Today was part culture and part touristic day. Our Chile adventure this time is very different from our last visit. On our first visit we followed a well trodden backpackers route so met up with many Americans and Europeans. Today we realised we had not heard anyone speak English since we left Valpariso, other than ourselves and our friend who joined us for a short while, on her way to the Torres. The places we have visited have been off the beaten track for backpackers but very much on track for Chilean travellers. It is as if there are two parallel travel worlds going on here.
I did not mention our visit to the market yesterday morning. The Valdivia market is the best we have seen since Punta Arenas on our last visit. Valdivia is different. It runs alongside the river and is purpose built. The fish is sold on the side closest to the river. Behind the stands there are cement tables where the sellers gut the fish. Running along behind these tables there is a shelf just above the water line. Reclining all along this shelf are the biggest fattest sea lions I have ever seen. The fish sellers throw them the heads and guts of the fish and they just about manage to open their mouths to catch these morsels. Otherwise they appear to be almost comatose. Above these great beasts there is a whole symphony of birds from pelicans to sparrows ducking and diving to catch what the seals don`t devour. The most fearsome of these birds is a vulture like creature with a bald red head. The selection of fish was unbelievable and noting of the names helped us choose our menu later in the day. On the other side of the market there is a huge selection of fruit and vegetables. Most of these we recognised but some we did not especially the item which looked like dried up bicycle tyres
Back to our day today. In the morning, after a great breakfast, we set off to visit two museums. Both were situated in the lovely University area. The first was marked as Arte Contemporan. It was, in fact, a museum about how the German colonials lived here. Because of the terrible situation in Germany in 1849 one million people emigrated between 1849 and 1852. Of these thirty thousands people came to Valdivia and settled here. They brought their great German/Lutheran traditions of work. There was a complete spectrum of skills and professions among these people and they set about making their lives and their fortunes here in Chile. In the beginning they kept their language and traditions but over time they totally integrated into life here and became Spanish speaking. All that remains is their surnames and their European looks.
The museum showed that they developed a very sophisticated way of life and became very influential in the local community. They built themselves beautiful German style houses along the river. Many of these are still standing despite many earthquakes. Some are in very bad repair but others have been taken over and one has become a Boutique Hotel.
The second museum was about the explorers who came during this immigration period. There were cartographers and botanists. Phillipi was one such botanist and the local wet land reserve is called after him. These people recorded all their work meticulously and so we have a great deal of information from the period.
In the afternoon we took a tourist boat to visit this wetland nature reserve. We realised it was the first tourist thing we did since we arrived in Chile. These wet lands were formed after a huge earthquake in 1960. This earthquake was the biggest recorded in the twentieth century at 9.4 on the Richter scale and the land fell by approximately 3 metres in some places.
The boat trip was really great weaving through these wet lands. We saw quite a few bird species some of which were very familiar but others, like the black necked swan, were a first for us. We stopped at an island were native Indian people still live. We hate being hoarded in groups anywhere but we had received a severe warning that if we got left on the island we would have to wait until the boat the next day to come and rescue us. Back on board we were served tea or Nestcafe coffee and the inevitable over sweetened Chilean cake. The whole trip lasted over three hours and was well worth it.
Yesterday it was Nieble. We were told to get the number 20 bus from the ‘ceiling` of the bus station!!! A little lateral thinking indicated that the lovely girl meant above the bus station. As we emerged there was the number 20 waiting to take us to Nieble.
Buses can be confusing. Does one pay as one gets on or off. Each town and even bus company seems to have its own rules and regulations. The driver expects one to be divinely inspired as to which system is in play. Normally we wait until someone else gets on in front of us and follow suit. Unfortunately the number 20 was about to pull away from the stop but the driver waited for us. To confuse us further there was two prices displayed on the bus window both saying Adulto Nieble. One read 450$ and the other 600$ The difference in price is 0.6 euro to 0.4 euro approximately, hardly worth arguing about. We needless to say offered the 600$ but the driver did not like some of the coins we were offering him – why? Who knows…. All this caused great hilarity for the passengers. All one can do is to laugh with them.
At one point in the trip the driver who was an extremely large man halted the bus, jumped out and started pouring water over his face and head from a plastic container. It was hot but not that hot…. His ablutions completed he jumped back in the bus and off we went. No one cracked a smile.
