Deprecated: Methods with the same name as their class will not be constructors in a future version of PHP; plgContentembed_google_map has a deprecated constructor in /var/sites/a/aaltenvoogd.com/public_html/plugins/content/embed_google_map/embed_google_map.php on line 21

After a good night’s sleep and long showers we are both feeling much better. The changing of the guards in front of La Moneda is at 10am (every other day, we know from our ADSMundo rep that it is on today) but a late breakfast gets the vote. The setting is glorious: we are sat on a rooftop terrace, by the poolside, with views overlooking the city and the Andes not too far in the background. I treat myself to fried eggs and bacon – had a taste for that several days now – and fresh orange juice. We’re the last to arrive for breakfast; in fact, the tables outside had already been set for lunch so when Ness picked a table outside this was greeted with a raised eyebrow, so what? The next guy who turns up is politely directed to the 2nd floor (gents club) bar – ha ha!

We have a few things to arrange before exploring Santiago: hotel, flight, car hire, all to be revised so we can arrive a day earlier in Temuco/Pucon. ADSMundo can do the hotel and we will have to do the flight ourselves. Lan Chile’s phone systems keeps repeating that “all our operators are busy” so we go to the nearest Lan Chile office. We’re number 112 in the queue. While we’re waiting Ness nudges me and says “isn’t that whats-her-face-from-sailing-from-Deloitte?” Sure enough, it’s Karen, looking very much the traveller-on-a-budget part. She is here with another guy, Ed, a Canadian, who is booking his flight home, although he doesn’t seem to have much of one – he seems to be in a permanent state of travelling off the beaten track in a big way, including a few days spent with Amazonian Indians taking part in their hallucinatory ceremonies and shrinking monkey heads. Ness inadvertently sends our drinks and Karen’s camera flying, which prompts a spiel from Karen about how she has had the camera for five years, etc. (it’s knackered, fell on the grille below the table), angling for some kind of apology/compensation but none is offered by Ness so I’m not sure what to do – keep quiet I decide. Conversation earlier was about our respective trips, but now we have a few uncomfortable minutes. Then Ed comes back and we go our separate ways after another drink. The little drama is soon forgotten and, after having taken care of last details for Temuco (car hire) and changing into shorts and sandals we’re off wandering about town.

Forgot to mention: we were able to watch the changing of the guards from our rooftop perch! You couldn’t have wished for a better view, it all worked out beautifully. They looked like tin soldiers from the roof – oh for a pea shooter!

The centre of town, in fact all of it, is laid out in the familiar grid system and feels much like Buenos Aires. I’m wary of street people, all too soon confirmed by the presence of a few grubby urchins with hands that seem to fly about everywhere. It’s going to be a watch-your-wallet day. Our first visit is to find Bernie, on the plaza-something on the other side of La Moneda. We carry on strolling, not stopping anywhere in particular until we reach a little square next to Cerro Santa Lucia (?). The hill forms a small park in the middle of the city, crowded with fantasy build buildings, gates, mini-plazas, fountains. We climb the hill along the stairs, getting great views of the city and Andes along the way. At the top we have a great 360° panorama. On the way down we stop at one of the little gardens with a lily-filled fountain. A tour bus about to leave has to wait while the tour guide runs around trying to find a missing person. We stroll on, sticking to shade wherever we find it. The walk takes us through the Parque Forestal and round to the Plaza de Armas, buzzing with people, vendors, etc. Everywhere in the parks people were snoozing and schmoozing. Starting to feel peckish now and a McDonald’s is hard to resist, but we resist the temptation and opt for the alternative of a piccie-by-the-pool (our childish name for “pisco sour”) The rooftop pool has a bit of sun left before it disappears behind the restaurant and we have a short swim. The water is cold at first but soon feels comfortable albeit heavily chlorinated.

Our evening in Santiago lies ahead and we feel like a good dinner. A taxi takes us to Bosque Norte, a street in the smart Las Condes part of the city. The driver suggests Puerto Marisko, a good fish restaurant, and drops us right in front of the place, where eager doormen usher us straight into the restaurant. Our plans for a wander up and down are scuppered. Marisko looks very smart, with waiters dressed in captain’s uniforms (blue blazer and silly hat). We are shown to our table and asked for our choice of aperitif with the efficiency you would expect from a five-start business restaurant. A table near us as four suits schmoozing, two x Chilean, two x Brit/Yank. The Brits/Yanks represent a shipping company. The menu is extensive, with selections arranged under the headings “Coastal”, “High Seas” (main courses), “Life Savers” (for non-fish eaters), “On Dry Land” (desert). Ness chooses a mixture of Chilean crustaceans as starter and turbot as main, and I’m experimenting and go for picorocos gratinados (success) and abalone with spinach and Roquefort. The latter is big failure. Abalone is some kind of mollusc and I’ve got pink chewy semi-circles of the stuff to work my way through. I give up after putting a brave face on it for a few bites. The restaurant can arrange a taxi back for us so we don’t even have to wander around, but still get a bit of a view from the cab. Final drink back at the hotel. We have already packed most of our stuff earlier on. Glad to be moving on. Santiago was brief but long enough. City is just not something we feel like right now.

Ness is happily snoozing, not bothered about rooftop breakfast (soft pillow wins), so I’m on my own for huevos fritos on the rooftop of the Carrera. The sun is bright and low over the Andes and I have a good half hour enjoying breakfast and the views. The taxi driver to the airport is very friendly and entertaining, fluent in English which is nice. He tells us the best pisco brand is Alto del Carmen. Also tells us about lots of other things, all I remember is the bit about the bus-strike backfiring (the strike had the immediate effect of reducing pollution levels).

