Chile: The Lake District

Chile: The Lake District

Chile is a long and narrow country. I would have loved to visit each of its XV regions and jump just like a game of hopscotch from one place to another.

We said goodbye temporarily to Santiago and went to Puerto Varas. After a 10-hour night ride that culminated at 6:00 a.m., we reached the rough bus station.

It was spring; the morning was cold and the streets, empty… Everyone was still sleeping under the light drizzle that covered the city. However, the address of the hostel was clear and the street signs allowed us to find the cozy place quickly.

Puerto Varas is part of Patagonia, a part of southern Chile where the temperature was very different from Santiago’s and the heating was really necessary.

When we got to the hostel we warmed up, relaxed in the room, and then sped up the pace. The city promised to be charming!

Puerto Varas is amazing! A small town, silent, neat, clean; it looked like a postcard. And I was part of that postcard for 3 days!

We walked its streets full of shops, establishments and houses with an architectural style that I had imagined was only in Europe. It was difficult to think I was in Chile.

I was surprised to appreciate a different landscape than I had imagined.

A steep hill led us to the emblematic Church of the Sacred Heart of Jesus, a place I had often seen in photographs while organizing my trip to Chile.

When I had the cathedral in front of me, it made me thank God that his love always led me to him, or rather, that his love always traveled within me and appeared wherever I went. God is also a backpacker–he has contacts everywhere!

We continued walking up the steep slope. The locals and hostel staff had told us that the view of the city from El Calvario was breathtaking.

The ascent up El Calvario was dotted by the stations of the Via Crucis, which we passed one by one until we reached the top.

A crucified Christ looks out over Lake Llanquihue, with the city of Puerto Varas and the imposing Osorno Volcano in the distance.

From the moment I arrived in Puerto Varas, the volcano accompanied my journey. It was like the moon: impossible to escape. And it was not that I wanted to escape–it’s just that I focused so much on Puerto Varas that I never paid attention to the volcano. In the end, it turned out to be the surprise destination of my tour of the Lake District.

I never thought I would see this natural beauty; it was a view that I had only imagined Mount Fuji, in Japan, was capable of. My eyes were captivated when they saw it from afar without having planned it. These gifts of nature are dazzling!

The volcano was 60 kilometers from Puerto Varas and there was public transportation every day to get there.

The Osorno Volcano is a very representative icon of the Lake District. Green on its slopes and snowy at the summit, this colossus makes everything around it more beautiful.

There I met two Brits; they were on the same bus as us and we ended up being friends. Tyler and Jack were traveling through South America on vacation; it was funny how they emphasized that they were just best friends and not gay. I don’t know when the conversation turned into that, but it made us all laugh a lot.

Together we toured  the Osorno Volcano; they were as astonished as I was by the view and we did not stop photographing it.

We decided to return to Puerto Varas on the same bus. We said goodbye once we got to the final stop, but when I arrived at the hostel, I saw them. We were staying in the same place! Again, we began to laugh nonstop.

It’s funny that a couple of hours before I started writing this article, I saw pictures on my social networks of them having a good time in Spain.

Apparently, Tyler and Jack decided to vacation this summer in Europe.

When I arrived in Puerto Varas I realized that the region was much more than just the city I’d had in mind.

Frutillar was frequently mentioned by guests at the hostel, and as we walked through Puerto Varas we saw the buses with signs going there.

We decided to venture out and take one of the buses we had seen every time we had walked around Puerto Varas.

The city of Frutillar, located on the shores of Lake Llanquihue, enjoys a spectacular view of the Osorno Volcano, a fact that has consolidated the city as an important tourist destination in southern Chile.

The air is full of history and signs of German colonization, and it smells very good in Phillippi, the street where the prestigious Frutillar pastry shops are concentrated.

The visit to Frutillar was accompanied by drizzle, cold and a beautiful tree that blossomed blazingly against a gray sky.

Each one of us posed with the tree, and that is the most beautiful memory that I’ve kept of the city of Frutillar.

Back in Puerto Varas, we decided to seek advice from the hostel’s staff. We still had one more day in the Lake District, and we had heard comments about the Island of Chiloé.

To visit the island of Chiloé, it was necessary to go to the city of Puerto Montt, where  ferry tickets could be purchased to get to the island.

The hostel staff told us that the island was huge, for which reason it was a destination where it was recommendable to stay for a few days, but if we got up early and took good advantage of the weather we could have a nice short visit and be back in Puerto Varas by nightfall.

We followed their advice and visited Castro, the most populated city of the island and the capital of Chiloé.

The ferry ride took about an hour. The cars, motorcycles, buses and trucks were magically accommodated in what would now be our water transport.

We all climbed onto the main deck to appreciate the view of the sea surrounding us while the cold breeze brushed our faces.

The time on the high seas passed quickly. We were already on Isla Chiloé!

Isla Chiloé was green and full of grass, cattle, trees and flowers with intense colors. I remember wishing to travel along the road by car so I could stop every 100 meters. Every square meter I traveled on the bus at high speed seemed fascinating to me; I just wanted to stop and look at everything in detail.

The trip was long; Castro was far from the port. The island was big!

The people at the hostel were right: the island deserved more time on our part. Four hours had gone by since we had left Puerto Varas and we had to return that day.

It was not fair! Castro screamed to be explored and we only spent a few hours there.

The Chilean Patagonia was delighting me more and more.

Near the bus station was the San Francisco Church, which stood out due to its portentous façade and its architectural beauty.

The church was declared a World Heritage Site by the UNESCO in 2000. This recognition was based on centuries of history, as the church was one of the main points chosen by the Jesuits and then by the Franciscans to evangelize the communities of the Chiloé archipelago.

Life in Castro seemed tranquil; everything was so different from the busy lifestyle of Santiago.

Its streets and people transmitted peace. What do the coasts transmit? I also felt at peace there.

Together we went to a mall. There was ice cream of many colors, shapes, sizes and flavors.

We were exhausted from so much walking. We needed a break and gladly stayed at the mall until 6 o’clock in the afternoon.

At 6 p.m. we took the bus back to the port; then, the ferry to Puerto Montt; and finally, a bus back to Puerto Varas.

That day we got back to the hostel at 11 p.m. What a trip! We were really exhausted.

Everyone was right: Isla Chiloe was too much for a single day. It left me with a sweet-bitter taste; I was happy to have gone, but sad that I did couldn’t stay longer.

The next day, we had to get up early. Our tickets to cross the border between Chile and Argentina had already been bought and we needed to go to the Puerto Varas bus station.

That morning I decided to have breakfast in the hostel kitchen, where I met Tom, a Brit who, like me, was finishing his breakfast.

He was excited because that day he would climb Osorno Volcano. I was happy for him.

Tom was around 60 years old and his physical appearance was well-preserved. He told me that hiking was one of his passions.

Music was his other hobby, so I told him how much I liked Coldplay, the Beatles and the Rolling Stones.

It was then when I reminded him of an experience from his past: he told me that one of his first girlfriends had been Paul McCartney’s cousin, and he had closely followed the success of the British band.

While I conversed with Tom, several other guests around us prepared for a day of recreation in the city of Puerto Varas.

I saw Tyler and Jack out of the corner of my eye. They ate breakfast fast to finish packing their backpacks; you could tell that they were also leaving the hostel.

I went up to greet them and they said:

“Marchessi, today we are going to Argentina.”

Surprised, I opened my eyes wide and told them that my family and I were also going to Argentina. We compared our tickets and saw that we would be traveling on the same bus.

We all left the hostel together and went the bus station. Once again they were my traveling companions, only now on the magical journey across the Andes.

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