Saturday 18th October 2014
With a heavy heart we vacate our cottage on Saturday morning and head to the bus terminal, where the super-friendly owner of the café serves us a lovely breakfast. The coach leaves on time but Villarrica disappears from the horizon without Johannes ever seeing the volcano. We will have to come back one day…
A pleasant 3-hour trip takes us to our next destination Valdivia, capital of the Los Ríos region appropriately situated at the confluence of the rivers Cruces, Calle Calle, Valdivia and Cau Cau which also connect the city to the sea. Valdivia is also called the Capital de la Lluvia, the rain, as we hear and notice later. After two fruitless attempts we find a nice hostal near the Costanera along the Río Calle Calle, make ourselves comfortable and then set out on our usual sight-seeing tour.
Among the must-see places are the docks and the sea lions, the mercado municipal, the distinctive houses built by the German settlers, the plaza and the Isla Teja. The helpful señorita in the oficina del turismo also recommends to visit the sea-side resort Niebla on the Pacific coast and we duly obey. On the way back we stop for dinner at the Cervecería Kunstmann, which is quite a tourist trap, to be honest – but visiting a brewery that makes beer according to the German purity law and then advertises it as ‘das gute Bier’ in Chile is almost mandatory for us.
When we return to Valdivia we get off the colectivo in the centre and are in for a nice surprise: the city celebrates its Carnaval de Primavera (spring carnival) and we join the locals lining the costanera and watch the colourful parade. What a great timing that we arrived in Valdivia this weekend!
Breakfast at the JAC bus terminal in Villarrica
The Chilenos are constantly improving their road network
All pictures from Valdivia and Niebla here, #574 to 856
Thursday 16th and Friday 17th October 2014
We leave Chillán early to make the most of the day and board the bus to Temuco where we have to change to a colectivo that brings us to Villarrica in the Lake District.
Housing estate Chilean style
On this side of the world the rapeseed is just coming into bloom
Villarrica lies very picturesque by the lake and the volcano of the same name. Unfortunately the impressive mountain is hiding behind the clouds and if I hadn’t told my dad how beautiful the volcano was he wouldn’t even know it was there…
This is what it should look like… (picture from 2010)
… and this is what we are presented with today…
On the way to the tourist information, where we want to enquire about suitable accommodation, a bright lilac building catches our eye, the Hostal Donde Mora. “No, we don’t have any twin rooms, only matrimonios”, says the landlord, “but you can have a whole cabaña with two bedrooms for the same price.” Well, we like the idea of having our own cottage in Villarrica very much and so we agree without complaints.
Our cottage in Villarrica
A stroll to the lakeshore is mandatory and with every hour that passes we hope the clouds will lift and reveal the gorgeous volcano. But nothing – the sky turns blue, the sun comes out but the mountain towering over Villarrica and neighbouring Pucón remains invisible. So we decide to stay another day in our cabaña and hope for the weather to improve.
Huh, there’s at least the tip!
When we look out of the window the next morning the sky is overcast again. Never mind, it’s dry at least and we can explore a bit more of the Araucanía region. Colectivos take us along the lake and on towards Caburgua, where the river of the same name creates beautiful waterfalls and deep blue ponds – the Ojos de Caburgua.
Laguna Azul – the blue lagoon
There are actually two sites to visit the waterfalls, one on each side of the river and for some strange reason the landowners haven’t come to an agreement yet to build a bridge. This means that you can only see a fraction of the ponds, then you would have to drive seven kilometres, pay another entrance fee to see the other part and then drive back the way you came or carry on to Pucón for another 15 kilometres. Not an option for us on foot.
After pondering the moral aspects of our behaviour we decide to ford the river at our own risk and save us the hassle of extreme trekking that day.
