Chile - Exploring the Lake Region
Europe - Germany, Belgium, and France
Nepal - Around Manaslu
Australia - Driving around Southern Australia
Australia - Olympics
Australia - Great Barrier Reef
Thailand - Bangkok
Vietnam - Central and South
Vietnam - North
Egypt - Along the Nile
Egypt - Touring and diving
Israel and Jordan
Brief return to the USA
Ecuador - Quito and surroundings
Ecuador - Galapagos Islands
Ecuador - Quito and the jungle
Peru - Machu Picchu and Lima
Peru - Cusco and the Sacred Valley
Zimbabwe and South Africa - Vic Falls and Blyde River Canyon
South Africa - Motorcycle trip
Argentina - Buenos Aires and Iguazu Falls
Argentina - Bariloche and San Martin de los Andes
Chile - Exploring the Lake Region
Chile - Pucon and the Bio Bio
Argentina - El Calafate and El Chalten
Chile - Puerto Natales and Torres del Paine
Argentina - Rio Gallegos and Ushuaia
Chile - Santiago and Punta Arenas
Guatemala and Honduras - Rio Dulce and Copan
Guatemala - Coban and Spanish school
Guatemala - Tikal and Spanish school
Guatemala - Antigua and Spanish school
Caburga is a tiny lake town that was completely closed up out of season. We cruised through and didn't see hardly a soul. The lake is beautiful, very blue with pine covered mountains all around. We went on to PN Huerquehue, which has a gorgeous lake at the entry, and great campsites lakeside. The nature trail didn't appeal to us, so we drove down the road until the end, continuing through a stream, and then hiked a little ways to 2 amazing waterfalls.
We chatted with the man there, and found out that they own 78 acres, including the two waterfalls. The place is beautiful, near the lake, and next to a refugio on the water. They charge a dollar a person to visit the falls.
All during our drive, we were surprised by the juxtaposition of old ad new worlds. On the lakes there are huge, new summer homes, presumably for rich Santiagans, next to tin-roofed shacks with pigs in front. We passed numerous teams of oxen on the road, carrying firewood for the many local homes without electricity, and just a few moments later we pulled into an internet cafe to send some emails - very strange.
We headed down to Panguipulli, on the lake of the same name, because our book called it picturesque. Unfortunately, like many towns in the lake district, it completely closes up out of season. We searched for some time for a place to stay, finally finding an hospedaje near the entrance to the town. None of the restaurants or hotels in our book seemed to exist any more. Once checked in - we were the first people to sign the register for a week - we asked for a dinner recommendation. We ended up having a great dinner at Gardylafquen, where Louisa was the only woman in the place. On a saturday night in Panguipulli, the entertainment seems to be to go to a restaurant, drink pisco sours, and watch TV.
We went down for what has become a very standard breakfast: instant coffee made with either hot milk or water, juice, bread or toast, ham & cheese, and jam. (Some places don't provide ham or juice.) So, we always start our day with a ham and cheese sandwich, jam on bread, and coffee - not exactly an american breakfast. Pretty much everywhere serves "jamon y queso" sandwiches, so we quickly get sick of them. We've started bringing our own instant oatmeal and cocoa, to start our day a little better.
We briefly visited the beach in Panguipulli, before leaving around 10am, but it was cloudy and overcast, so we did not get a good impression. We wanted to go around the lake, so we headed down the bumpy road to Neltume, picking up hitchhikers as we went. We stopped in town for some bread and water, and then backtracked a kilometer or so to check out Huilo Huilo falls.
At the falls we were approached by a man for a donation, and then we headed in to see the first one. They are very cool to look at because the river has carved a channel in the volcanic rock, and then cascades down into a series of pools. We did a bit of exploring (we were the only ones there - gotta love the off season) and then returned to the truck to get our picnic lunch. We sat overlooking the falls and feasted on potato-veggie salad and pb&j sandwiches. Once satisfied, we took the short (20 minute) trail to see the second set of falls, which were just as neat as the first set.
