Tuesday, March 24, 2009

You've Seen the North, Now Here's the South!

Santiago was hot in February. So hot that within a week of my return to Santiago from the north, I decided I needed to go South. I had been thinking up a trip in my head. Five hour bus trips from city to city. A bus road trip. A chance to watch the scenery of Chile pass by my window.

My first stop was Concepcion. Even though it's the second largest city in Chile, it is not a tourist town, and now I know why. There's not much to see and do, except go to the beaches located forty-five minutes away by bus. Even their famous bridge is nothing but a concrete freeway.

I got back on the bus the next day and arrived five hours later in Valdivia. It reminds me of the Northwest, a land of lakes and rivers and green...infinite green...and fish...

Here is the local fishmarket. Down at the water's edge are sea lions looking for handouts. On the roof are dozens of hawks also looking for handouts.

On my explorations out to Isla Marcena near Valdivia, I saw this boat. I don't think it's going to make it.

After a day and a half in Valdivia, I got back on the bus and made an 8 hour trek to Castro on the island of Chiloe. My first full day in Castro, I took a local bus to Dalcalhue and a ferry/bus to Ancud. I wanted to see the church the guide book said was quintessential Chiloe-ian wooden architecture.
I was a little disappointed with this church, mostly because it had taken me two hours of traveling to get there. I was expecting more I guess.

The most famous photos of Chiloe are the houses on stilts. These photos remind me of the book The Art of Travel. The author talks about how we expect a new place to be exactly like the photos we see of it, even though the photos are incomplete slices of a larger view.

What you don't see here (because I chose not to include it) is the enormous amount of trash floating in the pond. You don't see the more worn houses with wooden slats missing. You certainly don't see the main road right behind me, the cars, buses and trucks kicking up dust. You don't see the stray dog sleeping on the grass. Chiloe is picturesque and dingy too. Of course I prefer the picturesque version.

This is the Church of San Francisco in downtown Castro. Classic. The picturesque part.

It rained most of the time in Castro so after two days, I got back on a bus and arrived in Puerto Montt.

I walked down to the harbor called Angelmo and laughed when I saw the kid sitting in a boat on a boat. The best part of that day!

The next day, after having spent too many days on my own, I decided I needed to take a tour which explored Lago llanquihue and up to Lago Todos Los Santos.

I jumped at the chance to take a boat around the lake, so here I am with Volcano Osorno behind me.

We stopped at these Cascades where the views of the volcano were best. I wanted to hike the volcano but it sounded like a lot of trouble...special ice picks and shoes...you can forget it!

The next day, I abandoned my normal bus trip for a plane ride to Punta Arenas in Patagonia. I immediately booked a tour for Torres del Paine the next day (which was the best travel decision I think I've ever made).

Our first stop on the tour was the Cueva del Milodon. These explorers discovered bones of both humans and a gigantic bear (the milodon) in the cave.

This is my favorite photo because I'm actually in it! I'm a tiny point on the trail way in the back of the cave, almost exactly the center of this photo. Can you see me?

Then we headed to Torres del Paine. We stopped for lunch at a picnic table and I about froze my hands trying to make a sandwich. The wind ripped through the trees, it rained a little.

This is Lago Grey. It's an easy hike to the lake, more like a stroll, but the wind made it practically impossible. It picked up the gravel from the ground and stung my legs and eyes. The wind push so hard against me that occasionally I couldn't take another step forward. I took to walking to the lake with my back pressed against the wind. At one point, the wind was so absurdly strong I started laughing. I've never felt wind like that, ever.

And yes, that is an iceberg. It is also an example of global warming because 20 years ago, the lake was filled with icebergs.

Here's a good view of the Torres (the peaks in the background).

I think this one is called Point Balmaceda...I think.

In this last lake we visited, we saw a group of flamencos and a fox.

We were so lucky that the clouds cleared for these amazing views.

My travels weren't over yet. I took another plane (an hour only) from Punta Arenas to Ushuaia in Argentina. It's one of the last cities to the south and the launch point for cruises to Antarctica. It's the end of the world (though I thought Torres looked more like the end of the world than Ushuaia).
This is an old boat docked at the Beagle Chanel. You can see off to the left the cruise ship waiting to launch. I thought it was a nice touch--a little old, a little new.

My tours had been so successful that I decided to take another one to Tierra del Fuego National Park.
First we hiked through the forest and meadow. Tierra del Fuego, or land of fire, got its name from the explorers who came to the island at night and saw the land lit with small fires. The indigenous people had fire with them at all time. They even had a place to put a fire in their canoes.

What you don't see here is that I'm wearing a gigantic garbage bag called a Hippopatumus because it was raining and I didn't have a sufficient rain jacket, just a jacket for the cold. I was embarassed, but dry.

We were lucky enough to see a caracara as well, a hawk or eagle-like bird. The caracara has no natural predators on the island and was not even remotely frightened of us. Beavers on the island as well have no natural predators and have become a plague. They were originally introduced to bolster a fur industry. They are now destroying the slow-growth forest.

After the hike, we canoed! I was lucky enough to be in the canoe with two expert canoers. I can honestly say I did not row my fair share.

And the quiet sunrise I caught on the last day because I accidentally had my alarm clock set an hour earlier and didn't realize it till I was already in the shower. Thank goodness for mistakes!

Now I'm home in Santiago, writing as much as I can and working off the sizeable pancita (gut) I developed while on this adventure...

So much fun!

1 comment:

La Gringuita said...

Oh my GEEZ those are ridiculously gorgeous. I felt the same about Chiloe...but like you and Chile, I was DETERMINED to love it!! Teehee! The palofitos WERE pretty lame...so funny how travel works that way. Thanks for sharing your pictures...they are truly gorgeous. They make me want to come back to Chile already!