Friday, January 29, 2010

Part 6: Villarrica

On Jan. 12th we left Valdivia and headed east.  Our first stop was at Panguipulli to see the neat church.  It was built by the Capuchins and was modeled on chapels around Berne, Switzerland.  There are similar churches throughout the Lakes District and they were built like this one.  This little town has a pretty plaza with many roses.  It’s actually known as the town of roses.  The countryside around Panguipulli is gorgeous – rolling green pastureland with cows, sheep and horses dotting the landscape. 

We got in to Villarrica to the Hosteria de la Colina early in the afternoon.  The Hosteria is great – Glen and Bev make you feel so welcome and are so helpful in everything.  We got unpacked and explored the grounds at the Hosteria.  They have a greenhouse behind the inn and it is beautiful.  There are so many neat plants and flowers throughout the grounds here.  The kids were starving early on so they ordered – Kirsi ate a whole barbecued chicken leg and Aidan devoured a huge piece of lasagna. 

The next day, we decided to go to the Termas Geometricas in the morning because it was still overcast and we didn’t want to risk hiking in rain.

Countryside on the way up to the hotsprings:


We saw this wild boar and her babies:


They were a little pricey - $23.00 per person – but they were absolutely stunning scenery-wise.  They have a wooden platform that leads to all the different pools, ranging in temperatures from 35C to 39C.  The coolest one was just perfect for the kids so we spent most of our time there.  I tried one pool that was a bit warmer and it was heavenly but I couldn’t have stayed there the whole time.  All of us loved our time there – we all felt so relaxed and our muscles were so happy after our soak.  The kids had a blast playing in the pool – Kirsi could stand up everywhere and Aidan could stand in places and loved sitting on the steps too.  What a perfect morning!



That afternoon we decided to visit Pucon since we hadn’t stopped there the last time we were in the area.  Pucon is the Mecca for adventure sports travellers in Chile.  It’s extremely touristy and developed, which isn’t really our style.  They have plenty of good restaurants, lots of places to stay and a ton of tour companies which will arrange outings.  We ate our supper here and then headed back to the Hosteria. 

The next morning, we enjoyed another fabulous breakfast – pancakes for the kids, pancakes and bacon for Der and eggs and bacon for me – and then headed off to Cafalquen Lake.  This is the warmest lake in the region so we thought we’d get some beach time in here.  We first went to the peninsula at Lican Ray and did an easy hike.  We did it two years ago when Kirsi was 22 months old and liked it so much that we did it again.  Both kids enjoyed throwing stones in the lake, watching Papa and Daddy skip rocks and hiking in the woods.  It was so quiet and peaceful – a perfect way to spend a morning.  We got some pictures in the same spot as we did last time, this time with Kirsi and then with Aidan.  It’ll be neat to see how they turn out. 


Since we didn’t get our horseback riding in at Valdivia, we made sure to do it here.  We decided to check out a little place in between Lican Ray and Villarrica where they took you through the meadows and woods.  Der took Kirsi and Papa went too, as it was his first time riding a horse in a saddle!  Kirsi’s horse was naughty and didn’t want to listen but eventually Der got it under control.  Not very reassuring but we were happy that it didn’t make Kirsi scared of horses.  It was a beautiful setting and they had a great ride.  Aidan, meanwhile, enjoyed “driving” the van the whole time they were gone.


Later that afternoon, we decided to go to the beach at the Playa Grande in Lican Ray.  Since it was late in the day, the beach was quite full but not too bad.  It’s a beautiful beach with black lava sands and relatively warm water.  The kids had a great time playing in the sand and water.  Kirsi made a house, a garden and a mountain.  Aidan loved bringing water from the lake to the sand – he could have done that for hours.  As hard as she tried, Kirsi couldn’t make a river near her mountain; the sand kept absorbing the water no matter how much they poured into the “river”.

The following day, we decided to head east again, this time towards Caburga Lake.  We first stopped at the Ojos del Caburga, which are a group of pools in the middle of a beautiful forest.  The water that feeds these pools comes underground from Caburga Lake and other streams.  There are some pretty rapids and waterfalls and it’s a nice walk around. 

