A Drive Around Lago Llanquihue
Craig and Steph's Horseback Ride in the Andes
After breakfast we sat on the couch looking at maps and brochures. Vicki came by to see if we had heard anything about the possibility of going to Chiloe this morning. As she was the first person we had spoken to, we said no. She suggested that maybe we might want to rent a car and either drive to Chiloe ourselves, or drive around Lago Llanquihue, the fourth largest lake in South America, whose name means "submersion" in the Mapuche language. Craig was a bit apprehensive about driving in Chile. He was concerned because it was our first day in the Lakes District so we didn't know the area at all, never mind our lack of Spanish speaking ability. Vicki assured us that it would be easy and we would be able to find our way around comfortably. She told us that she usually recommends this option to visitors as it allows them to see exactly what they want to see. Vicki made a few phone calls and found an excursion van leaving for the town of Ancud on the island of Chiloe in a few minutes. It would also be stopping at a penguin reserve on Chiloe. We could go with them if we made the decision immediately. All of a sudden we were put on the spot, and we made the rush decision that we would go. We could be ready in a few minutes and the day would be packed with exciting activities. We ran to our room to get our daypacks ready while Vicki called them back, only to find that they had already left without us. So, the choice was made for us: we would rent a car afterall. The only catch was that the car wouldn't be ready until around 11 o'clock. Vicki was rushing around the house to get to town to meet some food editors from the United States (she is a caterer and owns a gourmet shop in Puerto Varas in addition to owning the Guest House). She offered to drop us off at the car rental place if we could leave immediately. So once again we were rushed even though we had hours to spare, so we grabbed our bags, and hopped into her car. Craig noticed a smell of fish in her car and guessed what they were making for dinner. At this point our heads were spinning as what had started out as a low-key morning suddenly turned into a frantic dash.
Vicki drove us the short distance into town and dropped us at the rental car place. As she drove away, we went in and discovered that none of the employees spoke English. They called their manager and put Craig on the phone with him, so that we could get the necessary information. It was now only 9 o'clock, and the guy told Craig not to worry, that the car would be there by 11. So, that left us with two hours to kill. This wasn't a problem as we were new to the town and this gave us an opportunity to explore. We spent this time wandering around town, although we did find it amusing that we took the ride with Vicki and still ended up getting the info through the phone. The rental place was located just off the main square and it was full of very pretty trees and flowers. In general the town was neat and tidy with roads in an easy-to-manage grid. It mostly consisted of shops, small restaurants, and adventure excursion outfitters. We walked over to the shores of Lake Llanquihue, and looked at the volcanoes off in the distance. The surface of the lake was rather dark as the skies were still full of morning clouds. A fisherman was rowing his way to shore and the whole lakeside vision was very serene. As we looked toward town again there was a cute line of little shops that were made up of wooden cars and looked like a gypsy caravan or a circus train along the roadside. One or two shops were open but the rest were all still closed down. Since it was Sunday morning, nothing was really open yet. We decided to walk through the town back toward the Guest House. The church we saw yesterday was near there and we knew that we would find lots of activity there this morning.
The Iglesia Catolica of Puerto Varas is an impressive and memorable structure. Made of lightly corrugated white sheet metal with black trim and a red roof, it had the style of a Swiss castle, with three turrets, one of which housed a clock which perpetually pointed to 12:00. Parishoners were gathering for Sunday Mass, some on foot and others driving cars. The morning was shaping up to be a nice day,and we walked around the outside of the building taking a few pictures of the church, as well as some pretty flowers blossoming on the grounds. At one point one of the nearby dogs decided that he didn't like us taking photos and began barking wildly. To avoid causing a commotion we decided to move on. Even after wandering around the town, we still had a lot of time to kill before the car would be ready, so we walked back to the Guest House to take care of some things. We asked Isabel about the possibility of doing laundry. She handed us a large wicker laundry basket. We filled it and gave it to Sylvia, who would run the laundry while we were out for the day. We made sure we had everything we wanted for the day (it had been such a mad dash to get out of here this morning that we weren't sure that we were fully prepared). Once we had everything ready, we walked back to the car rental place. We passed an abandoned house with two tiny kittens on the doorstep: one tiger and one black. The black one was laying partially under the closed door. The gap under the door was just large enough for the kittens to crawl underneath and they looked so cute lying there. I took some photos and found myself so thrilled with the sight that I stepped off the curb without paying much attention and almost walked right in front of a moving car in the process. As we continued down the street we were heading down a hill overlooking the city. The view was beautiful with all the small wooden homes in the foreground, and the lake and volcano towering in the background. This really is a lovely part of Chile. When we returned to the rental car place, we found that the English-speaking owner and the car had arrived in our absence. We were shown to a silver 2-door Fiat with a manual transmission. We filled out the necessary paperwork, a process remarkably simple compared to home, and headed out.