We’re in good time for our flight and grab a drink at the cafeteria at the far end of the terminal hall, right by our gate, 26, which I consider a lucky coincidence – but Ness had of course noticed in advance! We managed to get good seats on the plane, forward of the wing on the side overlooking the Andes. The scenery is new to us now, no longer the brown of the northern half of the country but a patchwork of roads and fields. The snow-capped Andes are close by on our left. Clouds obscure the view for part of the way and especially when we near Temuco, but we do get the odd glimpse of the new countryside. It’s green and lush, with clear signs of agriculture and cultivation but to a much lesser extent than in the lands immediately south of Santiago. Reminiscent of northern parts of Britain. No, in fact it is totally reminiscent of England and I even pointed it out to Ness. The green fields are separated by hedgerows (they look like that from up here). The clouds are very low and the final view remains hidden until we are well into our approach to the runway, clouds flicking past until we’re finally below them. Temuco airport is small, as expected. Hertz office is one of several offices in a long cabin outside. We pick up our new, as yet unnamed Basher. A grey Chevy, equivalent to the Toyota Hi-Lux. Cup-holders, cushioned arm-rest, CD player, a bit sophisticated. Ness is the first to make acquaintance and drives us to Pucón, and gets stopped by two carabiñeros for speeding. We pick up farmer Pancho a bit outside Villarica. I do my best to converse with him and manage to understand something about his Czech friend Pedro (!) who is over here looking to buy a piece of land to farm. We drop him off in Villarica and he helps us on our way to Pucon, on route 199, following the southern side of the lago. It really is very green here, with many wooden buildings dotted here and there, and many different types of trees.

Our hotel, Antumalal, lies on the lake shore a short distance (2km) before Pucon town itself. It is accessed by a narrow cobbled road which rounds a small wooded hill. The hotel lies behind this, a piece of 1950’s avant-garde architecture. It is designed to be at one modern, linear, and at the same time blend in totally with the environment it occupies. Trees surround and blend in with the building. We have room “1” although there are no numbers or locks on the doors. Instead our names are placed on the door. Pictures in the reception show that royalty and celebrities used to visit, probably in Antumalal’s heyday as an architectural …er… new thing. It includes Boudewijn and Fabioloa, Queen Elizabeth II and Prince Philip, and various others. Our room, at the end of the long corridor, is fantastic, with a wall-to-wall window looking out over the gardens and lake. It is simply furnished, in similar 50’s avant-garde style, with its own open fire, already prepared so all we have to do is put a match to the kindling. There is tons of space on little shelves in the cupboard, with a “fridge light” which keeps me occupied for a few minutes.

After unpacking we head for the lounge and have a drink overlooking the lake. Then we drive into Pucón to explore the place. Usual grid system layout. It’s smaller than I imagined it but big enough to provide variety. After a first tour we park speedy-basher on Fresia. Tourist office is in the municipalidad but they’re not very helpful and say “try the bookshop”. I want to buy the local trekking map and spot a book with “23 trekking tours in central Chile”. Trying to find a bookshop is a challenge. The bookshop on O’Higgins is cerrado (closed) and there is no other bookshop. We stop for a coffee/hot chocolate/sandwich (cerdo con pepperoncini…) at the Patagonia Café. Then we try again. Bookshop now says abierto (open) but the door is locked. Before the coffee we did find another libreria but it only sold stationery. Got frustrated trying to explain what I was looking for: a book, a bookshop, “una tienda con muchos libros”. Anyhow, while we’re hovering near the bookshop the owner comes running back and re-opens the shop. “Yes, this is bookshop. No, we don’t have the book you’re looking for. Try such-and-such agency.” Such-and-such agency say “try the tourist office.” Full circle. Back at the tourist office I ask where exactly can I buy this book and map. Should have known, the map can be obtained at Agua + Nieue tour operator, the book at the Tetera travellers café. Ness has a bout of travellers tummy and we have to make a pitstop. Maps are a successful buy and we also manage to buy the book. Back at the hotel I discover that it only covers the bit of Chile between Santiago and just north of Temuco, i.e. no kin’ use to us whatsoever!

Before going out for dinner we have some help from Christian at the hotel reception in planning our days here. I’m keen to climb the volcano Villarica, and we can also do horse-riding and rafting. Ness isn’t set on the volcano climb but happy for me to do it. Christian sends us to Politur in town to make the booking. I try on the kit I’ll need, plastic snow shoes, over-trousers, etc. and label them with my name. Then we amble a bit and go for dinner at a Spanish restaurant, no seafood tonight! Fabado bean and sausage stew is very tasty, if a little lacking in the sausage department. Early start for me tomorrow – it didn’t strike me that Ness would effectively be totally on her own in a foreign country and start worrying about what could happen if she were to go “off piste” with the car, but Ness promises to be sensible and stick to touring around. We go to sleep in our snug room. Should be a couple of good days ahead!

Early start for my volcano walk, big adventure! I hadn’t slept so well and am feeling a bit groggy this morning. I pack my bag and leave Ness to have a lie-in and go to wait at reception. The hotel have left me a packed lunch, part of which serves as breakfast. Half an hour late a van (empty) turns up to take me into town. There are about thirty people going, all kitted out with their Politur-provided rucksacks, snow boots, etc. I pick up my gear and start to get ready, not feeling very sociable yet so avoid conversation. Many look like seasoned trekkers or far younger than me, but there are a few older ones too, phew! The drivers/guides are in a hurry and I have no time to get my rucksack packed properly. I’m bundled into a van which is already nearly full, all of them a lot younger than me and in various groups on backpacker trips. An Aussie girl asks me whether I’ve got the gloves, hat and gaiters, which I haven’t and ask the guide whether I can have some “geysers” but he understands. The plan is to head into the park, check the weather conditions and then decide. I’m still not feeling totally awake and opt out of conversation, as do most of the others except for the Canadian guy opposite me and the Aussie girl next to him, who are showing off to each other and the rest how extreme their travels have been. It’s boring and mundane and most of their stories amount to being ripped off by tour guides. They are going for bargain basement trips so clearly can’t expect too much. We enter the park and start to see patches of icy snow here and there. The general opinion seems to be that the weather won’t improve and the walk would therefore be in miserable cloud rather than getting the grand views.

