El Bolson in Argentina is a town known to travelers as a place for hiking, outdoor activities and a place to chill out. We decided to go south 120kms from Bariloche for this reason, and we were not disappointed.
We found one of the best hostels in Argentina to serve as our base. It is called “La Casona de Odile”. It has all the little touches that you are looking for when travelling- good rooms, hot showers, potable water, a great kitchen, really cool living room spaces with a fireplace to chill out in, good wifi, homemade breads/jams for breakfast, and a beautiful garden setting by a river. One of the special perks was that they made gluten free bread for me each day. Oh, and of course a dog and a cat.
We were privileged to be there with a great group of fellow travelers and we also met many expats who have chosen to move to the area. We shared meals, stories and good conversations. The weather did not co-operate for many hiking opportunities, but with a setting like this we were happy to chill out and take a break. It was a great location for Mike to work from.
Jeff, Keira and I did get hike to a local waterfall, we visited an Indian looking rock face, Keira baked with another Aussie girl Tammy and went to the market twice. (Nice craftwork, great chocolates, empanadas and locally brewed beers.) We had discovered a broken exhaust pipe on the way to El Bolson. We found a workshop that did an excellent job at welding it together. They even fed us and changed money for us while we waited. We were reluctant to leave El Bolson.
The drive north through the Lakes District of Argentina was beautiful. We took a back road that took us through Villa Traful, a small village on a lake. The weather was a little overcast and windy, a perfect day for driving. As we drove we began to notice a vibration in the front end of the car and some difficulty with changing through the gears. We discovered a nail in our front tire, which Mike quickly repaired.
We found a campsite by a river to wild camp just outside Junin de Los Andes. The next day we continued through National Parque Lanin to complete the border crossing to Chile once again. We had amazing views of Volcan Lanin, and we got to see “monkey puzzle trees”. They are tall trees with bark that looks like puzzle pieces, and spiky branches that resemble monkey tails. Keira and I had researched them some months before, so we were excited to finally get to see them.
After crossing the border we headed for Rio Blanco thermal springs, following a recommendation from Carina and Kaj. We camped right by the springs. We skipped dinner and headed straight into the water. It was a perfect place, and we had it all to ourselves. Natural pools boarded by rocks leading into a river in a quiet valley. We soaked for about 3 hours looking at the star filled sky above. The next morning we soaked once more for a few hours before heading on the road again.
Villarica was the next stop for coffees, money and Internet access. Then it was on to Pucon.
The vibration in the car had increased and now we had a noise to accompany it.
A month before in Pumelin National Park on the northern part of the Carretera Austral, we had briefly met a couple called Truus and Hans. (Truus is Dutch and Hans is German) They had provided us with their information and had requested that we visit them near Pucon.
Arriving at their property we felt immediately at home. We were greeted by Kaj, Carina, Hans and Truus, and 2 donkeys (Pancho and Mansita), 2 lamas (Dalai and Mapu) and their dogs (Delhi and Copita).
Hans and Truus have lived interesting lives and have travelled extensively. Hans is a famous mountaineer, having climbed mountains all around the world. They have worked for volunteer organizations, and sailed a boat around the world, that Hans and made himself. We shared stories, meals, helped out around the property and enjoyed the tranquil surroundings. Keira had an amazing experience, feeding the animals, riding Mansita, snuggling with Dalai, a very affectionate Lama and playing with Delhi. She helped with gardening tasks and other chores around the farm.
Now being hot springs junkies, we visited another hot springs whilst in the Pucon area, Termas Los Pozones. Great but not our favorite.
With Hans and Truus assistance we accessed their local mechanic, who found the problem with the car and completed repairs. We had broken 3 of 4 pieces of the universal joint of the front drive shaft and the final piece was just holding on. Probably the result of our ditch encounters 1-month prior. We were very pleased to have Priscilla in working order again.
Hans and Truus’s property is actually below the Villarica volcano, that erupted a month ago. It continues to smoke and it glows at night as the lava of the crater reflects on the smoke. This can all be seen from the kitchen window and from other places on the property.
One morning we woke at our regular time, but it was still pitch black outside. We triple checked the time before heading to the main house for breakfast. It was 9am. It was only when we got close by the house and a light turned on that we realized ash was falling from the sky. The ash was coming from the Volcano Calbuco eruption, some 200 kms away. We had passed through this area 2 weeks before.
The ash continued to fall throughout the day, with some light seeping through at ~11.30 am. It was so bizarre.
