13.01.2014 20 °C
We had a lazy day and did not get out until around noon. We walked back down to the Plaza de Armas and went into the Museum of National History. It was small and had a few interesting pieces in it. From there we walked across the old part of Santiago and over a bridge that crossed a fast running river the color of chocolate milk.
The area across the river is called Bario Lastarria which was a funky little place with many restaurants and shops on two main roads. Most of the buildings had amazing graffiti art paintings and made it a very interesting afternoon.
Our walk back took us through a park that is narrow and spans around 10 or 12 blocks in the middle of town. Always a well used park, it appears to be full of mostly middle class, not many affluent people here. Many families and lots of young [and old] lovers laying on the grass escaping the oppressive heat.
In the middle of the park is a huge four story fountain and it is full of children and some adults trying to beat the heat. Many fountains are around Santiago and we see people dunking their heads in the water to cool off. Dogs go into the lower fountains to drink and cool off as well.
The park in the city had a number of dog houses for the many strays.
A change in plans meant a visit to the local airline office which was very busy and consumed a few hours this morning. The plan was to take a bus to Concepcion, a five hour ride, spend the night and then rent a car to head south. Looking at it on the map last night we figured we would be spending most of the 8 days in the car, which is not my idea of a good time.
Instead we will fly to Puerto Montt and rent a car for the time and then fly back to Santiago to head over to where our cruise leaves from.
We went for a walk back to the first restaurant for another quinoa avocado salad and then I went back to the room and Doug went off walking. He came across an old railroad station, unused for trains since the Second World War, and found them getting ready for a huge art show in two weeks. Some limes and bananas were purchased at the local market and then we went back to pack for tomorrows flight.
Day 7. The flight from Santiago to Puerto Montt showed fantastic views over the Andes mountains, many lakes and a few volcanos
Upon arrival we collected our bags, (thankfully they arrived with us) and our rental car. This was the fastest and easiest car rental of any we have done. They upgraded us from a small Chevy sprint to a mid size car which is very comfortable. The highway 5 runs from Alaska all the way here and ends at the bottom of the island we are going to.
Following the highway finds us to a port and a large blue and yellow ferry waiting for us. We are waved aboard and there is not an inch to spare as we are sandwiched between many large semis. The island will do all it's import and exporting by these ferrys which leave continuously all day. It is about the size of the Denman Island ferry and takes 40 minutes to reach the other side. The weather is much cooler here, in the low 20s and wonderful. I got out of the car to look at the ocean and thought I saw a very strange looking duck in the water beside me. Upon closer investigation I realized it was a penguin. My first penguin sighting. We also saw a couple of very large sea lions swimming beside us.
Continuing our drive south on the Pan American highway takes us through rolling hills of perfect patchwork squares of greens yellows and browns. Sheep and cattle graze on the Patagonian hillsides. We are on the island of Chiloe, pronounced Chee Low way and not the way I was saying it, Chloe, like our grand daughter's name.
It is very pastoral and peaceful and we are glad to be here.
Two hours later we arrive at our destination of Castro. Lunch was in order and we found a restaurant and the food was so so. This is the second largest town on the island with a population of around 20,000 people. It is a town that is all one way streets and we seemed to go down the wrong way a few times. No one got mad at us they just flashed their lights and waved.
We found our B and B which we had booked last night on line for three nights. It was the nicest house on the street, which is not saying much, a very middle class home with early 60s decor. We had the only room with a private bathroom and it came in at just under $100 per night. Why? We kept asking ourselves that question. Castro is very expensive and we are not sure why that is. I immediately changed our reservation to two nights instead of three which was not a problem.
It was a family home and Maria, Mom, did not speak one word of English. Her Spanish was a completely different dialect so it was very difficult to communicate. Her son came home and he spoke a small amount of English so he changed our reservation for us and answered a few questions.
Then we met a young woman, Elaina, who was working there for two weeks helping out in exchange for room and board. She was around twenty something, incredibly well travelled for her young age, and from Italy but currently living in Portugal. She said that even she had a hard time understanding their Spanish so I don't feel so bad. The island was separated from the mainland for so long that they kept a lot of their own language.
