Villarica volcano from the air, Chile

Chile - Santiago, Puerto Varas and the Volcanoes of the Lake District - Antarctica and South America 4

Author: Sue Rogers
Date: 18th January 2019

Santiago de Chile

Back in Santiago, the capital of Chile, from Bolivia, I’m picked up this time by a fussy little man called Maurizio, who talks non-stop for 20 minutes in unintelligible English and delivers me to a very smart boutique hotel. I’ve time for a wander round down town. It hasn’t changed my opinion from my last visit. Santiago is a pleasant enough place, more than pleasant if you want to shop (plenty of those) or eat out, especially around the bohemian Lastarrio barrio with its many small bars and cafes. But there isn’t really anything exciting to look at.

A small, dirty river runs through the middle, lined with some park areas and statues. It's a hotchpotch of building styles, some old, mixed in with the new, if you look hard and upwards. There’s a presidential palace, an imposing cathedral on the main square and several other spires or older colonial style buildings (such as the old fire station) interspersed with the many shopping outlets and street stalls. There’s also a domed central market building. The highlight is an ice cream at a street café which serves the most enormous sundaes I have ever seen - for sharing obviously. I order a smaller tub version with two flavours. Or I think I have. Two huge tubs turn up – fortunately, they take pity on me and refund one of them.

Leaving Santiago de Chile

Maurizio has sent a message to say that the ground staff from LATAM (the airline amalgamation of Chilean LAN and Brazilian TAM) are on strike today and I have to leave early for the airport, at noon. Last time I was in South America the Argentinians were on general strike and this time it’s been both Bolivia and Chile. It’s hardly the way to encourage tourism. The message is delivered while I’m in the bar on my second pisco sour. I’m still tired, so I go to bed at nine. I’m woken up at 10.30 by the phone. Maurizio wants to make sure I’ve got the message.

Getting to Puerto Montt

It’s not been a great night again. My stomach has been playing up and I feel fluey. Perhaps the pisco sours weren’t a great move. Maurizio phones at 11.30 to say that he is downstairs waiting for me. It takes twenty minutes to get to the airport, check in is quick and it seems that all the planes are on time. So, I’ve three hours to wait listening to those Christmas carols again. Déjà vu. Maurizio has wanted to wait with me, but I’ve declined his offer. he even tells me how much to tip him. Apparently, I tried to give the driver too much.

Not quite all the planes are on time. The Puerto Montt flight, scheduled an hour before mine, has been indefinitely delayed. They’ve announced over the PA that the pilot hasn’t turned up for work. What’s more, they add, no-one can track him down and he won’t answer his phone. The plane is still sitting at the gate as mine taxis out.

Puerto Montt

Puerto Montt is the gateway to the Lake District of Chile. It’s set on a large sea inlet that looks like a lake, but isn’t. Charles Darwin proved that when he landed there with the Beagle. It’s very English countryside, green rolling hills and pasture, where the llamas, for the most part, have given way to Jersey and Guernsey cattle. The first settlers here were German though, so the villages are wooden chalets and pastel timber churches and the roads are lined with signs advertising Kuchen and Zimmern. The waterside resorts, with red canopied cafes and restaurants, are more Little Switzerland; it’s like being on Lake Neuchâtel.

Puerto Varas

However, it’s not really Switzerland, Germany or England, as there are also volcanoes. I’ve come here because last time I was in Chile I flew over the area and the view of the cones from the air, all venting, was entrancing. I decided I would come and see them from the ground. My hotel is in the resort town of Puerto Varas, on the edge of a very large lake, Lianaquihue. I've chosen German founded Puerto Varas as everyone says it's prettier and more welcoming than its uglier big brother Puerto Montt, to the south.

Lianaquihue is the most well known lake in Chile, and is 22 miles long and 25 miles wide. I’m told that there are three very large volcanoes just across the water from my room. Osorno, Calbuco (still active - it threw out ash last recently) and Tronador. But I will have to take everyone’s word for it. The climate is the same as that of the English Lake District and there are dark clouds; it’s threatening to rain.

An Excursion to Osorno and - Unexpectedly - More

Today, I still can’t see the volcanoes of Chile, as it’s still cloudy and now drizzling, but I believe I’m going to visit one, Osorno. My tour sets off, anti-clockwise, round the lake, passing the turn off to the volcano. Much to my surprise and consternation the minibus instead stops further on, first to admire a few llamas and alpacas, in a pen, on a farm and then at the entrance to Petrohue Waterfalls.

