleufú-based Expediciones Chile, everything in town has reopened and, if the water isn’t quite so clear as in previous years, the kayaking and rafting are as good as ever.