Tag Archives: Volcán Osorno

Frutillar and Puerto Octay

Today, we’re heading up the western shore of the lake to Frutillar and then to Puerto Octay for lunch. The day starts out cloudy and chilly. I don’t mind though because cooler temperatures are always better for running. It’s amazing just how much heat the human body can generate even at a much less than marathon pace.

After my run I convince Antun to come with me to the heated pool on the top floor of the hotel. The pool is small—really more like a gigantic hot tub— but the big windows, providing amazing views of the lake regardless of the weather, more than compensate for its smallness. Resting our forearms on the deck we gaze out over the shifting layers of gray. It would be quite easy to fall asleep here, but the little clocks in the back of our heads are keeping time. It’s time to go least we be late for our rendezvous with the rest of the tribe.

Our plan is to drive over to Frutillar via the highway. There we’ll meet our friends Desi and Jorge and they will guide us to Puerto Octay and the restaurant, Espantapajaros, over a gravel road that follows the shoreline of lake.

I remember staying in Frutillar in February 1979. We took a room at a hostería run by a German lady. She wasn’t really German, she was Chilean by birth, but that hadn’t helped her Spanish any. Certainly a descendent of the colonos, she easily grew up in the region without much need for the Spanish language, but given our five-word German vocabulary, it certainly made our conversations with her brief and to the point. On the other hand, who needs to talk when being plied every morning with kaffee mit milch and the most delicious cherry kuchen I have ever eaten.

The village hasn’t changed much in thirty years except for one striking new thing: El Teatro del Lago. The theater juts out over the lake like a giant palafito housing several performing spaces. Recently the main performance hall has been completely redone to perfect its acoustics and allow for larger productions.

We meet Desi and Jorge at the café in the theater. Jorge, a native of Frutillar, asks us if we would like a tour of the theater. “Yes, of course,” we reply. He instantly disappears and shortly reappears. “Let’s go. They are starting now.” The younger generation, ravenous from sleeping in that morning, bow out telling us they will meet us at the restaurant. Haydee and Desi have also disappeared leaving three of us, Antun, Jorge, and I for the tour.

A man in a corduroy jacket and chinos greets us. “We don’t usually give tours but I am the architect of the new concert hall and I’d be happy to give you a short impromptu tour,” he announces. We nod our heads in approval. He’s charming, speaks impeccable Spanish with a funny accent, (Later we learn this is because although a German he has made his home in Chile for over sixteen years.) explains what has been done and why and even takes us backstage where work is underway on the scenery for an opera soon to open.

Time flies. Our lunch reservation is at two o’clock and it is already close to that now. We pull onto the gravel road; it winds around hiding the lake, then revealing it. I try hard to enjoy the sights as Jorge points out this house built by his father and that one built by his grandfather. But, I can’t. Stones fly, blind curves throw out oncoming locals going at breakneck speeds, steep hills send us hurtling down as though gravity has gone crazy. Finally, the road softens and bends away from the lake. At the intersection we turn right onto the asphalt for a couple of kilometers. Off to the right we see the sign Espantapajaros and pull into the driveway.

Inside Luci, Pancho, Nico, and Maria are already seated at a window table with potential views of the still hidden-behind-clouds Osorno. Although hungry, they haven’t already served themselves at the buffet but have ordered drinks to stave off their hunger. The Espantapajaros isn’t for everyone. The format is buffet and the specialty is wild bore but vegetarians will especially enjoy their braised red cabbage and salad selection. Good, simple food, friends, family, and a menagerie of animals–baby llamas and ostriches—in the backyard, and, then, suddenly sunshine, the clouds vaporizing, and the perfectly sublime Volcán Osorno comes into view on a late summer afternoon.

A perfect day.

All original content copyright 2011 Mary E. Slocum

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Day-Trip from Puerto Varas to Lago Todos Los Santos

The same glaciers that carved out Lago Llanquihue also gave us Todos Los Santos. Lying up against the border with Argentina, its name comes from the Catholic feast day of All Saints celebrated on November 1st, the day of its discovery by Jesuits who were searching for a pass through the Andes. They probably got wind of its existence from the locals, los Huilliches, who had used it as a commercial route across the cordillera for hundreds of years before any European ever set foot here.

On the day of our trip the clouds depart early leaving us with brilliant sun. As we leave Puerto Varas, following Route 225, the scene opens up to wild flowers and blackberries against a backdrop of green pastures, farm houses and vacation homes, stands of evergreens, and the deep blue of Llanquihue. There is always a volcano, either Osorno or Calbuco, in sight and sometimes both are visually present depending on which way the road bends.

Following the eastern shore of the lake, we arrive to the village of Ensenada where we turn away from Llanquihue towards the cordillera where the landscape changes to yellow-green forests and black volcanic rock.

The heavy rain of winter peeling off Volcán Osorno brings with it rivers of loose black soil that during the winter flow across the only road up to Todos Los Santos and down to the Petrohue River on the other side. In these places the road is not asphalt but is concrete to better withstand the raging water and black volcanic soil.

The excellent condition of the debris-free road lets us make good time. To our right, the Petrohue River rushes down in the opposite direction, not to the Llanquihue, but to the Estuário de Reloncaví that cuts deep into the continent to the east of Puerto Montt.

