Thursday, April 30, 2009

The Train to Santiago

The train ride to Santiago turned out to be easy and relaxing. Much smoother than taking the bus, which lurches around corners going in and out of the major towns. It also traveled most of the time faster than the buses we saw on the highway beside us a few times.

We went by some pretty old clapped-out towns on the train. It was obvious that commerce had moved away from the train station for the most part.

The terrain for the most part was fertile agricultural land growing all sorts of things. For one two hour stretch it was all vineyards, but we also saw sheep and cattle, orchards of several varieties, and vegetables. I can understand now why so much of our wintertime produce says 'Product of Chile' on it.

Wednesday, April 29, 2009

Chillan, Chile

From Pucon, we by bus about 5 hours north, to the town of Chillan. The only reason we went to Chillan was because it is the current starting place of the train that goes to Santiago.

Dave and I decided that we'd like to take the train rather than the bus, just for the novelty of it.

But we found it hard to get information about the train... the route and the schedule, the cost, and how to buy tickets. We asked several travel agents but they all said we could either buy them online, or in person at the train station. The Lonely Planet guide to Chile mentioned the train heading south, but not heading north.

We finally found the train system website at (the 'F' stands for Ferrocarrill, or Iron Cart). It appeared to have an application to purchase tickets, but the ticket purchase required a logon. Though the website appeared to permit Non-Chileans to create a logon and buy tickets, I could never get the logon to work. I could create one, but when I went to use it, it told me I needed to create a logon. After about 3 times around that circle, I gave up. We finally just waited til we got to the train station in Chillan, and purchased tickets the afternoon before without any problems.

We stayed in the Canadian Hostel, I think we got the address from the Lonely Planet, it's only 2 blocks from the train station and 2 blocks from the new central bus station in Chillan. It was adequate... typically shabby, but clean with hot water showers, reasonable security, and decent beds.

After we got checked into the hostel and purchased our train tickets, we headed for the downtown market. We didn't really need anything, but just wanted to see the mercado. We ended up having dinner in one of the small restaurants in the mercado.

Look At All the Sausages!

Beans and More Beans

Tuesday, April 28, 2009

Ruca Rayen (Near Pucon)

The Ruca Rayen Farmhouse (and Guesthouse)

The other couple on the Cani hike, Carol from Canada and her friend Ian from New Zealand, told us that they were going out to stay for their last week in Chile at a place we'd heard about called Ruca Rayen (

Our Bed (Shaped Like a Boat)

We met the owner, Peter, in town when he came to pick up Ian and Carol, and decided to go out the next day ourselves by bus.

Dave Helping to Round Up The Horses

It turned out to be a lovely place on a farm with a very nice couple running it. Peter is Austrian and came to Chile first as a young traveler, and then as a tour guide for Europeans. He met and married Margot, who is Mapuche (one of the indigenous Chilean tribes). They started with some family land, built a house and a cabin for guests, and have bought horses and more land. They currently have accommodations for about 12 people.

They both are fluent in English, German, Spanish, and Mapuche.

Peter knows the Pucon area very well and offered many options to us for things to do. We opted not to do any more walking, but chose an afternoon of horseback riding and a full day of drifting down the river on kayaks. It would have been nice to stay there another couple of days and just veg out, but we had to head for Santiago.

We really enjoyed hanging out for 2 days with Carole and Ian, who turned out to be very interesting travelers in their own right. Ian is an almost-retired sheep farmer in New Zealand, and for fun finds pickup work on farms around the world. This summer he'll be driving farm trucks in Texas during the wheat harvest. Carole is Canadian and an inveterate traveler. We enjoyed stories of her 16-day hike to the Mount Everest Base Camp--something we'd like to do some day.

"Oh, it feels so good to get those people off my back!"

Sunday, April 26, 2009

Pucon, Chile

Pucon is a small town in the Chilean Lakes District that is on the edge of a big lake, and within sight of Vulcan Villarica. Villarica is a beautiful snow-capped volcano that still has some occasional smoke and fire.

In the summertime, Pucon is a tourist mecca... both Chilean and foreign tourists flock here for the sun, the beaches, the hiking, biking, and whitewater rafting. We saw some pictures of Pucon in high season, and it reminded me of Key West at Christmas time (small town, streets jammed with tourists).

