Wandering in America del Sur

Travel time: July 2005 - March 2006  |  by Allison Webb

Mi casa es su casa

Leaving the warm, sunny dry climes of Talca and wine country we started the first of many long bus rides heading south. The countryside changing perceptibly as more and more trees appeared and massive reforestation projects with their perfect lined rows covered the landscape for kilometres! Destination - travellers mecca of Pucon - place for extreme sport junkies having absolutely every adventure sport on offer or for those having travelled hard, a refuge with decent restaurants and services to rest and relax.

Donning a lot more clothes, arrived late, late at night after taking the local bus with passengers jamming the aisles from Temuco onward, and stopping everywhere to let people off at their front doors. In the morning, were a little awed, not only by the funky restaurants of gorgeous wood and the smell of real coffee wafting through the air, but of the majestic volcano Villarica looming in the distance, dwarfing everything else. Fortunately grabbed our cameras and set out to photograph it because in this changeable land, by the afternoon, it was clouded over and raining and didn´t stop.

Wandered through the tourist town, quiet now, but soon to be invaded by hordes of tourists - both foreign and Chilean - in search of vacation land. The black sand beach was whipped by wind and the waiters stood out on the street trying to beckon the few tourists to their spectacular restaurants. And after 5pm, the streets filled with foreigners with wind burned faces from a day spent climbing the volcano. But we didn´t have time, and the next day were off in the pouring rain for the Lake District to catch a plane to Balmaceda enroute to Coyhaique.

And just why were we headed to the fringes of Patagonia, but to hang out with my good friend, Maria Paz and her amazing parents who would treat us to the most incredible Chilean hospitality - from the second that we landed until we last lost site of them.

Landed in Balmaceda in the flat treeless tarn of the Patagonian grasslands, not realising that we were less than 1km from the border with Argentina. And in the south, things really begin to get blurred between Chile and Argentina as the Carterra Austral (the southern highway) criss-crosses between the countries, the language blends into one, and the mutual love of mate tea binds the cultures and there is the lack of anomosity that exists in the middle and north of the countries.

But maybe it´s the landscape, the endless sense of freedom, of big country that goes on limitless, ever ringed by mountains and snow, rivers flowing everywhere, and lakes fed from the glaciers, dark blue and looking freezing cold. But we lucked out because after we left Balmaceda and made the drive to Coyhaique where the landscape began to turn to more trees, the weather also began to take a turn for the better and our entire 4 days were spent in glorious sunshine making the countryside a paradise.

And everyday we followed the Onate (my friend´s family) routine with a late start post mega lunch for a 4-5 hour circle drive to see a different part of Patagonia. And we were amazed at the diversity of landscape in such a small part of the world. Our first day took us through carved out mountains, barren without trees, to a dirt road and the forest where wild jackrabbits darted out to their cabin on the lake, rugged and wild with the wind blowing off the water.

The next day we fell into our same routine, dinner at 10pm, sleep late, lunch at 2, and leave for our drive at 4pm, fighting to stay awake after the three steaks and 2 pieces of cake that were our lunch because apparently we were too thin and needed to eat more! After these meals we can´t believe that all Chileans do not weight 500 lbs especially with all that bread and cheese, fresh from the farmers sold in huge blocks the size of bricks for $10! But with the fabulous cuisine of Monica Onate, we just had to eat and eat and eat.

Our next drive took us through the countryside of six lakes, very different than the day before. Through rolling hills and pastoral settings, in search of more cheese for sale, the sheep and cows lying in the fields in the sunshine looking perfectly content. Lakes full of fish and lodges for sports fishing and some recreational properties as well. On all sides, the mountains were in the distance with the snowline clearly visible.

But our favourite drive was day 3 when we ventured out towards the coast and Puerto Aysen and Puerto Chacabuco. The entire drive snaked by the river blanketed by the mountains on both sides, this time close by and feeling much more like home. The green and blue contrasting with carpets of purple wildflowers, growing everywhere in the riverbed and sides of the road. And finally as we were getting closer to the coast, just instinctively knowing as the trees grew thicker and the landscape was more like home ´til we popped out at the Pacific at the tiny town of Puerto Chacabuco.

And for excitement at the same time there was the national election and we went to see the process walking in the square where things were orderly and quiet and where they separate the men and woman for their vote! And not only that, any restaurants selling alcohol which is pretty much all of them are required to be closed! So after all was said and done, no one got the required 51% so a run off will occur in January between the top two candidates! And it´s down to a man and a woman so we will wait and see what happens and whether Chile is ready for their first female president?!

Had our last meal with Maria Paz and her family and very reluctantly said goodbye to them. And it was partly the Patagonia landscape feeling so much like BC that made us feel so at home and comfortable, but more than that, it was the Onate family warmth and kindness that made us truly feel at home and gave us one of our best memories ever of Chile. With the sun glowing on the Patagonian mountains and city of Coyhaique headed back to Balmaceda and for the plane back to the Lake Country where we would have more adventures of a totally different Chile, but until then we gazed longingly at another part of the world so like home and thanked our lucky stars for good friends and family with the philosophy mi casa es su casa. Hasta luego Coyhaique and more Patagonian splendors to come!

Volcan Villarica at Pucon with its plume of smoke

Volcan Villarica at Pucon with its plume of smoke

preschoolers in Pucon out for their daily stroll around Lake Villarica

Only within minutes of arriving were we eating and this would continue for days!

Only within minutes of arriving were we eating and this would continue for days!

Fields full of wildflowers blanketed our drive

The true long, skinny country on the famous Carterra Austral road and yes, all of these places are in Chile!

The true long, skinny country on the famous Carterra Austral road and yes, all of these places are in Chile!

Meat, meat, and a little more meat - Monica´s cooking rules!

Chile or Canada?

Chile or Canada?

© Allison Webb, 2005
You are here : Overview The Americas Chile Mi casa es su casa
The trip
My trip through Peru before heading to Chile to work for 6 months and then travels afterward in South America
Start of journey: Jul 05, 2005
Duration: 8 months
End of journey: Mar 02, 2006
Travelled countries: Peru
The Author
Allison Webb is an active author on break-fresh-ground. since 19 years.