The following day there were 2 inches of ash covering everything. In the town of Pucon, everyone was wearing masks for protection from the ash. We spent the day cleaning up. Keira and I watered the leaves of all the plants to remove the layer of ash so they could breathe again. You could literally see them revive and we thought we heard them singing “ahhh”. The bees were also happy, as they could now reach the flowers. The deck required 3 washes and the grass was watered so the ash could be assimilated into the soil. Ash continued to hang in the sky, and a light sprinkling continues to fall 3 days later.
We watched the news of the eruption, seeing the ripple effects spread throughout the world, as a volcano erupted in Costa Rica and an earthquake devastated Nepal and the Himalayas.
We experienced 2 mild earth tremors during the night. This experience brought it home as to how destructive a volcano and the fallout from volcanoes can be.
We originally thought we would stay 2 nights with Hans and Truus, but we ended up staying for 5 nights. We were all very reluctant and really sad to leave.
There are times in your life that certain people are meant to cross paths and I believe we were meant to meet Hans and Truus.
HIGHLIGHTS/CHALLENGES OF THIS AREA:
MOST VALUED POSSESION: tire puncture repair kit
BEST EXPERIENCE: Mike- meeting and spending time with Hans and Truus ; Keira- riding Mansita and feeding the animals; Riss- staying at the farm and in El Bolson
MOST CHALLENGING EXPERIENCE: Mike-dealing with the after effects of the volcanic ash; Keira- leaving the farm; Riss- leaving the farm
BEST FOOD DISCOVERY: Mike- empanadas at El Bolson market/completos (huge hot dogs with avocado, tomato and mayonnaise- common in Chile), Keira- having pancakes for dinner/chocolate fondue; Riss- chocolate covered cherry ripe like chocolates in El Bolson
BEST CAMPING SPOT: staying in the cabana at the farm/hostel La Casona de Odile in El Bolson
The completion of the Carretera Austral in Puerto Montt, a large city, is a stark contrast to its remote conclusion at Villa O’Higgins. We arrived in Puerto Montt on Good Friday. We were unaware of what day it actually was which is a regular occurrence for us when travelling.
The rain continued that we had been experiencing in the Northern Carretera. We opted for a hostel to take a break from the rain. We completed our grocery shopping, a task we all don’t like, and that part doesn’t change when travelling.
The next day we headed southwest to the island of Chiloe, hoping to catch a break in the weather. Chiloe is the second largest island in South America, Tierra del Fuego being the largest. It is connected to mainland Chile by a ferry service.
The people of Chiloe are described as being a strong group of people, wanting to be distinct from people of mainland Chile.
Chiloe is known for its unique and many churches, many of which are UNESCO listed.
We headed for Parque National de Chiloe, as we were excited to see the Pacific Ocean. We found the perfect camping spot on the beach amongst the sand dunes. The sun shone for us. We felt very lucky as the sun apparently only shines for 60 days a year in Chiloe. Keira loved the beach. It was too cold to swim but it didn’t stop us from taking a dip, up to our knees anyway. We did an Easter egg hunt in the dunes, and completed beach craft projects. It was perfect.
Mike wanting to create the perfect birthday for me, organized for us to stay at a hostel for 2 nights in Castro, one of the main towns. We were very lucky again to be the only ones in the hostel so we had the whole place to ourselves. I had a wonderful birthday surrounded by friends with many presents and special treats. We even found a sushi restaurant for a special birthday meal.
Castro is the capitol of Chiloe and a very interesting town. It has many palafito houses and restaurants on stilts over the water. At high tide their patios serve as piers for the boats tethered to the stilts. The town has gourmet shops, boutique hotels, nice restaurants, and modern shops, and in contrast a very traditional food and artisan market.
I found really nice hand warmer gloves, and woolen hats made by local people and at a very cheap price. I also bought legwarmers. Ahh!! Yes, here they are making a come back and with the cold weather they are a necessity.
We purchased US dollars with Chilean pesos, in preparation for our return to Argentina, to once again play the money game.
From Chiloe we headed north again, crossing by ferry once again to return to the mainland. We were now entering the Lakes District of Chile.
Puerto Varas was the next town. It is situated on Lake Llanquihue, which is a very large lake. It is a very nice town, but having already spent 2 days in Castro, we were ready for wild camping again. We continued on to Pehulue on Lago Todos Los Santos (the lake of all the saints)
Being at the end of the summer season, we are finding a lot of the campgrounds are closed. We opted to free camp in a parking area close to the Lake. We were pleasantly surprised to find an amazing view over the lake, and ever-changing views of Osorno Volcano. One of the clearest views we had was at 2am in the morning with a full moon.