This time of year, it is definitely off season... Hostals and restaurants and stores are empty. But we were blessed with a spectacular run of weather--about 4 days of blue skies and sunshine.

Though we were greeted off the bus by women hustling hostals, we opted to take one from the Lonely Planet, and got the cheapest price for a room we've had so far. Hostal M@yra wasn't anything special, but it was close to town.

After nosing around the tourist information office and a couple of travel agents, we opted to actually pay for a guided hike up to the Cani Forest. This is a private reserve that some individuals bought up to save the ancient Aruacania trees from the logging companies.

The reason for paying vs doing a self-hike, was that the price included a minivan transport higher up the mountain than you can reach by public bus. AND it included a guide (which turned out to be a good thing... we'd have never found the right path up there!)

It was a pretty long hike, but the scenery was lovely. After 4 hours of uphill hiking, we scrambled nearly straight up for several hundred feet to reach the 'mirador' at the top of the mountain.

Looking Up at the Mirador

From there we could see 360 degrees around us and could see 4 volcanoes (Villarica, Quetrupillan, Lanin, Llaima), including one over the border in Argentina.

Sherry At the Mirador, Villarica in the Background

Part of the walk took us right through the middle of the volano's ancient crater, by a lagoon called Laguna Negra (Black Lagoon). It was fantastic.

We saw trees that our guide told us were close to 2,000 years old! The trees are huge, but like trying to take pictures of big waves, the scale just doesn't show in the photos.

The Unique Leaves of the Araucania Tree

Dave Standing on a Fallen Tree

We only had 3 couples on the hike, and a young Chilean forestry student who spoke a little english as our guide. For once, Dave and I were not last on the hike. There was a Brazilian couple who obviously didn't do much hiking, and they were really struggling.

Our Guide, Guido

We were slowed down so much by waiting for the Brazilians that we barely made it down to the pickup point before dark. We walked the last half mile in the dark. We hadn't imagined being out so long, so we didn't even have a flashlight. (Fortunately someone else had one).

And we were amazed that the minivan was not waiting for us... the last thing that 'Max' the van driver said to us as we got out was "I'll be waiting RIGHT HERE no matter how late you are."

But Max had gotten tied up and sent another van driver, who didn't know exactly where the pickup point was. He'd driven by where he thought we should be, when we were supposed to be there, and not seen anyone. It took us 45 minutes standing exhausted and hungry in the cold and the dark to finally get picked up. Fortunately our guide had a cell phone and Max's phone number.

We finally made it back to town about 8pm!

Saturday, April 25, 2009

Border Crossings by Bus

In our wanderings around southern South America, we have crossed the border between Chile and Argentina by bus about 4 times. It is always an interesting experience to see how differently things are handled at different border crossings.

On our most recent crossing from Chile to Argentina, the Chilean formalities consisted of checking that we had a valid ENTRY into Chile, before checking us out. To make it easy for the officials, the bus steward lined us all up in the order we were on the bus paperwork... we were first every time, I think because we must have been the first one to reserve passage (several days ago).

On going into Argentina, they had a friendly drug-sniffing dog check the baggage. They open the baggage doors on the bus and just let the dog jump in and roam around in the baggage compartment. Anything he seems interested in is hauled out and the passenger made to open the bag. But it didn't seem very serious. Both bags they did this with, the owner opened up, rummaged around a little, explained what it was that the dog got excited about, and then they let him close up and that was that. Didn't look like a very thorough search to me.

Both times going back into Chile, we had to get all our luggage off the bus, and take it ourselves through 'Customs', including a questionaire and an X-ray scan of all the bags. Mostly what Chile is looking for are agricultural products. Their country is very agricultural and they are very serious about not allowing any soil, fruits, vegetables, and raw foods.

On the last border crossing, we had some raisins left that we'd actually bought only a few days before in Chile. One of the officers we asked when Dave turned in his agricultural questionaire said that the raisins were OK. But when his bag was X-rayed, they detected the raisins in his bag and pulled them out for a look. But he got to keep them in the end.

Friday, April 24, 2009

To San Martin via the 7 Lakes Route

We left Bariloche at 9am on the bus 'Albus' to San Martin de los Andes.

Albus is the only company that does the trip to San Martin via the '7 Lakes' route. All the other companies go out and up via the main roads. The 7 Lakes Route takes a winding road that turns into a gravel road up in the mountains. It goes past ... yes ... 7 Lakes.

