The Long and Skinny on Chile
In leaving home one learns life, You travel. Travelling is victory! You shall return with much wisdom.” Joseph Conrad
If you wanted to run across a country, pick a thin country like Chile. If you want to hitchhike the length of a country, you couldn’t pick a better country than Chile. Our merry band of 4 will not be hitchhiking the length of Chile, but we have met some who are on that trek. With the lowest violent crime rate in South America, friendly truck drivers, and strong infrastructure, making your way down the country seems to be a breeze. Imagine you created a country 150 miles wide from Baha in Mexico all the way to Alaska, got rid of most of the people, enlarged the mountains, and flipped it upside down. That country would be a North American equivalent of Chile.
Last trip we spent a little time in the Atacama desert, the driest place on Earth, in northern Chile. This trip we decided to start in the middle and go south. Chile has 12 different regions that creatively begin with region 1 (I) at the top and extend to region 12 (XII) at the bottom.(They have names as well, but this is easy for the foreigner.) Santiago is right in the middle of these regions and was the launching point for the trip and we would make it to region 11 (XI.)
We enjoyed our time in Santiago, though at first we were a little apprehensive of the noise graffiti, and abandoned buildings. We quickly adjusted as we found the noise to be people enjoying their summer, the graffiti to be an act of self-expression and political resistance rather than vandalism, and the buildings to be in the process of gentrification. As we settled into Santiago, we became comfortable with the mix of Chilean and Japanese food, the walks through the city, the subways, and the rising skyline. It has not opened yet, but Santiago has the tallest building in Latin America. McKane says it rises above the city like the “eye of Sauron.” I am sure the developers have a much more benign view of their grand creation.
But as we became comfortable it was time to set off to discover the South of Chile. We decided we would work our way south with a combination of bus and boat. The first step would be a 12-hour bus ride to Puerto Varas, an up-and-coming vacation town near the much bigger port town of Puerto Montt. After our grand bus trips through Argentina and Peru, we all were looking forward to giant reclining seats and a relaxing evening driving south. Unfortunately, it is high season; I checked a couple of different bus companies that ran the route, but they were all sold out. The only option I could find were some standard, back-of-the-bus seats on a bus similar to a Greyhound that left at 10:30 at night. I am sure Anne would not have waited until the last day, and the entire time I sat squished in the seat I vowed to do better.
Most of us got at least some sleep on the bus as we drove from the big city to the lake resort, although I was amazed at how long the kids phone batteries could last. We found Puerto Varas charming. We had left the 90-degree heat of Santiago and found ourselves in much more mild weather with periodic rain showers. A 20-minute walk gets you from one end of Puerto Varas to the other. There are the beginnings of large-scale tourism, with grand lodges or hotels going up, but those are not for us. Puerto Varas was our first hostel stay of this trip. It was clean, friendly and geared towards families or couples. After we had filled our bellies with more meat and cheese, we set about planning the couple of days of adventure in Puerto Varas. For the more adventurous there are multi-day treks into the mountains or multi-day canoe trips but we opted for a one-day canoe trip and an adventure called Canyoning. Asher is writing a post about canyoning so I will not say anymore about it.
The canoe trip was lovely. It was just the 4 of us and our guide, Pierre. Pierre was a photojournalist who travelled the world for years until he fell in love with this little town and set up a hostel and adventure inn. He was a great guide and took us through some interesting lagoons before taking us out on Lake Llanquihue, a 20 mile by 20 mile giant lake. On the lake, we watched the sunset over the water. It was a peaceful end to a wonderful stay in this blossoming new adventure town. But our journey south was just getting started. Next up a 26-hour boat ride through the fjords of Chile.