We reach the point where we have to decide. While we’re talking (I have switched to sociable mode by this time) we take pictures. When the guide comes back he asks each of us in turn, all say “nay” and he runs off to join another group who are going for it. The guides only get paid if the walk goes ahead. Another driver takes us back down. Eight people, out of the thirty in total, are doing the walk, the rest are heading back. The fact that the cable-lift was closed due to bad weather, adding extra climbing to our trip, was another factor against going for it. As we descend, and the clouds disappear, I wonder whether I shouldn’t have gone for it after all and rapidly conclude I’m doing the right thing. The walk would have been even more arduous and probably in the company of some real trekkers with no option to bail out.

I hope Ness will still be in the hotel by the time I get back. I manage to contact her by phone from Politur and join Ness at breakfast in the hotel. Plan B is worked on over coffee. The volcanic caves is something we fancy seeing and happy to fill the rest of the day with whatever comes along.

The drive to the cuevas takes us back into the national park along the same route I went on this morning. A JCB is rebuilding some sections of the road and we have abit of fun getting through the sand and rocks. The cuevas themselves are on private land, not part of the PN. A large wooden building with the cafeteria is where we can pay for access. Inside three lads are playing backgammon by the log fire. It all looks very snug up here. It’s Tito’s turn to guide the tour. He gets changed, then takes us through an illustrated tour about volcanoes, tectonic plates, types of eruption, and how volcanic tunnels are created. After the tour Tito and I talk for a few minutes, sharing a few gulps of the pisco sour out of the hipflask while Ness makes a pit stop. He has only been here for less than a year, having escaped the hustle and bustle of Santiago. The caves themselves are a tunnel carved out by the hot lava as it flows downhill. He tells us about the different types of formations, and so on. At the end of the tunnel he turns off the lights to demonstrate the total darkness that normally exists here. We have a coffee back at the cafeteria before heading back to Pucón.

The JCB has cleared up the road by now so it’s an easier ride back. In Pucón we park by the blue-painted Gran Hotel and go for a walk along the lake beach and summer houses. The scene reminds me of Holland in its densely packed beach-houses. The houses are mostly boarded up at the moment; the summer season is still a month or so away. One house is named “De Hut”, owner Otto Guldenschwager. Before returning to our hotel we stop by Pucón’s Bernie, a small bust by the lake-side. We spend the rest of the afternoon and evening in the hotel, having a siesta, and intending to have dinner in town. While we’re having a drink in the hotel before going out I start to get traveller’s tummy and a bit later am back in our room for the rest of the night. Ness has dinner at the hotel restaurant before coming to bed. B*gger, I hope this isn’t going to be a repeat of how I felt in Tours in January (dodgy guts kept me in bed for a whole day). We have booked a horse-ride for the day after tomorrow, and tomorrow might be better spent taking it easy. At the end of the day I’m relieved at how it has turned out – the volcano walk would have been miserable and arduous, Volcan Villarica has been in clouds all day, and my energy levels have dropped significantly from this morning. The walk would have knackered me out for at least a day or two, spoiling things for both of us.

We wake up late and I have a stuffy head and pain in my back from lying in bed for too long. We have nothing planned for today and find it hard to get going. Slowly we make it down to breakfast. We’re not the only ones. Several other couples slowly turn up for a late breakfast. After breakfast we spend time on the balcony looking out over the lake while I catch up on my diary. Unbroken cloud hangs over the lake but it does feel like a fresh day, if only we could motivate ourselves to get going. We wander through the gardens, down to the lakeside. The estate is littered with various other buildings connected by twisting paths. The lower half of the estate is in some disrepair but with signs that here and there work is being done. The gardens are pretty, with many different types of flowers, plants and trees. A lookout balcony offers a fantastic view over the entire lake.

We still can’t really get going. At breakfast Christian told us about a beautiful drive through the national park, skirting the Villarica volcano, leading to Coñaripe, but his helpful advice about how to extract ourselves from mud put us off (deflate rear tyres, weigh down the back with rocks). Instead we go for a small magical mystery tour. First up to Caburgue, a settlement of a few cabañas and a restaurant by a small lake, then following a smaller road back round to Pucón. The landscape is varied, green and colourful, with cabañas dotted discreetly throughout the landscape and small farms here and there. We take a few pictures but generally just cruise along. Near Pucón we give a lift to a local woman who smells of biscuits. We head back to our hotel and Ness lights the fire in our room. We settle down with our books, I nod off and we spend the next few hours in semi-enforced peace and quiet, enjoyably.

On the one hand it has been a waste of a day in some spectacular countryside when there is so much on offer to go and see or do. On the other, we have lots of time ahead of us, with more discoveries ahead, so why get stressed about it – which we aren’t – let’s just go with the flow. Tomorrow we have booked a half-day horse-riding excursion. Even if the clouds are still around it won’t matter. The view of Villarica volcano keeps eluding us though and I hope we’ll at least get a glimpse before we leave Pucón in a day and a half. Right now we’re settled in hotel lounge, wood fire crackling, sat by the wall-to-wall windows overlooking the lake. The weather outside is closing in, getting very windy and rainy. Waves on the lake are flecked with white foam heads, showing how windy it is out there. We can hear the wind howling outside. And two pisco sours are complementing the mood, with some soothing pan-harp music on the background. We still have to decide what to do about dinner – decisions, decisions!

We make it into Pucón later that evening, driving round the blocks trying to decide where to go. Fresia is still the best street and there is a cosy looking Uruguayan parilla, La Maga, at the top of the street. Outside it’s still raining heavily, inside it’s snug despite a few small leaks, and we have an excellent dinner. Ness sticks to sensible pollo con arroz, but I can’t resist trying the Chivito “La Manga” (for one), preceded by Provoletta (melted cheese with oregano). The Chivito is demasiado: steak, ham, bacon, cheese, fried egg, potato salad, chips, lettuce, tomato, avocado. I asked for the palmito to be left out – Charlie would be proud. I feel I’m the centre of attention having ordered the equivalent of a family meal on my own (a large hungry family at that!) It rounds off our day nicely. Coffee in the hotel lounge when we get back. There are people in the bar (a small separate room behind reception, not the main lounge) but after such a big meal I’m not up to conversation.

