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Chilean Lake District and Argentina


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Chilean Lake District and Argentina
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Turkey 2003
Mount Cameroon 2005
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Monday 27 March 2000

Woken at 0100 by announcement that we had arrived in Puerto Montt, complete with a history of the town that I didn't really care about so early in the morning.

Breakfast was at 0730, the same as usual and then we got off and wandered into town. Lee went straight to the bus station, not thinking much of the look of Puerto Montt. Dugly, Paul and I headed up to a hostel we had been recommended, Casa Maggy, and dumped our bags.

In town we found Café Alemán, which served real coffee, but resisted the urge to spend all day there and went to the bus station to sort out transport to Ensenada.

Lunch was the first of many fixed-menu meals, soup, steak, egg and chips for USD3.40. The German influence on this area was obvious from the cakes (listed on the menu as Kuchen) and the chocolate shops.

After a brief stop to check our email we went back to Maggy's to organise meeting for dinner. Dugly and I spent the afternoon wandering around the town aimlessly, it was the biggest place we had been in since Montevideo two and a half years before.

At 2000 we met Paul and walked along to the fishing village of Angelmo for a meal. The main feature of the area was an arcade of wooden seafood stalls and tiny restaurants. We had been told that number 93 was good but it seemed to be shut.

Lots of women from the restaurants were determined that we should pick theirs and one went so far as to grab Dugly and try to drag him in. They all looked pretty similar so we picked one at random and ordered Curanto. It was a beautiful stew of mussels, clams and other seafood with lumps of beef and chicken, served with a bowl of the liquid it was cooked in. I could barely finish and it only cost USD6 each.

On the way back to Maggy's we stopped off at a nice-looking bar, which turned out to be owned by a very friendly Dutchman.

Tuesday 28 March 2000

We went down to the bus station and bought our tickets, which took a while, as I wasn't used to the South American habit of just barging in rather than queuing.

We met an English couple who had been supposed to do a deer census on South Georgia but which had fallen through (due to BAS interference). Instead they had set off travelling.

We helped them onto the bus with their (many) bags and took our seats as a variety of vendors came on board trying to sell us fruit and ice cream. After a while we set off for Ensenada via Puerto Varas, a lovely looking Germanic resort on the shores of Lago Llanquihue.

Ensenada seemed to be pretty much closed for the season, even the campgrounds. We walked right through to the CONAF campground but it too was closed. At this point we decided we might as well walk up Volcán Osorno and stay up there.

After spending what seemed like forever slogging up a wide but very steep road we hitched a lift to the ski centre. We had only made it about a third of the way by foot and it was starting to get dark.

The ski centre seemed largely disused but the Refugio Teski was warm and comfortable and only USD10 per night. In the lounge we met two English girls and a German girl who we had previously met on the ferry.

We had a few beers while Dugly cooked tea then bought a bottle of wine and chatted by the fire. This led to another Antarctic inquisition but I was getting used to it by this point.

Wednesday 29 March 2000

Dugly was determined to get to the top of Volcán Osorno despite it being covered in snow just above the refugio.

I followed him up to the snowline, where cloud obscured the top but had cleared over the lake. The neighbouring valleys were filled with cloud and utterly beautiful.

On the way back down we managed to hitch a lift from about the same place as we had the night before. We then set off around the lake to Las Cascadas but managed to hitch another lift, this time with a German helicopter instructor. In the end he actually drove us all the way to Osorno.

Most of the bridges along the road seemed to have names, apart from the occasional 'puente sin nombre'. The German guy dropped us off at the edge of town and we walked in.

The hostel this time was less than pleasant, Hospedaje Sanchez, run by an unfriendly old couple but clean and cheap. It was as if we were unwelcome guests rather than paying customers.

At the bus station (after buying tickets to Argentina) we discovered that Dugly had thrown away his tourist card, which would make it difficult to leave the country.

We tried to call the embassy in Santiago but it had closed, leaving Dugly concerned about what was going to happen to him.

Found a very German café, once more with real coffee and then went to the 'pub-café-restaurant' Ipanema where we got an excellent meal for only USD4.40. After our soup and rolls, pork chops, chips, cucumber salad, dessert and drink we could barely move.

We staggered back along a street crowded with people watching TVs in pubs, it was the night of the Chile-Argentina football match and a huge cry went up as Chile lost.

Thursday 30 March 2000

After a poor night's sleep I dragged myself out of bed at 0800. Dugly phoned the embassy and was told to inform the local police and go to the town hall to have a new tourist card issued, which would mean missing our bus.

We tried to cancel the tickets but the woman at the bus company phoned a friend at the border and insisted everything would be OK. I persuaded Dugly to give it a go and we boarded our large shiny bus (with unpleasant lift music being played).

The trip itself was uneventful but through spectacular scenery as we crossed the Andes. Huge mountains, perfectly conical volcanoes and lakes surrounded us.

