The Lake Between Volcanoes

I’ve fallen in love with this place, this lake between volcanoes in the south of this long skinny country with endless vistas of sea, desert, and mountains.

Lago Llanquihue con los volcanes Osorno y Calbuco al fondoThe lake, called Llanquihue, covers more than 300 square miles and sits just to the west of two volcanoes, Osorno and Calbuco. Of the two, Osorno’s 8,000 feet tall snow-capped cone is more elegant than Calbuco’s craggy flat-top, but both are beautiful in their own way and are among the most active of the southern Andes.

On our first morning here, we awake in Puerto Varas on the lake’s southern shore to gray and stillness everywhere.

From the window in my room that opens onto the lake and mountains I watch as faint light like so many streamers drifts through layers of clouds down to the quivering surface of the lake. The volcanoes and their neighboring peaks lie silently behind the gray. As I get dressed I wonder what the day will show us. One never knows here in this rainy maritime climate, but I’m hoping for sun and big views.

As I go by on my morning run the beach is empty but for a lone fisherman.

A single sailboat drifts by.

Now, a few other runners join me, but most visitors are still snug in their beds having dined and retired late. The natives, however, are up and out, walking or biking, or taking the bus to work. It’s common here, even in this rural place, to walk and take the bus everywhere. Years ago, more than thirty, I rode all over the south of Chile on the local buses. I’m sure that even today this is possible, but we’ve rented cars so I won’t find out this time. As I run up a hill away from the lake a grizzled skeleton of a man emerges from a thicket of blackberries wakening me from my daydreaming. For an instant I am frightened but then realize that this is his home and he is about his morning routine, just as I am.

As I reach the top of the hill, the wind springs up from the south.

Within five minutes the sky is turning blue and in the distance the snowy top of Volcan Osorno emerges.

Within half an hour the gray has vanished and both Osorno and Calbuco are resplendent in the sun.

The wind scurries across the lake making white caps. Instantaneously, sailboats and windsurfers take to the lake. Nature and people are at play.

We are seven on this trip: Antun and I; Haydee; Nicolas and his girlfriend, Maria; and Luciana and her boyfriend, Francisco.  Nicolas comes here from time to time to go fly-fishing with friends but for the rest of us it’s either our first trip in a long time or first trip ever to this place. We’ve come to explore and enjoy being together away from the congestion of the city and the routine of every day. This, our annual trip sandwiched between Christmas and New Year celebrations with the rest of the family in Santiago, affords us time, we decide, for three excursions: One to the island of Chiloe to the southwest, one to Lago de Todos Los Santos to the east, and one to Frutillar on the western shores of Llanquihue to meet friends for lunch. The rest of the time is for doing nothing or something, whatever presents itself in the moment.

Doing nothing gives me the gift of just being here. Everywhere is soft gray.
Then a rainbow suddenly appears. I am immensely happy.

Memories awake. I hadn’t thought of this when we were planning the trip or even when flying down here, but now I do. More than thirty years ago when I first came to this part of the world, I was so tightly wrapped in the grief for the child I had lost and the mother I could never be that this place and its beauty alluded me.  Whoosh,  I feel a powerful release.  This place and people I love surround me. With deep gratitude for my family and the adventures we share, I am here in the moment. I give thanks.

All original content copyright 2011 Mary E. Slocum

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