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I don’t any longer remember where, but at some point in my past I read an article about Chile, and became fascinated with the Lake District. This is an area in about the midpoint of this long country between the towns of Temuco and Puerto Monte which contains a plethora of lakes and volcanos. I knew I would have to go some day, but I didn’t want to do the trip alone. Having a fearless driver in Fabian solved that problem. He was easy to convince: Chile is a favorite destination of his father.
Our itinerary was simple. We met at my friend Oscar’s place in Miami, flew to Santiago where we stayed a couple of nights ane then took the bus down to Temuco. Here we rented a car and explored the entire Lake District for over a week. After dropping off the car, we took a bus over the Andes to Bariloche, Argentina and hiked around that area for a few days. At the end, we took an amazing twenty hour bus trip to Buenos Aires where we caught our flight to Chicago. But the trip is much more interesting when told in bulleted highlights:
- At our first destination in the lake District we found we were barred from the Chetien National Park due to the fact that the volcano was becoming active. We were getting hungry and saw a little farmhouse with a sign that said “comida” (food) on it, so we drove in. We were greeted by a little boy who ushered us strangers straight into the house where we were warmly greeted by his grandmother. She proceeded to make us a home cooked meal and kept boasting about how all the ingredients she had grown on her farm, including the beef. We praised her highly for her industriousness and graciousness. Unfortunately, the Chetien volcano erupted just two and a half months later and had to have buried her farm in at least a foot of ash.
- The highlight of the trip for me was a nine hour climb to the top of Mt. Viarica. We gathered together at 4am one morning with our guide and one other girl and headed out. It was a slow and steady climb for nine hours, one foot in front of the other. We carried backpacks containing special suits for sliding back down in the snow for later. And occasionally we stopped to glance back at our progress and the spectacular views. Reaching the summit was a proud accomplishment. We took pictures and avoided the super heated sulfuric acid gases spewing from the crater. If I should be so fortunate to be able to review my life on my death bed, I’ll remember this day.
- At one point we found ourselves driving down a gravel road for miles and miles. Fabian, who has a savant sense of direction, drove happily along, even though the road was not on any map, especially the parts where we were unsure if the car could make it up a hill. Cut into the dirt along the side of the road were colorful layers of earth showing the history of all the volcanic eruptions in the area. I could have sworn we were actually going int the opposite direction than we really wanted, but by now I knew enough that Fabian was always right. In the end, we found a charming place with stay where the hot water heater consisted of a black rubber hose, coiled up and facing the sun (not so good for hot showers in the morning). Breakfast in the morning was in the owners kitchen and can best be described in pictures below. Needless to say, it left an impression.
- Baricloche, just on the other side of the Andes was a quaint and thriving town, which I discovered was due to the fact that it is the playground of rich Buenos Aireans. Looking for a place to stay, we were suddenly asked by a woman if we’d like to rent an apartment of her’s. We both felt skeptical, relying solely on my Spanish, but at what point do you decided not to trust? I guess that’s different for everyone. The apartment had a gorgeous view. That night we ate dinner at the famous ‘Alberto’s” were we had fat juicy grilled steaks from grassfed cattle. We were relieved to find our belongings still in the apartment when we returned. Bariloche was fantastically windy. I actually have acquaintances in Traverse City that take their wind surfing business which they bring down to Bariloche in the winter. The hiking here was also awesome on trails along the Patagonian Andes.
- We took a twenty hour bus ride to get to Buenos Aires where we could fly home. Sounds horrible, right? No! For $99 (equals hamburgers for four in Australia) we had giant lay flat seats on the upper deck in the front, full windows, with two hot meals served. All the dust from the desert gave a psychedelically orange sunset across the Patagonian desert. After such amazing nature, our arrival in Buenos Aires in the morning was a bit of an urban shock. This was further enhanced by the only time I’ve ever had something stolen from me while traveling – in a wily ruse by our innocent looking elderly cab driver. Thankfully, all he got was a bag fully of my dirty (although some favorite) t shirts.
- One last note. On this trip Fabian performed the single greatest feat of any of my pass travelers. I get 24 “one ways” to give out each year. A “one way” must be completed in 14 days, consist of four or less legs, and the arrival city must be at least 150 miles from the start city. Fabian took off from London to Miami, then Miami to Santiago, Chile, Buenos Aires to Chicago, and Chicago to Brussels in exactly 14 days. Voila. One pass; very far.