I'd first passed through Puerto Varas with my German friends Sabine and Tobias, roommates on our scenic, harrowing Navimag Ferry ride up from southern Patagonia, and also in nearby, big city Puerto Montt. We'd hoped to see the five volcanoes that stand guard over Lake Llanquihue, but saw only clouds. Sabine and Tobias had to leave after a couple of days, but I decided to wait it out--we slow travelers can wait for a sunny day for volcano viewing.
After a week, the sun came out, and I hopped on one of the frequent minibuses to Puerto Varas. I immediately walked to the waterfront and was awe-struck by the perfect cone of Volcano Osorno hovering over the lake. It was so worth the wait! For an hour or two, I wandered the lake shore, taking scads of photos until I found the one with the perfect combination of boats in the forground--such is the hard job of a traveler!
From the shore, I spotted four other, more ragged-shaped volcanoes, including nearby snowy Calbuco. I could barely make out Volcano Puyehue, but I'd soon pass it on my way back to Bariloche, Argentina.
Not long after this, it would explode in a massive eruption, changing my plans and the face and fate of the Argentine Lake District.
In the distance, loomed the huge, extinct Volcano Tronador that marks this part of the frontier between Chile and Argentina. How great to later see Tronador from the Argentine side outside Bariloche. I adore seeing volcanoes, lakes and life from various perspectives. Later, in Caviahue Caviahue--Winter Wonderland, I'd see a line of volcanoes marking this rather contested international border.
Since it was May Day, Workers' Day, the town was completely shut down and wonderfully peaceful, just like on Sundays, my favorite day for a city wander. While South Americans prefer the everyday bustle, I love the tranquility of closed shops and empty streets. It was also such a contrast to my present May Day chaos of firecrackers, a huge workers' parade and rousing speeches here in La Paz.
Puerto Varas is small and tourist-perfect, lakeside and with colorful, wooden, 19c German-style buildings with restaurants and agencies for tourists. It was also expensive. Had I stayed there, with the hordes, well, 30 people,
from the Navimag Ferry, I would have paid more for a bed in an 8-person dorm that I did for my own apartment in the less touristic Puerto Montt. An easy choice for me.
The town rises gently from the lake, and on one side, leads up to the early 20c Church of the Sacred Heart, constructed of local woods and based on the Marienkirche of the Black Forest, near the home of my German friends. Below it, in a garden was a little grotto, popular in the Chilean Lake District, with a statue of Mary, and lots of visitors, flowers and plaques thanking her for miracles. Chile is distinctly more religious than the Argentina I'd come from.
Winding up the little-visited, far side of the town were forested hills and atop them were gorgeous, well-kept, early 20c German colonial mansions, with names like Casa Kuschel, Schwertzer and Wetzel, which still housed families or had been turned into bed and breakfasts.
Further up the hill, the former train station had been transformed into a cultural center and exhibit hall for local artists, and there was
a sweet park with a mirador with views over the town and lake. Cables had been strung for zip lines, but it was closed in this off-season. I'm dying to try some zip lines but prefer a more adventurous setting--perhaps high in a rain forest or over a gorge. This seemed like backyard zips I've enjoyed in parks.
For those with more time, money and perhaps a car, there were small settlements around the lake which would be lovely to explore. I, however, returned to Puerto Montt, and then left for the isolated islands of Chiloe for a week. So many possibilities in this land of lakes!
I´m a one-way ticket, slow traveler, relishing the freedom of the open road and trusting serendipity to guide my journey. When I was younger, I used to travel for a year at a time. Then a few years ago, I roamed Europe and North Africa for three and a half years and liked that even better.
On August 1st, 2010, I left my peaceful Mission Canyon paradise in Santa Barbara's mellow summer and emerged from a couple of planes a day and a world later in the teeming, sub-zero streets of Buenos Aires´winter. Now, with the Andes, Amazon and Galapagos between here and home, will three years be enou... full info