We don’t mind paying the extra pesos, as there are quite a few walkways and miradores to maintain, but walking 14 or even 22 kilometres more to see an area 10 metres away is just unreasonable. Why don’t the owners raise the fee, build a bridge, share the income, minimise the traffic and environmental impact and make visiting the site more user-friendly? As it turns out later, the crossing is also commonly used by the local pedestrians, who helpfully advise us that there is no alternative path anyway and that the only minibus serving the other side won’t pass until six in the afternoon – far too late for us.
View of the other side from the other side
You see, there are adventures to be had on a rucksack trip as well. On the way back to Villarrica we stop in Pucón and have some shockingly expensive but heavenly delicious coffee and cake in the Café de la P.
Then it starts to rain and doesn’t stop until the next day. We still manage to make the most of our time in Villarrica.
The big question remains, will Johannes see the volcano after all? Don’t miss the next episode!
All pictures from Villarrica here; #348 to 573
Wednesday 15th October 2014
Our next main destination is the Chilean Lake District, 770 kilometres further south on the Ruta 5, the Panamericana. Without our own transport we have to stick to the main roads where the coaches run and can’t meander along the Pacific coast as I did the last time. The town of Chillán lies halfway between Santiago and Villarrica on the northern end of the lakes, it is described as picturesque place and it’s also the birthplace of Bernado O’Higgins, one of Chile’s founding fathers and leader in the country’s struggle for independence from Spanish rule. A perfect overnight stop.
We enjoy the last freshly squeezed raspberry juice in the Happy House Hostal, use the last credit on our BIP card for the metro and arrive early at the perfectly organised Tur Bus terminal near the Universidad de Santiago. The bus is only 15 minutes late, we drive conveniently through the fertile Central Valley and arrive early afternoon at our destination.
The sixth hotel where we ask for a suitable room is ours and we set off to explore the apparently slightly boring town. Rarely has a contrast been so unexpected – from our tranquil neighbourhood we stumble into buzzing community life on the other side of the Plaza de Armas, the main square, with chaotic traffic, mercados, shopping malls and life music everywhere.
We spend a very pleasant evening in Chillán and are glad we have chosen this somewhat hidden gem as our stopover.
Cathedral of Chillán, built to withstand earthquakes
You can get literally everything in this department store
All pictures from today here – #380 to 447.
Monday 13th and Tuesday 14th October 2014
From Valparaíso we take the bus to Santiago, a comfortable 90-minute journey through green valleys and along the Ruta del Vino. It’s under three kilometres from the Terminal Alameda to the Happy House Hostal, recommended in various travel guides and close to the city centre, so we walk along the Avenida Bernado O’Higgins to gather first impressions.
We like the accommodation and check in for two nights; then we use the excellent metro and bus network to visit a fellow traveller, who I met in 2010 in Buenos Aires, in the district of La Reina. Mick, originally from Denmark, travelled the continent on his VFR750, got stuck in Santiago and is now running a motorcycle touring company (Ride Chile www.ride-chile.com) and service & repair workshop (Moto Service STGO www.motoss.cl) together with his friend Tomás. Both of them give us a warm welcome and invaluable advice for our journey south.
We then spend the evening and the following day exploring the sights and delights of the Chilean capital – here are just a few impressions.
Ruta 68 between Valparaíso and Santiago
Street exhibition: foreign elements in the Cocina Chilena
Our modest alojamiento
Room with a view
With Tomás and Mick
La Moneda – the presidential palace
Cerro Santa Lucía – Huelén in the language of the Mapuche
Cerro San Cristobal
Museo Histórico Nacional on the Plaza de Armas
Catedral Metropolitana de Santiago
Absolutamente. All Santiago pictures here.
Saturday 11th and Sunday 12th October 2014
qué disparate eres,
qué loco, puerto loco,
qué cabeza con cerros, desgreñada,
no acabas de peinarte,
nunca tuviste tiempo de vestirte,
siempre te sorprendió la vida…
I love this place. Four years ago I stayed far longer than intended in Valparaíso and this time I want to show my dad this wonderful ensemble of beauty, decay, geography, history, art and life. We start early in La Serena and again, our bus is late, but we still make it in daylight to Valparaíso.