It was a beautiful trip, especially since all the mountains had snow on them from last night's light snowfall.

San Martin is another 'typical' Argentine tourist town. Nicely laid out, very nice looking buildings, and a slew of tourist-oriented businesses.

We hadn't booked a hotel room ahead, but had a couple circled in the Lonely Planet guide. But we were accosted on exiting the bus by 'Mario' who had a nice room to rent at a very good price. It was a block and a half from the bus station, and Mario spoke pretty good English, so we decided to take a look. (Contact Details on our Travel Chile page).

It was an OK room... still under construction, and the wifi that Mario promised was not HIS wifi, but an open wireless router a few blocks away.

We had a late lunch at a nice waterside restaurant recommended by Mario, and then took a taxi up the hill to the 'Mirador' (scenic overlook) over the city. We let the taxi go, and after a few pictures and some hot chocolate at the Casa de Te at the top of the hill, hiked the 5KM back down to the city.

Unfortunately, the only buses leaving for Pucon, Chile leave at 6am, so we had an early night and left for Pucon while it was still dark the next day.

More Snow-Capped Mountains

Yesterday, a cold front blew into Bariloche from across the mountains. By midday the wind on the lake was blowing 30 knots, and some pretty big waves were breaking on the lee shore. We had rain off and on during the night. And this morning, all the surrounding mountains have a dusting of snow on them.

Thursday, April 23, 2009

Two Days in Bariloche

The rain had cleared by the time we woke up to our first full day in Bariloche. It was a beautiful day. We spent the morning getting our bearings and checking the Tourist Information office for ideas on what to do for 2 days in Bariloche.

Of Course We Have to Check Out The Boats!

In the afternoon, we took a bus out to Parque Nacional Nahuel Huapi. We set out for what is called locally "the Circuito Chico" (small circuit). We took the 1pm Route #10 bus, which first traveled along the lakefront, and then wound its way up on a gravel road to the Colonia Suiza (Swiss Colony) in the mountains. Then it continued on to the park. It was a great way to see the countryside for only about $1 each.

Then we hiked along a lakeside path for about an hour and a half. It was a nice path, mostly level, through a forest of huge trees and (oddly enough) bamboo scrub, and along a lake. I thought it was a wonderful path, but Dave complained that it was too easy.

Big Trees, Beautiful Wood!

We were lucky to have a return bus pull up just as we got there, as we were running late to be back at the hotel to meet Mark and Brandy, who were arriving by bus from Valdivia. The whole Bus-Walk-Bus trip took us close to 5 hours and only cost $2 each, and we got to see a LOT of the countryside. (A similar half day guided tour would have cost $35).

Typical Bariloche Architecture

Mark and Brandy arrived on schedule, and we ended up going out to experience Argentine beef at "Parillada Tony", as recommended by the owner of our hostal. A red meat and red wine orgy ensued, and before we knew it, we had spent close to $60 per couple. But it was delicious. And fun to connect with fellow cruisers.

We swapped notes and stories on everything from Peru travel to watermakers and autopilots.

We found that we already had Restless' notes on their Peru trip last year, in the 'Ecuador Cruising Guide' that the cruisers have been maintaining. Brandy was recounting their 21 day trip with their daughter and I said "boy, that sure sounds familiar". I had avidly read their account while sitting in Ecuador.

On the second day, we got up early and got going out to Cerro Campenera... a short bus ride and a chair lift (my kinda hiking!) up to a mountain view of Bariloche and the lakes and surrounding mountains. We got up and down just in time... the cold front that we knew was coming arrived (with rain and lots of wind) about a half hour later.

Brandy and Mark left on the afternoon bus back to Valdivia, and Dave and I changed our plans from an afternoon hike to a museum, while it continued to rain.

Sherry Checks Out an Albatross's Wing Span

Bariloche Street Scene

Tuesday, April 21, 2009

Arrival in Bariloche, Argentina

We crossed over the mountains from Chile to see a little bit of the other side of the 'Lakes District', in Argentina.

It was an uneventful trip on a double-decker bus. We didn't know it was going to be double-decker, and ended up on the bottom tier... better seats, more room, but not as good a view.

Unfortunately, most of the time we were up in the mountains, it was foggy and drizzly, so we didn't see a lot.