We then set out to find the dirt road to the of the lake that would take us to Futorno the back way. Our two maps showed it clearly, just before Purto Fuy, on the right side. When we reached Puerto Fuy, we thought we had missed it, so we explored the town (which took all of 5 minutes), noting the Chilean Navy boat in the water, and the ferry (to Argentina) on the bank being painted. We then turned around and searched again for the road. Finally we asked some road workers, who told us the road was closed. We went back to Puerto Fuy and talked to a local, who told us that the road was private and ran through a fundo (ranch) with locked gates, so we'd need keys, and a bridge was out besides. We asked about alternatives, but since the ferry was out for the season, and even the road from Enco to Rinihue was closed, we had no choice but to go all the way back to Panguipulli.
We forged on, however, still shunpiking towards Futorno. After a long drive we went through the small town of Puerto Nueva and started looking for a place to stay. At the lakeside we found a hotel, but there was absolutely nobody around. When we went to the door, the entire family greeted us, and showed us rooms. We were a bit creeped out by being totally alone in the place, so we decided to move on.
As we drove further south, the lakesides became more and more developed. We passed through several projects that included golf courses, condos, and sweeping lawns. We were also surprised by the amount of roadwork being done, even on a saturday night. Many of the roads we drove will be paved soon, it seems.
We finally gave up shunpiking for a little while to get to Puerto Octay, on Lago Llanquikue, so we took Ruta 5 for 50km or so through Osorno. Ruta 5 is also undergoing substantial road work, turning from a 2 lane country road into a 4 lane divided highway with overpasses. We arrived in Puerto Octay just as the sun was setting on Volcan Osorno, so we stopped for a picture above the town.
Then it was time for our nightly lodging adventure. We stopped at a hospedaje where the man seemed astonished to see tourists out of season. We had the entire group house to ourselves - 4 bedrooms, kitchen, everything. We didn't plan to stay long, however, so we went out for dinner at Baviera, where they didn't have most of their menu available, but what we had was pretty good. Huge trucks kept going by with giant white jugs on them - we finally figured out that they were milk trucks, coming from the farms. With that mystery solved, we shared an ice cream in the local park and headed back to bed.
Since we had the entire cabana to ourselves, we lingered over breakfast before heading out to circumnavigate Lake Llanquihue. The next town was Fruitillar Bajo which is touted as charming, and the most expensive on the lake. It appeared to have many tea houses and hospedajes, and a wonderful setting on the lake. There's a well-attended musical festival in late January, which we know about because the entire town is decorated with musical symbols everywhere. In fact, they are building a large music hall right on the water.
We continued south on a small, dirt road through the countryside. We came upon a beautiful cove that has been recently developed into a park with picnic spots, changing rooms and the like. Very interesting to have such a modern approach to development in the middle of nowhere. It seems that pockets of the lake are beng developed in the American style.
Further on was what we thought was an undeveloped cove except numerous empty boat slips. We drove by an industrial looking plant, and then a nice beach. We stopped on the beach for lunch and observed the "slips." We quickly realized that the structures are not for boats, but perhaps for fishing as some people were fishing from them. It was definitely a fishing cove as there were also half a dozen fishing boats scattered across the water. On further observation, we realized that this is actually an aquaculture (fishfarming) location. The structures contain the fish. Very interesting for Louisa who studied aquaculture for a Deloitte project last year.
We had to drive on Route 5 for 7 kilometers after the industrial town of Llaquihue to reach Puerto Varas, so we did not quite acheive our goal, but had loads of fun on the backroads. We found a nice hotel in Puerto Varas the Licarayen. We had a room with huge windows overlooking Lake Llanquihue and Volcan Osorno in the distance.