We decided to drive around Lago Llanquihue in a counter-clockwise direction so we would not be driving right into the setting sun later in the day. It was rather late to get started on a road trip to Chiloe, and Chiloe would also require navigating the highways, tolls, etc. The route around the lake was much more low-key. And it would be good to get to enjoy the lakes and volcanoes for which this region has become famous as a vacation retreat. We had never driven in a foreign country before. The closest we got was driving in St. Thomas, where they drive on the left hand side of the road. Here they drive on the right, but we were a bit nervous about foreign language street signs, etc. But we felt empowered and viewed it as a relatively safe step toward independent foreign travel. As we were heading along the lake we pulled over at a nice viewpoint offering a great view of the lake and volcano behind. Another family had also stopped here and we offered to take their picture for them. After a brief stop, we continued on. We passed through Ensenada, a sleepy crossroads which contained several restaurants. We wanted to find a nice place to eat lunch at some point, but we felt as though we had just headed out and didn't want to stop so soon in our journey. The view of Volcan Osorno from this route were breathtaking.
In Ensenada, We took a small detour away from Lago Llanquihue and into Parque Nacional Vicente Perez Rosales. The road soon turned into gravel and dirt surface and it was clear this road gets washed out often. There were many places where you could see the remains of a waterfall that must have run right across the road. This was apparently the reason for the temporary road surface. There were many signs of old lava flows that also ran right across the road. At one time this area was clearly a very active volcanic region and thus created some beautiful scenery. Mountains towered overhead and beautiful rock formations were everywhere. We continued toward the town of Petrohué, on the shore of Lago Todos los Santos. There were a lot of cars and buses pulled over at the Salto del Petrohué. We looked in our guide book to see what it was all about, and it appeared to be a series of water flumes. You had to pay an entrance fee and it was mobbed with busloads of people, so we decided to skip it and instead kept driving toward Petrohué itself. Although we probably should have taken the time to investigate further we were enjoying the freedom of our rental car and decided against getting in with such large tourist groups. A little further up the road a bus was just pulling away from a scenic lookout. We decided to pull over and see where the river flowed very strong over an old lava flow. It was a lovely spot but within seconds we were being pestered by swarms of biting flies which plague the area at this time of year, called petros ("Petrohué" is a Mapuche word which translates to "Place of Petros") or as some people called them, tabanos. They are large black horseflies about the size of the bumble bees back home. They are about an inch long, and they have a hard black shell and are amazingly resistant to being killed. If you waved your arms fast enough to hit one it would fly away and simply come racing back undaunted. Although they didn't really seem to be biting Craig or me, they were definitely a nuisance trying to land on our clothing and buzzing right into our faces. They were also large enough to make a very disturbing buzzing sound as they would divebomb at our heads. The whole experience is one we really didn't think we would get used to and definitely took away from the beauty and majesty of this particular area. We had read about them in our guidebook as being a problem in this area during the month of January. It seems they only hatch and live for about a month and then disappear again, but this was clearly not a good time to be on foot checking out this particular area. The guidebook also stated that they prefer dark clothing and are only out in the sunshine. We were wearing light clothing so that may have been preventing them for trying to land, but they were still a nuisance. We were enjoying the sunshine as this had become a beautiful day, but given these nasty creatures we might have preferred the clouds roll in. After a couple of pictures, we had to get out of there. This made us realize that we were probably glad we decided not to stop and take the full tour at the Salto del Petrohué afterall. A little further up the road we came across the beautiful Hotel Petrohué and a lakeside campground. We stopped and took a few pictures but we were once again bothered by the tabanos so we hopped back in the car rather quickly.
