Live the adventures of Dan Walker's travels through reading his travel journal. The travel journals are listed below in descending order of date. To search the travel journals, use the keyword search at the bottom of the page.
|Thursday, March 10, 2005 17:28:32|
Chile 2005: 5
Friday, March 4, 2005
It seems I had the name of the restaurant we went to last night wrong in my last email, it was "Alberto's". The place was packed from the time it opened until we left, and people were still waiting outside in the rain hoping to get in. Cooking is on a traditional Argentinean parrilla, the long sloped BBQ type grill that runs down one wall over an open fire. Meat is the specialty. The steaks were thick, tender and done to perfection.
Our lesson from having lunch was to order the small portion, which would be considered small only by local standards, but we were not prepared for the accompanying dishes. The french fries came pyramided on a platter that would have been impossible for anyone to eat - think 20 or 25 McDonalds portions, and the mashed potatoes would have done a family of 6. The meal was accompanied by bottles of excellent Argentine wine. Marilynn had her first wine for several days, much to her delight. Unfortunately Roger didn't feel like going out all day, so sensibly staying in bed.
I checked email this morning on the slowest computer I've ever seen - it took over an hour to get an email off. At 11AM we piled into two taxis to get to the bus station. The fairly comfortable public bus headed east first, to get around the end of Lake Nahuel Huapi, then north alongthe lakeshore until we could head west around the top of the lake.
Once outside of Bariloche we were in semi-arid, treeless desert, which soon gave way to forest along the lakeshore. There were a number of resorts along the lake, and a couple of towns where buildings were constructed of log and stone. It took an hour and a half to reach the Argentine border, and another hour to be processed through immigration. A 45-minute drive through spectacular mountains in Puyehue National Parkbrought us to the Chilean frontier post, where all baggage was X rayedand it was 40 minutes to get through immigration.
We travelled through rolling foothills and along the shore of Lake Puyehue before reaching the run down looking town of Osorno, where there was a 10-minute stop. The final leg was on freeway to Puerto Varas, where we arrived at 6:40 PM. The bus carried on to Puerto Montt. That is the main city in the area with a population of over 200,000.
We booked into the Hotel Colonos del Sur where we stayed three nights ago, once again getting beautiful lake view rooms. At the far end of the lake Volcano Osorno, an active volcano that last erupted in 1961, could be seen towering over the landscape. Puerto Varas was built by German colonists in the early 1900s. It is called the City of Roses for the many roses blooming in parks and on boulevards. It is a nice quiet town, with a casino and several restaurants.
Everyone felt great to be back here. The hotel has a good feel to it, and after the cramped rooms in Bariloche it was wonderful to be able to spread out in our spacious quarters. Sally has unfortunately picked up something - it is her turn to be out of action, but the rest of us met in the bar for a few drinks then walked to the excellent Restaurant El Mercado where the owner Isabella took great care of us.
The meal and wine was great, marred only by the presence of a truly ugly table of German tourists adjacent to us who insisted on smoking particularly offensive smelling cigars. They had finished eating and had settled in for an evening of beer drinking. When politely asked if they could hold off on the cigars until we finished our meal, the response was effectively "to hell with you". My associates were able to restrain me from causing an international incident, and Isabella diplomatically moved us to another table.
At 8:30 AM we were off for the short ride to the Puerto Montt airport. Airport procedures were quick and easy and the 2 hr 10 minute flight to Punta Arenas was comfortable and on time. Our driver was waiting to pick us up, and after an unsuccessful run into the city of 120,000 to look for an Antarctic outfitter I wanted to talk to, we headed out across the flat, barren countryside for the 250 km trip to Puerto Natales. The temperature was around 10 degrees C.
This area was originally settled by the English, and by people from the Balkans. There are no indigenous people left here - most were killed. At one time the English paid a bounty when presented with two of their ears.
Speed is not restricted outside of build up areas. The excellent road is fairly straight, at times stretching ahead to the horizon, so our driver was able to maintain speeds of 145 kph (90 mph). At intervals along the road well maintained yellow and blue bus shelters with windows and doors, built in the form of small buildings out of the Arabian Nights, protected passengers from the elements. This is sheep and cattle country, but they also raise an ostrich looking bird called añandu. There were a lot of them, both inside and outside fenced areas.
We stopped at an isolated roadside hotel with a bar and restaurant, where the guys all had a beer and everyone made use of the rest rooms. We arrived at Puerto Natales at around 4:30 PM where after a drive around town we were dropped at the modern CostAustralis Hotel. Apparently they do well on the tourist business here, but it is surprising to see such an up scale hotel in a small town that looks a bit run down. It seems every third shop in town sells tours. In the harbour in front of the hotel were a lot of white swans with black necks and heads, a species we had not seen before. They are apparently near extinction, with only a little over 900 left.
We walked around town for a while, returning to the hotel for a drink before avoiding a rain storm by taking a taxi to a restaurant Simon & Marilynn had spotted. The Asador Patagonia turned out to be the best place to eat in town, with a whole lamb cooking over an open fire. The food was delicious. We tried lamb's tongues - a new delicacy for me!
