Enjoying the finer things in Chile
04/23/2007 - 04/30/2007
Greetings from the land of volcanoes, stray dogs and instant coffee - otherwise known as Chile. Despite the often chilly fall weather, we´ve enjoyed the first two of the country´s defining attributes and I´ve managed to find some nice alternatives to the third.
After our triumphant hiking adventure in Patagonia´s Torres del Paine, we were treated to more spectacular mountain scenery on our drive through Chile´s Lake District, though we also endured our second volcano flop of the trip. Unlike our failure in Nicaragua due to excessive flabbiness, however, high winds forced us to abort the scaling of the very symmetrical and very active Volcan Villarrica after about an hour of climbing. The pity is that we could have slid down the mountainside in the snow, using pickaxes as brakes. More or less.
As a nice consolation, we discovered a fantastic complex of volcano-heated thermal springs in a waterfall-fed canyon called Termas Geometricas. We spent the rest of the afternoon hopping from pool to pool, enjoying the Japanese-style design with its rustic red-painted changing sheds and walkways - and only reluctantly left what has been the hottest water we´ve yet found in the country.
On our week-long tour of the scenic Lake District (south of Santiago) we also sampled some very nice lager beer, sauerkrat and pork sandwiches in the heavily German-influenced region. One of our best lunches, in fact, was at a chain restaurant called Bavaria. To our great disappointment, though, the waiters did not wear lederhosen.
And then there are the dogs. Chileans love them, but seem to be incapable of keeping them in any one location for very long. Hence entire packs of what look like extras from a lovable Disney movie endlessly roam the nation´s streets, yards, highways, woods, riversides and any other accessible surface. Fortunately, they´re quite friendly, and several only half-heartedly tried chasing our car while a small army of floppy-eared mutts looked on with only mild interest.
As we´ve found, the country´s many mountains represent only a small fraction of Chile´s natural beauty. Near the resort town of Pucon, we spent a day in the lovely and well-maintained Huerquehue National Park where we hiked up to a lake ringed by old-growth monkey puzzle trees, or araucaria. We had seen one or two of these odd-looking evergreens in botanical gardens but never so many big ones growing wild. Very impressive. Here´s a view of the lake in the late afternoon sun.
Also noteworthy is the beautiful but otherwise deserted wooden lodge where we stayed in the park that night and where we enjoyed a superb wine-accompanied dinner. Despite its many attractions, it listed as its prime amenity the unusual fact that it served real coffee rather than Nescafe instant for breakfast. Priorities, priorities.
Geoff has been gradually adding to his list of new bird sightings, with some colorful ibises and species spotted in the Chilean countryside. Other species have apparently sensed his affection for avian life and sought him out like an old friend. Hiking back to our rental car from the park lodge, for example, he was befriended by a flock of local chickens residing on park-bordering farms, who were really, really reluctant to let him leave after he fed them some delicious trail mix. Here´s a nice shot of them in hot pursuit, seemingly screaming, "Ah, kind sir, just a bit more?!!"
After our narrow escape, we headed down to Chiloe, a large and very atmospheric island known for its fishing, folklore and a collection of antique, Jesuit built, wood-shingled churches that have been preserved as a UNESCO world heritage site. As with the rest of the Lake District, we had nearly every tourist spot to ourselves and encountered plenty of dogs and Nescafe. The old churches were indeed fascinating, though several of them were populated only by giant black vultures perched atop their steeples.
We´re now in Santiago, which is quite large but vibrant and full of interesting art. The city´s museum of pre-Colombian art is nop-notch and apart from preserved textiles, burial urns, and a wonderful sculpture of a monkey skin-wearing warrrior, contains some really old pots that were undoubtedly used for the country´s first batches of instant coffee.