Tuesday, January 26, 2016

Rolling Into Los Angeles

26 January 2016

We headed out of Frutillar yesterday morning, planning to drive to another town on Lago Llanquihue, and then head to Ruta 5, the main highway.  We thought we'd just drive as far as we could and then find a place to stay, aiming for Temuco, the city with the great painted park benches in the middle of town.  

Life often has other ideas.

We approached the town of Osorno, the place with the rainbow-lit fountain.  Drove on by.  And encountered a detour that took us off the highway.  Really, the entire highway was closed on the northbound side.  We weren't sure if this was for the ongoing repaving, or if there was some kind of situation where the road would be shut down.  But the carabiñeros, the police, were out there waving people off at the exit.  We asked which way we were supposed to go, since there weren't any signs pointing us to a detour (desvio) route.  The carabiñero told us (in Spanish) that there'd be another carabiñero to show us the way.  So, okay, well, what can you do, we drove off.

We didn't find the other carabiñero.  We basically followed the main flow of traffic, which has become something of our fall-back position, but something of a joke.  It's how my father gave directions; instead of saying stay on the main road, he'd tell people to follow the main flow of traffic.  It often works.  But sometimes it doesn't.

We really don't know where we ended up.  There were signs for the small town of Trafun.  We went across a single-lane bridge, as did most of the traffic.  However, we found another carabiñero, who was riding along telling everyone to turn around and go back.  So we did.  We asked if we could get on Ruta 5 near La Union, he said no.  We asked where to turn, and, well, who knows what he said.  We followed the main flow of traffic.

This little map shows where I think we went, the zig zag purple line.  (Ruta 5 is the orange.)  We definitely went through the town of Rio Buenos.  I thought we were heading north, but somehow we followed people on an underpass and ended up on the other side of Ruta 5.  And then in La Union.

Well, there isn't much one can do at this point.  We had to ask for more directions.  It was going on mid-afternoon.  We were hungry.  So we stopped for lunch, and asked for directions when we left.  Checked our directions with a very nice young man in the park, whose English was more understandable than our limited Spanish.  (He checked with some friends at the fire station, and they said Ruta 5 was open at the entrance to which he was sending us.)  And off we went, heading into the unknown.

A good half hour later we arrived and yes, the highway was open.  YAY!  We drove on to Temuco, though the hotel we stayed at last time was full.  We managed to find a hotel for the night, and had a decent stay.

Onward today, to the town of Los Angeles.  We seem to be the only non-Chileans in town, though we found a nice little hostal or hospedaje, and a café, both of which have people working there who can speak English.  We can ask if they have a room, price, etc. - but when they have private parking, or are describing the food item, it is so much easier for us to do that in English.

So we'll spend a night in quiet little Los Angeles.

Along the drive, though, there was a whole section of highway where people have little food stands.  Really, right along the PanAmerican highway!  Almost all of the stands carry honey (miel), cheese (quesos), bread (pan), and many carry that summer drink, mote con huisilla, the dried peach and honey thing with the wheat groats.  So people go driving along at some 60-75 mph (100-120 kph!), and then slam on their brakes and veer off to the shoulder to buy fresh honey or homemade cheese.  This includes the double-trailer logging trucks carrying full loads!  We found it amazing.  And a little, uh, thrilling to be driving along and encountering such actions.  Not exactly the recommended driving style either of us learned, that's for sure!

We basically are following Ruta 5 north, back along the same path, but without the diversion to the coast.  We'll stop along the way, not sure where.  Maybe a winery.  Maybe Valparaiso.  

As long as we return the car on Saturday, it really doesn't matter where we visit along the way.

This is a classic road trip without a plan.


Sunday, January 24, 2016

In the Reflection of the Volcano

24 January 2016

We left Castro on Saturday, driving north through Chiloé to the town of Chacao, where we caught the car ferry back to the mainland.  Chacao looks like a picturesque little town, but there’s never enough time to see everything and go everywhere.

So we got drove onto the ferry, and made our way to the top deck.  It was a beautifully sunny day, bright and clear, with an amazing view of the Andes to the east. 

I saw a few of the little black dolphins, though they didn’t come by to race the ferry.  There were also sea lions torpedoing their way through the water, stopping to look at us passing by. 

But my favorite was this little Humboldt penguin bravely swimming away from the boat, furiously pumping his little webbed feet and waggling his little penguin tail as he hurried to get far enough away.  So cute, and such a surprise to see him there! 

As we headed up Ruta 5, we decided to head to the lake district.  We had talked about several options, but I suggested the town of Frutillar. Because the word “frutilla” is the Chilean word for strawberry.  Because we could see Volcan Osorno in the distance, and the volcano is just across the lake from Frutillar.  And, well, why not, right? 

So we drove to Frutillar, a charming little town on Lago Llanquihue (which I think is pronounced yan-KEE-whey).   The town itself was first settled in 1856, so there are various old homes mixed in with more modern buildings.  Definitely kind of touristy, but it’s Chilean touristy, so it doesn’t seem as kitschy as, well, the kind of touristy we’re used to. 

