Monday, January 18, 2016

Patagonia I – Osorno and the Land of Rivers

18 January 2016

We left Temuco on Friday (today is Monday), knowing there was a chance of rain.  We were hoping to arrive in Puerto Montt, which is the last major town or city on this part of mainland Chile and Ruta 5.  We drove through the usual woodsy hills, along with logging trucks on the road.  Then smaller hills, although instead of fields and orchards and vineyards, the farms were mostly dedicated to beef and sheep. 

Chile is divided into regions; within each region, there are provencias, provinces.  And there are regional capitals as well as provincial capitals. 

So we drove through the region known as Los Lagos, The Lakes.  Although most of the lakes are off to the east, closer to the foothills of the Andes, and the border with Argentina.  Then we entered the region of Los Rios, The Rivers.  I’m guessing most of The Lakes feed into The Rivers, which then flow on toward the ocean. 

Each river has a name, though they aren’t all posted on the highway.  Each bridge has a name, and that’s what is posted.  Puente Negra.  Puente Niebla.  Puente Burro.  (Black Bridge.  Fog Bridge.  Donkey Bridge.)  Really, we saw all of those.  It gets to be kind of funny, especially some of the animal bridges.

There are also billboard, my favorite being a house-shaped sign that looks as if it had been painted by Piet Mondrian.  NO idea if this is for bank loans, house paint, real estate.  There's just a name and phone number under most of them, barely visible while driving by.  But they do brighten up the drive!

By the time we were on the outskirts of the town of Osorno, it began raining fairly hard.  We had already travelled a fair distance (over 200 km, or 120 or so miles) so we decided rather than fighting late afternoon traffic and finding a hotel, all in the pouring rain, we’d just head in to Osorno.

Osorno actually turned out to be an interesting town!  They were getting ready for the Fiesta de Leche y Carne – the Milk and Meat Festival – held in late January.  The central plaza has a statue of a HUGE bull!  And yes, the whole town seems to be somewhat dedicated to, well, the cattle and dairy industry.

But Osorno is also at the base of Volcan Osorno, which is a prime ski destination during the Chilean winter.  The town is also only 45-55 km (25 to 35 miles) from several lakes in Los Lagos.  So tourism is a big industry here as well, even though Osorno isn’t very large.

The same central plaza is wonderful at night!  There are neon or colored LED signs of famous Osorno landmarks – the mountain, the bull, and the cathedral located here.

Even better is the crazy fountain in the center of the plaza.  I’ve never seen anything like it – this fountain rivals the Bellagio in Vegas!  Within the rectangular pool, there’s a central row of spouts that shoots the water straight up.   There’s a row of angled spouts to each side of the central row, left and right, close to the edge.  These spouts move up and down, shooting out water in changing curves, depending on the angle of the spout.  And then, in the space between the rows, there are two rotating disks with multiple spouts, which shoot up water and spin, making sort of a braided vase design.

To make things even better, each spout is individually lit with light that somehow carries up and colors the water!  And the light rotates from green to yellow to orange, then red, purple, blue, aqua, back to green!  But it would be too boring for all of the water to be the same color.  So different sections of the fountain show up in different (but coordinating) colors!

It really is trippy and magical at night, all this whirling and twirling and spouting colorful water!  It looks like a liquid rainbow in motion, nonstop!  We were mesmerized, just standing in the dusk, watching the water!

Across from the plaza is the cathedral.  I’m sure it has a name, but I didn’t see a sign.  I was too busy looking at the fabulous mosaics on the façade, two rows of saints (maybe the disciples?), with Jesus, Mary, and someone else (Joseph?) in stained glass above the triple set of carved wood doors. 

These were really wonderful mosaics, rendered in Italian tesserae, the tiny colored glass tiles that are cut into even smaller pieces, most the size of confetti.  Using tiny pieces like that enables the artist to create more detail with smoother lines, and also create shading for the faces, figures, and clothing.  It really was a nicely rendered mosaic, although there wasn’t any grout between the bits of glass, which I found odd. 

I don’t know what the actual building looks like, the pillars and the arches, but they framed the mosaics nicely at night, making the whole cathedral somewhat mysterious and ethereal.

I want to mention something about breakfast – because food is always an interesting part of learning about a new country or culture.  In both Ecuador and Peru, many of the places we stayed included breakfast.  There was almost always fruit and/or juice, eggs, maybe ham or bacon, and toast with butter and marmalade.  This is usually referred to as desayunos Americano (American breakfast).  In Chile, in every place we’ve stayed that includes breakfast, there are no eggs.  Sometimes (but not always) fruit salad, juice, and occasionally sliced bread for toast.  More often than not, however, breakfast consists of sliced cheese, sliced ham, and these funny buns that are sort of like biscuits that didn’t rise.  Really, round and not quite flat, but very dense.  With a few holes poked in the top.  Butter and jam are available, but most people seem to eat these buns or rolls just plain.  And the cheese and ham are eaten plain as well.  What confuses me even further is that there’s never a fork available.  So I either make a ham and cheese sandwich, or skip that and go with butter and jam.  Somehow I just can’t pick up a slice of ham and eat it with my fingers.  Just, interesting.  (Plus, of course, there’s always tea or coffee, usually with hot milk.)

Temuco was probably the beginning of the region known as Patagonia, but Osorno FELT more like Patagonia.  Less citified, more rural and agricultural.  A little more wild. 

The next day we headed south, passing along the western shore of Lake Llangalhue (not sure how to pronounce that), past Puerto Montt, and on to Pargua, where on catches the ferry to Isla Chiloé (pronounced chee-low-AY), where Ruta 5 continues.  I know, it seems a little odd.  But this is the region of the Chilean fjords, where the mainland is just a skinny little strip of mountains, and the islands along the gulfs are almost as big as the mainland.  Plus the islands are flatter, so this is where the towns developed and people reside.

The next blog will continue with our time on Chiloé, so . . . . . to be continued . . . . .

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