Sunday, March 6, 2005
Breakfast was not great, perhaps explaining why the hotel restaurant was empty last night while the restaurant we ate in was packed. Our driver was 10 minutes late, but we eventually got underway for Torres del Paine National Park, a three-hour drive on rough gravel road. Along the way we saw a lot of wild guanacos, another animal that looks much like a brown llama. They are farmed for their fine wool, but in the park they run wild and are protected.
After entering the park we were required to take a longer route as the main route through the centre of the 15,570 ha scorched by the forest fire was being used only by military vehicles. We passed several tent towns where firefighters were staying, and the smell of the still smoking, blackened countryside was strong. The fire was finally put out yesterday.
We arrived at the Hosteria Las Torres in rain. The countryside is rolling hills with scrub brush or brown ground cover. There are higher mountains around, but it was impossible to see them for the cloud and mist. The question that came to mind when we arrived was, why are we here? There were no tours or activities arranged for us.
A guide talked to us about what was available, but the choices were horseback riding or hiking in the rain, driving for a total of three hours to take a boat trip to view a glacier ($560) or driving for acouple of hours to take a two hour hike to a waterfall. Having spent a lot of time in vehicles recently, none of the above were of interest.
We had to wait an hour and a half for our rooms to be readied, so were told to have a cup of coffee while we waited. Coffee, tea and hot chocolate turned out to cost about $4.50 each. Double rooms here are $177 for standard or $249 for superior, the set lunch costs $30 and dinner is $37.50. A beer is $5. The dress in the area is heavy weatherproof coats, hiking boots and backpacks - we looked quite out of place!
The others headed off for a long walk when the rain stopped, but my knee was not up to it so it was my turn to stay in the room. While it has been interesting to see the countryside and animals, this visit was not worth the cost of the transfers, airfare and accommodation for the short time we were here.
We had the extensive buffet dinner with beer and wine. While the prices were outrageous the food quality and selection was great, and a good time was had by all. It was nice to have everyone healthy enough to beat the table!
Monday, March 7, 2005
The driver was about 10 minutes late picking us up once again, but as we had advanced the pickup time it really didn't matter. It was a beautiful sunny day, cold and clear. The high mountains behind the hotel where the mighty Andes begin were invisible in cloud yesterday, but were clear this morning. A heavy snowfall overnight lowered the snow line considerably. Even some of the burned hills were capped with snow, but the smell of fire was still strong.
We headed off over the bumpy road in good spirits, stopping along the way to photograph some of the 6,000 guanacos that live in the park. There were also ñandus grazing close to the road, and plentiful pink flamingos in a couple of lakes, which surprised me. I had no idea flamingos could be found in freezing temperatures. At the exit to the park a family of grey foxes - the parents and four young ones - were bumming food. There were also caracara eagles, hawks and many other birds close to the road along the way.
At Puerto Natales we stopped for a good seafood lunch before continuing non-stop to the airport at Punta Arenas, where we checked in over two hours before the scheduled flight time. Our plane arrived from Ushuaiaan hour late, so I used the time to check emails at an internet café in the departure area. The pilot was a super efficient fellow who wasted no time. We made a stop at Puerto Montt where very few people got on, and by the time we arrived at the gate in Santiago we were 5 minutes ahead of schedule, making 6 out of 6 on time arrivals.
LAN is an easy airline to recommend. Not only do they arrive on time, but their staff are courteous, the planes clean and their service very good. We received a meal of some kind on every flight, even one that took only 45 minutes. Meals include complementary beer and wines. Lan Chile, Lan Ecuador and Lan Peru have apparently been bought by a very wealthy Chilean and the name changed to just LAN. He is spending $900,000 just to repaint the planes as part of their new image.
Rodolfo, our previous driver in Santiago, was at the airport to take us to the hotel. He will take the group from England to the airport at 5PM tomorrow, and then Marilynn and I at 2:30 AM. It'll be a long night for him!
Tuesday, March 8, 2005
Everyone went for a walk this morning, first in an unsuccessful search for vicuna sweaters for Simon and tools for Roger. Marilynn broke off to go shoe shopping again, determined to give Immelda Marcos a run for her money, and the others went looking for the LAN office, the museum and the post office. My knee was acting up so I went to the hotel to do a little writing.
A jovial farewell lunch with of platters of good things to eat accompanied by copious amounts of wine and beer was provided by our travelling companions at our favourite Patagonia restaurant. We all felt the trip had given us an excellent overview of the very diverse parts of this 4,000 km long country. Marilynn and I were on hand for a final goodbye when they were picked up to go to the airport, then we went back to our room to rest for the 2:30 AM departure.
As always, Rodolfo was on time to pick us up. The trip to the airport and flight to Panama were uneventful. In Panama we were off one plane and onto another instantly - it was well into the boarding process, but fortunately the gate was close, however that's when our luck ran out. A tire blew out on a plane landing at San José, so the airport was closed. That resulted in an unscheduled trip to Managua, Nicaragua where we sat in the plane and waited until the airport in San José opened again. We finally arrived home about three hours behind schedule.