The woman working at the hotel insisted that the best place for tea was 34 kilometers down the road. So we headed down the road towards Ensenada. We drove into Bellavista and were doubtful that they were open, but a man inside waved to us. Fortuately. Tom ordered the full tea (onces) while Louisa ordered a slice of the famous kuchen (a pie/torte typical of the region). It was magnificent. Tom's spread for tea filled the entire table and included delicious egg salad, salmon salad, ham, salami and cheese, as well as a piece of chocolate raspberry torte, and a piece of raspberry kuchen. The latter was mouthwatering.
We were the only ones in the restaurant since we arrived at 2:30 and Chilean "onces" is typically around 5:00pm. The owners also have many llamas, including 2 tthat were only 2 weeks old. He also told us that they have 2 pet pumas, so we looked at them on our way out. They are huge!
Next we drove to Puerto Montt to return the truck. It was good and muddy, a definite sign of the fun we had in it! Catching a bus to Puerto Varas was easy, and cost us about $.70 each.
Most shops were closed in Puerto Varas since it was Sunday, so we wandered and relaxed. We had dinner at Donde el Gordito, a restaurant in the market. The conger eel with crab was particularly good.
City of Angels was on HBO with Spanish subtitles so we relished watching a movie before turning in for the night.
After checking out we headed to an internet cafe to take care of details and send a few messagess before checking out for a week. While we waited for computers we spoke with the real estate agent next door. The area is strewn with for sale signs, and it was interesting to learn about the market. It was also an excellent way to practice our Spanish.
Lunch was delicious. We had the "menu of the day" at a small restaurant on the SW corner of San Francisco and Walker Martinez. Tom's version of the menu incuded excellent empanadas made with a tasty beef stew inside. They also served real coffee, rather than the usual instant and we each had an excellent cappucino.
Trying to find the bus for Ensenada took effort, and patience. Each person we asked gave us different information about the corner to wait for and the time to expect the bus. So, we choose one of the two locations and checked with bus drivers of other buses when they stopped. After 30 minutes or so a minibus to Ensenada appeared and we hopped on, paying $1 each for the hour ridde.
It was definitely a local. We stopped to pick up passengers wherever they stood on the side of the road, including some school children. The driver would also let off passengers wherever they requested, which at times was barely 100 yards after the previous stop.
By the time we approached Ensenada, we were about the only passengers remaining on the bus. We requested that he drop us at the best place to catch the bus further south to Cochamo. This resulted in us going through Ensenada and being dropped at a bus shelter on the road to Cochamo, but in the middle of nowhere. The driver dropped us at 4:40 and said our bus was not due to arrive until 6:00pm.
We contemplated hitchhiking, but a total of 10 vehicles went by consisting of 4 huge trucks, 3 cars, & 3 pickups. None looked good for a ride in the rain. At 5:40 our 6:00pm bus drove up. It was a huge luxury bus, which we were not expecting. It was packed to the point of standing room only. In fact, Tom stood up with the driver. Most of the aisle was filled with school kids from Ensenada returning home to the town of Ralun.
The huge bus travelled along a very bad road through Ralun to Cochamo. During the drive, we had nice view across Reloncavi sound. The bus dropped us after a bridge and we found the short trail through the woods to Campo Adventura. It was dusk when we arrived and Andrea greeted us with news of a hot dinner almost ready to eat.
We were the only guests and talked with Andrea during dinner. She is from Germany, just graduated from University with a degree in tourism, and is running the logistics of Base Camp and La Junta for Clark Stede, the owner. We found out that the place is for sale, and asked for more details. She was a bit reluctant to talk about it, but we did find out enough to know that we wouldn't be interested.
The camp consists of five attractive builidings. They include a long set of connecting cabins to sleep 9 and the kitchen; a covered picnic area; the office; a bell tower; and the barbeque with bathrooms, shower and sauna. Because base camp does not have electricity, we ate by candelight, and went to bed early, around 10.
The path is the Gaucho Trail, used for hundreds of year by Chilenos and Argentinians to take cattle and goods across the Andes to either the Pacific or the Atlantic. Butch Cassidy and the Sundance Kid travelled along the Gaucho Trail with their cattle during their exile in South America. This legend is part of the lore of Campo Aventura.
