Lure of the Lakes

Trip Start Jan 20, 2004
Trip End Ongoing

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Tuesday, February 15, 2005

Eight relaxing days in the lake district of Argentina had simply whetted our appetite to explore more of that country's pristine beauty. However, thoughts of cold, wintry weather setting into the glacier regions of the lower latitudes convinced us to return to Chile and to continue our southward trek on the Carretera Austral. There will undoubtedly be plenty of time later to explore everything that Argentina has to offer.

Picking up two Israeli hitch-hikers with backpacks seemingly heavier than the bodies carrying them, we passed with ease through the customs and immigration at Paso Cardenal Antonio Samoré - and yes, we automatically received another 90 day permit for our vehicle and ourselves. Dropping our passengers at the entrance to the Parque Nacional Puyehue, we were tempted to join them on a hike through the kaleidoscope of dense evergreen forest, but decided to press on to another dramatic area of lakes.

We were so pleased to come across the "Forget-me-not" campsite on the shores of sparkling Lago Puyehue - all the sites were separated by well-pruned cedar hedges, while the warm water of the lake beckoned. By 9:30 pm, masses of cumulus clouds picked up the rays of the setting sun, providing us with stunning views over the lake. All was well until about 11 pm when we had finished our dinner (we're getting more Latin all the time!!) and noticed that the adjoining campsite had become rather boisterous. Four hours later, when our next door neighbours showed no inclination of bringing their loud party to an end, we decided that one night at this particular campsite would suffice.

Next day we passed another of the beautiful lakes - Lago Rupanco. Truth be told, we passed it not once, but several times as we managed to get ourselves quite lost after setting out on a cross country trek over dusty, washboard roads from Lago Puyehue. By far the most picturesque of the three lakes, Lago Llanquihue (pronounced Yankee Way) has spectacular views of the almost perfect cone of Volcán Osorno. Days on end of fog and cloud can easily obscure sightings of this dramatic volcano, so we considered ourselves very fortunate to have the snow-cap with us for the better part of two days......albeit a somewhat hazy view.

We first sighted Lago Llanquihue from the quiet, laid-back settlement of Puerto Octay, at the north end of the lake. It was here that we began to notice the strong German influence that extends throughout much of the Chilean Lakes District. Having first come to the area in the mid 19th century, there is no doubt that the Germans brought much of their own culture with them, and it has definitely survived the years. It seems that every other farm-woman has hung her shingle at the end of the drive...... no, not for the services of doctor or lawyer, but rather to announce freshly baked "küchen" or "appel strudel".

Twenty five km further south we stopped in the popular lake resort of Frutillar, famous for its summer concert series. It is now becoming somewhat infamous due to the construction of a large, concrete concert hall designed to accommodate the ever-increasing number of visitors - right in the middle of the scenic bay. Unfortunately, a shortage of many millions of pesos seems to have halted progress on this edifice that many residents consider a 'monstrosity'. In Frutillar we carefully sought out a quiet spot on the lake to set up camp - well out of earshot from the official campsite that was sure to be boisterous on a Saturday night. Jinxed again....several young people also found our lake-side spot to be ideal! The partying went on until 5:30 am when several of the inebriated group jumped into the lake and then finally drove away.

Still further south, Puerto Varas offers the best-preserved Germanic colonial architecture which the townspeople are proud to exhibit through a popular Heritage Walk. Of perhaps most interest is the impressive and colourful Iglesia del Sagrado Corazón situated on a hill overlooking the town, whose design is based on the Marienkirche of Black Forest in Germany. After completing the walk, visitors are naturally encouraged to indulge in "onces" (elevenses) at one of the many outdoor cafés offering all manner of rich pastries, pies, and black forest cakes. We resisted this temptation, remembering that we had booked a special Valentine's Day dinner in one of the luxurious lakeside hotels - at the appropriately named Westfalia Restaurant. Not willing to endure yet another sleepless night, we drove five km out of town and camped in a vacant field - high above the lake and well away from any obvious form of habitation. After watching an impressive fireworks display further up the lake - our location gave us a grandstand view - we were able to settle down for a peaceful night. Success came at long last, and we slept soundly until well after sunrise.

This week we received a particularly supportive e-mail from a young woman we met briefly in Nicaragua last April, who had just found out about Mike. We would like to share some of it with you. She wrote:

"I am very sad and very sorry for the loss of your son, Mike. I am glad for him, that he had been carrying out/living his life-long dream. As you know, he was a very lucky young man, as it is a small, small percentage of people who live their dreams on a daily basis. I do not know why God allows things like this to happen - I sure have a lot of questions to ask Him when I get there. I hope that your travels are re-inventing your spirits and your hearts. Mike, I'm sure, was psyched for his parents and their wild travel plans - don't let him down! He seemed like that kind of guy himself, so in his memory and for him, travel your socks off, learn and enjoy. Keep him in your hearts, put him in your pocket, and take him to all the wonderful places you're going."

Thanks Marybeth, Mike is surely traveling with us.
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