View of Villarrica Volcano from the Ojos:
Then we headed to Caburga Lake, since we hadn’t been there before.  We went to Playa Blanca because it was recommended to us.  What a beautiful setting!  The lake is surrounded by hills, two of which were volcanoes which created Caburga Lake, and the sand is white and fine.  The water is quite warm because of the thermal upwelling at the bottom of the lake and it was really calm.  Kirsi loved that, though she had gotten used to the waves at the other beach.  Aidan thoroughly enjoyed throwing a stick in the water and getting Papa to retrieve it and Kirsi made new friends, two girls who were vacationing there from Concepcion.  It was so neat to see her approach the little girl and ask if she could play with her (the first time she’s done that).  We ran into some friends who were camping there – what a coincidence!


After a few hours at the beach, we visited a couple waterfalls in the area.  We first went to the Salto de la China.  The walk to get to the waterfall is among bamboo, which then leads you to the base of a narrow, 73-metre high waterfall. 

Just past the China waterfall was the Salto El Leon.  We walked along a path through the woods and saw the remnants of a sawmill in the area.  The waterfall is 68 metres high and is in two successive falls.  There’s a path to the base of one waterfall but it’s not well maintained.  The boards are coming loose and there are places where there are no boards but rocks instead.  With the spray of the waterfall, the path is quite slippery and I ended up falling when I stepped on a clump of wet grass.  I was carrying Aidan so the only thing that went through my mind was how I could fall without hurting him.  Thankfully he didn’t get hurt at all and Papa was in front of us so he took Aidan while I picked myself up.  My butt was covered in mud and I cracked my knee a good one but nothing more than that.


Our last night at the Hosteria so we indulged and had one of the fabulous meals there.  We all enjoyed our stay so much.  Glen and Bev are wonderful hosts and their staff is fantastic too.  They do what they can to accommodate guests and they make you feel so at home.  The lace of one of my hiking shoes broke and it’s a special kind so I couldn’t get just any kind of lace to fix it.  The night watchman, who we met last year and chatted with and who is so friendly, was able to replicate the lace exactly.  Little things like that make the whole difference.  When we headed out the next morning, I started crying as I knew it was my last time to the south of Chile for many, many years.  I really do love the region and it makes me sad to think that I won’t be back.

On the Saturday morning, we decided to head east close to the Argentinean border on a hike recommended to us by my sister and Glen.  There are several hiking trails and walking paths in the Puesco section of Villarrica National Park.  The road to get there was in pretty bad condition and there was a lot of construction on it.  We got part way in to the sector before we decided to turn around.  With the history of our wheel, we didn’t want to continue on the bad road and risk wrecking it again.  Instead, we enjoyed the scenery.  We stopped at the lookout to the huge waterfall and took in the beauty.  We were also able to spot Lanin Volcano, which straddles the Chilean-Argentinean border.  At 3773 metres, it is the highest volcano in the south and is snow-covered year round.  We saw many mountain meadows, which cows, sheep and horses grazing.  It’s so pretty to see pastureland with mountains in the background.


 We had considered staying at Kila Leufu, a house in the country run by a Mapuche family.  We had stopped in the day before to see what it was like and it was really neat.  They offer a true farm experience – organic, at that – where they raise their own animals, grow their own vegetables and make their own cheese and bread.  It sounded like it would be a great experience.  However, we decided that it was time to head home.  We’d been on the road for 20 days and we just wanted to be back in our own beds.  So, we stopped in Pucon for lunch and headed out to the Ruta 5.  We trucked it north until we got home, with only a few stops at the gas stations along the way.

The kids were amazing travellers the whole time.  They were great in the van and only fussed when they’d been sitting for too long and needed a break.  They did some long driving days and managed it with hardly any problems.  They are great little hikers and loved being outside exploring.  Nana and Papa were excellent entertainers, which really helped the trip go smoothly.  It was a great time for Kirsi and Aidan to bond with Nana and Papa and we had a great trip as a family.

Part 5: Puerto Varas to Valdivia

On Jan. 9th, we left our cabins by the penguins and headed inland.  Unfortunately, it was rainy when we left so it was too ugly to be outside when crossing over to the mainland on the ferry.  We first went to Puerto Varas, along Lago Llanquehue, to give Del and Ilene a taste of the little towns in this area.  Puerto Varas has a population of about 22 000 people and is becoming more and more of a base for adventure tourism in the south of Chile, just after Pucon.  During our stop, we saw people participating in an open-water sports competition.  They were swimming in a relay, kayaking and there was lots pumping music coming through the speakers.  :)  We stopped by the summer handicraft market to see what was on offer.  We ended up buying a few prints from a local artist to get framed to remind us of our favourite parts of Chile and a mask of a Selk’nam or Onas aboriginal (from the very south of Chile).  We also went to see one of the well-preserved houses of the German immigrants that arrived in this area in the 1800s, the Casa Kuschel, built in 1915 in the Baroque Bavarian style.  It is now owned by Doug Tompkins, the American millionaire who bought up land in southern Chile and created a national park out of it in order to preserve the forest of the area.