The trail we followed was much more difficult than we expected. Rather than meandering through meadows for a few hours, we navigated steep, narrow, muddy paths and forded quite a few streams and two rivers. At the first river crossing, Tom's horse, Bravo, did not want to go, but Tom succeeded in convincing him.
At some points the trail became a deep, narrow ravine, taller than our heads, and so narrow our stirrups touched on both sides. We soon realized that the trail has been carved down through mud and soil for over 4 centuries as missionaries and gauchos rode along it. At some points we found Alerce trees paving the trail. They were put there 100 years ago by a company that traded goods between Chile and Argentina.
We lunched by the Rio Piedra, a tributary or the Rio Cochamo and chatted with Errnesto. It was great to hop off the horses and relax in a lovely spot.
Along the way, we were impressed by the beauty, including a number of waterfalls cascading down the mountains in the distance. We traveled through lots of Valdivian rainforest, which we were not expecting. It was lush with giant ferns, and moss covering the trees.
We cantered into camp at 4:30pm, had some hot tea then headed out for the nature trail and the two waterfalls. Both waterfalls were trerrific, the first was incredibly tall. We were not sure we had enough time before dark, but headed up to the second anyway. It was spectacular! We wished we had more time. The camp has stocked the shelter in front of the waterfall with tea, coffee, hot chocolate and everything you need to cook it up. The nature trail was well marked, showing much of the native flora. It also includes an amazingly large 4000 year old alerce tree (similar to the redwoods in California).
As darkness fell over the camp we arrived for a deliciouos asado dinner cooked by Blanca. After dinner we were treated with hot showers heated by a clever wood fired water heater.
Due to the long day, and lack of electricity, we headed to bed early.
We played with Karen, their 5 year old girl. She brought out a Spanish deck of cards and taught us a few games. Somehow the rules always led to her winning. Tom taught her War, which filled up a good part of the morning.
Itt continued to rain, steadily and heavily, all morning. Blanca came over to our cabin at 12:00 to make lunch early. That way we could head out in the afternoon and still get in a good walk. But, it continued to rain.
We puulled out our books, and Karen brought over her books. We discovered that reading the abridged version of Dumbo and the Lion King are exactly our level of Spanish. Hmmm...5 year old Spanish.
It contined to rain, with an occassional outburst of a downpour. We moved to the covered porch for a late afternoon game of Scrabble, in Spanish.
It was still raining when we finished Scrabble. Blanca cooked a dinner of pasta and vegetables while we all chatted. She inquired about the rigidness of our plans after the next day, just in case the River Cochamo was too high to cross. It did not seem that likely, though. Our senses must have been dimmed since we were bursting at the seams with her delicious cooking and so little activity.
Ernesto brought over his guitar and Tom played his repertoire - 59th Street Bridge Song and Father & Son - for everyone, while the rain continued. His playing was quite good, which was great to hear since usually he strums without playing a song through entirely.
As they headed out, they warned us that the river will not be passable tomorrow if the rain continues all night. We drank red wine, read, and journalled by candlelight until bed. We were struck by the wierd juxtaposition of the advanced miniature computer on the rough table lit by candles - truly two separate worlds meeting.
During breakfast (not quite as good as yesterday's, but the kuchen was still great) we mentioned that we had a reservation at Hotel Petrohue that we needed to cancel, since we would not make it. They don't have a radio or any form of communication short of pony express, so she couldn't help us, but she went to ask Ernesto what to do after breakfast. We resigned ourselves to spending the morning indoors, and got out the Scrabble.
We had just started (Tom was winning, 4 to 0) when Blanca returned and told us to get ready immediately. Ernesto said that the river was still rising, and if we needed to go, we should go right away. We were ready in minutes, and mounted up to head to the river. Blanca and Karen accompanied us, to watch worriedly from the bank.