Having lost all sense of time and days of the week, we didn’t realise that it is Saturday and accommodation scarce – the city is a popular weekend destination for Chileans as well. It takes us until after 20.00 hrs until we finally find a far too expensive hotel in the picturesque neighbourhood of Cerro Alegre.
Talking of time, it takes way too many hours of our day to keep this blog relatively up-to-date; I usually spent three to four hours writing a new post and thus I’d like to limit future entries to a brief summary and a few selected pictures. If you want to see more of the places we visit, please have a look at the Photo Galleries.
I am sorry, especially when I think of all the kind feedback we have received for our frequent reports, but Johannes has just made a projection of the time already used and the time necessary to keep up the pace and came up with 176 hours! So I hope you understand that we rather spend these hours enjoying our journey of a lifetime.
Thus here are just a few snaps from Valparaíso where we stayed two nights -
… by day
… by night
The Cerros are not the most very trolley-friendly environment…
Armada de Chile
I could stay here another few weeks, maybe longer – but Santiago beckons…
All Valparaíso photos here.
Wednesday 8th October 2014
As you know, we prefer travelling during the day because we want to see the countryside. Therefore, for the approx. 10-hour journey from Arica to Antofagasta we have booked a coach that leaves Arica at 7.15 in the morning. So the alarm goes off at 5 o’clock, we are showered, dressed and packed by 6.00 am and our host at the Hostal Sunny Days has also got up early to prepare an oppulent breakfast for us.
We arrive at the bus terminal with plenty of time (what do you expect? We’re German after all…) and head straight to the agency’s counter to enquire which platform our bus will be leaving from. Lo siento, says the friendly señorita, tengo malas noticias – sorry, I’ve got bad news: the service has been cancelled and the next bus isn’t scheduled until 9.20 am. Great, all the effort for nothing; we won’t get our seats in the front row, we won’t cross the Tropic of Capricorn in daylight and will arrive in Antofagasta after dark…
The driver of the later coach tries to make up some time but there are lots of roadworks -
… and several checkpoints
At least Johannes gets to see plenty of the Atacama Desert
Approaching the city of Iquique
… with its spectacular sand dune
And back to the desert…
Due to all the (partly unvoluntary) stops and delays it is already 21.00 hours when we arrive in Antofagasta. Now we have to organise our onward journey for the next day, find accommodation and something to eat. Too much hassle for this time of the day; and so we spontaneously ask the bus driver if we can carry on to La Serena on the same coach. Yep, not a problem, they just have to find new seats for us each time the bus stops and passengers with a booking get on. The crew even serves a snack for dinner…
Thursday 9th October 2014
We have a pleasant night-journey and don’t sleep too bad in our semi-cama (reclining seats) bus.
After 24 hours we finally arrive in La Serena…
We find accommodation in the Hostal El Punto, a lovely German run place close to bus terminal and town centre and then head for a sight-seeing trip into the city.
Iglesia San Francisco de Asis
Exhibition and art market
Plaza de Armas y Catedral
In Chile motorcycles need front number plates as well
Iglesia Santo Domingo de La Serena
Time to smell the flowers…
Late lunch at our new favourite heladeria ‘Bravissimo’
Model of the Faro – the lighthouse
… and the real thing
The Pacific beckons
… but it is bl**dy cold!
Coquimbo and its Millennium cross on the other side of the bay
In the evening we meet my friend Elisabeth, who has moved from San Fernando to La Serena since 2010, for dinner.
At long last, we have our first Pisco Sour, the Chilean national drink
We’re having a brilliant time…
Friday 10th October 2014
… so brilliant that we sleep until 9 o’clock the next morning and just make it in time for the excellent breakfast for which the Hostal El Punto is known.
Most of the day is spent with updating our records
… and writing the next blog post
As a reward we treat ourselves to another ice cream in the afternoon – and a trip to the local supermarket where they have a ‘German Week’.