An “interesting” night’s sleep. I should have worn Pampers, enough already. The weather is looking wet and grey, and our horse-ride looks in danger of being cancelled. Suspicion is confirmed at reception by Christian, who tells us that it may be possible to go out this afternoon, maybe, possibly. Not what I had in mind. Still, it means we can have a lazy breakfast. No firm plans (again) as to other options so we enlist help from reception – Christian’s mother? She quickly narrows it down to three or four options, one of which is a visit to the Termas de San Luis, towards Currarehue (another one of those places whose name I have seen on a map and somehow inspired a visit).

It’s an easy drive to the Termas. The baths are well maintained, surrounded by a small complex with changing rooms and a cafeteria. First we go for the covered pool, the water is lovely and warm and we spend a lot of time in the pool. A few other people are around but it is not busy by any means. Afterwards we have a short spell in the outside, uncovered, pool. It’s an odd sensation, sitting in a warm pool, with rain falling on your head, and seeing the trees being blown about by the strong wind, the steam rising off the water.

After changing we (I) have a bite of lunch in the cafeteria. It’s 1-2pm by now. We opt for the black-and-white road across to Coñaripe, to visit the Salto El León. The road up to the salto is reasonably good. The salto is bigger and more spectacular than I thought it would be. We wrap up in our Gore-Tex jackets but forgot the hiking boots. Ness fell over on the slippery walkway. I only noticed Nessie’s wet bottom afterwards because I had my back turned at the time. We spend a few short moments standing in the waterfall spray but Ness has already walked back (reason: wet bum!) (reason 2: hurt pride?) and we then spend a few more minutes admiring the Salto from a safer distance. Worth the visit.

The road so far has been fine. We have enough petrol and time so decide to carry on to Coñaripe. On nearing the national park borders the road starts to get worse. At a wooden bridge we park the car. First we had started to cross it but once across we took one look at the road and decided against continuing. There was nowhere to turn though so we had to reverse back over the bridge, which was tricky. First attempt started to go wrong so we moved forward again so Ness could get out to direct me. But Ness was still undressed (trying to dry wet bum!) so while waiting the German guy (a couple who had parked their car just before the bridge) cottoned on to what we were trying to do and was helpful in directing us across at the second attempt. We then had a short walk along the road, just inside the national park but we turn back a bit too soon for my liking as Ness is worried about the failing light. The air is fresh, everything around us is green, with unfamiliar trees and plants. We spot a big group of the famous Araucaria trees high up on some of the hills. It’s still a good drive back to Pucón and on the way we take a few pictures. The volcano is still hiding itself though.

Our stay in Pucón is nearly over, only a part of the day is left tomorrow before we have to catch our 6pm flight from Temuco. So far I have mixed feelings about Pucón. The setting and scenery are second to none, the lake, the mountains, the greenery, the absent volcano, and the town and hotel are equally appealing; Pucón itself is a small convivial wooden village/town, our hotel is a combination of 50’s architecture, lovely gardens and fantastic views, with cosy log fires like the one I’m sat by now in the lounge. But I think we will leave Pucón feeling unfulfilled. It held so much promise, none of which we have been able to convert into reality: the cancelled volcano-hike (probably a good thing in hindsight), the postponed horse-trek (let’s see about tomorrow), and the rafting never got a second mention. Even if it weren’t for these, we could at least have gone on some good day-long walks but we haven’t planned it out properly and left the days to slip by, agreeably.

The weather looks ok-ish this morning, fresh but not sunny. It should hopefully be ok for horse-riding. Our appointment with the “Huemil Palal” ranch at 10.30 is confirmed over breakfast. In fact, Pilar, one of the two receptionists, comes to remind/plead us to be there on time. It is a half hour drive from our hotel we reckon. It turns out to be a bit longer, especially as the last bit is on ripio, dirt/gravel, but we get there just on time.

The small ranch consists of a few buildings, a house, a few outbuildings, and a small corral. Rodolfo (Rudolph Coombs), the owner, whose family originally come from Essex, is a small man with a twinkle in his eye and is eager to get going. In five minutes we are suited and booted, very simply: dinky harmless-looking spurs for me, nothing for Ness. Our rucksacks full of “useful stuff” are left behind in the shed, and we only take the camera. Four others are already riding their horse round in circles in the corral. Ness is first to mount her horse, with greater ease and elegance than either of us had expected. In fact she made it look easy. Now it’s my turn… the horse starts looking bigger the closer I get to it. I manage to mount my horse, Pinto (means “painted” as he is brown and white), without too much trouble and then I’m taking him round for a single round of the corral. So far, so good.

Rodolfo leads the way, his assistant Joel closes the ranks, and we’re off on a slow walk along the path up the hill. Driving controls are the usual left and right tugs on the reins, pull back to stop and a combination of kicks, spurs, “click click” and “kiss kiss” noises, and spontaneous movement on the horse’s part to go forward. We get to know the others bit by bit as we go up. Three are marine biologists, from various parts of the world (UK, Canada, Hong Kong), who are taking a few days off after a successful conference on endangered species, where they have managed to get fish recognised as another species to protect. This is a big deal apparently, and they are all pleased with the result. The fourth is a girl from the UK who is travelling on her own through Chile and Bolivia. We pass a few outlying farmsteads with barking dogs, but they don’t unnerve the horses, and after about an hour we pass through a gate on our right to climb the hill. Pinto seems to be a slow-coach when he’s walking but a kick now and then spurs him on to a short canter. The views across the valley are beautiful. Many different shades of green can be seen on the slopes, and snow higher up on the mountains, and long distant views towards the Andes mountains. The few pictures taken will hopefully speak for themselves. Higher up we enter a wooded area where Araucaria trees grow. We stop for a mini-picnic near a small open space. There is old snow on the ground. The horses are tethered to the bamboo that grows everywhere. Rodolfo produces vino tinto, salami and crackers. Pictures are taken of the trees and we start to feel our bums ache from the ride.