Dugly managed to get out of the country after a warning not to lose his papers again and to learn some Spanish!

We arrived in San Carlos de Bariloche early in the afternoon, it's in a beautiful situation on the shores of Lago Nahuel Huapi but isn't a terribly attractive city. It's a big holiday resort so the lakeshore is crowded with multi-storey hotels and apartment blocks but also a lot of alpine style buildings.

We had spotted a place recommended in the Handbook as having three bedroom apartments for only USD10 per person per night and hiked from the bus station (miles out of town, beside the railway station) into town.

Eventually we found a gate marked 'Austrian Consulate', stopped to check the Handbook and were called over by an elderly Germanic lady who assured us she had room for us to stay.

For our USD10 per night we got a bedroom, bathroom, kitchenette and dining/living room to ourselves. Everything was very clean and there was even a plug in the bathroom sink.

We bought some food in town, also with a heavy Germanic influence and went back to our apartment for Kaffee und Küchen, as a cup of coffee in town would have set us back four dollars.

Dugly cooked stir-fry and we drank a bottle of USD1.65 wine, which was rough but perfectly OK.

Friday 31 March 2000

Got up at 0700, or so we thought, to catch the tour boat at 0915. Got down to the harbour to see it sailing off. We hadn't realised that Argentina is on UTC-3 while Chile is on UTC-4 in winter. We decided to go hiking instead.

Caught bus number 10 to Colonia Suiza then walked up the road to the refugio on Cerro Lopez. Once there we had lunch and then Dugly continued to the top of the mountain.

After a rapid descent by a somewhat slippery route we had to hang around in Colonia Suiza for our bus. The place was pretty much completely closed as it was out of season. We couldn't even buy a drink.

Back in town we both had a quick shower (lovely hot water) and went to La Vizcacha restaurant. There we had a 'parrillada', a barbecue of bits of cow you wouldn't normally eat (large and small intestines, stomach, stuff like that), and a bottle of very nice wine. There were some cute but irritating kids running around the restaurant as well.

Saturday 1 April 2000

This time we got up at 0700 local had breakfast, made ourselves a packed lunch and walked down to the harbour. I bought tickets while Dugly took his clothes to the laundrette; he only just got to the harbour in time.

The catamaran Victoria del Lago sailed at 0915 with a very fast Spanish commentary. If I tried really hard I could understand bits of it but it was tricky. Dugly and I sat out on deck, in his case blue and shivering as his trousers were being washed so he only had shorts on.

The autumn wind blowing across the lake was far from warm, although the colours of the trees pretty much made up for it. We were also glad to discover that the ship had an onboard espresso machine, although a coffee cost USD3.

We stopped off at Puerto Panuelo, a tourist resort and harbour for tour boats. This was where several different tours split up. We stayed on our boat through more spectacular scenery to Puerto Blest, which consists of a hotel and a very small naval station.

A short, guided walk through the forest, surrounded by huge ancient trees and temperate bamboo was followed by lunch on the shore complete with a bottle of beer.

At 1430 the boat left for a short hop across the bay to Puerto Cantaros so we could walk up a wooden walkway in a heavily eroded channel past waterfalls to Lago Cantaros. At the lake was a 1500 year old tree but not much else.

We both slept inside on the way back, slumped across a row of seats each, a luxury a doubt would have been possible in season. There was a brief panic when Dugly announced that the man at the laundrette had mentioned something about 1800.

We rushed from the port up to the laundrette to discover that it was a false alarm and Dugly's washing was ready. We did a bit of shopping, I bought a new fleece and some socks, had tea and paid the bill for the apartment.

In the evening we bumped into the Kiwi couple again.

Sunday 24 April 2000

Crawled out of bed at 0630 to be at the bus station for 0900 but got there to discover that the 0900 bus had stopped running the day before and that the next one is at 1930.

We dumped our packs at left luggage and walked back into town, trying to work out what we could do in Bariloche on a Sunday. A military band and flag-raising ceremony in the town square was a brief distraction, although hanging around Argentinean military things may not be a terribly good idea for British people.

Both the museum and cinema were closed so we went for a coffee instead then lay on the rocky beach until lunch, reading. We had lunch at 'Viejo Munchen', a rather grisly German theme restaurant with antlers covering the walls. We had a hamburger, chips and a drink for USD5 though, can't complain too much.

After that it was back to the beach then another coffee followed by excellent ice cream. Sat in the shade near the swimming pool, finished 'For Whom the Bell Tolls' and waited until 1800 before walking back to the bus station.

After that fun-packed day we discovered that we wouldn't be getting to San Martin de los Andes until midnight.

The journey was fairly uncomfortable, mostly in small shaky buses. A total lack of maps made locating the campsite tricky, so we had to get a taxi instead. We checked in, put up our bivvys and slithered in.

Monday 3 April 2000

Got up late (about 1100) and sauntered into town. Wandered around for a bit, had lunch and bought bus tickets to Pucon for tomorrow, not too keen on the 0600 departure time though!

