The route

The route

We left Conguillío Park, passing more huge coigües and monkey-puzzle trees. As we got closer to the volcano, more and more dead trees spotted the sides of the road until we came through to a huge field of volcanic rocks and sand. The occasional sparse bush dotted the landscape until the forest picked up again on the opposite side. It made for a cool photo.

Leaving Conguillio National Park.  Photo: V

Leaving Conguillio National Park. Photo: V

After what had been several days of gravel road, we were happy to hit the highway and travel at speeds greater than 20 miles an hour. Then we hit a gravel road again to a campground/hot springs pool, and then the sounds began.

Now you have to understand that we’d been driving with weird, worrying sounds for a while now; we had thought it’d been fixed in Vicuña, but the sound had persisted. But once we reached the gravel road and had been driving for a half-hour, something really started to screech. Every turn of the wheel made a loud, high pitched, grinding noise that really scared us. Mom was for turning around, but it was really too late by the time it was mentioned. So we crawled the rest of the way to the site. We reached the place, called Thermas de Molulco.

We changed into swimwear, and headed down to the pools. It was pretty dark now, but I still scavenged (and ate) the blackberries. After having exhausted my immediate supply, I joined the others at the pools. The pools were hot, relatively comfortable, and relaxing, and the immediate fear of the wheel and the sound went away momentarily as all four of us lounged in the water. It finally got really dark, and we were hungry, so after a short but nice time in the pools, we headed back up to the car and made dinner.

The next day, the screeching was if anything louder, and we finally stopped out of fear of the wheel falling off. Amelia and I set up some chairs and proceeded to scour the prolific blackberry bushes of their berries while Mom and Nate tried to figure out the problem. Amelia attempted to fill a small container with berries, while I mostly ate them myself, grabbing at those she couldn’t reach (which were many). We had lunch by the road. No real progress was made until someone driving by offered to help us figure out the problem. We drove over to his farm, and after listening to the sound a few moments, he told us that the problem, what had been causing so much stress, was a pebble that had gotten stuck between the wheel and the brake. We found the pebble, along with a gash it had made in the brake. The sound was gone. Phew!

To Pucon, our next stop, we conversed with other travelers we saw driving the opposite way, an Austrian couple with their (younger) kids, and a German couple with a heavily opinionated lady. The place in Pucon turned out to be booked, so instead we went to the other side of the lake and stayed at Villarica, at a campground with reasonably fast internet. Amelia and I watched videos while sitting in the cold weather.

On our way to Valdivia the next day, we stopped only to have a picnic and unsuccessfully fish. Valdivia is a nice port town, home to huge Patagonian sea lions that sit on the various docks and occasionally waddle their way onto the sidewalk. One particular sea lion, a huge, bearded, semi-aggressive male, sat in the middle of the walkway and blocked the path, gazing ill-temperedly at all who approached and attempted to pass him, barking and growling whenever someone got close while baring his teeth and charging them. No one got hurt; I think he was just showing off and making sure everyone knew who was boss.

Mr. Grumpy Sea Lion Boss. Photo by Nate

Mr. Grumpy Sea Lion Boss. Photo by Nate

We headed to Kunstmann brewery/restaurant. The parking lot had pictures of stereotypical German people drinking beer and eating sausage, and the restaurant’s sign had the German style writing. I ordered a hamburger without avocado, which Chileans put on EVERYTHING. Nate got a currywurst, and Mom and Amelia split a salmon with almond breading on it. Amelia and I got hot chocolate, and Mom and Nate split a beer sampler. Nate said that it was nice to try some different beer, but that he preferred Northwest beer compared to everything else. The food was good; I really enjoyed my hamburger, which had chunks of tasty bacon in it. And the internet was excellent. We also got to stay the night. We asked if we could stay in their parking lot, and they said yes, so we finished our meals and parked away from the noise.

We stayed in Valdivia for the rest of the week waiting for car repairs. We walked around town, tried pastel de choclo, bought some cold weather jackets for Amelia and me, and found a bakery called Almendra, where we would go every day for the next several days. We ate tasty baked things and conversed with the cashier-soon-to-be-lawyer-and-writer, Jorge. We also went to Puelche climbing gym and met the owner Toni, and his dog Barri White. Toni was very nice. He told us about places to visit and allowed us to charge our stuff there and hang out for several hours. His dog was something else; he played fetch, but instead of using the rubber toy that was there for him, he grabbed pebbles from the small backyard . We climbed around and had fun, and then we sat upstairs to use the internet, the best so far.