Nieble is 18km along the river from Valdivia. It is a beautiful fishing port which time has passed by. The houses are tucked into the hillside which sweeps down to the port. Eighteen small colourful fishing boats were bobbing at anchor in the bay. We assumed many more were still at sea. A great deal of building work was going on in the port. All the work was being carried out to improve the lives of the fisherman not for tourism.
We managed to find a great fish restaurant and our plan of visiting Isla Mansara went out the window. After our leisurely lunch we walked up to the old fort which was erected in the 17th Century. These forts were erected all along the river to protect Valdivia. This one has been preserved and the walkways and information panels were brilliant. It was a most interesting afternoon.
The return trip went like clockwork now that we knew the 20 bus routine. Our apero was taken on the floating Kunstman barge overlooking the river. Although this is a café/bar run by a brewery we had to name several beers and wines before we hit on one that was available!! The girl serving us was lovely and did not see the irony of a brewery run bar not having its own beer…. It was a very balmy night so we just settled for what they had. When we finished we walked the length of the river front, about 3kms back to our lovely Hostal. Madam was all smiles and asked about our day – at least we think that is what she was asking!!!
The park visit in Entre Lagos was wonderful. This is rain forest so it is very dense. The immense Alerce trees form the upper canopy, beneath there is a big range of smaller trees including lots of Chilean flame tree (embothrium) and the Arrayan tree which is native to Chile. The floor of the forest is covered with ferns and other small green plants. Unfortunately we did not see a lot of birds. We did hear some wonderful bird sound way up in the huge trees. Other than this bird song the forest was completely silent, it is a deep silence that we love. We met only a couple of other walkers despite the car park having lots of cars. Most people come to take the hot springs.
Back to our favourite Entre Lagos bar, that evening, for the ‘pollo` or `salmon’ again. They did a great salad and although simple the food was good. There are advantages and disadvantages to visiting a place out of season. On the one hand people have plenty of time for you but on the other many places are still closed.
Sadly while we were walking in the park our lovely landlady fell and twisted her knee. She is a bigish lady and she seemed to us to need a hip job so her falling down the very uneven steps was not a big surprise to us. Hubby had to prepare the scrambled eggs for breakfast as she could not stand. She had to go to Osorno to the hospital. We were sad to leave her but she was still smiling and thanked us formally for our visit and gave us a little key ring – such a sweet lady.
But we were off to the bright lights. We caught the local bus to Osorno with the, by now, usual routine of firing our backpacks up beside the driver where they joined the sacks of potatoes and kiddies push chairs. In Osorno we wanted to continue on to Valdivia as Osorno is apparently not worth stopping in unless you are driving a truck! It is a transport hub. We were off to Valdivia.
Valdivia is marked in all the guidebooks as one of the most interesting ‘cities` in Chile. It has a very long history. The Spanish arrived first in the fifteen hundreds but they did not get it all their own way. The local Mapuche were a very strong warrior people and kept the invaders at bay despite the efforts of the Jesuits who accompanied the Spanish. Over the next couple of centuries many other Europeans came and were driven out. Thee Germans settled eventually and lived alongside the local Mapuche in relative harmony until the Spanish came back.
The people of this area are darker than elsewhere indicating their Mapuche background. There are still areas where the native people have chosen to live their simple life and practice their traditions. One wonders if they have the right idea…
The Valdivia bus did not leave from the rural bus terminal so we lugged our packs up the road to the posher big bus terminal. On to a Tur bus for Valdivia we set off again. As usual we had nothing booked in Valdivia but this is a big town so we were not worried. We had our trusty 2001 version of “The Chilian Experiene”. I usually believe that if a place still exists it must be OK. We decided to go upmarket to a 2 star establishment. We left our bags in the ‘custodia` and off we set. The first place we looked at was situated in the University area which is on a leafy island accessed by a bridge. Alas it had closed as a hostal and is now a student residence. The second place was in the town center. We were less than impressed with this town center. It was not clean and very busy. But the Hostal looked nice.
