Puerto Varas and around
Puerto Varas was our first stop in Chile, a lovely old German town on the lake nestled between two towering volcanoes. It’s a charming little town if not a little touristy. Not so many backpackers, more of the older generation. We didn’t feel overly inspired to explore when we got here for some reason, despite there being plenty of activities on offer. After a day of pottering around we decided enough was as enough. We hired a car and hightailed it out of there on an adventure. Doing a day tour to all the sites cost 22,000 pesos each, but hiring a car was only 23,000 per day for both of us, even I can do that maths. We headed straight for Ensenada and the waterfalls and lake views along the way which was a stunning drive. We wanted good views of volcano Osorno but unfortunately the clouds were not on our side. We stayed the night in the lovely Hamilton’s Guesthouse, a beautiful house built by a charming Canadian guy and his wife. It was one of the most welcoming places we stayed on our trips and it had great views to boot.
The next day we decided to drive to Chiloe, a small island just west of Puerto Varas, with the possibility of returning to Ensenada a few days later when the weather would be better. It was a slightly stressful drive full of missed exits despite using sat nav,but we got there in one piece. They really need to figure out putting road signs up before the exit, not after. Chiloe is a pretty little island with great scenery, if you’ve never been to England that is. I really felt at home amongst those rolling hills full of sheep and cows, ever so strange. Our main reason for coming here was to see the Penguins nesting near Ancund, which was absolutely worth it. We drove right onto the beach and caught a boat that took us around the jagged rocks to spot the Penguins and plenty of other birds going about their business.
After that we took the ‘scenic’ route to the capital of Castro half way down the island, which was on nothing more that an dirt track in a tiny Hyundai 3 door car. We survived, that’s the main thing to remember. Castro wasn’t the most inspiring town, despite the guide book promising a glorious and uniquely colourful town of houses on stilts. Sure there were a few, but it wasn’t a big deal, no one cared. I don’t even have a picture to show you. We did have some amazing pasta there at Pomodoro, I seriously think it was worth the 3 hour drive to taste that rich tomato sauce. We didn’t love the atmosphere of this island as much as we’d hoped, so we left the next day to Ensenada, a great decision as it was a perfectly clear day and we could see the volcano perfectly. Better than that, you can actually drive most of the way up because in the winter it’s actually a ski station! As it was the summer we just drove up and climbed part of it at the top, which afforded us unforgettable views over Puerto Varas and the lake.
On New Year’s Eve, we decided to head to Pucon. The lonely planet dubs it as a very touristy town but actually I didn’t think it was as bad as Puerto Varas. We thought it would be a good place to spend New Year’s Eve and we were right, they had a spectacular fireworks display on the beach and we were able to get closer to it than any display in England would ever safely let you get. We stayed at an interesting hostel called Eco Etnico, an incredibly hippy place run by a nice couple with a few resident hippies living there and helping out. They have a dizzying amount of bins in this hostel, around 8 I think, and I found this environmental commitment especially ironic considering the shower leaked constantly. We only planned to stay a day here and booked our bus tickets for New Year’s Day, to keep myself busy while we waited for the bus I decided to play some music with a guy named Javier, as I had a couple of songs I wanted to put to music. The result was magical. We had a musical connection so great that he’d figured out the perfect chord sequence before I had finished singing the song. I was so happy to have finally found someone I could play music with that I asked Mickaël if we could extend our stay, which we ended up doing for 3 days. They were 3 days filled of magical music making, singing together at the back the garden under the shade of the trees wishing we didn’t live in other sides of the world. Who knows, maybe one day we will reconnect. It certainly gave me the impetus I needed to say I will finally make a go of my music career when I get home, and for that I am totally thankful to him. You can check out the songs here: www.soundcloud.com/laurengold
We left Pucon and headed straight for Valparaiso, a colourful, town set on the high hills north of Santiago on the sea. The town itself, down nearly the port, is pretty grim and dirty. However if you go up into the hills you find what some people say is an artists haven of wildly unique and enchanting street art and plenty of cool restaurants and bars to sit at an contemplate the coolness of said art. Mickaël just thought it was dirty and full of hippies. He’s not wrong, but I rather like street art.
To be fair, they have something wonderfully unique in this town and yet they can’t be bothered to clean it up or wash away the mess that the seemingly millions of stray dogs leave behind. Even so, we enjoyed our time here and I’d highly recommend it for a couple of days or even as a day trip from Santiago, which is where we headed next and where our South American adventure finally and tearfully came to an end.
In Santiago we stayed with Celeste, the daughter of my dad’s old university chum. I’d never met her but got in touch on my dad’s suggestion, and she very kindly offered for us to stay with her. They live in a lovely part of Santiago full of tree lined streets, hidden trendy cafes and plenty of fancy houses guarded by ferocious barking dogs. I didn’t have high expectations of Santiago as plenty of the travellers we met talked it down, but having the luxury of being shown around by locals can you make fall in love with any city in my opinion. We ate at great restaurants, visited the best areas, watched some quirky live music and relaxed in sunshine.
Unfortunately I can’t give you any tips because for once we had the luxury of being led around by friends not paying much attention to where exactly we were. One thing I can highly recommend is the bike and wine tour of the vineyards on the outskirts of the city. It’s something I had longed to do since our botched attempt in Argentina and I was hell bent on cycling through some vineyards whilst sipping on some vino. We got such an experience with Bike and Wine, and had a lovely and informative guide who I may have liked more because she plied me with wine all morning. Yes morning. I was drunk by 11am.
And so concluded our time in South America. We had a truly wonderful time on this continent, so varied in our experiences and humbled by the sheer beauty we encountered. Of the people, the landscapes, the rhythm of life, it is all so different to how I live my life in England and I feel so lucky to have experienced something out of my comfort zone. Yes we were on the tourist trail seeing the same things millions of other tourists see, but actually you get of it what you put in. You see what you want to see and experience it in your own way, and I was lucky enough to be with Mickaël who always sees things differently to me. There was always another perspective, another voice noticing the nuances of daily life in this world, and I loved to make those observations and learn about their culture and my life in the process. It sounds like hippy generalisations I know, but what’s the point in travelling the world if you don’t learn something along the way? Notice everything, question it and compare it to your life and you’ll learn so much. If you can apply it to your life back in the real world, I’m sure it will only make you a better person. We are the lucky ones after all, I will never stop being grateful for that.