Countryside between Puerto Varas and Frutillar:


Next, we went to Frutillar, where we enjoyed some yummy food and delicious kuchen from the same family-run restaurant where Der and I went two years ago when we were here, CafĂ© de Los Colonos.  We were hoping to be able to do a hike at the Edmundo Winkler Forest Reserve but it was too rainy.  We spent too much time wandering to get to the Colonial German Museum in Frutillar but it looks really interesting. 

Typical architecture in Frutillar:


Then we headed to Valdivia, our favourite city in Chile.  We love the rolling hills, all the different types of trees and plants in the area and the rivers.  Even though it has a reputation for lots of rain, it still has won my heart.  We found a cabin pretty quickly and then went to Saval Park.  Last time we were here, there was a horse-jumping competition at the park; this time, there was a chocolate festival – right up my alley!  We went for a walk around the Lotus Pond and saw some people zipping across the pond on a zip-line (they call it “canopy” here).  Aidan thought it was the coolest thing ever and Papa thought about trying it out.  Maybe in Villarrica.  :)  There was a big playground area so we spent some time there so Kirsi and Aidan could enjoy some running and playing time.  Then I headed in to the chocolate area.  It was Saturday evening and it was packed!  It was hard to see everything but it was neat to see everything on sale.  Kirsi spotted some big lollipops so we got her one.

Our next day started out foggy and cool but it burnt off and it turned out to be a gorgeous day.  We started off at the riverside fish market.  We saw the fishermen (and women) unloading the fish and seafood and opening up shop.  We saw all kinds of fish – merluza (hake), salmon (for $5 a kilo), sierra (not sure what kind it is in English but it’s long and thin and has a really pointy snout), congrio (white-meat fish, similar to cod, that’s very popular here).  And lots and lots of seafood – clams, razor clams, mussels, crabs, sea cucumbers, oysters, and much more.  On the other side of the market were fresh fruits and vegetables.  And it’s soooooo good here!  We picked up apricots, nectarines, peaches, strawberries, cherries, lettuce, carrots, tomatoes and cucumbers.  There was also seaweed bundled up in square packages for sale too.  The sea lions, cormorants and sea gulls were all flocking around, waiting for any treats from the fishmongers.

We wandered around the downtown to see the architecture, the plaza and the cathedral.  Then we checked out the handicraft market that’s right across from the fish market.  Der found a very cool Indiana Jones hat so he was really happy with that purchase.  :)  There is tons on offer there – woolen and knitted sweaters, hats, gloves and ponchos; wooden items; and a bit of jewellery. 

We wanted to show Del and Ilene the botanical gardens at the Universidad Austral de Chile so we headed that way.  Just like last time, we had a tough time finding the gardens, but finally made it there.  And it was well worth the hunt.  They have trees from different parts of the world and it’s just beautiful.  After going along some paths through the trees, we headed to the river and wetlands and marshes, my favourite part of the walk.  I could spend the whole day in these gardens – there’s something so peaceful about wandering through them. 


We finished off the day with a 3-hour boat tour.  We headed west on the Valdivia River to see some parts of the modern city, the oldest yacht club in Chile and the different cargo ships along the river.  Then we headed back up the river towards the city.  We saw Isla Teja, where we were staying, and the Cau Cau River and then went past lots of paddleboats, rowboats, kayaks and even rowers on the river.  We saw the Calle Calle River (which I *think* starts in Argentina and flows down to the Pacific Ocean) and then went up the Cruces River to the Carlos Andwanter Nature Reserve.  This area was created after the big earthquake of 1960, which registered 9.5 on the Richter Scale and lasted for 4 minutes.  There was a tidal wave that was 4 metres high because at the time that the water rose the land also sank.  It was this tidal wave that caused the marshlands that are now protected in the nature reserve (UNESCO recognized the importance of the area in 1981 and a year later the Chilean government made it a protected area).  It is a breeding ground and resting spot for 90+ species of migrating birds.  We saw a few herons and many, many black-necked swans.  Our guide told us that these swans keep the same partners for life and if one of the mates dies, the other will stop eating and die also.  We stopped at Punucapa, a Huilliche village of 200 residents, to see the church and have our once, the Chilean equivalent of Britain’s teatime.   The church was called the Santuario de la Candelaria and it was built in 1883.  Every February 2nd, hundreds of worshippers come to celebrate the parish festival.  There are some villagers that make homemade apple cider and chichi, though we didn’t sample any.  We enjoyed different types of kuchen for our once and then headed back to Valdivia.  It was a great time – seeing the city and countryside from the river rather than the car and getting out to see the little village. 