How looks can deceive. We managed to get the worst place, not only in this town but on earth. It looked bright and clean from outside and had a nice garden. It had indeed two stars but I think they shined on it at night…. The owner was rude and unpleasant, the room gloomy and the shower dirty. But we were too tired to go searching elsewhere for another place. It was the most expensive place we had stayed at and the price did not include breakfast AND the water was cold. You get the picture.
We high tailed it out of there as soon as we could this morning. We had spotted a nice place yesterday so we booked it immediately. The owner was a very pleasant lady. The room is lovely and bright and clean, we have a balcony, English TV (that is a first) and breakfast is included!!! As soon as we got in this morning Barry had a long hot shower and shaved in hot water. Bliss. We did our washing and hung it out on the balcony before setting out for our days exploring.
We had decided to visit a small fishing village up the river called Nieble. That’s for tomorrow.
The fog did clear and the sun came out and we are indeed on another lovely lake, Lago Puyehue, with snow capped mountains-small mountains and not so majestic as Bariloche but nonetheless very beautiful. We went for a walk along the lake. Four guys were preparing to take a boat out on the lake. The owner asked where we were from and welcomed us to Chile. He pointed out to Barry how the water in the lake was controlled with a small dam. We wandered on down the lake to examine this phenomenon. The access to the damn was fenced off but everyone ahead of us just shimmied round the side and walked to the end. We followed suit. There was a guy fishing at the end and another man in watching him. We joined just as the young man landed a fine sized trout.
They asked us the inevitable question of where we were from. When we said Irlanda the non fishing man said ‘Irlanda – leprechauns’!!!! We nearly fell in the water laughing. He had only a couple of words of English and this was one of them. Wonder how long he had waited to use this wonderful word…. The young man spotted my camera and admired it. He said he was a photographer and a fisherman. Such a gentle young man with a lovely smile.
Having done the tour of the town we decided that this is a very poor place indeed. The housing is very basic and the shops very fundamental but the prevailing impression is one of kindness.
During our walk we had spotted two rather nice restaurants with table cloths and wine glasses. So around 8.30 we sallied forth to check these out. The first which Madam here had recommended, El Faro was, despite its notice “Comida a todo hora” was severally closed. The other one had lights on and a young woman working at a laptop at one of the tables but the door was locked. When I knocked at the window she shook her head which I took to mean they were closed.
We had seen a bar up the road so we made our way up there. It was open and a collection of local gentlemen were sitting round tables or propping up the bar each group drinking beer from a 5 litre jug. We sat down at one of the tables and the lovely bar maid brought the menu. Despite its length she explained it was chicken or salmon. But she brought wonderful hot rolls and butter to have with our wine. Our meal was freshly prepared so it took some time. Meanwhile we amused ourselves watching our fellow occupants. It was a hoot of a place. Everyone knew everyone else and all wondered who we were or from what planet we had dropped in. The lads went outside for a smoke after each jug of beer. While we were there they each had three jugs of beer – but who is counting. When we tried, as best we could, to explain to our madam that the El Faro was closed she tut tutted and, as far as we could make out, said she told them there were visitors about and they should stay open. She also offered to cook for us or we could cook for ourselves in the kitchen if we wished. Since all cooking here seems to involve a smell of burnt fish, we declined as politely as we could….
Our bed is covered with a ton weight of duvets. When we woke in the morning we discovered why – it is really cold here in the mornings and the stove is not lit until evening. We roll with the punches.
Today we took a bus to the Aguas Calientes (Hot springs) about 26 kms from here. We got several conflicting bits of information about where the bus would stop. One lady who seemed to know what she was talking about indicated we should go down to the bottom of the road and turn up to the left. A young woman was just opening her drinks stand as we arrived at the spot we thought might be a bus stop. With a lovely smile she assured us it was and indicated the direction from which the bus would come. Just then our chorists from the night before assembled up the road and started to march down the road singing hymns. This stirred memories of the religious marches of my childhood . Each group was carrying a banner like a sodality banner (apologies to my non Irish readers). Unfortunately the bus rounded the corner before I could take any pictures of this unique event.
We hopped on the bus for our trip to the hot springs. This is another national park maintained by Conaf the Chilean national Parks authority. It is a beautiful spot with public hot pools and both short and very long treks. We took a couple of short treks.
