Visiting Caleta Tortel – Politics on Stilts

“You know he’s the Mayor, don’t you?” whispered my new friend/translator, Francis, across the table.
I was sitting in the living room of my hostel, the one I’d chosen just because it was the only one with wifi, watching the roly-poly Patagonian proprietor inspect some still thrashing Salmon whilst wearing a well-loved apron and what we in Britain call a Pork Pie hat.
“Really?” I returned quickly. I hadn’t picked that snippet up from the conversation – my Spanish not being quite up to snuff! He didn’t look like a Mayor. No gold chains or red velvet capes. But then, I suppose a Mayor would look and act differently in this neck of the woods than in my home town back in the rural English countryside.
Caleta Tortel is a sun-dappled, wave-lapped, balmy haven away from the rainy and still snowy parts of Patagonia I’d been working my way through before I arrived there. Its wooden walkways and houses on stilts were both picturesque and hugely functional. They clung to the rocks of the cove as if the sea, gentle though it was now, could snatch them away at any moment. People here are really isolated – tucked away in their own little world at the end of the Carreterra Austral. And thus, it made sense that the Mayor was a man who knitted his own socks, ran his own guesthouse, worked as a chef feeding both guests and neighbours and was a published poet. He had to be.
We sat down together to a lunch of freshly poached Salmon (yes, the one I’d seen flopping about earlier that day) and we discussed, using my pigeon Spanish, everything from politics and his upcoming mayoral elections to upbringing, farming and homemade booze. It’s not often you get the chance to interact with someone on this kind of level whilst travelling. The benefits of travelling both solo and outside the typical tourist season are to be thanked here along with my two new friends the Mayor of Caleta Tortel and Francis.
The elections were held the day after I left. I wonder if he won?

If you’re thinking about visiting, here are some key things to do:

* Wander the maze of board walks and get lost for a few hours.

* Sun yourself on the completely empty beach (Playa Ancha) at the furthest end of Caleta Tortel – keep walking, you’ll see it!
* Climb to the top of the big hill, sing the nursery rhyme “King of the Castle” and survey all…
* Take a good book, the wifi is really not very existent!
* When you are ready to move on, take the Ferry to Puerto Natales! Read more about that little adventure here… How To Travel Through The Patagonian Fjords
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If you’ve been inspired to go to Caleta Tortel let me know and I’ll give you all the advice and encouragement I can! As ever, feel free to leave your comments…

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