We drove back to Ensenada and rejoined our original route circumnavigating Lago Llanquihue. Then we headed through Las Cascadas where the forest was very dense around the road and it made for a stunning ride. Vicki had told us about a canopy zip line in this area. She said that we would find it before the paved roadway returned. We still weren't sure if we actually wanted to do it, but we were trying to keep an eye out for it. In the end it didn't matter as we couldn't find it anyway. Craig thought he saw a property where it might have been, but he didn't see any signs to indicate it was actually there. The paved roadway returned and we decided against turning around to attempt to find it. We got a late start on our road trip and still had lots of ground to cover anyway. There were a few little "resorts" in this area, none of which looked to be very busy. There were also a few restaurants which had very few customers. We found ourselves joking about the tabanos in this area and what a nightmare it would be staying over on this side of the lake. We noticed that these bugs didn't seem to live in Puerto Varas itself, but all these other towns were infested. We wondered if they would pose a problem on our horseback ride over the next few days, but figured we'd take one day at a time. As we were driving through the small town of Rio Blanco, we saw a very picturesque church on the shores of the lake. We drove by but it caught both of our attention, so Craig turned around and we decided to get out and take a closer look. It was made of corrugated metal painted bright yellow, but it was so weathered that the gray showed through. Surprisingly large waves were lapping the shore. There was a small cemetery next to the church, and a man who was trimming the plants waved at us as we walked around. I thought it was really beautiful, and we took a few pictures. A few tabanos bothered us here but nothing like we saw earlier in the day. We were starting to be able to ignore them as long as they didn't actually land on us. Our guidebook said they do bite and given their size we didn't really want to find out what that felt like.
We then continued around the lake to Puerto Octay. It was a small quaint town and we decided to take a little walk around town. As we drove around a few of the small side roads we saw a sign praising the paving of the roadway and how it brought jobs and other benefits to the community. We thought about how the locals might feel about this sort of progress and how the signs probably help give a positive spin to development of the area. We parked the car in front of a small store and walked around the plaza de armas, which had a small gazebo with an artificial Christmas tree on top of it. The sun was hot and shining down on us, so it didn't feel very Christmas-like to us but it was still nice to see. The tabanos appeared to be gone again and we were glad to see they seem to be limited to the backside of Lago Llanquihue. In the center of town there was a Catholic church, a couple of small supermarkets, and some small restaurants. There was also a small post office and public building which was closed because it was a Sunday. We were quite obviously the only gringos in town, and we strolled around, watching the people enjoying the lovely day in the plaza de armas. We were definitely feeling hungry now, but we decided to save our appetites until we got to Frutillar, a German colonial town which we had seen on the Chile episode of our beloved "Globe Trekker" TV series. Back when we planned our trip to Chile, we saw where Frutillar was on a map and never thought we'd make it there to see it for ourselves. With the change of plans this morning suddenly it seemed the obvious place to get a nice hearty dinner, since we had completely missed lunch. With the exception of a small bag of trail mix we had nothing to eat since our terrific breakfast which seemed so long ago. Before leaving town we stopped into a little grocery store and looked around. There was nothing resembling a hat but we always find it interesting to see what they have in these little stores. Even the cookies and candies can be quite a surprise for us. Chileans sure love their snacks and sweets so sometimes we see things we just don't expect. We didn't end up buying anything since we were pretty well prepared for the next few days and we were holding off eating anything until we found the right place for dinner.
We continued out of town passing by a few nice looking restaurants that we recalled seeing in various guide books of the area. They had terrific views down to the lake but they seemed to be rather large and very popular with tourists so we decided to stick with the plan of heading to Frutillar for dinner. We realized that we were just assuming that there would even be an appropriate place to eat in Frutillar. Given the sizes of the towns we had been through today, Frutillar could easily be just another sleepy town which was basically closed down on Sundays. We kept our fingers crossed and hoped that Frutillar would live up to our expectations.