Our last day in Valdivia was rainy so we didn’t get the horseride at the Fundo Teja Norte, which we were really wanting to do.  That was where Kirsi had her first horse ride two years ago so it would have been fun to do it again.  Instead, we drove out to Niebla, the Spanish fort, to get some pictures but didn’t visit the fort because it was so chilly.  We decided to go to the Mauricio Van de Maele Historical and Anthropological Museum, which is in the historical Carlos Anwandter house.  It is a good example of German architecture of the 19th century and is very well maintained.  The museum was excellent.  The artifacts were from some of the early German settlers in the area, as well as a room dedicated to Lord Cochrane, a British naval commander that the Chileans paid to help them defeat the Spanish Navy.  He managed to help the Chilean navy take over the forts in the Niebla/Corral area in 1820, giving Chile control of Valdivia.  More than 700 Spaniards were defeated with the loss of seven Chileans.  There were also displays of Mapuche silver jewellery, ceramics and other artifacts showing their culture. 


For lunch, we headed out to the Kuntsmann beer brewery.  We had some fabulous German cuisine – spaetzle, smoked pork chops and sour kraut.  They don’t do tours of the brewery during the summer so we weren’t able to learn anything about the process but it was neat nonetheless.  They had a little museum showing the evolution of the brewery to what it is today.  Kuntsmann beer is known all throughout Chile and it was started by a German immigrant.  He was a pharmacist who decided to start a brewery of German beer as a sideline.  A few years later, he was serving the Valdivia area with 12 000 bottles a year.  When his sons got involved in the business, they expanded the business to Valparaiso and Santiago.  At the peak of the business they were selling 12 million bottles a year.  That afternoon, we chilled out.  We all had a good, long nap at the cabins and then headed out for a picnic along the Valdivia River. 



Part 4: Chiloe

I found the cabins at Pinguinland online, just by chance, but we were really excited about them.  They’re located on a hilltop overlooking a small bay off the Pacific Ocean at Punihuil.  They were more rustic than I had thought, at least from what I had seen from the website, but the location was so worth it.  It was a beautiful setting and so peaceful; other than the cabins around us, we were alone.  It was fantastic.

Just before breakfast, we went for a little walk around the cabins and we saw the strangest little animal.  It looked like a tiny deer and it had hooves and little horns.  It was busy eating the grass and came really close to us.  Nana had her camera with her and got some great shots of the creature.  Later on, we discovered that it was a pudu.  We were so excited to have seen a pudu because it’s very rare anymore.

Our first morning there, we decided to do a penguin tour.  We went down the hill and to the bay that we saw from the cabins.  In this bay, Magellanic and Humboldt penguins live together for several months of the year.  They come here to mate and hatch their eggs and then in the winter, they go to different locations.  The Magellanic penguins go further south and the Humboldt go to warmer climates like Peru and Brazil.

We were the only people around that early so we got a tour right away.  Our guide was a local fisherman who knew a lot about the wildlife.  We saw both the penguin colonies quite close-up.  The babies weren’t small anymore but they still had their grey feathers so we could tell which were the babies.  There are also four species of cormorants in the area; we saw the most common ones and the red-footed ones.  Of course, there are gulls and we saw where they nested, way up high on the cliffs.  There are also sea otters there and one of them entertained us for a while.  It was great to do the tour again – I understood so much more than I did two years ago!  ;)  The kids had a great time looking at the wildlife and Aidan was fascinated by all the birds.

Red-footed cormorants:


 After we were wheeled back in to shore on their neat little wagons, we had lunch at a little restaurant on the beach.  Del and Ilene had seafood soup and thoroughly enjoyed a variety of Chiloe’s seafood.  Der had the Parmesan mussels, a specialty in Chile, and loved it.  It was a relaxed lunch followed by a big nap for everyone.  :)  We needed to get groceries so we made the half-hour trip back into Ancud to do our shopping.  While I was in the grocery store, Del, Ilene, Der and the kids checked out the market there.  They saw all kinds of seafood and fish on sale, which is what Chiloe is famous for.  Well, that and potatoes and huge cloves of garlic.