Just a few facts – Llanquihue Lake has a surface area of 332 square miles (860 sq km) and is the second largest lake in Chile.  The dimensions are roughly 22 miles long and 25 miles wide (35 km by 40 km).  The perimeter is about 116 miles, or 186 kilometers.  The depth is as much as 5,000 feet (1,500 meters) – wow, almost a mile deep, or one and a half kilometers!!!  THAT is a deep lake! 

Volcan Osorno is a gorgeous conical volcano, almost a perfect triangle, and is a stratovolcano (meaning it’s built up by many layers or strata of volcanic material).  Osorno sits on top of a 250,000 year old eroded stratovolcano, La Picada, with a 3.7 miles wide (6 km) caldera (crater).   It’s 8,701 feet tall (2,652 meters).  We chatted with a café owner and Osorno erupted last May!  He was telling us that there was a huge amount of ash and smoke, but it mostly blew across the border into Argentina.  Osorno is considered to be one of the most active volcanoes in the southern Chilean Andes, with twelve eruptions recorded since 1575!  Despite the numerous eruptions, the top of the volcano is covered in glaciers.

As you can tell, Volcan Osorno dominates the landscape!

Apparently there are a lot of German immigrants who settled here in Frutillar.  (One wonders when they arrived, and the political affiliations.)  I was told that many of the Germans have farms in the area, and yes, grow the strawberries.  The Germans have also brought pastry to this part of Chile – there are signs for kuchen and strudel at many shops and bakeries, and specialized kuchen stores here.  (Kuchen is a German cake, usually with a thick bottom crust and some kind of fruit, sometimes with cream or custard, and often with crumbs on top.  It can also be a somewhat flat cake, again with fruit in it.  We usually encountered kuchen with mixed berries.  In Castro, our hotel served the flattish buns and kuchen or strudel for breakfast every day.  Really, the flat bun, a glass of juice, a cup of tea or coffee, and either apple strudel or berry coffee-cake type of kuchen!)

Chocolate also seems to be a popular food item, we’ve found several chocolate shops.  On our first day, we tried several hotels, hostals, cabañas, and hospedajes (all different names for the varying sizes of hotel-type accommodations), all to no avail.  Summer weekend by the lake, everything seemed to be full with Chilean and Argentinian tourists.  (We’re only about 150 km, or 90 miles, from the Argentinian border here.) 

We finally stopped in The Café Chocolate, hoping we’d get some help.  The owner was wonderful, told me her mother had a place and offered to call.  Turned out her mother’s place was full.  She then called a friend, who had a cabaña available, and held it for us while we drove over.  This place is perfect!  We’re right across the street from the lake, with a view of Volcan Osorno from our window and the lawn.  The place is surrounded by gorgeous gardens.  The owner has one long low building divided into three rooms, all very nicely furnished and fixed up, one of the nicest places we’ve been in while touring around Chile.  In fact, we like this spot so much we decided to stay two nights!  (She also has rooms to rent inside the main house.  The place is called Vista Hermosa Hospedaje, at the far end of Frutillar Bajo, Lower Frutillar, right on the lake.  This is a quieter end of the lake, and we’d definitely recommend this as a place to stay if you ever find yourself in Frutillar.)

And yes, we had kuchen at breakfast, along with the usual Chilean sliced ham and cheese.  Though with sliced bread, rather than the funny flat buns.

The town has a huge theatre right on the lake; there are performances here, and a few shops and restaurants.  The building is covered in planks stained in a variety of colors, with no apparent pattern as they were attached to the structure.  Makes for a very interesting appearance, sort of rustic and über modern at the same time.  With an amazing view of the lake and the volcanoes in the distance.

Today we awoke to pouring rain, serious constant rain!  Just one more reason to stay here and not trying driving around.  By the afternoon, however, the day cleared up and it actually was nice, so we went out walking.  There are all kinds of odd and funny sculptures along the lakefront walkway – the first, a music stand, was fairly normal.  Then there was a little gazebo (or a pergola?) with a wonderful mural on the ceiling; it appeared to be mostly agricultural scenes, connected with, incongruously, parts of musical instruments.  Really, cello necks and swirling piano keyboards!  So, of course, our next sculpture was a piano – minus some essential parts. 

I’m not sure if these sculptures are related to the College of Arts that we saw in town, or somehow part of the theatre. 

There was also a very romantic rose arbor.  I have no idea how the roses grew only at the top of the structure, but that’s the way it was.  Today, there were two young musicians performing under the arbor.  I sat and enjoyed this impromptu concert, a violin and a cello, playing a series of classical hits.  Really, most of the music we heard in 8th grade music appreciation class!

There are flowers everywhere, and I can never resist a good flower photo.

Tomorrow we’ll try to drive around a few more lakes before heading back to Ruta 5 and going north.  We have six more days to travel about 980-something kilometers (610 miles), so we’re fairly confident we can enjoy the trip north.  Maybe stop at a winery, stay an extra day if we really like someplace, our usual travel style.

And for my family yes, the hat enjoyed seeing the volcano!  Plus the faux tumbolo - the little connecting spit from the shore to the island, however enhanced.