The ride back down is a bit harder as you constantly have to lean back and push off in the stirrups. Rodolfo several times emphasises the need to keep a short rein on the horses; they know they are on their way back to horse almuerzo (lunch) and, despite being well-trained, could decide to make a run for it. It seems to take a long time to get back to the road. Once we’re on the road I can feel that Pinto would happily run if he weren’t held back. Fortunately Joel comes to my aid after a while and takes him on tow. Ness is at the front, led similarly by Rodolfo. My bum is now complaining and I’m quite relieved when we are met by a car which Rodolfo has asked to be sent up – he is aware of our tight schedule, even if we’re not, and without the car we would not have made it back down in time. The guy collecting us greets me with a polite “how is your butt?” We collect our gear, pay for the ride, and we’re on our way back to Pucón. We’re ok for time. At the hotel we have already been turfed out. Well, our bags have been moved out of our room into storage. Pucón has redeemed itself in my eyes. The horse-ride at least gave us a flavour of a proper ride, even if it were only short (for which my bum is grateful). Villarica is still sulking in the clouds. Never mind, there is another good volcano, Osorno, at Puerto Varas. We drive back to Temuco and get there in good time. We have done 454km in “Speedy Basher”. Ness is suffering a bit from the ride, knees and thighs, not bum. We’re both in good spirits. At the airport we discover that the flight to Puerto Montt left at 16.55, not 18.15 as indicated on our tickets. We should have checked, as we had been reminded. Especially since this is the only flight in our itinerary which was changed (from 16.55 to 18.15!) before our departure. B*ll*cks!

The Lan Chile rep is very helpful though and we manage to get a transfer to Puerto Varas. So we’re driving there after all! A few days ago we had considered changing our travel plans to drive down instead of flying – what’s 400km anyhow? We decided against it since it would mean changing or cancelling too many things. Now we have a private mini-bus and driver. We get some sandwiches in before setting off. Hector is the driver. He doesn’t speak any English but I’m happily chatting with him in pidgin-Spanish pretty soon. At the petrol station I call Hertz to re-arrange the car pickup. A call later, to Hector’s mobile, confirms they will drop the car at our hotel tomorrow morning. Everything has worked out beautifully. It’s a long, long drive to Puerto Varas, along the PanAm/Carretera Austral. It rains for most of the way, getting worse as we get close to Lago Llanquihue, but then lets up. Our hotel is easy to find, close to the centre of Puerto Varas, right on the lake-shore. Hector gets $20,000 as thanks for his efforts, probably a bit too much but we feel sorry for him since he now has to drive all the way back to Temuco, and it is already 10pm. The hotel is fine, if a little characterless, but what it lacks in character it makes up for by way of direct panoramic views of the huge lake, and a wonderful soft bed. We have a drink in the bar – I finally try a vaina – and make it into the restaurant before last orders. Ness spots “verduras” on the menu. Being in the German-settled part of Chile it is no surprise that pork chops and sauerkraut are on the menu (oddly, they call it “choucroute” here though as one would in French) We nearly nod off over our coffees and are glad to crash out in bed. A good day!

We wake up to a direct view of Lago Llanquihue. I hardly have to lift my head from the soft pillows to enjoy the view. The lake is enormous, more like a small sea than a lake according to the books. The only boat I can see is the anchored two-mast oddity slightly over to the left of our hotel. It has a fake construction on the stern to make it appear like a galleon, but it looks silly. It is completely covered up, from which I take it that a lake-trip is out of the question. It is low season here too. Breakfast is in a room overlooking the lake. Earlier I had gone downstairs to pick up our new grey-white “bash-mobile” delivered by Hertz. The plan is to follow one of the tours/circuits described in our new, Spanish, guidebook covering the southern part of Chile. The tour will take us along the southern shore of the lake to Ensenada, then north-east to Lago Todos los Santos, to a small place called Petrohue, in the Vicente Perez-Rosales national park.

Ness drives as I still have sore bum from the horse-riding, and new Basher seems to have less leg-room. The drive is scenic without being spectacular, with grand views over the lake to our left, passing wooden buildings in German styles, churches, farms, more recent houses and cabañas. It’s a long drive, which gives us a better appreciation for the scale of the lake. There doesn’t seem to be anything at Ensenada, just a few houses and a school. The road to Petrohue becomes ripio after a while, black rocky sand, following the river on our right. The Rio Petrohue is fast-flowing, with white water sections here and there, running towards us, i.e. emptying into Lago Llanquihue behind us.

At Petrohue itself there is a small collection of buildings, a café, tour operator, artesianales, shop (which does not sell the local trekking map), navy. Navy? Yes, there is a small building operated by the Chilean Armada. It is even identified as the Petrohue Section. It is hard to take seriously but I have just realised that this is in fact a border post with Argentina. Petrohue is the place people cross to from Puerto Blest, where we were last year! Peulla is the “port” at the other end of the lake, and I check with a local boatman – he wants to charge us US$110 to get across!

After a few false starts we start to walk towards Paso Desolación. We have now changed into trekking gear and have taken our own rucksacks. I discover later that Ness has chocolate and biscuits and water in hers. My contribution is the flask of pisco sour, and various assorted essential items for a picnic – unfortunately food had not figured on my list of essentials so I’m pleased that Ness has brought some snacks along! The walk starts by following the flattened path left by a massive flow of melt-water. It has buried the trees in black volcanic rocks and sand. We follow this flow, gradually climbing, with woods on either side, until the plain widens. We’re hit by a short by heavy bout of rain, but after this the sunshine lights up Volcano Osorno, except for its crater which remains hidden in the clouds.