We arrived there around 3 o'clock. At first it seemed unlikely that we would find much to do there. The area looked rather industrial (though on a small scale) and residential, with little A-frame houses, a closed carnival, etc. There were very few people out and about. We were a bit puzzled as this didn't seem to be what we were expecting at all. We were a little surprised and wondering what we should do. Something seemed wrong. A closer look at the guidebook alerted us to the fact that Frutillar actually consists of two towns, upper and lower. We had read this before but once we saw the town in person it all made sense. This was apparently Upper Frutillar. We found the critical roadway and followed it several kilometers finally finding ourselves in Lower Frutillar, which was much more picturesque. This was more like it. The was clearly a small resort type town where locals come for summer vacations or for relaxing days at the lake. It was full of people enjoying the lazy, sunny, Sunday afternoon. We drove down the classic lakefront street that hugged the shore. On one side of the street was the lake, lined with black volcanic sand beach which had a stunning view of Volcan Osorno in the distance. Plenty of people were swimming. On the other side of the road were lots of churches, shops, and cafes. We had been a bit concerned that things might not have been open on Sunday, but we needn't have worried. This was the type of place all the locals went on a nice summer Sunday! We actually had a hard time finding a legal parking spot on this main road, so after looping around a few times, we decided to park a block away, where we found an empty spot next to the German colonial museum. The sun was quite hot so we put on some sun protection and headed out for a walk. There were some interesting public art pieces, most of which had to do with music. Frutillar is known for its concert series in the summer. In fact, they are in the process of building a large concert venue right on the water. This Teatro del Lago is a large modern concrete structure that looks very out-of-place and blocks the view of the volcano from some angles. We spent a while walking along the main street, going back and forth from one end to the other, just taking it all in. We weren't sure where we wanted to eat, but we decided that we should eat somewhere that reflected the German heritage of Frutillar. Having taken our first trip to Berlin in November, it had a nostalgic quality to it.
After stopping at a few places and looking at a few menus, we decided on a small, somewhat upscale restaurant called Guten Appetit. There were some outdoor tables shaded by umbrellas, but with the heat of the sun, we decided that the cooler, darker, interior of the restaurant was more inviting. We sat at a corner table which had a view of the beach, lake, and volcano. Craig ordered a Colonos del Llanquihue Artesenal Lager Premier. This was the first cold beer he had been served in Chile, and it seemed ironic that it came from a German restaurant. I had a Fanta. The waitress brought over the menus and when she realized that we spoke English, she brought over a man who was probably the owner. He spoke Spanish and German and a smattering of English. He told us about some of the dishes they offered. We weren't quite sure if these were specials, or if this was all that was on the menu for today. We were a bit confused, but after speaking to him a bit more, we decided on the "carne parrilla for 2." This was a grilled meat sampler that he said would feed two people. It was now coming up on 4 o'clock, and we still hadn't eaten anything since breakfast, so this seemed appropriate. The waitress asked if we wanted any salad. Being as hungry as we were, we ordered a chileno salad (made up of onions, tomatoes, and lemon juice). Soon some fresh bread arrived with butter and a hot pepper spread. There was also a bowl of tomatoes, onions, and oil that looked almost like a salsa. This must be the chileno salad. Craig ate most of it and I had a couple of bites. It was very fresh and much like some of the chileno salad we had been eating elsewhere on our trip. Our drinks had gone down quickly since it was such a warm day, and Craig ordered a Kuntsmann Bock and I ordered another Fanta. We were enjoying a few more rolls when all of a sudden, the waitress appeared carrying a very large piece of equipment. It was a small, but complete, grill filled with hot coals, on top of which was piled more meat than I've ever seen. It was totally outrageous. We noticed other diners looking our way and smiling with an "aren't you glad that isn't us?" amused look on their faces. We couldn't believe it, we both broke into laughter eventually causing the waitress to join in too. There were three large pieces of brisket, three large steaks, two each of three types of sausage, two huge chicken legs, and five potatoes. It was unreal. We just stared at it in disbelief and again started to laugh. We just looked around the restaurant smiling back at all the folks that were now just staring at our meal and laughing too. Just when we were coming to grips with the meal that lay ahead of us, the waitress brought Craig's salad. Apparently, what he had eaten before was a condiment. This looked similar to what we had already eaten, but was not diced up quite as small. We were still laughing as we ate and ate and ate. It was delicious, but there was so much of it. It was like we were on some kind of meat high.