We spent a day there hiking, fishing (Mike caught 2 trout for dinner) and generally relaxing.
The following day we headed towards the Chile border. But being hot spring junkies we stopped at Aguas Calientes in Parque Nacional Puyehue, first for a soak. Nothing like a hot soak after nights of wild camping in cold weather.
We had our coldest night yet, camping just below a ski resort. We woke to icicles hanging off our tents, and frozen clothing that we had hung out to dry. It was hard to get moving. We definitely worshipped the sun as it rose.
The border crossing at Cardenal Samore, took us across a 1308-meter pass. The landscape looked more like a moonscape, barren and so desolate, a result of Volcan Puyehue blowing its top in 1960.
The border crossing itself was straightforward. We have crossed back and forth between Chile and Argentina so many times now that we know the process well.
The boys were all very excited to return to Argentina for “sticky buns”. Their term for the amazing Danishes and custard filled pastries that can be found in every panaderia (bakery) in every town in Argentina. Kaj has a knack for sniffing out the best “sticky buns” everywhere we go.
In Bariloche we again faced closed campgrounds but were able to find a place 14 kms outside of town. It was nice to have a place to get out of the weather and to have proper showers and toilets.
Unfortunately the town of Bariloche itself did not hold much appeal. As Keira commented, Barioloche just “isn’t our groove”. We did take advantage of visiting one of the many chocolate shops in town, and sampling some fine quality chocolates.
The area around Bariloche did provide some interest. We took a chairlift to Cerro Campanario to get a beautiful view of the lakes and mountains. We visited Colonia Suiza, a small woodsy Swiss community for an artisan and food market, which was pretty cool. The papas fritas (French fries) and apple crumble were muy delicioso.
Keira and I spent a day at the lakeside making fairy castles, and doing sand paintings. Mike did manage to get some graphic design work done. Jeff fixed our winch and our car security system. Having an electrical engineer travelling with us is definitely a perk.
We were pleasantly surprised to catch up with Tonya, Martin and their 20-month-old little boy, Moritz. They are from Austria. We had originally, met them in The Petrified forest in early Feb, and again in Ushuaia, but had not managed to cross paths since. We celebrated with a morning pancake breakfast and an asado (BBQ) in the evening. Lots of good food and sharing of travel stories.
We parted with Kaj and Carina in Bariloche after another few weeks of travelling together. They headed north, and we headed south accompanied by Jeff to El Bolson for a side trip. We will undoubtedly catch up again along the way.
HIGHLIGHTS/CHALLENGES OF THIS AREA:
MOST VALUED POSSESION: our little Jeffy – fixed our winch and alarm system, and is a great travelling companion
BEST EXPERIENCE: Mike- playing on the beach-; Keira- playing on the beach; Riss- seeing Osorno Volcan in the moonlight/my birthday
MOST CHALLENGING EXPERIENCE: Mike-trying to work with so many distractions; Keira- not getting frustrated when Mum tells me "no more chocolate" ; Riss- showering both Keira and I in campsite showers in the cold weather is always a challenge
BEST FOOD DISCOVERY: Mike- sticky buns in Argentina: Keira- my chocolate dog (it didn't last long); Riss- mint filled chocolate
BEST CAMPING SPOT: the beach at Chiloe
Life on the road brings with it many interesting experiences. In a matter of 2 days, we found a camera and returned it to its owner, towed a local truck full of wood from a ditch, provided first aid to a Chilean girl Vanessa, who had come off her bicycle, and provided rides to 2 hitchhikers, a local and a fellow German traveller. Remoteness brings with it a sense of community and a built in desire to help those in need, and a less hectic lifestyle provides more opportunities to provide this help. I feel like this is sometimes lost in our modern societies.
Heading back north from Villa O’Higgins, we stopped in a small town called Carleta Tortel. The town is situated on a lake around a rocky outcrop of land. There are no roads in the town, and everything is connected by wooden walkways. It was an amazing and quaint place.
We returned to Cochrane for 1 more night, and then headed further north to visit the Marble Caves (Catedral de Marmol). The caves are literally caverns that have been carved out of the sea, and are in fact made of marble. The marble itself is so smooth to touch and the sea is so crystal clear and turquoise in color.
To visit the caves, you have to go by boat. We took a small motorboat, so we could actually go into the caves. Not only were the caverns incredible to see but also we had a lot of fun as our driver made tight turns and weaved in and out of the caverns. He was so skilled that he would make turns at the last minute and never touch the sides.