The slopes are beautiful, covered in all sorts of green, black rock higher up, and the top third is covered in snow. Our walk takes us in the general direction. We pick up a path on the right of the flow. It takes us through beautiful green scenery, mostly small shrubs, including the colourful yellow one (name?) and occasional splashes of [what I took for] red coïgue, Chile’s national flower. The path crosses a few more melt-water flows and some forested sections. From the path we get views of the lake below us. We have gradually been climbing (good, makes the way back easier!) To our left is Osorno, to our right more mountains, and the Andes are ahead, towards the Argentinean border. We walk slowly, stopping a few times for agua y chocolate and to admire the view, but still cover a good distance. After about an hour and a half, at another melt-water flow with a small stream running through it (where I “make my mark” in customary fashion), we turn round and head back. It’s not all downhill though. The weather is constantly changing from rainy to sunny spells and back, making for a pleasant walk. The air is fresh and we hum “bring me sunshine”. It’s great to be outdoors and walking. I would like to go faster and can feel that my legs want to stretch out but Ness is a bit slower. We’re both feeling good thanks to the clean fresh air. We follow the wrong path on our way back down the large melt-water flow, taking the “scenic” route, but it soon rejoins the main flow.

Now we feel like finding a pleasant spot for kaffee und kuchen to spend time catching up on our diaries, but agree that the café at Petrohue does not feel like the best spot. Instead we get in the car and start driving towards Puerto Varas. From the guidebook I identify Puerto Octay, on the north shore of the lake, as a good place to aim for. The book says it is a small Germany village typical of the 19th/20th German immigration era. The drive is a lot farther than I thought. After driving on ruta 5, the motorway, up the western side of the lake, we turn off on the road to Puerto Octay. The countryside here is very European, with rolling green hills dotted with houses and farms, which are starting to look more “typically German” the closer we get to Puerto Octay. Puerto Octay is tiny, with not an awful lot to be seen, but we do get another Bernie! Our only options for coffee are the hotel Centila and the Case de Té “Tante Valy”. We go for the hotel. This is devoid of guests. We have “coffee” (hot chocolate and tea) and kuchen in the restaurant, with background music reminiscent of the Love Boat theme tune, and then head off again. So far this holiday we have been friends and have been avoiding getting on each others nerves other than the odd disagreement. Here too we soon patch up after sulking for a few minutes. I can’t remember the argument though.

It’s good to be travelling together, keeping each others spirits up. Ness is feeling pain in her right leg, a combination of horse-riding yesterday and today’s walk. I still have a sore bum and blisters which make driving uncomfortable. What a pair! Oh, and I’m still doing peeling bits of skin everywhere (sunburnt), lovely.

Back at the hotel we order “room service”, aah!, and have time catching up on diaries and reading, accompanied by a fine Undurraga Cabernet Pinot, £3.30/bottle in the bar!, and picadas with ají. Eventually we manage to stop and go for dinner in town before it gets too late. We pick up a friend on our way out of the hotel, a very thing stray dog who follows us all around town, poor thing. The Club Aleman looks hopeful, with a restaurant on the first floor. Outside it is dark and raining, inside it is gemütlich. The German influence is only superficial/historic. Ness has longaniza a lo pobre, wurst mit spiegeleier und zwiebeln, and I have Kassler again, with ají and mustard. The music consists of French chansons. After dinner we’re both too tired for coffee and head back to the hotel. On our way back to the hotel we pass the casino. Most of the town seems to be here, playing the slot-machines. It prompts a thought about the loss of community life and its substitution with modern entertainment which robs people of their few pesos. It’s a full moon, appearing from the north. We leave the lights off in our room and have a grandstand view of the moonlit lake. A few clouds pass but then it’s clear again. I have a go at taking a picture but my photography skills are limited to random fiddling with the settings, I doubt the pictures will come out.

No particular plans for today other than to make sure we end up in Ancud tonight. Another relaxed breakfast (I could get used to this!) and then we pack and plan our route to Ancud. It’s raining again by the time we leave Puerto Varas. Nurse Ness has patched me up again. Ness is still feeling an ache in her leg from the previous days, as well as continuing TT effects. But we’re both in high spirits, looking forward to our visit to mysterious (allegedly) Chiloé, the island of myths and legends, having read up on it over breakfast.

The weather clears on our drive to Pargua, where we need to catch a ferry across to the island. We follow ruta 5, past Puerto Montt, through gentle green country-side, which gets noticeably emptier once we’re past sprawling Puerto Montt. The road runs straight for many milnes, until we get close to Pargua. Pargua itself is a small place consisting of a few buildings and the ferry terminal. The terminal is simply a concrete run-off, with a small ro-ro ferry ready to depart. A man waves us over – we had stopped, trying to spot where the ferry port was and had not realised we were there! Ours is the last car to fit on and before I have even stepped out of the car we’re already moving. We go onto one of the walkways on either side of the ferry.

The distance to Chiloé is small, it should only take us about 30 minutes to cross the channel. We can feel the fresh air and have to don jackets despite the glorious sunshine. Ness spots a seal poking its head above the water, and a bit later a penguin pops up for a second. A Colombian family is with us, also going to Chiloé for their holiday. At the other end we roll off and continue on ruta 5 to Ancud, which is a bit further along the north coast of the island. The countryside is similar to the mainland but the wooden tiling on the buildings does indicate that we are somewhere different. After another half hour driving we get to Ancud, a small town on the north shore. The hotel is part of the Panamericana chain, same as the hotel in Arica. It’s a slightly smaller setup, and the building is made entirely of wood. Our room is small but cosy, reminiscent of Tolkeyen (Ushuaia, Argentina, 2001).