I forgot to add to the description of Bariloche that it is like the Wild West for money changing. The high street is lined with youths acting as touts for money changers. For those of us who have lived with African experience and the money changers of Serrakunda in Gambia, Bariloche was not going to present any problems. The rate these guys were offering was way better than the banks. We had some dollars so we decided to negotiate with the guys. We were led into a shop where Madame was the money changer. She gave a fair rate so the deal was done.
We needed cash to purchase bus tickets for our next stop. We chose a place called Entre Lagos as our next stopping spot, for no other reason than the description in our “Chile Experience” guidebook said no one stopped here and missed the experience.
Our bus was due to leave at 7.30am. We ordered a taxi for 6.45am. The young guy on duty in Hostel Patanuk thought we were trying to do a runner without paying as he had not been on duty the night before. The fact that the young man, who had taken our money, the previous evening, had put it in his back pocket and did not give us a receipt, had not passed us by but was not our business.
No taxi turned up but a roving taxi passed and we hailed it. We arrived in plenty of time. The bus, whose final destination was Puerto Montt, pulled in and we queued to load our bags. The baggage handler claimed that he received no salary but tips. He only touched tourists. We coughed up 10 pesos. A young American approached us and was full of rage about being asked for money. I reminded her she had a good salary for which she did not have to tout. I suggested that perhaps she would not like to have to beg for money to support her travels. She was full of negativity. All taxi men had ripped her off etc. Not one single person ripped us off.
On the bus we discovered that the bus did not have the layout from which we had chosen our seats. This made no difference. We sat down and off we went. Again it was a spectacular trip. Normally the driver turns off the air conditioning when climbing the hills but this guy did not. This was the first trip on which we had absolutely no need of air con but he kept it on until just before we reached the Chilean border and we were all frozen. When he switched it off there was a distinct smell of burning rubber. As we approached the border post there was a very long line of cars. However buses get priority so we limped alongside the cars. There was now an ominous grinding noise coming from the engine. The noise grew louder as we approached the border until finally a guard came alongside the driver who explained our situation. Barry reckoned the gearbox and/or clutch were gone. The driver managed to roll the bus on the engine but could not change gear. We were allowed to pull over and disembark and go to the border police on foot. The assistant brought our bags to the custom guys.
Foreigners had to wait until Chileans were processed. Then we were called forward. Meanwhile our driver was frantically on his mobile. We got processed and had to have our hand baggage examined. The customs officers were really nice. He was asking me if we were from Irlanda nord or sud, when our erstwhile American negative lady, rushed in to the customs hall, eating an apple and shouting “My passport has been stolen”. There was never a question that she had lost or mislaid it . I am afraid we were less than sympathetic. The customs’ officer was only concerned with the apple she was eating, which was his business, her passport was her business. Food is very strictly controlled in both directions across the Chilean/Argentinian border. I am afraid we do not know what happened the young lady.
In all situations there are always passengers who are bent on creating trouble. A very well dressed lady (Argentinian I guess) had figured that a bus which had happened to arrive at the border at the same time as us was not full and could take some of us passengers but not all, so she was determined to get on. The drivers gave priority to mothers with children and then it was first come first served. We were lucky to get processed quickly so we got on the half empty bus for our onward journey. The troublemaker got on too, with a big grin…..
We were getting off before the next main stop so when we arrived on the outskirts of Entre Lagos we were unceremoniously dumped at the side of the main road. We are ever grateful that we travel light. We located a local greasy spoon restaurant and ordered ‘heuvos con papas fritas (egg and chips…). The owner was a delight and bent over backwards to help us. He pointed out where we could get a bed and gave Barry the WiFi password so he could check a map. We paid (7 euro!) and left and found, with no difficulty, Hostal Panorama. Mama who runs this place is the nicest woman on earth. If we stayed a week we would be able to speak Spanish. She never stops talking but uses hand gestures to explain. She is a delight. She was at pains to tell us that hot water was included. With only one tap on the wash hand basin we were scared to turn it on in case it was scalding hot – no such luck. We will check the shower for hot water. The price also included ‘savon’ – soap what luxury. Our room is a family room so we could sub let it to a family of three if there were any visitors around here. Alas there are very few. It is clean and comfortable and will have a great view if the fog ever clears….