Next was Cerro Castillo, an area known for glaciers and hiking. We camped one night there and had the pleasure of meeting Charlotte and Jirin, a couple from Holland riding their bikes through Sth America. Next day we completed a hike, which gave us views of the glacier and waterfalls. Our hikes have become biology lessons as we examine different insects, plants and the environment. We had coffee at a hippy bus and moved on.
Coyhaique was our next stop, the biggest city in the region with ~60,000 population. We experienced culture shock coming into such a busy and big city after wild camping and being in unpopulated areas on the Carretera Austral. We just wanted to escape as soon as we could. We did take a day to do our monthly maintenance and car cleaning.
We were able to hook up with Jeff (our friend we had first met in Buenos Aires) who was also on the Carretera Austral heading north. We had been searching for him, and found him at the last minute before we headed out of town.
Jeff is a great travelling companion, and a lot of fun.
We headed north to Puyhuapi with Jeff as our travelling companion to meet up again with Kaj and Carina. The road now took us through lush farmland, with some interesting changes in road conditions.
Puyhuapi is a very small town situated on an inlet from the Pacific Ocean. German settlers established the town in 1935. There was no road access at this time. The German influence can still be seen there today.
We stayed one night at the waterfront. It was raining so Jeff slept in the car and us in our roof top tent. The next 2 nights we splurged and rented a house for us all to celebrate Keira’s birthday.
Keira’s 5th birthday was perfect. Not only did we have Kaj, Carina and Jeff with us, but 2 other travelers Dof and Arnold who we had spent time with previously happened to be in town so joined us for a party celebration. Keira got a xylophone from Kaj and Carina. We had an impromptu “band jam” with Kaj, Carina, Dof, Jeff and Keira playing different instruments. It was a blast.
The area is also known for its hot springs. We spent ~4 hours soaking in the spas, with misty rain, a view over the estuary, and dolphins swimming by us. We were the only ones there, so it was very relaxing and peaceful.
Next was a region of the Carretera Austral that incorporated The Pumalin National Park. The owner of the company North Face purchased the land of the National Park in the early 1990’s. He bought the land, established it as a National Park, and then gave it back to the Chilean government, under the pretense that it would remain a National Park. The area is spectacular, with dense rainforests, lakes, rivers and waterfalls.
We camped free in the National Park for 3 nights. We did a hike through the rainforest to the Cascadas Encondidos (hidden waterfalls). It was spectacular to walk through the rainforest and the falls themselves were very powerful and beautiful.
The Northern part of the Carretera is connected by a series of ferries, 2 shorter ferries and one that is ~4 hours. The scenery on the ferries was spectacular. Large forested mountains with steep declines into the lakes, and rough rocky outcrops.
On our final day on the Carretera, Priscilla had the ultimate test. Another driver going too fast on a National Park road did not move over when passing us, so Mike was forced to move us off the road into a ditch. The ground was soft from recent rains, so any attempts to drive out forced us deeper in. And of course just when we needed it our winch did not work. It took an hour and several attempts with 2 different vehicles to pull us out. Remarkably, besides a dented hubcap Priscilla survived the experience unscathed.
We completed the Carretera Austral, Ruta 7, at its conclusion, just south of Puerto Montt. What an amazing experience. The diversity of the scenery, the stunning vistas, the road itself coupled with its ferry rides, the people we met along the way, and the camaraderie with fellow travelers make the Carretera Austral so unique.
HIGHLIGHTS/CHALLENGES OF THIS AREA:
MOST VALUED POSSESIONS: recovery gear; hot water bottle; fellow travelers – our Germans/our Jeffy
BEST EXPERIENCE: Mike- Keira’s birthday in Puyhuapi ; Keira- my birthday; Riss- Keira’s birthday and the spa at Puyhuapi
MOST CHALLENGING EXPERIENCE: Mike- getting Priscilla out of the ditch; Keira- leaving places that I like- I get a little sad. ; Riss- putting the tent up and down in the rain for 5 days in a row
BEST FOOD DISCOVERY: Mike- finding squishy candy similar to Aussie jelly babies (Mike bought several packets), Keira- my chocolate birthday cake; Riss- soy milk in Chile supermarkets
BEST CAMPING SPOT: camping near Chaiten- we had an indoor kitchen area in the rain, it had no doors or insulation and was essentially a frame but for us it was luxury (been wild camping too long!)
Just a place to keep our mates informed on where we are at, and what we are up to.