Walked round the lake until we could see the other end. It's a lovely place, probably a bit crowded in season but still beautiful. Noticed that property prices are pretty low too.

Did some shopping then returned to the campsite where Dugly cooked tea and I prepared brunch for the next morning. We needed to use up our fresh fruit and veg before returning to Chile.

Talked to an English/Welsh couple, both doctors, who had been cycling around with considerably less equipment than the Canadians from the ferry, no two-way radios or trailers.

Tuesday 4 April 2000

0445 start, not very pleasant. Got up, packed up, walked to the bus station and got on the bus. I tried to sleep but the seats weren't great. Sunrise over the Andes was impressive, one volcano in particular looked incredible in the early morning light.

Ate our rolls before the border and then got held up for ages by Argentinean paperwork. The official who inspected my papers seemed to find my Falkland Islands stamp very funny and threw away my completed Chilean entry documents.

The Chilean side was much better organised but with the fanatical fruit and veg inspectors. Several lemons were confiscated from another group; my rucksack was searched by a deeply humourless female official who ignored my attempts to be friendly or even polite.

Dugly remembered to keep hold of his tourist card this time and we arrived in Pucon at about eleven. It was raining.

Once more without a map we tried to find a tourist office but failed. It later turned out that they had moved to somewhere outside town. The rain kept getting heavier and we couldn't even see Volcán Villarrica.

Our original plan had been to catch a bus out to the Termas Palguin but I didn't much like the idea of camping in the rain and we were having difficulty finding a bus.

We had lunch in a reasonably cheap restaurant but must have walked past several even cheaper fixed lunches. The tourist menu in English was good though, such bizarre items as alligator (avocado) featured due to some overly literal translation.

We found a nice cheap place to stay, Hospedaje Lucia. We got a very nicely fitted out shed in the garden all to ourselves, complete with kitchen and bathroom. The low price was probably due to it being out of season.

We spent the rest of the afternoon sorting out tours and trips, a mountain biking trip and a tour to one of the hot springs. We also booked our bus to Santiago, a semi-cama (business class) eleven-hour journey for USD20.

In our wanderings we met Lee again and went for a coffee (still a strong German influence in this area) and arranged to meet on Friday in Santiago.

Went back to our shed for tea and talked with the landlady about things to do, she was incredibly helpful.

Wednesday 5 April 2000

We were collected from Lucia's at 0900 by the man from the bike-hire shop in a mysterious jeep-like vehicle. It seemed to have something terribly wrong with the gearbox, as our trip was accompanied by an interesting selection of unpleasant grinding noises.

We drove east out of town and up into the Villarrica national park, where we were dropped off near a ranger station with our bikes. The idea was to cycle uphill a bit and walk to a glacier but it soon became obvious that the bikes were in less than superb condition and Dugly's was fast approaching a complete failure of the gears.

We chained the bikes to one of the many monkey-puzzle trees and walked instead through a beautiful forest of autumnal deciduous and monkey-puzzle trees. Both trees and ground were steaming gently as the morning sun broke through the canopy overhead.

The glacier was uninspiring, covered in ash from the volcano, which was steaming well. It seems that Pucon could be wiped out at any time should Villarrica blow.

We ate our lunch and then returned to the bikes. After a very short distance the screw attaching Dugly's gear mechanism to the frame disappeared and he stopped rather suddenly.

After some modifications involving bits of string we managed to get his bike to be able to freewheel and set off to find the nearest phone. My bike was in a better condition, but not much, with a razorblade saddle and brakes that didn't seem to have all that much effect.

After several terrifying descents where I had no control over my speed we got to the hotel at Termas Palguin but their satellite phone couldn't call the bike shop owner's mobile phone. The German-speaking owner suggested using the payphone at Saltos El Leon, further downhill.

Just as we arrived there so did the payphone maintenance man, who offered to take one of us and a bike back into Pucon. Dugly wanted to cycle back, so I got a lift.

All was well until we got to some roadworks and had to swerve suddenly as a car came towards us on our side of the road. We hit one of the small rocks used instead of cones and destroyed the front right tyre and wheel.

After changing the tyre we set off again and I dropped the bike off, in the end we only paid for one of them. I met Dugly back at the house and we went into town for beer, coffee and ice cream.

Thursday 6 April 2000

Got up and went into town trying to find transport out to a hot springs (much needed after the cycling). This wasn't easy as there weren't many people wanting to go out there and many agencies had minimum numbers for these trips.

Eventually we booked with Trancura, the biggest company in town, and left in the guide's car at 1130 for Termas Los Pozones. After a while in the thermal pools chatting to an English/Australian couple we went back into town for lunch.

This was where I first tried churrasco, basically a minute steak sandwich. After lunch we walked down to the lake and back to the Café Suiza for a coffee and ice cream.

Had an hour lounging on the beach and an hour on the Internet before walking to the bus terminal slightly outside town.

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