The Lake Region (Chile and Argentina)
Trip Start Jan 18, 2005
20Trip End Jul 05, 2005
Well, it IS a wonderful place!
Valdivia is a lovely riverside town on the Chilean side of the Lake
Region. The most famous thing there is the fish market right on the river with
huge sea lions lying about, waiting for scraps. The sea isnīt far, but the
river dominates: a nice place to walk and watch the rowers from the university
Pucon is THE Chilean town in the area. A bit brash and FULL of
tourists, it was the hardest place to find a room in this busy season. We stayed at
Hostal Backpackers Pucon, which I canīt recommend for the noise, and it is hot
(and you canīt open the windows at night). But--amazing!--discovered Manuela
and Chris in the same accomodation! (Itīs getting suspiciously weird, eh!)
Had dinner with them several times in Pucon. Thereīs a nice FREEZING
(Canadian-cold!) lake to lose the boys in, if you get my drift.
The best part of Pucon, and one of the highlights of the entire trip,
was our ascent of Villarica Volcano, which can be seen from anywhere in
town, belching out smoke--and at night lighting up the sky in orange! (No kidding.) The
chairlift was closed due to wind, so it added another 1-1/2 hours to the climb
Most of it was in snow though (with some dangerous patches of ice), which
made it enjoyable. At the top, you can look down into the crater and there the
volcano spits up noxious gas and frequently erupts in lava explosions!
Brilliant! Coming down was fun-fun-fun: we slid down most of the way in
snow-chutes, using our ice axes for steering and brakes. It was an
exhausting day--and fantastic.
Next, on to Puerto Varas. I thought it had more of a German feel than
Valdivia even, with a large German-style (and German built) church
dominating the small city. The lake was beautiful, with Osorno
Volcano across it, huge and impressive. Cake shops, tasteful
"artesania" souvenirs, outdoor outfitters... A lot going on.
Not far from Pto. Varas, we went to Petrohue, in a National Park (a lot of
the Lake District is in protected areas and parks), where we had to cross
the river to the small inn where we were staying. They turned out an AWESOME
"trucha" (trout) dinner: smoked, lemony. But it sounded like there were
rats in the attic and I sat up at night listening to scurrying above our
heads, worrying theyīd come in and chew through my new rucksack to get to my
vegemite and muesli supply! We now call that place "Das Rathaus". Lovely
swimming in the river and lake, as always down here. We also did a day
hike around Osorno Volcano: a dry, very hot day. Los Saltos de Petrohue
(waterfalls) were gorgeous, with the volcano as a perfect backdrop.
Brent and I found an empty, quiet swimming hole (c-o-l-d) to freshen up in
Crossing the Chile-Argentina border is always slow and painful. Good
grief. Weīre zigzagging over it six or seven times this trip.
Now listen, I LOVE my Chilean amigos in San Francisco, but in general,
Chileans have been rather un-Latin in spirit. (They do call themselves the
British of South America. NOT knocking all my Brit-pals! But Latin the UK is not.) Beyond the collective sighs of annoyance we get at hotels, in shops and restaurants, etc., there is also the cost: Chile is expensive with little value for money. I am sure the food is good in the top restaurants, if only we could afford it and not the sandwiches and pizza we find ourselves eating too often there. (To be fair, there have been a few exceptions with very nice meals being affordable.)
We crossed into Argentina with some relief: MUCH cheaper! We spent
quite a bit of time in Bariloche, the main city in Argentine Lake Country
Michael was on his way to visit, so I got a room with a fab view of the lake.
Our food, accomodation and lifestyle dramatically improve on this side of
the border. (Thank god the Italians were here!) Meals are amazing and
cheap! Pasta, good Mexican, parilla barbeque, cheese fondue, roesti, espresso
everywhere... and this is prime CHOCOLATE country! The streets are
lined with chocolate boutiques selling choco-dipped orange rind & cherries,
milk- and dark chocolate, bon bons, slabs of it, and on and on. The weight I
lose in Chile I put on in Argentina again.
Michael arrived at Bariloche Airport (whose airport has a terrific
runway-view cafe with a knock-out Parma Ham, cheese, tomato sandwich!)
on Friday Feb.18. IT WAS WONDERFUL TO SEE HIM! Although it was way too
brief a time together
ill!), we looked around Bariloche town and took a boat trip in the Nahuel Huapi
National Park on the h-u-g-e lake by that same name. Michael and I sort of
celebrated our five-year anniversary over fondue, which was not terribly
authentic, but I think weīll do it even better in BC in August. The only thing that
wouldīve made it better was if he couldīve brought our cat Hachimitsu-chan too!!
Michael returned to Buenos Aires, and Brent and I went down to El Bolson: think tie-dye, berries and organic honey and thatīs the town in a nutshell, with some lovely farms and decent hiking in the low mountains. Back to Bariloche by bus, where we rented a car and
spent a really good few days exploring the area: Villa de Angostura near the border, San Martin de los Andes (which is a gorgeous spot--sort of a mix bewteen Horseshoe Bay (BC), Banff (Alberta) and Kandersteg, Switzerland...in Spanish! But of course it was also none of those completely. The residential backstreets there were really pretty.
Our return to Chile was painless; a much easier bus trip and border-crossing than the others. We high-tailed it to Chiloe island, where we are now--and THAT will be the next installment!
PS. Sorry, for many reasons (Patagonian internet connections not the least), the photos of the region arenīt in order. Enjoy the mix!