After unpacking we go for a wander into town, with stops at Sernatur, bank and Bernie. It doesn’t look like there is much to do or see here. We check out the local restaurant serving curanto, a local dish. The first one looks pretty grim, the next one rather better. I pop into a tour operator on the way back to find out about visiting the penguineria and other excursions. They’re friendly but we’re not that interested. Before long we’re back in our room in the hotel, about to doze off. This is stupid. We have travelled halfway across the world to spend most of our time either in the air-conditioned cocoon of a car or in bed/bar. I’m bored, bored, bored… “Come on, let’s go and catch penguins.” The drive may be hairy, we may end up coming back in the dark, but at least we’ll do something worth doing.

A few minutes later we’re off in (as yet unnamed) basher, after getting someone to move their car which was blocking us in. The sun is shining, still high in the sky, we have plenty of petrol, no torch (onEof my Useful Items, now forgotten). The drive is a comparative doddle along a ripio road passing by Chilote farmsteads. We have to share the road with cows, sheep, dogs, pigs. The turn-off to the penguineria is a rougher road but still nothing crazy. We have been forewarned by Britt, the guy at the tour operator in Ancud, about a small stream we’d have to cross. It’s shallow and rocky and his advice was to keep going. It’s fun going through it. Some excitement! Then we drive a few hundred metres along the beach – there is no road – stopping at the small house which represents the Fundación Otway. There are some large rocks/small islands off the beach, probably the penguin colony.

A lad inside explains that yes, the penguins are on those rocks, but no, you can’t see them from here, you would have to go out by boat. Yes, now (7pm) is the best time to see them since they should be back at their nest. No, can’t take you there because the boat owner is only here between 10am and 5pm. Aargh! On the way back I repeat my river crossing three times, for photographs of me as action man. It’s still light when we get back to the hotel. Ness has a kip while I catch up on diary in the lounge, with a view of the sun setting behind the island. Ness has continuing TT and achy leg so we have dinner in the hotel, which is probably the best option anyway. Soft bed and we nod off instantly.

The plan for today is a Chilote cultural tour up and down the island. We’ll work our way down to Castro and then take it from there. The road is excellent until we get close to the junction off to Dalcahue, where sections are being worked on. Dalcahue itself doesn’t have anything to offer, it’s just another place. Bernie has been supplanted by Arturo Prat on the plaza de armas. We wander for a bit and then continue in the car to the ferry port which is similar to the main Ancud ferry setup but smaller still. I reverse onto the boat, which takes around ten minutes to make the crossing to the small island, Isla Quinchao. We continue driving, towards Achao, which has an “Ullapool-feeling” of being the end-of-the-world. The only way to cross to the other islands looks like being the local fishermen. We walk around Achaco for a while, “doing” a Bernie in the process. There is a pretty wooden church.

The shop on the plaza de armas looks “typical”, a photo opportunity while I try to buy something.

‘Queso?’

‘No, try tomorrow.’

‘Salsicchia?’

‘No, sorry.’

‘Agua?’

‘Er… no, sorry, we’re very poor here.’

They do have beer, fanta and bread but that’s not what we had in mind for a picnic. We wander a bit more and then head back to continue to Castro. We see a good example of a palafito, the Chilote houses on stilts, by the ferry port. The road to Castro is busy with lots of lorries kicking up dust. Castro is of a similar size to Ancud but it has the typical palafitos along several stretches of the shore. We park the car at the plaza de armas and go for a stroll, first to take pictures of palafitos, then down to the harbour with a feria artesianal and restaurants. Passing one restaurant, the owner tries to entice us in. His face lit up when he took one look at me. I commented to Ness that he must be thinking “I’ve got to get that big lad in here, he’ll do wonders for my business today!” The market is full of stalls selling tourist tat, woollens, bits of engraved wood, junk. We’re both scouting for a poncho but what’s on offer is clearly the tourist stuff, not the real deal, so we avoid buying anything. Lunch is in one of the restaurants on stilts overlooking the estuary. I think we managed to pick the greasiest one of the lot. It’s always a bad sign when the air inside is thick with flies buzzing round. But we have a nice view of the inlet from our table. Fried fish is the order of the day, huge portions of fried merluza (hake) and chips with ají on the side. The lady in the kitchen can barely see over the top of the cooker. Our only purchases in Castro are a few postcards and a CD by Los Jaivas (lit. The Stonecrabs, a beatle-esque name). Los Jaivas accompany us on the drive back with 70’s style folky b*ll*cks. It takes us less time to zoom back. Well, we wanted Chilote culture and we got it, but it does seem to be an impoverished way of life (i.e. not necessarily poor, but somehow stripped of its purpose and meaning and reduced overall).

A discussion earlier centred on this and we concluded that the tourism has effectively demoted or destroyed that which was really “typical”, leaving a caricature to be sold in parcels to tourists, like us. With the passing of days and distance I’m beginning to look fondly back to the desert north, especially the altiplano. I’m now also totally fed up with just cruising along and am itching to get to Torres del Paine for serious walking (but ask me again in a couple of days!) Oh, bum is still plastered and being nursed by Ness.

We plan to try out a Chilote specialty for dinner tonight, curanto. It’s a combination of meat and shellfish, cooked slowly in a hole in the ground. Two local restaurants near the harbour advertise the delicacy. We have already settled on the better looking one. I had a few piscos before we go out and am feeling a bit lightheaded, to Nessie’s amusement and irritation. Start dinner with a vaina, topping up. The restaurant Pincoya looks pleasant inside but is nearly devoid of people, which seems to be par for the course. The curanto is a disappointment. The rapid service already warned us of this – it’s supposed to take 45 minutes to prepare. The meal is a plate with assorted bits for each. Chicken, pork-beef rib-like thing, chunk of longaniza (nothing special), and two mysterious patties, one light yellow, the other green, and a dish of mussels and a few clams, lukewarm and lacking any taste. A small Olvarit jar with ají helps to work it down. We’re comfortably settled though and happily spend some time after dinner chatting, polishing of wine and a coffee – Nescafé powder out of a tin of course. Followed by another coffee and cognac back at the hotel.

Finally remembered what we’re going to do today: explore the north-western part of the island and have another go at penguin spotting.

