Interview With Nicholas Gill: Life in Chaitén, Chile, a Year After the Eruption

Travel Interviews: Michael Yessis talks to the Frommer's Chile contributor about Chaitén's fate

05.29.09 | 10:43 AM ET

Photo by Nicholas Gill

In May 2008, for the first time in almost 10,000 years, the Chaitén volcano erupted. The nearby town of Chaitén—a tourism hot spot on the coast of Chile’s Northern Patagonia—was pummeled with ash, turning it into what Nicholas Gill describes as “a modern day ghost town.”

Gill writes about Chile for Frommer’s. During a recent visit to Chaitén, he captured the destruction in a series of photos. We’ve posted a selection as a sildeshow. To find out more about the once-hopping town of Chaitén and its fate, I asked him a few questions via email. 

World Hum: What’s the current status of Chaitén?

Gill: The town is officially under red alert and supposed to be evacuated, but about 50 or so people who have lived there for most of their lives refuse to leave. The government has compensated (meagerly) all residents and is likely going to relocate the town about 10 km to the north.

What’s it like to walk around Chaitén these days?

It is a little haunting. It seems sort of post-apocalyptic or maybe like Pompeii. It is a modern town just covered in layers of dust. In parts roads are collapsed and houses are moved off their hinges, but in other parts the town looks exactly the same—except for a little bit of ash and a lack of people.

How has this affected travelers and your work on the Frommer’s Chile guide?

Well, Chaitén used to be a major jumping off point for Northern Patagonia. Ferries from Puerto Montt and Chiloé used to run here regularly (they still are running on a less frequent basis) and the main office and access points for the incredible Parque Pumalín were here. There were a dozen hotels and restaurants and even a small airport. Info on these facilities took up quite a few pages in the guide. We had to delete quite a bit of the section (to be made up elsewhere in the chapter), but Chaitén is still a significant place on the map.

Frommer’s updates its guides at least once every two years—more than any other publisher that I know of—but you cannot write about what no one knows. I tell readers about some of the likely changes that might occur and urge them to check up on the latest details before heading there. In general, this is probably a good idea with guidebooks as things always tend to change. If you are depending solely on a guidebook to get around, there are bound to be problems. A guidebook should give you an idea of a place and how to get around, but by no means be your only source of information.

Thanks, Nicholas.