Even our English friends wouldn’t get withdrawal symptoms in Chile…
Then we go to the beach again
Elisabeth joins us after work
… and we have dinner on the Avenida del Mar
The sunset colours are almost kitsch – but true
Far too soon the evening and our time with Elisabeth in the beautiful city of La Serena are over…
Tomorrow we will head to Valparaíso.
Monday 6th October 2014
Straight after breakfast we head to the car rental station near our hostal and ask for a small car that will get us into the Lauca National Park, 160 kilometres east of Arica on the Chilean Altiplano.
Lo siento, says the lovely señorita behind the counter, we don’t have any small vehicles anymore, only camionetas, 4×4 pick-ups. Although she gives us a good price, a 4×4 pick-up is still more expensive than a car and, to be honest, quite a big truck. We try a few more rental services in the neighbourhood but to no avail – they don’t have any vehicles at all that day, are not particular interested in helping us or they are apparently closed on Monday mornings.
Well, time is pressing, the first offer was a lot better than anything we have seen online the previous evening, the agent is very friendly and accommodating, and regarding the intimidating size of the vehicle, hey-ho – I drive a Transit van at home after all. And so we return to Europcar where Señorita Soraya deals with our request in the most helpful and efficient way imaginable. 20 minutes later we are the proud temporary owners of a Mitsubishi L200 Katana, a 2.5 l Diesel with 175 bhp. As it turns out later it is the perfect vehicle for our trip.
Our first destination is the Museo Arqueológico San Miguel de Azapa.
Home of the oldest mummies in the world (8,000 to 2,000 BC)
The people of the Chinchorro culture developed different techniques of mummification over the centuries.
(click on the picture if you want to know more)
… and, most fascinating, they even regarded still-born fetuses as members of their community and prepared them in the same way as the adults.
This photo proves all of you wrong who think that Johannes doesn’t visit museums
What palm trees look like when they are not trimmed regularly
From San Miguel de Azapa we take the Ruta 11 through the Lluta Valley east.
Within 170 kilometres, the ‘Ruta del Desierto’ climbs from sea level near Arica up to over 4,600 metres on the altiplano.
After 145 kilometres we reach Putre where we will spend the night
For dinner we have regional dishes made with Llaita, a freshwater algae that is growing in the wetlands of the altiplano.
Tuesday 7th October 2014
We climb even higher – from 3,500 to 4,500 metres above sea level
… before we enter the national park
Road conditions are not the best – natural traffic calming, we suppose…
… to protect the wildlife
The Twin Peaks – Volcán Parinacota (6,342 metres, Chile) and Pomerape (6,282 metres, Bolivia)
Lagunas de Cotacotani
They are really plants…
… not just moss growing on rocks
Lago Chungará on the border with Bolivia
I catch up with an old acquaintance…
… who still offers a fantastic tea made from coca leaves and chachacuma that helps if you are suffering from soroche (altitude sickness)
Even up here there are road works…
… to build a better country
We visit the village of Parinacota
… with its famous 17th century church
… which has been closed for two years now for emergency restoration
You can still climb the belfry
Around the corner we spot a vizcacha
On the way back to the main road we take a different route
Our last stop before returning to Arica
In 2010 I spent over an hour to get a shot of one vizcacha here…
This time we are spoilt for choice
We even see a family!
… and some more vicuñas
I think I’ve fallen in love with the L200; a fantastic car for this kind of excursion, comfortable, easy to drive and capable of mastering all sorts of road conditions. And it pulls a herring off the plate… ;-)
We even contemplate briefly keeping it for the rest of the trip…
After returning the pick-up, we find excellent accommodation at the Hostal Sunny Days near the bus terminal. Its tag line is ‘a home away from home’ and that’s really true. Lovely hosts, a friendly welcome with juice and cake and loads of well-thought through details, facilities and services.
On the roof terrace
Beach of Arica by (almost) night
The visit to the national park was certainly another highlight of our journey! All Lauca pictures here.