We stop there for an hour or so, and then at another, smaller lake, (Lake for All Saints), where all the other occupants depart on a boat trip for another hour; they’ve had to pay directly for both of these. I’ve forgotten my purse, but the guide informs me that in any case there’s no point in me paying and participating, as both these options are included free on my tour tomorrow. So I go for a wander past some pretty yellow gorse and yet another cloud topped volcano.

Osorno

According to the brochure photos Osorno has a classic snow capped cone. ( I had a much better view from the plane last time I was here). It is one of the most active volcanoes of southern Chile. It hasn't erupted since 1869, but there has been recent activity measured and locals say it’s not long until it would erupt again The upper slopes of the volcano are almost entirely covered in glaciers despite its comparatively modest altitude and latitude.

My actual trip to the Osorno volcano lasts just an hour. The drizzle has become driving rain and a howling wind, and the chairlift is closed. But there are good views from the top and the lava fields are interesting.

I complain to the tour company. Apparently, no-one else was booked on the volcano only trip, so they put me on another one. Just nobody told me. Perhaps they thought I wouldn’t notice. The company rep points out that I got the extras free…...

Petrohue Falls - Deja Vu - Or Not

So, today I bounce off the bus when we stop and set off for the Petrohue Falls again, ticket in my pocket. But the entrance gate is padlocked, and a gloomy little man explains that they’ve been closed by the police. Some robbers are hanging out down there.

Across the Lake to Peuilla

Next, a return visit to the small lake, where I embark on a boat for an (almost two-hour) voyage to a very small village called Peuilla. It’s probably a very scenic ride, with beautiful volcano views - it’s in a narrow valley - but it’s raining steadily today, and I can see very little. I spend most of the time talking about travel, with an English lady called Tricia. There’s four hours to spend at our destination. Canopy walks, more boats, 4 WD trips and llama farms are on offer, but it’s still bucketing down. And besides I’ve had enough of boat rides with elusive views. There are some comfy sofas in the local hotel. And I still have my Kindle.

The Petrohue Falls of Chile - Third Time Lucky

Back across the lake, still chattering to Tricia. The Petrohue Falls are now open. It’s third time lucky, so I brave both the lashing rain, slippery paths and a party of students, (but no robbers) to get my pictures. The excursion blurb says they're world renowned. I'd be surprised. But they're pretty.

Frutillar

Today, another group excursion (never again) to a village, Frutillar, on a clockwise circuit of Lake Lianaquihue. The rain is interspersed with sun and the meadowland is pretty. The guide ekes out the short journey by telling us all about the few factories we pass. However, the main industry here, unsurprisingly, is dairy, producing almost enough to supply the whole of Chile. The lake is a prettily turquoise and there are plenty more wooden buildings, old and new. Frutillar has a modern timber theatre, built over the water (it’s not quite Sydney Opera House) and a little museum, with reconstructed colonial buildings. One affluent hamlet has a clutch of houses that cost over a million dollars each. The guide says they boast a view of six volcanoes in all. Naturally, we can’t see them.

Punta Arenas, Chile

A plane south to Punta Arenas. LATAM sold my booked seat to someone else, as they do, so I’m in my least favourite middle of the row seat. At least they didn’t bump me altogether. The upside is that I’m entertained by Californian Mike, who got the windowseat. He is leading a team of ten to film pumas in Torres del Paine.

My hotel is a tall town house at the top of a hill with glassed in restaurant. Here’s a first - my bag is winched up onto the balcony, which has a great view over the most southerly city (on the mainland) in the world. Punta Arenas is much as I remember. It’s an orderly little town, blue, green and red roofs, sweeping down to the sea. There are some stately civic buildings around the central Plaza des Armas.

The air is fresh but not too windy. I’m having a catch-up day. Hairdresser, nails, eyebrows, massage with Cecilia, who performs each operation in a different room of her house. It’s a pleasant way to relax. An uber back to the hotel, the driver gets lost, but instead of charging me extra for the additional time, he deducts money from the charge and refuses to take any more. Amazing.

In the evening an information meeting, flights and arrangements for my trip to Antarctica tomorrow.

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