Elaina gave us a lot of information on the area and ideas of where to go on the island. Other than her we are the only guests in the home at the moment.
Dogs. There are a lot of dogs here. Most families seem to have two or three but there are still so many strays. They are all mid size nice looking dogs, docile, friendly and quiet. Driving down the side streets are like an obstacle course going around them sleeping in the road. They sure don't look like they are going to move. They must be tired after all, they spend all night marauding and barking non stop.
Day 8. Breakfast was included in our room rate and consisted of home made breads jams and nescafe coffee. I will be off coffee until we get on the cruise ship I think. Tea will substitute for the time being.
There are two tourist draws to Castro. One is the colorful row houses on stilts at the edge of the water. The other are the over 16 wooden Jesuit churches in the area painted many bright colors.
Starting off to take a picture of the homes on stilts we are reminded of Ucluelet and Bamfield homes on the waterfront. The older wooden homes of the working class, but painted in bright colors. We went for a walk on the street side and went into a gorgeous cafe to get a real cup of coffee. The cafe was wonderful but the coffee was once again a disappointment. Being summer there are many beautiful roses, hydrangeas and other flowers in bloom.
Driving south we came upon one of the churches and stopped to explore. They remind me of the little houses we built as kids in summer camp with the wooden popsicle sticks.
We only looked a three churches and not all 16. Having just done similar ones in Romania and Russia we were not interested in seeing churches all day again.
The scenery is breathtaking as we go past many rolling hills of farmland and fields.
Road construction ahead. There was a red sign, Pare, so we stopped. The young man just looked at us. We gestured "do we go?" He just stared at us.
So we went.
We looked back and realized that we just passed a long line of cars at the side of the road waiting.
Well we are committed now, keep going.
No one is yelling at us to stop, they are all just staring at us as we drive by. The road is being widened and we are driving on rough gravel beside large machines at rest and men working and resting.
After about ten minutes of driving on this one lane gravel road we see big trucks barreling towards us. Thankfully there was a place to pull to the side as they passed. We can see a woman ahead with a sign, the red side is facing us. As the last truck passes she turns the sign around and the green is facing us. We continue on. She gives us a look as we drive by. I think it was " stupid tourists" look.
After the next few check points we figured it out. There was a sign that they put up that said stop and they would disappear into a shed to get out of the sun. When we could go they came out and flipped the sign around to green.
This was the longest road construction we have ever seen. It went on for hours.
We finally came to what we think was the end and had lost our desire to go further south at this point. Looking at the map showed a different route back, but
we had to go down a short dirt road to get there , only 7 KMs.
This one lane road took us by few farms and a lot of vacant land over high hills with a large lake below. Traveling at 10KM an hour it took close to an hour to get to our destination. It was a very dicey road for sure. It didn't look like it was going to improve any time soon. I saw a woman in front of her home so went to ask if a paved road was in our future. Charades had me shaking like I was on a bumpy road and then on a paved road nice and smooth. It must have looked hilarious. She kept insisting that we needed to turn around however. No paved roads ahead. Damn
The fields are full of Gunnera, also known as Chilian Rhubarb. It is a prehistoric looking plant with huge green leaves and it can get 6 feet tall. It is everywhere here.
On the side of the road we spot a small animal. We find that it is the elusive Pudu, a small Chilian deer that is hard to see. It almost makes this detour worth while. Almost.
The road seems worse going back. Chiloe only gets 60 days a year without rain so these roads get washed out all the time. They are very steep and we were so worried we would get a flat or other car problems and be stuck out here.
But we made it. The pavement, for the short time we had it felt wonderful, and then back to the long construction road north. We knew the rules this time however.
One of Chile's National Parks was off to the left so we ventured down this long winding, but paved road past more farms with sheep cows and horses. We picked up two young people hitchhiking to the park and had a bit of a conversation as they had little English and we little Spanish. It is the summer time here and the kids are off school and out of University so you will see many backpackers and families on vacation.
One of Chile's longest beaches is beside this park and the vegetation once again changes. The trees are small and bent from the constant west coast winds, very similar to the West Coast of the island. We spent a bit of time here but it was getting late and so we headed back. It is great that it does not get dark until 10:30PM here now.
