That weren't no DJ, that was hazy cosmic jive

Over the Andes

6 December 2010. Monday.

The volcanic south is also the misty and cloudy south. Meaning, I’m going to have to take their word for it, I’m afraid, that there are indeed volcanoes. I’m not asking for a big demonstration – nothing that might bury me in boiling ash – but perhaps a little burp. Or, at the very least, a parting of the clouds.

Volcan Osorno’s base is visible across the silvery saucepan of Lago Llanquihue, but its Fujiesque dome is totally obscured in a cotton-swathed sky. The town of Puerto Varas has mild charms that blend bits of Banff with bits of Duncan, B.C., but I have meandered through the whole of the town three times and it’s not yet a quarter to twelve in the morning. Hum!

An incredible change of pace, if nothing else – the single dilemma I face today is whether to hire a bike or not. Given the quietude of the town and the hidden splendours that won’t reveal themselves, I am looking forward to Bariloche on the Argentine side, and hope to spend a bit more time there. It sounds more purely like a Banffesque town with gargantuan mountains all around, and something of a buzz about it as well – though surely that could be the buzz of other tourists…

The night bus last night was quite good – a bit of a sore tailbone from sleeping at an incline for about eight hours, but that’s par for the course. I read some Bruce Chatwin, and played Scrabble against myself. Is that sad? Well, it might have been if I hadn’t scored a bingo! (SCUTTLES). There was no one to ooh and ahh at me though. In fact, I can’t think of a single person who would. But it kept me entertained. It isn’t hard to do.

Hmm. I wouldn’t say I regret Puerto Varas – this is essentially on the way to my real destination anyway, and it’s a relief of some kind to be in an incredibly quiet town without hordes of fellow travellers around. I can eat some croissants (media lunas, sorry!), cycle, hike, regale in the splendour of 19th Century German timber architecture, as Germans featured large in the development of the town over a century ago. I could nap, and maybe, just maybe, challenge an old Spanish-speaking grandmother to a game of Scrabble. Cor blimey, it’ll be a full day after all!

Perhaps more than Banff, or Duncan, P.V. just reminds me of small-town Canada overall. Grid-system roads, four-way stops, nary a pedestrian in sight except for the occasional dog walker or mum with a trolley. Quaint, faux-dollhouse buildings, ice cream shops and little galleries, and this cafe where I sit right now – colourful and brimming with cheer, biscottis and local art for sale. Populated by a middle-aged clientele on laptops or buried in newspaper pages. Kind and mild. These might be the “Lagos Patagonicos,” but there is nothing of Nigeria’s Lagos here.


Nothing today has really dissuaded me from the idea that I’m in the Kootenays. If only I were a rafter or heli-skier!

It’s 10pm, I’m treating myself to a beer in a kind of night club with no one in it, but a Shania Twain concert DVD playing on about… four screens. Today I’ve enjoyed a brief cycle round the lake (part of!) and a long walk down disused railway tracks and through an overgrown thorn-bushed trail to the shore, all loose pebble and mud. Managed a couple of words of greeting with two fly fishermen, and got approached by a very angry dog. I’m very looking forward to tomorrow – crossing the Andes by bus, and descending into the next big valley on the other side: the valley of Lago Nahuel Huapi. I’ve decided that, rather than risk another night of it being just me and Shania, I shall push through and take a second bus to El Bolson tomorrow night. Reunion time with M it is! So tomorrow will be epic in every way. Hell, Osorno might even erupt (come on, you!)

7 December 2010. Tuesday.
I have 90 minutes in Bariloche, and four hours till getting to El Bolson and joining up with M. What’s this town like? I’ve never been to Switzerland, and unless I come across an illicit windfall and need somewhere cute to stash it, I may never go at all. Bariloche epitomises what I’d expect – razor-edged summits ring the lake, and wind whips across it into a town of chocolate shops and wooden gift shops. For an adventure tourism hub, the town is sweeter and cuddlier than I might have imagined – I suppose scraped knees and bruised arms are best left for the trail.

The bus here: three hours in Chile through mostly pastureland and white cloud, which eventually gave way to intriguing mountains sheathed in large wisps of mist and gusts of sleet. So much for “summer”?

By the time we crossed the border and hit the eastern ribs of the Andes, the sun had freer reign and joyous vistas emerged. Great snow-peaked dinosaur-jaw ridges presiding over whitecapped lakes, great slides of tanned scree plunging steeply into the water, having washed away whole groves of twisted pines in their wake. Other mountains were completely bereft of trees, though dotted with dark puffs of thorn bush or bright bursts of broom. A misty, freezing network of lush ravines gave way to these semi-arid craigs, and I, like a hunter on the prowl, kept my Nikon poised for rapid snapshots from the bus window. Several times, I hit my mark, and let out a satisfied “ha!”

After having eaten a burger in town and changed Chilean pesos into Argentine, I’m now suddenly aware I have to go. So, here’s the last note for the moment – I imagine there will plenty of writing time in a couple of days, but as I’m about to see M for the first time in several months, I may put the book away till Friday at least. El Bolson ho!

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January 2011

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