The next day was rainy off and on so it was a good day to do some driving.  We decided to do our tours of the wooden churches of Chiloe.  In 2001, UNESCO declared 16 of the 150 wooden churches of Chiloe to be World Heritage Sites.  Most of Chiloe’s architecture is made of wood, including the churches.  The churches are not only built entirely of wood but they were fitted together with wooden plugs, not nails.  There are few examples of completely wooden architecture from the XVIII century in the world so it is impressive to see these churches.

The Jesuits were the first missionaries to Chiloe and arrived in 1608.  They were responsible for the construction of the churches in the small communities and islands of Chiloe.  That was one aspect of their missionary strategy.  Another was to train native catechists so they could maintain the religious life of the community year-round.  The last was to visit each church annually in what they called the “Circuit Mission”.  Every year on September 17th (early spring), two Jesuit priests would leave Castro to visit the different churches of Chiloe and would return before winter set in.  Travelling by sea, they would take three portable altars with them, as well as vestments and ornaments to perform Mass.  Every stop was done the same way.  When they arrived, the members of the community would walk with them up to the church, singing.  The priests would read the parish records and made notes on any milestones.  They would finish the day with a sermon or the rosary.  The second day was full of activity – they would perform baptisms, marriages, give sermons and accept confessions and penitence.  The third and final day ended with Mass and Communion.  In 1767, the Jesuit missionaries were driven out of South America.  There was no religious assistance in Chiloe until the Fransiscans arrived and took over this responsibility.

The churches were generally built the same way.  They all face the sea and are built near a beach or a place where one could land safely from the sea.  An open area or plaza is in front of the church.  They generally have a three-tired hexagonal bell tower.  All churches have three naves, the two side ones having flat ceilings and the centre one having a domed or arched ceiling.  The doors, windows and facades are sometimes brightly painted but the walls are either plain, wooden clapboard or the Chilote-style wooden shingles or tiles.  The ceilings are sometimes decorated with stars or brightly painted and some of the churches have ships hanging down from the ceiling in the central nave.  During the XIX century, the church would have been the centre of community life.  If the village was big enough, there would be a parish priest.  Otherwise, the travelling missionaries would visit them on their Circuit Mission.  

We first saw the church of Mary of the Sorrows in Dalcahue, then we visited the San Fransisco Church in Castro.  This church was rebuilt by the Fransiscans after the original Jesuit church burned down in 1861 and then again in 1902.  We also saw the palafitos, or stilt houses, that are in Castro.  They survived the 1960 earthquake and tsunami and are now protected by the Chilean government as a cultural site.  They make me think of the Canadian Maritime fishing villages. 

After Castro, we stopped at the church of Nuestra Senora de Gracia in Nercon, which is different to the others because it is built of larch wood (alerce) and cypress from the Guaitecas Islands. Next we went to the church San Carlos de Borroneo at Chonchi.  It is a beautiful yellow and blue colour on the outside.  It has just recently been redone to repair the structural damage of the years.  Our final stop was at the church Santa Maria de Loreto in Achao, a village on the island of Quinchao.

Chiloe is still one of our favourite places in Chile.  It is so rich in culture, history and tradition.  We bought a book about the mythology of the island so we could learn more about Trauco, Caleuche and Pincoya.  It is fascinating to read about their legends, many of which reflect Chiloe’s ties to the sea.  We also love the slow-paced, daily life of Chilotes.  Agriculture is very important but most of it is subsistence agriculture, providing for their families and perhaps more of the community.  It isn’t rare to see an ox-cart or a man herding sheep down one of the dirt roads.  In the farmyards, you often saw a few cows, sheep, pigs, ducks or geese and a dog.  


In Chiloe, wood is of utmost importance.  It is the primary building material and it’s so interesting to see what they all use wood for.  There are the woven fences made of arrayan, a type of myrtle tree, which are used to keep small animals out of the fields.  There is the “sacho”, which is a type of anchor made from wood with a large stone in the middle, and the “almud”, which is a wooden box used to sell potatoes and shellfish in bulk.  They also make flour mills, presses to make “chicha” (apple cider) and weaving looms.  Another Chilote invention is the “birloche” or “trineo”, which is a sled used to transport things over smooth surfaces.

