Puerto Varas and Volcanoes Galore

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May 2nd 2014
Published: May 2nd 2014
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Puerto Varas from Puerto Montt

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!

Volcanoes Galore

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.

Tourist-Perfect City

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!

Additional photos below
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3rd May 2014

Waiting for a sunny day
When you have the time you might as well hang out until you see what you've come to see. Excellent. I'm glad you had a break from the dorms. I love being near the water.
3rd May 2014

You must have a superb memory....
...or be super organised with notes and photos to write about places and events three years later. I wish we could walk down that trail in parque philippe right now - it looks so inviting! I'm also picturing a rug, and some cheese and wine :)
3rd May 2014

We'll have to walk down a trail together sometime...
A rug, wine and cheese--well, you know how to walk a trail! I probably just had nuts and an apple in my pocket. On writing of so long ago, it's absurd that I didn't write this up sooner. I generally have notes and photos, but just don't do the deed. I so admire the way you write as you go--you're my inspiration!
3rd May 2014

Waiting for the volcano
Yes, I was so lucky to be able to stay for that incredible view! And it was lovely having a place to our/myself for a bit though I'd soon be back in dorms though pretty empty ones in the low season. If you love water, you'd adore the lake districts in both Chile and Argentina. I just couldn't leave. I stayed over a year and a half, and still fantasize living there.
4th May 2014

We slow travelers can wait for a sunny day for volcano viewing
I say it yet again...lucky you. Pleased you are sharing some of these locales in Chile. I've only visited three areas of Chile and that made me determined to return...as you well know it is an amazingly diverse country.
4th May 2014

Perfect snow cone..
Yes. David, I just couldn't miss Osorno! All up and down Chile, I've seen tons of volcanoes, but this was the most classic. For the last four years, I've been dipping in and out of that great country, and will soon visit again--hope you get to see more of it!

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