Puerto Varas, Chile
8/7/12 – 10/7/12 – Puerto Varas, Chile
I think we were both tepidly feeling somewhat apprehensive at Bariloche bus station that morning. I had gotten over my stomach bug to a degree; I had waves of nausea flooding over me at the most unusual of moments but I was well enough to walk around and converse, and probably take on a 6 or 7 hour bus trip. So perhaps it was the indigenous old woman with the crinkly brown face hassling everyone for change in the terminal that was unsettling but most likely it was a concern that I might spew my breakfast over the seat in front me whilst battling the winding mountains roads, out of Bariloche.
I will admit there were a few moments of shaky stomach action, followed by adrenaline fueled facial flushes, but it was easily abated by the magnificent alpine scenery. Wow.. lakes fueled by roadside rivers, and enclosed by black pebble beaches born from millennia of volcanic activity. Pine and their brethren of trees filled the empty gaps and the surrounding Andes rose to enclose it all, snow capped and jagged.
It wasn’t long before we were passing immigration at an icy Argentine border and then back on the bus to traverse the Pueyehue National Park. Now, this park has a bit of reputation.. as recent as 2011, this park is responsible for worldwide aviation disruption, mass evacuation and billions spent on re-fueling damaged local industry. As a result of what you ask. Well, this national park is home to the Pueyehue Cordon-Caulle volcano that erupted and spewed forth a mighty ash cloud that circumnavigated the globe at a latitude that affected not only Argentine cities like Bariloche and Buenos Aires, but Cape Town, Wellington, Melbourne, Perth, Sydney. And we were only within a kilometer or so of it’s world dominating power. And it was an amazing drive. Some 1500m up through the snow-laden country-side, battling snow blizzards and 5-odd foot of snow coverage.
But it was soon we’d pass through Chilean immigration; who have similarly strict regulations regarding importation of food and animal products. So much so they had a golden labrador at the border, wearing a typical canine dog jacket and at the time we arrived, chasing a doggy toy, not at all bothered by official business. He did a quick lap of our baggage before sitting next to his doggy-toy again, wagging profusely.
Instantly there was noticeable change once we’d crossed the border. Rather than rubbish on too much about the minute changes between countries, here’s a short list.
More houses built in timber, often beautifully astounding colors.
Garden picket fences and neatly arranged farming equipment.
More curtains in that doily material.
Much more conservative dress.
We actually decided to stay in a place called Puerto Varas which is more or less, directly across from Bariloche. For the purposes of international process we’d had to drive several hours north to cross the border. It could have been more efficient to stay up north on the Chilean side at somewhere like Osorno but we’d heard that Puerto Varas was nice and it would cost a few nights accomm and an hour or so getting there and another hour getting back up. And it turned out to be a worthwhile trip. We arrived late in the afternoon; and made our way down the charming Calle Martinez.. a simple country roadside full of those untreated weatherboard houses where there’s obvious age and dampness on the boards, timber window frames full of crocheted white curtains and the thick smell of wood-fires across the town. We walked down to Casa Lan Antu, a 1920’s salmon-painted mansion converted to guesthouse. Once we’d attempted all of the several staircases up to the upper landing of the property, we managed to find right one and rang a old ship bell labelled ‘Titanic 1912’. A tiny, little man with coke-bottle glasses and a simply delightfully knitted green sweater opened the creaking wooden door.
‘Buen Dia’ he said.. total darkness behind him.
Despite his adorable stature it was a little vampiric and so a bit unsettling.
‘Buenos Tardes, tengo una reservar, me illamo Murray Newham’ I said.. (proudly).
He lead us inside but didn’t turn any lights on until we got to the gloomy reception desk somewhere in the belly of the mansion. I managed to make out antique firearms, old photographs and somewhere an old television rang out football.
I guess we got the gist of his introduction to the place; there was typically no English spoken. He’d been there for some 23 years, breakfast was at 7:30, and the hot water could take a good 5 minutes of so to come through. But the place was cosy, clean and completely charming.
But as we had minimal day light left we put our bags down and ran out of the mansion and down the street to the banks of Lago Llanquihue, one of the largest lakes in South America where across it’s tepid waters, we could see the perfect conical form of Volcan Osorno on the left and Mt Calbulco and Mt Tronador on the right. The sun was setting so there’s this terrific orange glow illuminating all mountains as that dusky blue of the night begins to sweep in. A charming sight.
And it’s just as well because we never saw it again. The next few days, although fine in town, were cloudy on the other side of the lake, hiding the magnificence of the mountains in a cloudy veil for the rest of our time there.
Unperturbed, we took in the quaint little town, with it’s wonderful German colonial influence, it seems the Germans painted their influence all over Puerto Varas and the surrounding areas. From the local beer (Kuuntsman) to the architecture of churches and municipal buildings. But then there’s plenty of strudel and cakes and smatterings of sauerkraut on burgers and sandwiches. It’s unfortunately come at the expense of the responsible treatment of local indigenous populations, so it’s weird to see The Chileans so far are astoundingly courteous and patient. They’re obviously different in appearance as well. I suppose more indigenous looking, whatever value that has; but also shorter in stature and broader across the face.
We had the good fortune of being in town for the 9th of July Chilean flag day celebrations. Accidentally stumbling across a military procession along the lake-side road, closed for the occasion. 4 platoons of Chilean troops, their commanding officers and a full military band standing silently, facing away from the lake to a small gathering of local dignitaries under a small marquee on the hillside. It was as military as these processions go, but with a few surprising additions like a goose-step march and that fascist straight-arm salute. There were things like eagles atop flag-posts and knee-high boots. It was military in it’s purest form and a little unsettling and intimating to be perfectly honest but at the same precise and impressive.
In the summertime, it’s possible to swim in the frighteningly cold lake, and there’s a number of other outdoor activities that open up to the visitor; rafting and kayaking for example. We had two nights in Puerto Varas to simply soak it in. We had our little Norman Bates up at the hotel, and plenty of local restaurants to keep us company. A nice change from the often stodgy food in Argentina has been the introduction of good, fresh produce, namely avocados, tomatoes and other ensalada components. Add to this, if you were to pick them up at the supermarket, they’re significantly cheaper, as are most goods; it seems. We had a great meal at Danes Cafe in town. Beautifully fresh sandwiches full of the above mentioned ingredients. A neighboring elderly couple indulged in fresh prawns over avocado and lemon, well beyond our budget but enviable and worth reporting. Those wanting another perspective can read the following article:
http://theoverpacker.com/2011/01/10/day -92-stick-to-what-you-know-the-food-of- puerto-varas/
o we had arranged next to whizz up to Pucon, a town famous for it’s leering nearby volcano, Villa Ricca, which at 2800m or so meters of elevation is a popular spot for climbing..in summer. We’d venture that way to determine if it might be something we could do in winter. But we had a 7 or so hour bus ride to endure first.