Suddenly we were struck by the thought, "How much did this thing cost?" We had seen the price on the menu and it hadn't seemed very high at all, but that mustn't be right. There was so much food here. You must have to multiply that cost by two. That must have been a per person price. Did they even take credit cards here? We didn't think so. Would we be able to pay our bill? If not, we would sure have to wash a lot of dishes to pay for this spread, we imagined. This just made us laugh even more. The waitress would check on us once in a while and we would all start to laugh again. We were thankful that we had chosen to eat inside as, through the window, we watched one of the outdoor umbrella tables flip over in a particularly strong gust of wind. We imagined what a tragedy it would have been if our hot grill full of meat had been similarly toppled by the wind. Craig made a valiant effort and I ate as much as I could but there came a time when we just couldn't force down any more meat, so we asked for a doggie bag. We didn't know who would eat the leftovers, but if nothing else we were convinced that some of the younger folks working at the Guest House would be more than happy to take a free meal. After all, the leftovers were still larger than many meals at a restaurant. The waitress packed away two sausages, a steak, two chicken legs, and the entire salad. She then came back to the table and asked if we wanted dessert. We just looked at her like she was crazy. Hadn't she just seen the amount of food she brought us? Was this normal by their standards? We had never seen anything like it! We asked if they took credit cards and she said no. Uh-oh, we were afraid of that. Would we be washing dishes after all? She said they did take U.S. cash though. When the bill arrived it was 18,200 pesos. With tip that came to $40 U.S. Wow! How reasonable. All that food plus two rounds of drinks for less than $40? We couldn't believe it. We left the restaurant with our doggie bag in hand. We passed the sign and noticed the name of the restaurant, which we hadn't thought much of before. "Guten appetit." Indeed! You need a good appetite to eat there! Despite being very full, a few minutes later we found ourselves stopped at a little bodega to buy some ice cream. The ice creams here were not the big fancy homemade kind, they were all varieties of premade Nestle ice cream bars or sundaes. We found that after all that meat, and with the sun beating down on us, we needed a little something after all. I got dark chocolate with vanilla ice cream inside and Craig got an orange "loco" sundae. We sat on a park bench overlooking the beach, eating our ice cream and gazing at Volcan Osorno. After that, we walked back to the car. We drove back through Upper Frutillar, and it seemed to be a different place than it had been just a couple of hours earlier. There were more people out and about in the streets. The carnival was now in full swing: people were lining up for admission, riding amusement rides, etc. It seemed quite inviting, but, alas, we needed to get back to Puerto Varas. The small meandering highway that we had taken all the way around the lake didn't continue on, so we drove on Route 5 back to Puerto Varas. Route 5 was a much larger highway consisting of a few lanes in each direction with big official on/off ramps and even tolls. Along the way, we saw a rather grubby looking man carrying a full sized axe hitchhiking on the side of Route 5. We joked that we should pick him up. We wondered what type of person would actually pick up somebody like that. The axe just seemed a bit too over the top for us. After we passed him we looked in the rearview mirror and noticed that he had flagged down a bus and was getting on. Now there's something you don't see every day in the U.S.!
