Going South for the Summer

With the semester officially over and almost everybody I know gone from Santiago, my friend Jena and I decided to go down to visit the south for a brief time: she´s going home after a week and I´ll be down here for another week after that.

We flew into Puerto Montt on Sunday, arriving around 9 am and immediately blowing that popsicle stand to get to Puerto Varas, a nearby town. Puerto Varas was a charming, touristy town with a surprising amount of German influence: the architecture, the food, the people, everything. Jena, who comes from Austrian stock and is nearly fluent in German, was in heaven when we sat down to a breakfast complete with omelettes, empanadas, and some apfel struedle (delicious).

Dwarfing Puerto Varas and the surrounding area are two major volcanoes, whose magnificence and not be understated. After a leisurely lunch and an impromptu nap as we dropped off our bags at the hostel, a German-style residence with a German-style old lady owner, we headed to the Saltos de Petrohue, a glorious set of river rapids just a short ride from the town. We arrived fairly late, only about an hour and a half before the last bus to town, but even the short time we spent taking pictures of the rapids and chatting with other tourists and wandering around the beautiful scenery was well worth the bus ride. Pictures to come.

We also met a couple of Canadian women on the bus back and ended up meeting them for a drink after dinner, which we spent at the hostel with a charming father and daughter from, as you may guess, Germany. They were both very nice and the father, a thin sexagenarian with a soft and deliberate tone that gave me the odd impression that he might be very famous. Beer with the Canadians was also quite fun: Maggie had come down for a few weeks to travel around with Jenna, who had been to Chile several times and invited us to come visit her in mid-January in her house in Talca, a few hours south of Santiago. We promised we’d try to make it, and parted ways.

The next day we left “early,” or as early as we were able to get up on a vacation, and took a bus to Puerto Montt, where we caught a bus and a ferry to Chiloe, the long, skinny island off the coast of Chile. We landed in a town called Ancud, on the northern shore, and immediately booked a tour for Puñihuel, where we could see the one place in the world that Magallanes and Humbolt penguins live together, and occasionally cross-breed. We were picked up soon from the bus terminal and driven about 45 minutes to the beach, and the driver gave us a running commentary of all things Chiloe, which made us even more enamored with the place. Chiloe is incredibly green, stemming from the 8-9 months of solid rain that they usually have, reiterating to us how lucky we were to have had three days of solid sun since our arrival.

The “island,” as they all call it, creates a different attitude among its people than the mainland and Santiago, and there’s a general laid-back attitude and friendliness that we could all see clearly, including one point at which our van was about to cross a very small creek and the driver stopped to ferry over a group of young boys who were afraid to do it on foot.

The tour itself was fantastic, just us and the guides, and we drove around in the boat for a while to see the three islands with the utterly cute penguins, as well as amazing birds and the occasional otter! Again, pictures to come. Afterward we went to a cafe back on shore and had a relaxing cup of coffee and chatted with our guide, who pulled out a map of the island and gave us a rundown of the places we needed to go, and jotted down our names as we were leaving so that he could add us on Facebook.

The driver, whose name I unfortunately did not ever catch, drove us back to Ancud and chatted with us about hostels to stay in, all of whose owners he knew personally, and drove us from one to the next until we found an opening at a German-style colonial hostel with a badly out-of-tune piano and guests that shushed us as we were talking in a normal tone in our room.

Lots more adventures followed, but right now we’re going to head out, and I’ll continue to play catch-up as our trip continues.

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