Puerto Varas

I’m up and moving early, Puerto Montt sucks and I intend to GTFO as quickly as possible. I try to pick up a few last minute supplies, particularly a couple of garbage bags to waterproof my hobo bindle with, but it’s Sunday and everything’s shut so I just jump on a bus I see going by that says “Puerto Varas” and “Llanquehui”. I’m glad I did, it only cost me about $1.50 but the road to Puerto Varas is a pretty boring stretch, kind of industrial. Oh, and we also hit a patch where it was pissing down hard, which would have sucked without a waterproof bindle.

I’d heard Puerto Varas was a cool place, settled by Germans and it had retained much of that flavour, and as we pulled into town I could see what people were talking about. The town’s German heritage was evident in the surnames on buildings, the German flags hanging from the buildings, and the buildings themselves:

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The beach waterfront was hopping, lots of people chilling, kayaking and boating, even though it was grey and intermittently drizzling. I had a quick look around for a museum I’d seen on a tourist map, couldn’t find it, and just started walking along the road right next to the lake.

Puerto Varas is kind of swank and the outskirts were no less so, fancy-looking B & Bs and cabins took up most of the lakefront property. It rains on me for a while but not so heavy as to soak all my stuff. When it cleared up I didn’t expect it to last so I didn’t put on any sunscreen… By the end of the day I’d realized that was a mistake…

Once I get seven or eight kilometers out of town I stopped into a little shop advertising “artisanal” ice cream and decided I had to check it out. Tasted like ice cream. I kicked off my boots and hung out with the owner for a while, he was curious about what I was doing just walking up the road, told him I didn’t really know what I was doing or where I was going and he got a kick out of that. He wanted to know what I thought of Chile – especially Chilean women – and how it compared to the neighbours, especially Peru and Argentina.

The cabins grew fewer and further between and the empty space filled in with farmland, there wasn’t much in the way of woods. More and more campgrounds are around though, so at least if I can’t find a decent place to camp rough I can get a spot somewhere. Too early for that now though, it’s still only early afternoon. The “trail”, really a bike path, followed directly next to the road, which is good for being able to stop into stores to get water and snacks but there was a lot of traffic going by, and going by pretty quickly.

The trees were almost all eucalyptus and there were two main types of birds around, a small brown raptor with white stripes under its wings and black-faced ibises. The smell of the gum trees was strong with the sun fully out, had it not been for the occasional Spanish road sign and cars driving on the opposite side of the road, I could’ve been convinced that I was in Australia.

I stopped again for coffee near the 15 km mark at a little village with a river running through it, can’t recall the name but it was small enough that I doubt I’d find it easily on a map. The owner of the shop’s an older woman, we talked for a while about my trip and she was emphatic that I should go to Chiloe to see the penguins. It’s obvious she loves penguins just by the change of her voice and the way she’s clutching her hands together while talking about them, pretty funny. She also says I should fork off from the lake road around the 45-50 km mark and venture off into Petrohue, a little town on another lake, she says it’s a really nice place. There’s a catamaran there that’ll take me to an Argie border crossing – I don’t really care for doing that but I might check out the town anyhow. She also recommends a place called Frutillar, but it’s closer to Puerto Varas but in the opposite direction from the way I’m walking. Who knows, maybe if I circumnavigate the lake (unlikely) I’ll get there. I also remember to ask her whether it’s safe to drink straight from the lake and she insists it isn’t. Drinking straight from streams and lakes is something I’ve gotten into the habit of but I figured it might not be alright here with the amount of towns and agriculture around the lake.

On my way out of the village I talk to guy pushing a dolly with two or three bags stacked and tied to it, he looks pretty scruffy and dirty, I’d say he’d been sleeping outdoors. He was on his way to a place a short distance before Ensenada, another 15 clicks or so he reckoned. He asked if I’d be looking for camping and seemed skeptical that I’d find any further up the road, which seemed strange because there had been so many sites earlier. Sure enough, camping had seemed to dry up when I started looking an hour or so later. I find one site but it’s a beach spot, FULL of kids running around screaming, not my scene at all. I’m not terribly fussy but by this point I’d been in the sun a while and clocked around 20 kilometers up the road so a few beers on the water sounded about right. There are still lots of cabins for rent but they look superswank, I didn’t even bother checking them out. Otherwise it was almost all farmland, hard to camp rough in an open field and evade notice.

I walked past a farm house with a sign indicating it had a room for rent. It was a quaint little place, an elderly woman came out of the front door and met me in the yard then showed me a room. A dog tagged along and while I was patting him a cat rubbed up against my leg letting out a myeowl, when I rubbed the cat the dog took exception and put the run to it. I like this place a lot already, having animals around is fantastic but I have to keep trucking, the lady wanted $70 for the room (she lowered it to $60 but that’s still more than I cared to hand over, even with a few awesome animals running around).

Somewhere around the 23-24 km mark I found another farmhouse, this one had an upstairs room for about $25 with breakfast thrown in. I asked if I can just sleep out on the farm somewhere, an idea they didn’t really care for but since I didn’t feel like walking any further (the sun’s really gotten to me, really should’ve used sunscreen) I just grab the room. While I’ve got a yard with some space I figure I might as well clean out my tent – while walking I’d remembered that the last time I used it was at Villa O’Higgins when Damien (lacking his own tent) squeezed into mine and had his sleeping bag expel duck feathers everywhere. I turn it outside out and within 30 seconds I’ve got half a dozen cats circled around me, wondering what I’m up to.

I walk around a little bit and the farm dog tags along with me, I tried to send him home but he wasn’t having any of it. He didn’t turn back until I stopped into a little restaurant a ways up the road, pretty fancy-looking, classical music playing and shit, I strolled in sunburnt, road-dirty, wearing a Marxist t-shirt and with a farm dog in tow. Even after the dog turned back a few eyebrows were raised and I got some serious attitude from the waiters, especially when my Spanish failed, they gave me the rolled eyes. I stayed for a beer and then said screw this place, I’m headed back to the farm.

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