Our cabins:

Sunset over the bay:


Kirsi on our walk around the cabins:


Scenery around our cabins:


Part 3: San Martin de los Andes to Chiloe

Tuesday morning, at 8:00 am we were on the road to San Martin de los Andes.  We decided to drive the more indirect but better roads way, so we headed to Neuquen, then to Zapala, through Junin de los Andes and finally to San Martin.  It was a long day in the van with very few stops.  We got out for gas or to pee a few times but we really tried to make the best time we could.  About half way to Neuquen, the wind really picked up and it was blowing non-stop until past Zapala, at least eight hours of it.  It was really hard driving, especially in the van because it sits so high up and it catches the gusts.  Poor Der!  He had to drive much slower than normal because of this.  As we entered the region of Neuquen, we entered a part of the Patagonia and they made us throw away all fruit, vegetables, meat and honey because the region is free of a certain fruit fly and another thing that I have no idea what it is.  That was a bummer because we’d just picked up some fresh fruit for the trip.  We also had to get the van sprayed with some kind of chemical, maybe insecticide?, to make sure we weren’t carrying anything in.

That was the most barren stretch of land that I’ve ever driven, except for the desert.  All we saw for hundreds of kilometers was arid land, pampas grass and some goats.  There was very little variation in the countryside until we reached Zapala.  Once we started going south, there were more hills and greener vegetation.  At Junin de los Andes, we headed west towards the mountains and it was just beautiful.  There were pastures with horses and cows in the foothills of the Andes; it made me think of Montana.  We got to our cabins at 9:30 that night – 13 hours of traveling that day.  And the kids did fantastic!  They were so good and hardly complained the whole time.  It really was amazing.  The guy who owned the cabins was less than happy with us and was not friendly at all.  We wish that we could have spent our planned 4 nights in San Martin but there was nothing we could do.  He was ticked off that he had lost all that money and was downright rude to us.  The cabin was great – all wood beams, cozy fireplace, big – 2 bathrooms, 2 bedrooms, living room, dining room, kitchen.  We just got settled quickly and went to sleep so we could get going early the next morning.

Wednesday morning we got away by 9:00.  We had to leave Argentina that day because of the car insurance so we decided to drive from San Martin to Villa La Angostura following the “Seven Lakes Route”, which is one of Argentina’s most scenic routes.  San Martin is on Lago Lacar and though we didn’t stay long in the town, it was a cute place, much less touristy than Bariloche.  We got a great look at Lacar Lake from Pil Pil Mirador, up above.

Some beautiful wild flowers:




The next lake we saw was Machonico and then out of Lanin National Park and into the Nahuel Huapi National Park.  Just before we got to Lago Falkner we saw the Cascada Vullinanco, a beautiful 20-metre waterfall.  Falkner is a big lake, which is also gorgeous, and Mount Falkner lies behind it, which makes for a pretty scene.  It’s famous for its fishing as is its smaller neighbour, Lago Villarino.  Further along the road, we came to Lago Escondido (“Hidden Lake”) and like our guide book said, it was the most beautiful of the lakes.  It has emerald green water, which was very still, and it is hidden in the forest. 

The next lake was Lago Espejo (“Mirror Lake”), which is the warmest of all of them so it’s a popular beach spot.  The last lake on the tour is Nahuel Huapi, which is the largest of them all.  We stopped at Villa La Angostura, a town on the north side of the lake, and last year, we spent a few days in Bariloche, which is on the south side of the lake.  It was a gorgeous drive and I’m glad we took the whole morning to stop and see the scenery.  It’s a shame we didn’t have more time to explore the area and go on some hikes in these two parks.

We had lunch in Villa la Angostura, which calls itself the Garden of the Patagonia.  It’s a pretty little town and, in our opinion, a better place to stay than Bariloche.  It’s not as touristy, yet has plenty of services.  We ate at a great place and Nana claimed she ate the best fries she’s had in a long time there.  :)

We left Villa la Angostura around 2:00 and enjoyed the drive through the mountain pass Cardinal Samore.  It really is beautiful scenery – the forests, the lakes, the high mountain peaks.  We spent 2 hours at customs, which is what Der and I had guessed.  It just isn’t a fast process, no matter how you do it.  When we came onto the Chilean side, I loved seeing the pastureland with grazing horses and cows and the Andes as the backdrop – gorgeous.