We found our way back to Puerto Varas and we stopped in at the Guest House to drop off our leftover meat and our day packs. We told Isabel and Anna about the dinner, and they laughed. They said they could put the meat in the fridge for us. We told them there was no way we'd be eating any more of it tonight, and tomorrow we headed off on our kayaking and horseback riding trip. So we told them that they, or anyone else at the Guest House, were welcome to it. They thanked us saying it would not go to waste. They would definitely eat it if we didn't want it, and put it into the refrigerator. Isabel and Anna told us that the U.S. food editors Vicki had met with earlier were coming over for dinner tonight. There were 26 of them, and they were on a ganstronomical tour of Chile. The Guest House was abuzz with preparations. We found our laundry clean and freshly folded, sitting on the bed. The price for this service was not cheap, but the convenience made it all worthwhile. We would only need a couple of laundry missions to make it through the trip, and this one couldn't have been easier. All our clothes from hiking were all sparkly clean, smelling so nice and fresh, we just couldn't beat that! Although we could theoretically keep the rental car until the next day, we would be heading off early the next morning and wouldn't be needing it again today. We hopped in the car and drove it back downtown to be returned. We had driven a total of 210 km. and the whole thing was quite easy to deal with. We didn't even return the car full of gas since dealing with the gas station was another unnecessary adventure. Since they had offered us a great price on gas anyway, stopping just seemed to be an extra hassle.
As we were walking around town we realized that we were heading off on a kayaking trip early tomorrow morning, and Craig still didn't have a replacement hat. The sun is a serious concern around here and Craig was quite worried about burning his less-than-protected head. We had hoped that we would come across a shop that sold any kind of hats today on our ride around the lake, but there hadn't really been anything other than little grocery stores. Although there were plenty of sporting goods stores and clothing stores in Puerto Varas, this was Sunday evening, and they were all closed for the day. We looked at their hours of operation, and found that they wouldn't be opening until 9 or 10 the following morning, by which time we would already be gone. This fact was made even more painful as a few of the stores had really nice hats, exactly what Craig was looking for, in various window displays.
The only places that were really hopping in town were the supermarkets so we went into two of these on the odd chance that they might be selling hats. Craig would settle for some type of baseball hat if necessary, anything to protect his head from the sun. The store was very busy, and the security presence was overwhelming. At the Las Brisas supermarket (the first we tried) we noticed that they had a five liter keg of Berliner Kindl beer, which reminded us of our recent trip to Germany and all of the billboards that said "Kiss me, Kindl!" We thought it might be a little too big to purchase as a souvenir though, so we turned our attention back to hats. At the second supermarket we were faced with the only hat option being little cardboard bithday hats or various styrofoam party hats. Craig tried on a very cute little pink princess hat and decided it wouldn't be very effective. Feeling defeated, we turned our attention back to drinks. Craig bought a grande Cristal beer, and we bought some pre-mixed Ruta pisco sour. We also got some Oreo-style sandwich cookies and some chocolate chip cookies to have back at the room. We resigned ourselves to giving up on the quest for the hat, and started toward the Guest House. We hoped that we would be able to get something in the morning when our guide came to get us. Maybe even the kayaking outfitter would have some type of hats for sale. As we walked down the sidewalk, we noticed a man all spread out selling goods on a blanket. Our eyes wandered over his wares, not even daring to hope...but there it was...a hat! We asked how much and he said 1000 pesos. Less than $2. Sold! As we were digging out our money, the guy continued his sales pitch, showing us that it was reversible...blue on one side and black on the other. At this point we didn't need much convincing as we would have taken just about anything, but in the end this hat was even better than we hoped to find. It was even water resistant which could come in handy. Feeling very pleased with this unexpected development, we walked back to the Guest House.
As we approached the house we remembered what we had left behind earlier. There were going to be 26 American food editors sitting in the main room of the Guest House. This meant we would basically have to hide in our bedroom for the evening. This wasn't a very attractive situation, but it would allow us some time to unwind and maybe even get a good night sleep. As we opened the front door, the little chimes announced our presence and we were immediately the focus of everyone's attention. Fortunately, they all quickly dropped back into conversation, and we made our way through the room towards guest room #2. The living and dining rooms were packed with people. The dining room table had all sorts of food nicely displayed as a buffet. Everything looked terrific and it seemed everyone was having a great time and enjoying the food. We retired immediately to our room. We both really enjoyed our drinks and cookies, but it felt a bit awkward with such a large party going on just outside our room. It was a shame we didn't have some nice music or something to take our focus away from the voices of the crowd. Craig spent a lot of time getting all of our luggage prepared for the next few days while I wrote in the journal. It was a very long day with lots to write about, so it took quite a while. Most of the editors had left by 11 o'clock, at which point we immediately fell asleep despite the few lingering voices.