Caleta Tortel


Caleta Tortel is a bayside village near the southern end of the Carretera Austral.  Settled in the 1950s to take advantage of abundant timber resources in the region, Tortel had been inaccessible by road until just 2003.  The hills that surround the pale green bay make for difficult construction so residents have had to be creative in their methods, employing a generous use of stilts and, most notably, building a series of cyprus walkways that serve as the city's streets.  Even the open spaces are constructed of wood: playgrounds and plazas are confined in small lumber gazebos that look as much like the bowels of a carrack as some simulacra of recreation in a stilted Patagonian hamlet.


Since being designated a National Monument in 2001, residents are prohibited from tampering with structures within 80m of the shoreline.  This prohibition covers the dozens of derelict boats that lie rotting like gutted whales in the sand under Tortel's boardwalks.  The rest of the town is similarly abandoned, as if constructed entirely of flotsam and jetsam washed ashore from ships lost somewhere out in the fog.  Binnacles and wheel barrows and small-block engines sit rusting about the village waiting for owners that will never return.  Tortel's crew of stray dogs, each with the salty scruff and raffish manner of a Nantucket seaman, slink through the marshy shore sniffing out bits of dried fish or edible garbage thrown overboard from the walkways above.  Cats pass through the dense brush dunnage between houses to mewl and protest the invasion of strangers.  The whole village seems some gray limbo where everything is orphaned to an eternity in the mist.

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