Since we had left Argentina later in the day, we needed to get a move on through Chile to get to Chiloe before dark.  We got to the Panamericana highway and went directly to the ferry.  We were lucky and got onto the ferry within minutes of arriving.  Unfortunately, it was too windy and cold for us to get out and watch.  We drove through Ancud, towards Punihuil, where our cabins were.  I was getting very nervous because it was getting dark and our cabins were not in town, but out on the ocean in the middle of nowhere.  We made it to the cabins just at sunset – phew!

Part 2: Malargue and San Rafael

The next day, we headed out quite early to Malargue.  It took us a while to get out of Mendoza; we got turned around and ended up taking the wrong road.  We finally got going and headed south.  We saw some impressive mountain peaks, some of them still were snow-covered.  We drove past Las Lenas, the famous ski resort where all the Argentinean socialites go to see and be seen in the winter. 

As we got closer to Malargue, we noticed the countryside was dotted with white plastic containers.  There is an astrophysics experiment going on where they are trying to measure the high-energy cosmic rays that come to the earth from space.  This is called the Pierre Auger experiment.  These plastic containers are actually water tanks and they are acting as particle detectors for the experiment.  At the end of the project, there will be 1600 of these scattered around Malargue, 1.5 km apart.  We didn’t get to the observatory but saw it in our comings and goings.

We got in to our cabins around 2:00 and our guide was scheduled to arrive at 3:00.  So, we unloaded fast and then picked up some food so we could cook that night and for the next day. 

That afternoon, we went with Pablo, our guide, to the Llancanelo Reserve to see all the birdlife on the lake. They say the best time to visit is in the spring because the lake is high and many migratory birds come here to nest.  We were advised to take a guide with us so we would know what roads to take and so he could tell us about the birds.  We were all disappointed with how little we saw.  We couldn’t get very close to the lake at all because we couldn’t walk in the mud – it’s really stinky mud and we’d sink.  We were at least 0.5 km away from the edge of the lake and the flamingoes were just dots on the water.  The lake was really low so we were walking on a salt flat and the wind was so powerful.  We were getting whipped by dust and chunks from the surface of the dried mud from the lake.  Not really an enjoyable walk but we did it nonetheless.  Honestly, not a tour we’d recommend.  We did stop at a small creek along the way, which was beautiful.  It was like an oasis in the desert!  There was a small farm by the creek and a single hired man lived there – what a lonely life!



We stayed at the Monte Coiron cabins, just north of Malargue and they were great.  Cecilia and Juan are a young couple with two kids who decided to move to Malargue from Neuquen because they loved the area.  Juan works for the government in an area dealing with oil.  Cecilia is an artist and designed their house 3 years ago and the three cabins opened up a year ago.  They are so helpful and friendly and offer a great place to stay.  The cabins are really nice and well designed and they offer lots of the small details.  On New Year’s Eve, they brought over a bottle of wine for us.  Those little things that make all the difference.

The next day was New Year’s Day, and we did a day trip to La Payunia, a beautiful area of a chain of volcanoes.  Pablo came with us again and it was a long drive to the reserve on bad and then really bad roads.  We hit so many bumps that we lost track of how much we banged around in the van.  If we hadn’t had a guide, there’s no way we would have found our way there.  It was so rugged and empty and there were many little roads; we never would have been able to get there.  The main volcano is Payun Matru at 3690m but according to Pablo, there’s a chain of 800 volcanoes in the area.  We drove through lots of pampas and saw plenty of man-made “guanacos”, the oil wells that pump constantly in the area.  It took us 2 to 3 hours to get to our first stop – the Pampa Negra.  It was amazing…everywhere you looked, it was black volcanic rock dotted with golden tufts of grass and some cactus.  This lava covered kilometres upon kilometres and it come from volcanic action hundreds of years ago (as opposed to millions of years in some parts of the area).  Pablo laid down on the lava and said it was like a hot stone massage; I felt it and it was wonderfully warm but not too hot.


Mother-in-law cactus:

We drove further along and passed what Pablo called a horseshoe volcano, where the crater formed a horseshoe shape.  We also saw tons of black igneous rocks, some small and some huge and all from the most recent volcanic eruptions.  Then we stopped at the Pampa Roja, where oxides in the lava make the ground have a reddish hue.  We stopped at a place for our picnic lunch and got to see where the goat herders stay when bringing the goats across the pampas to their farms, many of them closer to the mountains.  And all around the reserve were herds of real guanacos.  It is apparently the largest concentration of guanacos in the world.