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The third day was rainy. We had a Wes Anderson mini marathon: watched Moonrise Kingdom and Darjeeling Express, and ate popcorn. By the time we got the car on the fourth day, it was late in the afternoon, so we got a hotel. It was nice to have a shower after some time! We went to the fish market and got bread and smoked salmon, and had a delicious lunch while watching the sea lions sit around in the sun and fight each other.

After a long week in Valdivia, it was time to head on. We got some supplies in Puerto Montt, and then it was onto the Carretera Austral, the highway that goes through the south of Chile. The landscape was very pretty, with huge, ice-topped mountains and pine forests, but also with many eucalyptus tree farms.

Nate says: "Really?? In front of the eucaliptus farm?" Photo: Nate

Nate says: “Really?? Forest Fire Danger sign in front of the eucaliptus farm?” Photo: Nate

We drove to the Cochamo Valley, home to some impressive mountains. We did some unsuccessful fishing, then sat by a little fire and pet an inquisitive kitten that had smelled our dinner.

On the way to Cochamó valley. Photo: V

On the way to Cochamó valley. Photo: V

Nate and I did an overnight backpacking trip. Mom and Amelia were sick, so they decided to hike in the next day. The hike in to the actual campground was not very nice; the trail was muddy and full of pools of scummy water, especially where the horses had ripped up the trail and the dense forest made it impossible to see any good views. But after a six-hour hike, we arrived to a clearing and the view was excellent: towering rock walls that made up the mountains. We did some more fishing, and after no bites again, we decided rice and the rest of the smoked salmon would make a perfectly good alternative dinner. The next day we found Amelia and Mom at around the halfway mark.

Camping in the "Yosemite" of South America. Photo: Nate

Camping in the “Yosemite” of South America. Photo: Nate

We took the ferry from Hornopiren to Parque Pumalin two days later, and spent a grey, rainy night in the park. Nate and Mom hiked to the border of the crater of the Chaiten volcano.

Leaving Hornopirén on the first ferry. Photo: Nate

Leaving Hornopirén on the first ferry. Photo: Nate

One of two ferry rides to Parque Pumalin. Photo: Nate

One of two ferry rides to Parque Pumalin. Photo: Nate

Parque Pumalín. Photo: Nate

Parque Pumalín. Photo: Nate

Parque Pumalín. Photo: Nate

Parque Pumalín. Photo: Nate

Then we drove to the town of Chaiten, which had been badly damaged by the volcano in 2008. We met up with Nicholas, Nate’s Chaiten acquaintance, and went out to dinner with him and his friend, Phil. Both are interesting guys; Nicholas was strangely soft yet forceful, and Phil was full of fun facts. Both are very nice and generous, Nicholas letting us sleep in the covered garage in his office, and Phil offering us everything from empanadas to chocolate chip cookies. They were very cool people.

Jammin’ in the Van with Nicolas and Phil.

In Futaleufu we camped by a beautiful blue river with a view of the mountains and the snow. Nate broke one of our Tenkara rods (which he later managed to fix), and we had a warm fire in the chilly evening.

Mexican tacos by the fire. Photo: V

Mexican tacos by the fire. Photo: V

Camping on the Fú. Photo: V

Camping on the Fú. Photo: V

We left early next morning, and after filling up on gas at La Junta, we realized that the car wouldn’t get out of park! After some time and minor panic, Nate realized it was just a blown fuse and fixed it. Soon thereafter, we realized that we couldn’t find Nate’s credit card. Though no one had used it to make purchases, we just didn’t know where it was. Who knows, it could still be in the car! Luckily, we had Mom’s, so we canceled Nate’s.

This is the beautiful place that I missed because I was too lazy to hike. Photo by Victoria

I missed hiking the Enchanted Forest trail to a glacier because I was too lazy to leave the van. Photo: V

The drive to Coyhaique, the biggest town since Puerto Montt, was through a valley full of trees changing color, as it is now fall down here. There were also many rivers, including the famous Simpson river. We passed farms, mountains, and yellow-orange trees. The valley reminded us of Washington, only some 13,500 miles south!

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Comments
  • Ronda Vanderbush
    Reply

    Such gorgeous country in a part of the world that one does not really hear about. At least, I sure am unfamiliar with this area. It’s kind of nice, though, to know there is an untouched place of beauty left on the planet!!

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