Day 9. What the B and B lacked in style and charm it more than made up for in hospitality. The family was so wonderful and caring and we felt bad thinking that it was not worth the price.
Driving south again we decided to walk the park we were at yesterday. There were some hiking trails that looked inviting.
We picked up a young man hitchhiking who was from from Argentina. He spoke English quite well and told us of places to visit when we are in Argentina.
The paths around the park are mostly boardwalk and the landscape changes again to a combination west coast moss and ferns but with some tropical plants as well. The temperature here is very similar to Vancouver Island and usually does not get much colder than 0.
After a great lunch at a roadside stop we headed back to the north to our destination for the night, Ancud. This is the town that is very near the ferry to the mainland.
I had booked the hotel the night before and it did not take long to find it. The setting was spectacular. On a bluff above the Pacific with views of small islands and rock outcroppings below.
The lovely woman at reception showed us our room. It was very similar to the one we stayed in last night, basic furnishings, very dated, but two main differences.
The large window looking out to the view made it so you didn't even look at the room. And this one only cost $63. We were thrilled to be here.
I had wanted to spend the night here to be able to do the penguin tour in the morning so we found our way into town and a travel agent to book the tour. Thank goodness for Google Translate. The young man did not speak English and I had a million questions so we would just type in our question/response on his laptop. In a half an hour we had all our questions answered and bought two tickets for 11 AM tomorrow .
On the way back we purchased some fruit, bread, cheese and ham and then sat on the front area of the hotel at a picnic table to have a small dinner and drink in the view.
We were joined by a young Chilean woman with three children for a while. She did not speak any English and I tried to communicate but she was rapid fire with her questions and I could not keep up. Her husband joined us and he spoke English so we had a wonderful conversation with them. Their young boy has Down Syndrome and was quite a handful and made me nervous sitting at the edge of the bluff.
When they left us they hugged and did the fake kiss on the cheek thing. This is very common here.
Two young men traveling from Argentina joined us next. Everyone here is so friendly and helpful.
We saw two black faced Ibis wandering the grounds. The bird life here is quite different and interesting.
Day 10. The hotel provided a small breakfast which we enjoyed and then went out to the parking lot to wait for our 'closed box' (aka van). There was another woman waiting as well and we spent the afternoon with her. She was a recently divorced 63 year old gorgeous German woman who works at a hotel in Majorca in the summer and travels in the winter.
We were the only two non Spanish people on the tour so it was great to get a few explanations from her here and there.
Our group of 10 drove south and stopped a couple of places on the way to see the wonderful views. The landscape keeps changing but it is always so beautiful.
The van drove through a small stream and then down the beach to a restaurant at the end. We were to preorder lunch before going out on the boat.
We are definitely on the west coast, Pacific Ocean. It is so familiar yet so different as well.
We put on our life jackets and then walked to the edge of the water. A cart on wheels was our chariot as a man pushed us out to the boat so we wouldn't get wet. How decadent. It is an open boat with around 18 seats.
This is the only place in the world where the Humboldt and Magellan penguins live in the same place. We cruise by three small islands that are not far from shore. Some of the younger ones still have their fluffy down. They are born in December and will leave in March. It was fun to watch them jumping into the water and splashing around.
We also saw a number of different birds, cormorants, Ibis, and some others that I could not name. A river otter also swam beside us and made his way up to the rocks on the island.
We were so lucky to have such a beautiful sunny and calm day. The beach was gorgeous. Kelp was being harvested by some men and women. Seafood is very abundant in Chile. Salmon, Chinook, and fresh water fish as well and many mussels and shrimp. We see a number of Atlantic Salmon Fish farms,( Norwegian) and in the past some sea lions broke into some of the nets and a lot of the salmon escaped. Now there is Atlantic Salmon in the ocean as well as the fish farms.
Our tour was to have us back by 2PM, but at 2:15 we were still at the beach. Chilean time. No one is worried.
Upon arrival back at the hotel we said our goodbyes and drove to the ferry. Once again we were waved on right way for the crossing back to the mainland. Our destination was Puerto Varas, about 2 hours from here and in the lakes district.