Ernesto looked at the river, and then asked us how secure we felt on the horses. We felt pretty good, so he cautioned us not to take our feet out of the stirrups (he even asked if we wanted to remove our shoes, but we declined), and we headed into the river. He made sure Estrella was next to him, and Bravo on the far side, as we waded into the swollen river. This was fortunate, as Estrella stumbled once in the deepest part, soaking Louisa to the hip, but Ernesto's horse was there to support her. Tom on Bravo got soaked above the knees, but the crossing was made relatively safely. We waved to Blanca and Karen and headed down.
The trip down was quite different from the trip up. We thought it was muddy before, but we had no idea! The mud was often over the horses' knees, and there were literally thousands of new streams running across and along the trail. We were even more astonished when we looked up - hundreds of new waterfalls cascaded down the granite cliffs. There were big ones and small ones, ones that fell off cliffs and became mist, and others that crashed through gorges. We almost couldn't believe our eyes (not to mention our ears - some of them sounded like thunder).
We started to hurry a bit when Ernesto told us that the Rio Piedra (where we had lunch two days ago} might also be too high to cross. After just 2 hours we arrived there, but Ernesto started shaking his head. The river was not wide, but it was plunging furiously down in rapids as far as we could see. Ernesto reconnoired up and down river, but returned to tell us that he had never before crossed it when it was this high.
We enumerated our alternatives: wait for the river to go down, try to get across without the horses (there was a scary log across the river) and hike out, or return to La Junta and probably not be able to cross the river there. We came up with a number of other hairbrained schemes as well, but none sounded great, so we decided to have lunch and see if the river was going down.
Just after lunch we heard a whistle from the other side of the river - the other Campo Aventura gaucho, Euloquio, had arrived with two more guests. The two shouted to each other in spanish for a while, and then scouted up and down again. Finally, Euloquio started unloading gear from the largest horse on their side, Tragolargo (large gulp). He also removed his outer clothing, and after Ernesto threw him a cowhide rope, wrapped it around his waist. He then mounted Tragolargo and, with much clucking and whistling, succeeded in fording the river.
Once on our side, he and Ernesto engaged in rapid-fire spanish, and ultiimately decided to ferry everyone across on the two largest horses, Tragolargo and Bravo. Euloquio crossed back on Tragolargo, and then it was our turn. Louisa volunteered to go first, mounted Bravo, and pointed him at the rushing river. He refused to go. Several times she urged him on, digging in her heels, with Ernesto clucking and even slapping his flanks, but he kept turning away. Tom had ridden Bravo before, so he tried next. With firm pressure, he convinced Bravo to cross the river, but not without a few stumbles and scary moments.
Tragolargo did the rest, and it was almost routine. First the Swiss guy, then back with Louisa, and then across again with the Swiss woman. He even carried our gear, too. At this point, we had crossed the river with our gear, swapped guides and mares, and were ready to continue on - it was about 2:30, and we had a 2.5hr ride to catch the 5pm bus. We waved goodbye to Ernesto and headed down the trail.
After a while, the trail crossed and recrossed a new logging road being built. On one of these occasions, Louisa's new horse, Linda, decided to canter a bit down the road. The guide told us this was okay, so we trotted down the road for the next hour to reach the bridge - this was much faster than walking on the trail. We went to the bridge to cross the Rio Cochamo - no fording was possible - and then had one final tributary to ford before arriving in camp.
Andrea was relieved to see us, and fixed some hot tea and cookies while we hurriedly repacked. She even checked (by radio) with Puerto Varas to make sure we could connect to Petrohue from our bus via Ensenada. We got up to the road at 4:40, just in time to catch the bus - it was 20 mins early.
The bus dropped us at the crossroad from Ensenada to Petrohue at 5:45, and the driver assured us that a bus to Petrohue would be along around 6. We waited until 6:20, and then flagged down a microbus going back to Ensenada, whose driver assured us that there were no more buses in our direction that night. Now thinking we might be spending a night in Ensenada, we rode with him into town, where he dropped us at an hospedaje.
