The time has come for us to make our way down south. Leaving Pucon is like leaving our comfort zone and I guess this is now really the beginning of our adventure. You know it’s time to leave when the waiter from the week before recognises you and yells across the street “Hola, are you still here”?
With our 2 weeks of basic Spanish lessons behind us, Ben is now able to confidently ask for a bus ticket to our next destination, Puerto Varas, in Spanish using more than 2 words and without sign language. Everything seems a bit more familiar now with bus travel. Buses replace the now extinct train travel in Chile and with the local February holiday season on our door step the bus stations seem like grand central station. There is a bus for every destination in Chile. Not knowing too much about Puerto Varas other than it is another lakeside town with another volcano we take a ‘wait and see when we get there’ approach and look forward to our 5 hour trip for a ‘bus siesta” and TV catch ups on our ipads.
Although it’s 5pm when we arrive, the sun is still high in the sky. The days become longer now as we migrate further south. Having not worn our backpacks for 2 weeks I am reminded how heavy mine is after a mere 15 minute walk down the hill to our hostel. I am distracted of this thought when we reach stunning views of Lago Llanquihue (one of the largest natural lakes in Sth America) and two volcanoes Osorno and Calbuco. Our hostel is close to town and was once an old Germanic school. Now a listed heritage building, Margouya 2 feels a great place to base ourselves till the end of the week.
Puerto Varas is fast becoming another popular place for activities like volcano climbing on Volcan Osorno (no thanks one volcano is enough), rafting, bike riding, kayaking and with much to explore we settle for our usual course of finding the closest supermarket to stock up on supplies. A new supermarket to explore in a new town is always an exercise to search for a better variety of foods and try out new beers. It is not long before Austral cerevaza, the local Patagonian beer, becomes a favourite. However our hopes are lowered quickly when we realize that supermarkets in this area are still the same – lots of carbs consisting of pastas, pizzas, hotdogs, mayonnaise, the humble iceberg lettuce, limited vegetables and lots of bread. There is fresh meat and chicken but at this stage I imagine a spicy green curry chicken and realize it will be a dream for a while. It is hard to find spicy food on supermarket shelves in this region.
Our reason for also staying here is to give us time to research our trip to Patagonia. It seems an overwhelming region to plan and research. Fortunately our hostel appears to be a gateway for travelers returning from the deep south, and much conversation is exchanged in the kitchen at cook time on recommendations for Torres del Paine and the Chalten treks in Chile and Argentina Patagonia. Our main obstacle is the mode of transport getting there without the expense of flying. Buses are ruled out as they are infrequent and difficult to get a direct route to the Chilean south Patagonia. After much deliberation we make the decision to blow the budget and book a last minute deal on the Navimag cargo ferry sailing a direct route from Puerto Montt to Puerto Natales through the Chilean fiords over a 4 day period. We buy a last minute deal for $399 USD each online. The ferry sails out Friday week so now we have about 8 days to play with. Seems an excessive time to wait for the ferry but as Nobbies are renowned for moving slowly this gives us time to explore the Isle of Chiloe and the surrounding Lake District along with blog catch ups.
Pierre, the hostel owner is a Canadian French journalist and he and his girlfriend are fabulous with recommendations on how to fill in our spare days. We head out to Frutillar, 20 minutes on a local bus. It’s a charming heritage lakeside town with quaint German architecture and influences from the German immigration in the late 1800’s. As are most of the towns in this lake district. It also has breathtaking views over the lake to the perfectly cone shaped Volcan Osorno standing majestically over the water.
There is a contemporary performing arts theatre called Teatro del Lago in Frutillar which I recently read cost $25 million and now has a global reputation for its acoustics. We decide to see what all the fuss is about and splurge $25 each on tickets to see a classical guitarist, Emerson Salazar who was performing for the “Semana Musical de Frutillar” festival. It is an exquisite performance and you could hear a pin drop watching this talented artist rapidly moving his fingers on the strings to produce the finest sounds of a classical guitar.
The week goes by quickly and only a day free to research our trip to Chiloe, communicate with family and friends back at home as well as explore the town. It’s very easy to spend alot of money on activities and decide to leave the rafting and kayaking for another time. Instead we walk around the streets lined with old fashioned rose bushes and check out the German heritage listed shingled houses. Some are beautifully restored whilst others left to decay but of course no town is complete without visiting the local church and Puerto Varas’ teutonic Iglesia Sagrado Corazon de Jesus is impressive. Sitting perched on the highest hill it became a great subject for photography. It was built in 1915 to scale replica of a church in Germany’s Black Forest and made entirely from wood and corrugated iron.
The holiday crowd descends on the town early Feb and it’s a bustling place with more 4wd’s, families and tourists flocking to the black sandy beaches stretched for miles around the lake. There is an abundance of log cabanas, hotels, hosterias and even a casino recently built on the lakefront. The mornings are much cooler than in Pucon and shorts and t-shirts get swapped for jeans and jackets but by the end of the afternoon when the heat of the day sets we are stripping back to summer clothes again. We enjoy our late night chats with fellow hostel travelers (including Jenny from Australia who is also travelling for nearly a year) over a good $5 bottle of Chilean red. We discover empanadas filled with tender chunky meat, whole egg and olives at Café Dane’s, munch on afternoon German tea cake called Kuchen and Ben even finds an above average espresso coffee. But…..panic strikes the night before we leave for Chiloe when Ben realises his credit card is missing. Back tracking it to the last ATM at a local bank earlier in the afternoon Ben remembers he had not collected the card. We race back down to the bank which is now closed and search the ATM glass booth but alas no sign of the card. We are still getting used to Chile’s ATM’s method of dispensing cash. Their ATM’s release the cash first and then ask if you wish to make a further transaction. One has to press the ‘no’ button before the card is released, unlike Australia where you remove the card and then the cash is issued. It has been so easy to collect the cash and walk away and this time both of us let our guard down leaving the card behind. It was our overseas free fees credit card so Ben skyped the Australian office and put a hold on it for 24 hours.
The next morning Ben returns to the bank. His limited Spanish did not cover how to ask for a missing credit card but with a phase book and sign language and manages to make himself understood to the manager who had the card behind the counter. Someone had handed it in or they had retrieved the card from the machine. Either way it is a win and Ben comes back to the hostel with a relieved smile and just in time for us to get on the road to Chiloe. We now have a diligent 3-step rule at ATM’s : Cash, Card, Receipt. Chiloe here we come.