Accompanied by CD 2 of Los Jaivas (a slight improvement), we drive out to Quetalmahue and then on to Guabun, on a decent ripio road. It takes us past little Chilote farms. Now and then we pass a few cows, pigs, horses and the ubiquitous dogs in the road, and sights of farm life: kids on horseback, farmers. It all looks pretty and unfrequented by tourists. The last part is through dune landscape. We park the car where the road runs out and start walking towards the shore, following the path along the fences and a small stream running through the dunes. It brings us round some rocks onto a small white sand beach, in the sole company of some birds, including two big vultures. The sun is shining and there are a few clouds in the sky. At last I get to dig out my Extremely Useful picnic rug (an oversized trekking towel) and we even had the foresight to bring the remains of last night’s vino with us. I dip my toes in the very cold water. We have found a great spot, with an unimpeded view of the Pacific, and we’re happy to spend some time here, which includes a big discussion about Life and All That. We pack up and head back when the weather starts to get a bit colder and cloudier. Earlier we passed two guys with a few cows on the beach, an odd sight. We also passed a couple of Navy types in their dark blue uniforms and white hats.

Next we drive towards the penguineria, following the coastal road (not on a map). This means crossing the stream again, yippee! The penguineria is open now and we are met by Jaime, a friendly lad. Before getting into a small rubber dinghy we have to don wading trousers, green, the sort of thing an angler probably would wear. We sit in the front of the dinghy with two Chilenos, biologists who have just completed some work nearby, our “guide”, a young German physics student, and the boat driver. The dinghy slowly takes us out to the rocks and we soon spot a solitary penguin. The guide is on strike it would seem, no commentary is forthcoming. The boatman is more talkative but only in Spanish to the two Chilenos. We see cormorants, a few more penguins (Magellanic and Humboldt) and even two otters (chungungo). Apparently we’ve done very well to see all of these – the trip was worthwhile.

It’s mid/late afternoon by this stage so we head back to Ancud, with plans to stop somewhere en route for late lunch. No suitable lunch opportunities are spotted so instead we think of seeking out the place in Ancud where we can get good licor d’oro, recommended by the lady at Sernatur. After a few wrong turns we manage to find it. It’s simply a hospedaje, a guest house, so we drive on. The tour has taken us through the market at Ancud, where I spot the seaweed, cochayuyo, bundled up. Back at the hotel we switch on the TV and watch Mission Impossible 2 with Spanish subtitles. In the lounge we meet a Swiss couple we had earlier met at Altiplanico in San Pedro de Atacama. A brief exchange of courtesies and then we find a separate table to do diaries and read. At dinner they are the only other guests in the downstairs part, but the mezzanine and floor above have been “reserved”, which strikes as unusual. Excellent salmon for dinner. Afterwards we join the Swiss couple for coffee and whiskey. They have travelled quite a bit, partly explained by the fact that husband is responsible for liaison between the Swiss and Chilean/Argentine/Brazilian parts of the company he works for, and he also worked and lived in Venezuela for some time. Tomorrow we’re planning to head off early to try and get to Puerto Varas with enough time for a walk in the afternoon – let’s see how we go after the several whiskeys I have knocked back tonight!

The early start doesn’t happen, no surprise there! We again meet our Swiss friends at breakfast but don’t get together for conversation. The breakfast service is a bit below par today, but understandable as they have three tables to deal with. We manage to check out and depart around 11am finally, neither of us in any hurry. Luckily we don’t have to queue at the ferry and there is only one car in front of us. Ness is driving us back to Puerto Varas, which we reach around 2pm. The weather is warm but grey. The sun can’t manage to break through the cloud. The lady at reception recognises us from a few days back. Our room is smaller this time round. I have a go at getting us moved but to no avail, they’re full – huh?!? (most hotels in Chile bordered somewhere between empty and deserted…) The walk will have to wait until we’ve had something to eat, ave y tomato for Ness, chacarero for me. It is drizzling outside but we feel like a walk. We have both had enough of driving and there is a lovely lake right on our doorstep so the obvious conclusion is to walk along the lake shore. The walk is rather shorter than we had anticipated – the path ends at a fence marking private property. So we amble back through town. Most shops are still closed, but we hit on a bar where we stop for a few drinks – we may come back here tonight. A slow amble back to the hotel – the sun is now shining – and later I head down to the bar to write postcards. As I’m having a coffee in the bar a group of French people starts to build up in reception. A bit later I’m politely invited to vacate the bar and move to the breakfast room at the front of the hotel as the froggies have reserved the bar for a cocktail drink. The mystery of the full hotel has been explained.

That evening we go for a walk around Puerto Varas before picking a place for dinner. In the main square there is a band playing, badly. Many people are milling around, listening to the music, chatting – a lively Friday-night atmostphere. The bar we went to earlier now has a few more people and looks convivial, plus they do food so we head in. A group of British backpackers are in the back. Their conversations sound the same, and it’s a bit irritating to hear their English voices, so we move along one table when it’s free. Dinner is simple but successful for me (spinach crepe with centolla), less so for Ness (bland pasta). I order a coffee and cognac afterwards and am served a monster measure of XO cognac of an unfamiliar brand, but very good all the same. The band has stopped playing in the main square by the time we head back, but the casino is in full swing. We had a walk through earlier, intending to come back for a flutter at the cards and roulette upstairs. We lose a few chips of the $30,000 (£30) we started with, then move to one of the Draw Poker tables. The atmosphere is friendly and informal. I play for a while – it’s quite late by now – and end up first winning, then losing. Ness then takes my place when I go to the varones (gents toilet) and gets quite into it. We’re down to the last $15,000 but manage to keep it ticking over. Then Ness wins a few hands and a big one with a full house. Before we know it we have around $100,000! At the end of the evening we’re still $50,000 up, including all the drinks we have had. We both feel very …erm… “top of the world” when we finally head back to our hotel around 2.30am. And we have an early start tomorrow, only four and a half hours sleep!