Across the Andes to Puerto Varas - 05/12/14

Argentina/Chile border at the peak of the continental divide, 1,000m. All down hill from here ....

In the event, we were glad to leave Bariloche.  We already mentioned the noise - well, on our last night it got beyond a joke!  That afternoon, our tour guide had explained to us that the large groups of young people we had noticed walking around the town were graduation tours, from both Argentina and Chile.  They tended to be quite - er - high-spirited (though never drunk), and on that night, they got high spirited right under our bedroom window.  Until late.  Never mind, we knew we were moving on in the morning.

We were hoping for a fine day for our travel from Argentina to Chile - and we got it!  The reports on Cruce Andino said that the views are spectacular, but often hidden by mist and rain.  We got a few spots of rain on the last leg about an hour from our destination, so count ourselves very fortunate. The journey comprised of seven legs - four by bus and three by boat.  Two things were in our mind.  The weather and the thought of having to transfer our bags at each stage.  We were worrying about nothing.  The weather was excellent and the bags were taken from us at the company's office in Bariloche and tagged, airline-style, for delivery to us in Puerto Varas.  All we had to do was sit back and enjoy the views.

We won't bore you with endless superlatives, even though they are warranted, but give you a brief overview of the day.  On paper, the journey looks incredibly complicated, but the reality is quite the opposite.  At each change we were guided to the next mode of transport, the only formalities were at the second stop where we officially left Argentina and at the next, where we had to identify our bags for the Chilean customs and have a minimal bag search.

Each lake had its own peculiarity depending on whether its water came from glacier or snow, the most striking was a small one which was a pale jade green.  On that sector, we got chatting to two young people who had already been pointed out by the guide; "We have two crazy people on board - they are German."  The crazy bit turned out to be that they were making this journey on bikes, so we had to let them get off the previous boat first.  They were travelling for thirteen months and had been around SE Asia and northern South America on their bikes and were still smiling!  We didn't see them again, so don't know if they were still smiling when they got to the highest point in the pass (approx 1,000m).  After that, the vegetation changed dramatically, becoming far more lush and jungly, with a completely different repertoire of trees, ferns and flowers.

We arrived at Puerto Varas in the early evening, only to be told that the bus guide had never heard of our hotel and didn't know where it was.  Fortunately, we had the phone number,so he phoned for us, and in no time, John, the American owner, was whizzing down to pick us up, despite running late for his daughter's graduation ceremony.  That was just the start of superb service in a delightful establishment.  There are some hotels where you feel like a customer, and if it's done well, that's fine, because that is exactly what you are.  There are other hotels where you feel like a guest.  The staff greet you each time you come in and they take an interest in your welfare, willingly helping with your requests.  And then there are a very few hotels where you feel like a friend.  The proprietors seem interested in you as people, they have time to spend with you and they anticipate your requests.  Tradicion Austral is in that category!  John and Teresa could not have been more friendly and kind and when they went out for the evening, their teenage sons, Jeremy and John Lucas looked after us.  Martin was quite unwell while we were there - the "allergy" I rather unsympathetically referred to before having become a really bad congested cough.  When we asked about medical facilities in the town, Teresa (who clearly has some knowledge in the area) took it seriously and by afternoon, she had obtained medicine which seems to have done the trick very effectively.  Also, I must mention the breakfast!  We are used to being offered bread or toast, with ham and cheese, maybe eggs, and if we are lucky, fruit.  Well, Teresa's fruit platter was SUPERB.  I have really missed fruit and vegetables on this trip, so I was in heaven - and Martin enjoyed it too!  Finally in praise of Tradicion Austral,the decor was really tasteful and the standard of cleanliness I have only previously encountered in Switzerland!

Puerto Varas is a lovely small, lakeside town with very little to do except look at the view or go on exciting fishing or trekking trips.  We were only there to catch the plane to Santiago, but we had two days, so we spent the first mooching around town and the second on a rather dull bus tour of Chiloe, an island just to the south.  Apart from some unusual old wooden churches which are part of a UNESCO World Heritage Site and a village of houses built on stilts over the water, there wasn't much to see, but it passed the time in a soothing manner and also kept us out of the only proper rain we have seen.  Our final morning, before we flew out, was spent staring at the volcano (Chile has lots of volcanoes) over the lake, waiting for the cloud to lift and reveal the perfect cone, which it did just in time.  Photos were taken.

Teresa took us to the airport, as John was taking other guests on a fishing trip and John Lucas (15) came along to help with the luggage.  It wasn't necessary, we could have managed, but that's the sort of place it was.  As an introduction to Chile, it could not have been bettered.

Now that's what I call a fruit platter!

Chiloe - One of sixteen completely wooden churches in the UNESCO World Heritage Site

Osorno - the perfect volcanic cone, 2,652m/8,701ft