Chile’s Lake District & Chiloé
Another border crossing under our belts, we followed along the switchback road to the Pacific yet again. We bounced South along the coast for a few days before returning inland. We were ready to gain some headway, so we hopped on Ruta 5- one of the nicest, three lane paved roads we have been on in months! It came with a cost, however. Each toll lightened our wallets a good 3-7 bucks a pop! Ouch!
We made it our first stop at Salto del Lajas where we were greeted by more campgrounds than we had seen in all of South America combined! Only joking, but seriously, there’s a crap load of campgrounds along the river there! We made our choice by picking out a wooden sign that stated “El Arrayanes”, which sluggishly swung back and forth in the afternoon breeze. We drove the mile or so down to the water, to be followed by a little old man on a bicycle. After greeting the old man and finding out he was the owner, he pointed to the flattest area on the lot and said that would be a good spot for us to park. Seeing as how we were the only ones at his campground, there wasn’t too much competition for the good spots 😉 The man immediately ran and got a rake and proceeded to rake the perimeter of the truck and our picnic table for us while we started preparing dinner. That night, we made a fire to take away the chill in the air. By fire light, we had a nice conversation with the owner about his family, campground and the the different seasons.
Right in the middle of Chile are clusters of lakes sizing from small ponds to lakes so big they almost look like the ocean! The first lake we visited was the gorgeously crystal, blue lake of Lago Villarica. With snow capped Volcan Villarica towering high above the lake, we drove along in hopes of finding the perfect camp spot on the water. We were told by several campgrounds that a site would be somewhere from $50 to $80 dollars US! So, we opted to camp on the other side of the road from the lake and paid $14 dollars US. After grilling up enough meat to feed an army, we relaxed with our delicious wine and talked about how far we have come on this great journey of ours.
We drove the short distance of 6 miles to the next town of Pucon, where we were hit with an overwhelming sense of the states. The streets were pristine, the stores contained hiking gear from popular brands such as Patagonia, North Face and Marmot and they even had a restaurant which served up delicious pub food accompanied by a REAL India Pale Ale straight from California!
One evening, we packed the backpack with a couple of beers and joined the rest of the Chileans down by the water for our very own happy hour. As we watched the boats come and go, the sun lazily set behind the volcanoes.
While in Pucon, although surrounded by hundreds of stores that could sell me a new pair, I tried to save my beloved Toms. Those shoes had walked the streets of ten different countries from Guatemala to Chile! I tried by best to sew up the holes and even attempted to dye the permanent dirt stains with no luck. About an hour after my attempted shoe surgery, they ended up in the top of a trash bin, waiting for the next street dog to steal them and chew them up.
We made a one night stop at Lago Ranco, where we stumbled upon one of our best spots to camp in a while. Pulling in, we were overtaken with the heat and immediately threw on our bathing suits to go for a swim. The water was perfect! We swam and laid in the sun for a few hours. Eyes closed, I could have sworn we were on the ocean with the breeze, sand and water.
We hit the trial once again to Lago Llanquihue, a gorgeous, but windy lake a few hours south. One night, while eating dinner, we were approached by a man who was in need of help. He giddily pointed to the truck and asked us if it was four wheel drive. After we replied yes, he motioned us to follow him down to the beach where he had gotten his car stuck, basically in the water. We roared truck alive, surely bothering the entire campground, and made our way to the beach in the dark to play tow truck for the evening. With approximately eleven sets of eyes watching us, we easily yanked the car out of its two foot deep ruts and into the campground. After many thanks, kisses to the cheek and hand shakes, the family set off, excitedly waving in the windows.
We took a day trip to Puerto Varas, yet another Americanized town to stock up on food and cash before hitting the unbeaten path to Parque Hornopiren. On the way back, Nate decided it was my turn to finally drive a leg of the trip. For those of you who don’t know, Nate does all of the driving. I have successfully driven approximately 20 miles while in Mexico to go to the grocery store and, unsuccessfully, driven approximately ten feet to move the truck at a campground to which I hit a trash can. So, this was a big deal. To give me a real idea as to how it feels to be the driver all the time, Nate decided it would be a good idea to “switch positions” for the day. As you can see, he apparently thinks I sleep the whole time behind my “bug goggles” and I apparently think he is a bad ass contemplating his next move on the road 😉
Eager to get lost in the wilderness, we headed towards Parque Hornopiren, also known as Chile’s Yosemite. With the Andes Mountains and untouched rain forests to our left and the ocean and salmon farms to our right, we bounced along the bumpy road at a slow pace.
Hidden just off the road behind a large bush, we found a perfect pirate camp spot. We walked across the street and greeted the family who lived in the house there and asked if it would be okay to sleep by the ocean for the night. With a large toothless grin, the man told me that it was ‘tranquilo’ and there would be no problems. We explored our surroundings before making dinner. The beach was lined with rocks covered in a bright green moss that shone brightly in the afternoon sun.
The next day, we headed deeper into the park where we went on a short hike through the thickly grown rainforest. The heat and humidity called for a nice swim in the river and picnic at the end of the day before finding a place to camp. We grabbed our bathing suits and some snacks and headed down to the river. After suiting up, we touched the water with our toes which we quickly retracted with a little scream! That was some of the coldest water we had ever felt! Well, we smelled like stale sweat and hadn’t showered in a few days, so off we went, plunging into the glacial river.
We made it to the end of the road and had to turn around and drive back the way we came as the ferry wasn’t in operation when we arrived. We made our way back through the gorgeous park and to our most favorite pirated camp spot of the trip, right beside a river. We got situated and made dinner on an open fire. The next morning, after a nice chat with two men from Argentina who were there fly fishing, we continued North to a different ferry which brought us close to Puerto Montt. We spent the evening walking along the coast admiring and questioning all of the sinking boats in the water.
We hopped on the ferry to Chiloé the next day. Chiloé is a small island famous for its seafood, beautiful coastline and ‘palafitos’ (houses on stilts). We hadn’t had internet in a while and started to do some research on the ferry that we would have to take to get back to the mainland in a few days. Unfortunately for us, because it was the off season, the ship only ran every ten days. This meant that we would have to either leave the island in two days to catch the next ferry or try to kill twelve days on the island. We chose to rush our time, although we didn’t want to. We walked around Ancud for the night, enjoyed a super sized beer and hit the hay early so we could get up early to hit the road and see the most of the island that we could in one day.
Luckily, the island is not very big and the length can be driven in a matter of a few hours. Upon leaving the next morning, our awning decided it wanted to detach itself from the roof. Luckily, we found it before we started driving! We threw in the back on top of the bed and hit the road.