We'd had a tip on a place to stay from another cruiser, called Hostal San Francisco. But we didn't know where it was--it wasn't in the Lonely Planet and wasn't online. When we arrived at the bus terminal in Bariloche, the Tourist Information counter was closed.

So it took us about an hour of messing around... dragging our packs with us, to find out the location of San Francisco. The lady at the Tourist Information office downtown was very helpful and gave us a list of 3-4 more places in the same area. We finally found San Francisco after lugging our packs uphill a couple of blocks. But it didn't have any internet... :(

So I sat with the backpacks while Dave went off on foot to investigate the other places in the area. It took him a long time...

I was starting to get worried about him, and imagining all sorts of bad happenings, but he was just being his usual thorough self. We ended up at Hostal Wikter (Victor), about 2 blocks further up from San Francisco. It is a nice small hotel with private baths, central heat, breakfast, and wifi, for only about $22 per night. It looks like it was a much more upscale place a few years ago.

We emailed the directions to Wikter to our new friends, Brandy and Mark from s/v Restless, whom we met in Valdivia. They had already had a trip to Bariloche planned for tomorrow (a border crossing to renew their 90 day tourist visa in Chile).

Monday, April 20, 2009

Valdivia, Chile

From Chiloé, we took a bus up to the college/beer/waterfront town of Valdivia. Valdivia is a pretty town a few miles upriver from the Pacific. It has been in existence since the mid-1500's. In the 1800's, a number of German settlers came to Valdivia, and started a beer brewery that eventually evolved into a national industry. They still make some great beer in Valdivia.

Valivia is also a college town--lots of young people there. This seems to have help keep the prices down, as we found lots of places to eat and stay, and reasonable hostal prices and restaurant prices.

The center of tourism in Valdivia is the lovely riverfront. The town has beautiful walkways along the water, a very nice open-air fish and veggie market, and an artisan market, all on the water.

The first day we were there, with fantastic weather, we booked a 'dinner cruise' on one of the boats along the waterfront. With a little negotiating, we got the 14,000 peso price down to 12,000 pesos per person (about $20 USD). This included 6 hour boat trip, a sit-down lunch, a free Pisco Sour, and afternoon snacks, as well as guided stops at 2 of the old forts downriver.

Our Boat, the Reina Sophia

Our trip ended up being quite the unplanned adventure. First, it started out badly... departing an hour late, with no steward service while we were onboard waiting, no explanation of what was going on. It turns out that the guide that was supposed to be on board had gotten into an accident in the taxi on the way to the boat. He was probably also the person who was supposed to be serving us drinks while we sat and waited!

Dave Examining Cannons at the Fort

Then, after visiting the first fort, as we pulled away, the engine stopped. After drifting for a few minutes, we found out that the water pump had failed. They told us that one of the other boats would come and take us off. Eventually, the big catamaran doing the same kind of tour just ahead of us, came back and took all 20 or so passengers off our smaller vessel. They were very gracious and treated us very well. It was much nicer inside and seemed like a much more organized operation. Next time we'd take the catamaran.

The Rescue Catamaran

On the following day, another gorgeous day, we did a bunch of things:

1. Visited the Valdivia Yacht Club to see the American boat we had seen from our river cruise. We met Mark and Brandy from s/v Restless and had a good chat about their recent visit from Ecuador to Easter Island and then down to Chile.

s/v Restless at the Valdivia Yacht Club

2. Shopped in the open air market (smoked fish, paperback books in English, raisins)

3. Went to the Museo Histórico y Antropológico Maurice van de Maele, where we saw furniture, maps, clothing, and other artifacts from the early days of Valdivia. Probably the coolest thing was an old restored carriage.

4. Sat and watched the 'Lobos Marinos' (Sea Wolves, aka Sea Lions) play 'king of the mountain' on a couple of floating docks in the river.

5. Strolled the waterfront, people watching and sea lion watching.

6. Ate (twice) at one of the restaurants above the Artisan Market.

7. Watched a bunch of college kids celebrate victory in a televised soccer match. They ran through town making noise and carrying flags. The local police zoomed up in a few minutes on small street cycles, to just monitor the commotion.

8. Packed up our backpacks, ready for an early departure for the 7 hour trip to Bariloche, Argentina, in the morning.

It was a nice relaxing day.