Patagonia Flat

We said ciao to the end of the earth and headed to Puerto Varas, where we started with a short tour of two towns on the lake that were settled by German immigrants – Frutillar and Puerto Octay. Puerto Varas is a pretty big tourist destination and the “gateway to the lakes region of Patagonia.” If you need outdoor gear, this is the town for you. But it is on Lake Llanquihue (pronounced Yankee Way – just like the road in the Bronx to the greatest baseball stadium in the world)(it’s a very deep glacial lake – a great place to put the team), a glacial lake with beautiful scenery everywhere you look.

The first night, we went to Santo Fuego, a parrilla (of course), so Robin and Steven could eat meat for dinner. We left satisfied and tired after a long day. We were grateful because the pick-up time for our excursions for the next two days was a luxurious 9 a.m.!

Promptly at 9, Manuela and the driver arrived. Steven and I had been trying to figure out how to get laundry done, but in a harbinger of good things to come, Manuela said she would have the driver take us to the laundry service the hotel recommended. Hmmm, closed, but Manuela to the rescue! She knew a woman who did laundry and would bring it back to us at the hotel before we left the next morning. We dropped off the dirty clothes and started on the 1.5 hour drive to Parque Nacional Alerce Andino to hike through the temperate rain forest to a 3,000-year-old Patagonian cypress or Fitzroya cupressoides,  named after Robert Fitzroy of the HMS Beagle and Tierra del Fuego expedition fame. He got a mountain named after him, too (seems like a worthy reward for the effort he put in to schlep Darwin far enough so he could change our entire thinking on the way the natural world works).

We lucked out with Manuela, because in addition to finding us laundry service, she was an excellent guide to the trees and flowers in the park. We had great timing because everything was blooming so the forest was a deep green, punctuated by tiny red, purple, yellow, pink, and white blossoms. The hike itself is what we have learned is “Patagonia flat,” meaning you won’t be climbing a mountain, but don’t imagine the Midwest either. Rolling hills are a polite way of putting it.

Both on the way in and out of the park, we passed waterfalls on Rio Chaicas. I know I’m starting to sound redundant, but everything we saw was on a grand scale and beautiful. I think part of it was that we didn’t really have any expectations, so we were just amazed at every turn.

Our excursions came with a lunch, so we sat at the base of the giant tree and ate. The whole hike was about 8 km or 5 miles. Perfect for enjoying the environment without overdoing it on our step count.

Back in town, we wandered a bit and then ended up eating at the Hotel Puelche (where we were staying) restaurant – a burger place that had veggie burgers, too.

Steven here – we have done some much in these last few days that we decided to split up the blog – I am taking day two.

The next morning, first the laundry showed up on time – whew! We had clean clothes. Manuela and Ronaldo (our driver, but no not the futbol player) showed up promptly at 9 again. This time we loaded all our luggage into the van because we were checking out. The plan for today was to do shortish (6km) hike along the base of a volcano. According to Wikipedia (which will tell you not to use Wikipedia as a source), there are 105 volcanos in Chile that have been active during the Holocene – which is the current geologic period and has lasted about 11,000 years. We were hiking around the base of Volcán Osorno, which is in the Vincente Pérez Rosales National Park. It is the oldest national park, established in 1926 after Theodore “Teddy” Roosevelt visited the area and allegedly suggested that a park be established because it was the most beautiful place that he had ever seen. At least that is what they tell the Americans. The area is a temperate rainforest, so the forests are very green and lush. The hike took us through part of the forest and then across a lava field (the lava was no longer hot as the last eruption was in 1869, so it was safe to walk across) and then back through lower and more scrub-like vegetation. The entire hike was on black sand. We considered climbing up to the top (2,600 meters) of the volcano and sacrificing our cousin Robin to ensure that volcano didn’t erupt, but Manuela recommended against it, and we are afraid of Aunt Es.

After we finished the hike, we took the van to another part of the park (which is huge, something like 250,000 hectares or 1,000 square miles) and stopped to eat our box lunches at the Petrohué waterfalls. The falls are formed from the runoff of glacier water from the volcano so the water is a turquoise blue. As always, my words cannot express the beauty and power of nature, but hopefully these photos and videos will.

The cold tree

We walked a couple of trails near the waterfalls, one of which was full of a tree called Arrayan or Luma (Luma apiculate). The interesting thing about this tree is that it is always cold to the touch. We wandered the trails for another couple of hours and then called it a day.

Ronaldo drove us to the Petróhue Lodge, where were staying for the night. The lodge is on Todos los Santos Lake just on the outskirts of Parque Nacional Vicente Pérez Rosales and is rustic and beautiful. The owner is the great grandson of a Swiss archeologist and explorer who mapped the area and then settled here. He (the great grandson) has established a little museum next to the hotel about the history of the area and gave us a really nice tour of it.

Back to me (Sue, that is) – Yesterday was Robin’s last day with us, but we had time for one more hike with her. We couldn’t do the 7-hour Desolation Pass (oh boy were we sad we couldn’t do another death march), so we settled for a 3-hour loop which included the beginning of that hike and then headed back along the beach.

We were a little confused about where the trailhead was so we tried asking a park ranger. Apparently, my Spanish is very bad and I didn’t get across the point that we just needed directions to the trailhead, but he was very nice and used Google translate voice to give us a whole history of the park before pointing us in the right direction.

Wow! We had another perfect weather day in which the clouds lifted to reveal the Osorno volcano (among others). The hike took us from the lakefront, through the forest, across alluvial fields, and along the volcanic sand shores of the lake. We got back in plenty of time for Robin to get ready for her travel back to Atlanta and have a last lunch with us.

Steven and I had booked a hot tub for 4 p.m., so we relaxed for a couple of hours and puzzled over where to go instead of Peru, where there is a state of emergency. We are crazy, but not stupid. The hot tub is heated by a wood fire, so the staff tended it for four hours before it was the right temperature. The water was perfect and we sat in the wooden vats amid the trees feeling very lucky. The pisco sour and beer didn’t hurt either. Tomorrow, we go back to Puerto Varas for one last day of vacation before heading to Santiago and reality.

Today was the last day of our vacation. We spent the morning getting our last looks at Petrohue before we transferred back to Puerto Varas. We wandered around the town, admiring the cloudless view of the lake and volcanos and treated ourselves to T-shirts and ice cream. It is vacation after all. I had lemon with mint and ginger, which has become my favorite soft drink and Steven had something called harina tostada, which is toasted wheat. It doesn’t sound like a great ice cream flavor, but it was. Special shout out to our tour guide Manuela, who went out of her way to find us a special pepper made from leaves she pointed out on one of our walks. Can’t wait to see you again, Manuela!

This has been an amazing vacation. Tomorrow we fly to Santiago to begin the next phase of our adventure.