Louisa's sharp eyes spotted a taxi and a payphone at a gas station down the road, so we walked that way to see if we could still get to Petrohue somehow. The taxi was more than willing to take us, and not too expensive, so we loaded our bags and started out.
At this point we realized that we were missing the small carryon safari bag, containing the guidebook, drivers licenses, some credit cards, etc. We thought we might have left it at the crossroad, so we asked the taxi to stop there. Our hearts sank when we didn't find it - we must have left it on the micro that took us into Ensenada, and by now was halfway to Puerto Varas. What a low point - we were still wet from crossing the rivers, we'd been traveling hard all day, and now we were faced with the huge annoyance of losing a bunch of important stuff.
We told the taxi driver (all in spanish, mind you) what had happened, and got our first stroke of luck: our taxi driver knew the microbus driver! He promised to talk to him first thing in the morning, and if the bag was found, to return it to us. We wrote down a description, along with our names, and promised him a reward. We were still fairly pessimistic, however - any bus rider could pick it up, and it did resemble a purse.
Once at the Hotel Petrohue, we told them it was our honeymoon. We were checked in to a nice room, but had read that some rooms have fireplaces, so Tom went back down to ask. We were then shown the best room in the place, which we immediately changed to. Room 302 has a fireplace, a small balcony with a view over the lake, and is very nicely decorated. When we asked about starting a fire, they sent a guy up with wood and a bottle of kerosene to start it - we stayed on the far side of the room until he got it going.
After hot showers and hanging our wet stuff over the stove, we felt much better. We went down to the dining room for a decent dinner, and a pretty good bottle of wine. After dinner, the waiter asked for our key - we thought it was to get the number to charge the meal. We soon found out it was so they could put a small bottle of champage and a fruit basket in our room, along with a note congratulating us on our honeymoon. How thoughtful of them!
The best news was after dinner, as we headed up to bed. We had told the receptionist about our lost bag, and she had been very sympathetic. Incredibly, the taxi driver had called the hotel and left a message for us: the bag was found! He would bring it by the next morning. We were incredibly relieved. Then we opened the door to our room, and realized the staff were terrific and surprised us with a bottle of champagne and basket of fruit which they snuck into our room during dinner. We decided to save the champagne, and slept like the dead.
Campo Aventura Review: Unexpectedly, it was not a ride in the park. The trails were difficult. We were very glad that we insisted on helmets considering the number of bushes and low branches that we rode through on the trails.
The trail is centuries old, which has resulted ina very narrow and steep path. which required us to ride in a single line for five hours. Conversation was difficult, so we were very alone with our thoughts.
Hotel Petrohue Review: The 3rd floor is the nicest since the ceiling is made of wood beams. Further, the corner rooms have the best ambiance since all walls are made of wood beams. Overall the hotel is lovely, but lacks finishing touches to be outstanding. The staff made a couple of mistakes, but overall were great - friendly and accommodating.
We had a typical Chilean breakfast delivered to our room, and enjoyed it in front of a roaring fire. In fact, we extended breakfast by keeping the water and milk hot with the fire, and made coffee and hot chocolate throughoout the morning.
The receptionist approached us very apologetically. Our room as reserved for that night. So, we had to change rooms mid-day. The second rooom was still on the top floor and on the corner so it had much of the same log cabin ambiance except without the fireplace.
The day was rather gray due to a thin layer of clouds which kept us from wanting to wander very far afield. We did grab the bottle of champagne and walked down the beach where the sun found us.
After surprisingly good sandwiches from the hotel, we relaxed the rest of the afternoon by reading and journaling. We enjoyed another dinner in the hotel, sittign near the fireplace. We had the same waiter for all of our meals, which added a fun element of chatting and joking.
Revised: Wed Feb 13 11:37:55 2008 on