Our B and B owner gave us great instructions and we found it easily. Puerto Varas in on lake Llanquihue and a town and seems to be the centre for a lot of backpackers and hikers. There is every outdoor store you can imagine here. North Face, Patagonia, Columbia, Soloman, just to name a few. Prices are the same as at home.
Our B and B is a big home that has lovely gardens, and looks like an old character home but was built in the 50s. John is from the USA and his wife Chilean. They have three lovely children and we are the only guests. We have the entire upstairs to ourselves and the room is beautifully decorated. We are here for five nights to explore the lakes district.
We walked down to the main centre and the boardwalk on the lake. We were overwhelmed by the snowcapped volcano on the other side of the lake. It is so impressive and the reason a lot of people come here. Osorno is the most impressive but there are two others on the mountain range as well. Just stunning.
Day 11. We spent the morning walking around the town and getting a feel for the area. There are a lot of other vacationers but most of them are Chilean. Children are playing in the lake, people kayaking, canoeing sailing and windsurfing. It appears to be a very popular summer vacation spot.
The temperature is only about 16-20 C but feels so much hotter. The ozone layer is very thin here. Even with sunscreen on and only after a short while I had a sunburn.
We heard some music coming from the Plaza De Armas so headed over to escape the heat and enjoy some chilean grapes that we bought from a sidewalk vendor. A trio was playing Chilean music and they were fantastic. Various pan pipes from 12 inch to 5 feet long, the sounds were amazing. We enjoyed the music for about and hour and then bought three of their CDs and hope they work at home.
After enjoying some down time in our room we headed north to two other lake side towns. There is a very large German influence here and then next town had a lot of Bavarian homes. Many more people were swimming in the lake here, the beach was packed.
Our drive north and the scenery just seems to get better at every turn. So pastoral and peaceful with so many farms of cows horses and sheep.
Day 12. After an early breakfast John drove us down to the main square to catch our bus for our day trip to Lake Todos los Santos. We started on a large comfortable bus and the guide narrated in both English and Spanish which was great. Our first stop was a small waterfall. It was flowing over black lava rock which was different for us.
We then boarded a large 200 passenger catamaran for our two hour journey across the lake. The catamaran had seats inside which was good to escape the strong sun. We could go outside to take pictures and enjoy the fresh air from time to time. The lake is glacier fed, emerald green located at the foot of the Osorno volcano and very striking. The trip was very enjoyable and peaceful on the lake.
Outside was a bit of a challenge due to the horseflies the size of hummingbirds. There were large in numbers and very tenacious. I was bit a few times, it was not that bad but really annoying.
We were going to have a three hour stop at the end of the lake and the company offered some excursions, one of which was horseback riding which I was looking forward to.
The young man said that it was cancelled due to the horseflies. I assumed it was because they would bother the horses, and then figured no, it would be the tourists flailing their arms around that would terrorize the horses.
The only other one that appealed to me was the helicopter tour to the glacier, but it was quite expensive.
We were out on the deck and I was standing next to a German man about my age. We were almost at our destination when a helicopter buzzed overhead, circling and banking left and right, having a great time. He and I looked at each other and said "oh yeah, that's what I am doing!!!" He said " hey, you can't take it with you!"
It only took four people so Doug and I and he and his wife ran down and booked it. Talk about an effective sales pitch.
When we arrived we were taken to the helicopter pad and waited in a screened canopy tent to escape the flys. Unfortunately there were as many inside as out.
Our 12:30 helicopter arrived for us at 1:30PM. We went to board and the fellow told me to get in the front in the copilot seat. YES!!! I love the front seat, you have glass in front, side, above and below you. The young man flying was very cute and personable. We took off in no time and were flying about 10 feet up from a river down towards the mountain, banking this way and that. It was like a roller coaster ride.
We flew over the glaciers and the tops of the mountains over many lakes and waterfalls. It was breathtaking and worth every penny. We were very glad we were so impulsive.
All in all a wonderful day and after a great lunch we took the boat and bus back to town. We slept most of the way back and enjoyed dinner before heading back to our home. We are here a couple more days and then fly north again.
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