A sign announces we are entering Vincente Perez Rosales National Park and like everyone else on the road, we stop at Los Saltos de Petrohue, that although are waterfalls appear more like really fast and treacherous rapids that zig zag their way through sharp outcroppings of volcanic rock. The water from Lago Todos Los Santos gives the river its emerald green hues while the eruptions of Volcán Osorno provide the rocky obstacle course. It feels good to stretch our legs if only for the duration of the short walk from the parking lot to the saltos.

The crystalline, rushing water is stunning but my attention keeps shifting to the volcano in the distance. It’s always there. You might think I would grow tired of it but I don’t. It’s perfect beauty is matched only by its power.

After hovering over the railing to snap photographs or paying for a ride on the river to a point just below the falls, most people turn back here. This is the end of the paved road, but we continue on the dirt road for six kilometers to Petrohue, at the western edge of Todos Los Santos.

We have the idea that we can take a catamaran down the long finger-shaped lake to Peulla on the eastern shore and then across the Argentinean border and on to San Carlos de Bariloche on Lago Nahuel Huapi. We discover that while true there is only one crossing leaving in the morning and we’ve missed it. Alas, if you’re up for the adventure check out Cruce Andino, the company that runs the crossing every day of the year.

Our only option to satisfy our desire to be out on the water is to take a short ride-for-hire on the lake. We find the boatman down on the beach; he points out his boat, a wide-bottomed, canopied-top boat with a small motor. We’re in, that is except for Luci who gets motion sickness. She takes a look at the boat and says, “No way.” We coax her. She teeters between yes-and-no. She even boards the boat but its swaying to-and-fro makes her think better of her decision and she disembarks with instructions to make a reservation at the hotel for us to have lunch.

A few off-the-grid cottages and boathouses dot the shore of the lake. Built by the colonos as the Germans who settled in this area in the mid-1800s are known, most are today in the hands of wealthy families who have the wherewithal for their upkeep which can be a challenge given that there are no roads in and out. Boats are the only means of transportation. Pointing ahead, our boatman shows us the only island on the lake. Like the cottages, it is privately owned although the rest of the surrounding land belongs to the national park.

To our right is what looks like a floating boathouse. “This,” our boatman tells us, “is a miniature house with all the amenities including a chemical toilet.” The owners move the floating house around the lake as their desire dictates. Somehow it doesn’t look that enticing to me. I’d rather stay on land and boat around the lake.

Our boatman is eager to please supplying us with more facts and figures. We learn that emerald green color of the lake comes from its high levels of copper sulfate and sulphur and that the lake at is deepest is 337 meters (1105.6 feet). The lake is home to trout and salmon for those inclined to dangle a line. In the distance, we see what we think is smoke; we ask about it and he tells us that this is steam coming off the hot springs. “Hot springs? Can we go?” we ask. “Yes,” he tells us. “But, it is too late.” We would have had to start early in the morning as they are a five hour trek from the other end of the lake and that’s a two-to-three hour boatride depending on the vessel.

The stunning Volcán Osorno is always with us but now our attention shifts to the rugged spiked-peak Volcán Puntiagudo that only five intrepid climbers have climbed, we are told. As we zoom in with our camera we can understand why. Further in the distance the glaciar-covered Tronador looms.

This is a place for seeking no-nonsense adventure or doing nothing. You can swing through the rain forest or kayak down rugged rivers, or you can sit on the black sand beach and read a book or take a walk along the shore of the lake, that is, if the Tabanos let you. These flying black insects populate the humid forest regions especially during January when they take over the airspace flying at up to thirty kilometers an hour and attacking people as well as horses and other large animals. Even out in the middle of the lake they are plentiful, although our boatman assures us that in a week or two they will become even more numerous and aggressive. The bite of a Tabano can leave some damage: Pain, inflammation, and even infection that must be treated with antibiotics. Lucky for us, although a nuisance, we are spared their bite.

After the boat ride, we notice our empty stomachs and walk towards the Petrohue Hotel . Luci is nowhere to be seen until we reach inside. There she is sitting in a comfy chair nursing a big glass of orange juice.

The hotel is the only place to have lunch here. Of course, if we had been lucky to get to the other end of the lake, we could have lunched at Hotel Natura Patagonia in Puella, but we didn’t.

We are happy where we are and because we’re the only diners for lunch at this later hour, the wait staff and manager are all ours. Some opt for sandwiches like the famous Chilean Barros Luco, a concoction of thin slices of steak with melted cheese or the ave palta, slices of white chicken with mashed avocado, while others go for the steamed salmon with papas asadas. While we’re finishing lunch with a cafecito, another couple stops by for an afternoon beer and as we leave a mini-van carrying a dozen tourists arrives. The lucky ones, they will spend the night here. I imagine them watching the stars in the quiet darkness before going off to bed.

Once back in Puerto Varas we take a walk in town to admire the catedral up on the hill, a quaint little red house, a lovely early 20th century house, la casa Puma Verde, restored by Thompkins of Parque Pumalin fame, and the big half-moon high up in the blue sky before walking over to our favorite cafe, Café El Barista for onces.

All original content copyright 2011 Mary E. Slocum

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