Both Derwin and I loved it there.  It was like you were in another world and we could have hiked around the place all day long.  It would have been neat to spend a couple days there and camp overnight.  The stars would have been amazing to see because you’re out in the middle of nowhere. 

We continued back along the same bumpy, horrible roads.  Pablo didn’t tell us which parts of the road were worse than others, which he should have done.  It would have saved us much heartache later.  We passed by the Rio Grande, which was a beautiful big river that starts in the Andes and continues down to the Atlantic Ocean, with a name change to the Rio Colorado.

Once we got back to the cabins, we started getting ready for supper and Der and Del unloaded the van.  They noticed that the front, right wheel was crooked…noticeably.  It was on a terrible angle!  It was from one of our bad bumps so we just had to wait till the next day to get it looked at. 

Saturday morning, we went to the one mechanic in town who was open and got the prognosis.  Being the car genius that I am, the mechanic and I had a very complex conversation about the condition of the wheel.  Uh-huh…  I know that something was wrong with the suspension and that the end part of the “almortiguador” was bent and that’s why the wheel was on an angle.  That and he didn’t have the part to replace it.  Change of plans again!  We went back to the cabin and just hung out there for the day.  While I was busy trying to figure out where we could get the van fixed, the kids played outside with Der, Papa and Nana and had a great time.  The family who owns the cabins has two dogs and three cats so the animals kept our kids very, very happy.  Later that afternoon, we checked out the planetarium that they have in Malargue; it looked super neat but the show that was on at that time wouldn’t have been of much interest to Kirsi so we convinced her that ice cream was the better choice.  For such a small centre, Malargue has a lot to offer.  There’s the planetarium, the Pierre Auger Observatory, a museum, and a ton of outdoor activities – rafting on the Rio Grande, excursions to Llancanelo and La Payunia, horseback riding and tons of hiking and trekking.

The closest Hyundai dealerships were in San Rafael (2 hours away but back the way we had come) and Neuquen (several hours away but further south).  And of course, both were closed for the long New Year’s weekend meaning that Monday morning was the first possible time we could get it fixed.  We opted to go to San Rafael because we wanted to drive as little as possible on that tire.

Sunday, we went to San Rafael to see a bit of the city and play in the pool with the kids.  We decided to get a hotel with a pool and it was a great decision.  We got there mid-day and we enjoyed a fantastic meal of Argentinean beef under a grapevine trellis.  Then we played in the pool before the thunderstorm rolled in.  When we arrived, the temperature said 37C.  Hot! 

Monday morning, we started on getting the van fixed.  We first went to the Hyundai dealership, which was just next door, to see if we could get a new shock absorber.  The guy was nice but he said that they didn’t have the part in stock and they’d have to order it from Buenos Aires.  That would be a minimum of 48 hours and we didn’t have that kind of time to wait.  Not only did we want to get down to San Martin, we also had limited time in the country with our insurance and the permission for Derwin to drive the rented vehicle.  He referred us to a garage that they work with. 

So off we went.  Thankfully it wasn’t very far so we could walk back no problems.  We showed up, praying that they’d be able to fix it.  They were super nice and looked at the van right away.  We talked to the mechanics and they told us that they could fix it but they couldn’t replace it because they didn’t have the part in Argentina (that aren’t from the dealership) for the model of our van.  That was the good news.  The bad news was that it would take all day to fix it.  So we were in San Rafael another day.

We decided to get out and walk around with the kids.  Nana, Papa and I took the kids for a walk downtown.  We got Papa’s glasses fixed, went to the grocery store and stopped for ice cream.  It was soooooo hot – I’m sure it was 35C and humid.  We were all just sweating!  Everyone had a good nap that afternoon and then we headed out to the pool again, which was lots of fun.  Kirsi got more and more comfortable in the water.  She loved jumping in and getting us to catch her and then getting rides from Mommy and Daddy.  Aidan liked coming in once in a while.  His favourite game was throwing his beach shoe in the pool and then chasing it with Mommy.  He even got in the water by himself.

I got POOPED on at Jurong Bird Park & Mass - Singapore Day 3

So, while the kids were feeding lories and lorikeets nectar from a cup at Jurong Bird Park a bird swooped overhead and dropped a liquid po...