After a hellish 27 hour bus ride complete with an excruciatingly frustrating five hour wait at the border crossing, I arrived into Santiago and reunited with Yuval.
The Lake District
The next day we left Santiago for Pucon - a lovely mountain town in the Lake District. The area is dotted with titular cerulean blue lakes, of course, and over 2000 volcanoes. Pucon is guarded by a picturesquely snow capped, active volcano. Our plans to climb the volcano and look into the pit of lava were thwarted by recent avalanches and subsequent closure of the volcano. The climate was radically different from sweltering Buenos Aires: the air had a snowy chill requiring a change of wardrobe from shorts and tank tops into long pants, sweaters and jackets. We stayed at an adorable wooden cabin style hostel with huge fluffy duvets to cosy up in at night and a large, homey kitchen. Yuval spent our the evenings cooking our own dinners - a nice change of pace from always eating out.
We spent hours scouring the supermarket and the veggie stands for ingredients and preparing recipes that we looked up on the internet. We'd come back to the hostel with bagfuls of goodies, open a bottle of wine (some for the sauce, some for the cooks!) and sit amicably chopping veggies (trick to cutting onions without crying - put them in the fridge first).
One night, we made a fantastic pumpkin pasta that we still talk about:
1 pound whole-wheat penne
2 tablespoons extra-virgin olive oil
1 onion, finely chopped
3 to 4 cloves garlic, grated
2 cups chicken stock
1 (15-ounce) can pumpkin puree
1/2 cup cream
1 teaspoon hot sauce, to taste
Freshly grated nutmeg, to taste
Sprinkle of Oregano & Basil
1\2 cup of red wine
Salt and black pepper
Heat water for pasta, salt it and cook penne to al dente.
Heat the oil, 2 turns of the pan, over medium heat. Add chopping onion and garlic to the pan, saute 3 minutes. Stir in chicken stock and combine with pumpkin, stir in cream then season sauce with hot sauce, spices, red wine, salt and pepper. Reduce heat to medium low and simmer 5 to 6 minutes more to thicken. Toss with pasta with grated cheese, to taste.
* we adapted this from a Rachel Ray recipe. And incidently, this dish would go great with salmon.
We left Pucon for the town of Valdivia, just slightly inland from the Pacific, where we visited a surprisingly fun fish market, situated right alongside the estuary. The sheer amount of fish was incredible - oh the dinners we could make! - and there was a crowd of sea lions eagerly vying for the cast-offs from the efficient fish cleaners. They competed with hordes of shrieking seagulls and cormorants. The edge of the fish market was complete chaos, the air was flying with fish heads and swooping birds and sea lions fighting over the choice pieces. The sea lions were so spoiled and gluttonous, they turned their noses up at the less desirable pieces.
We took a day trip to the stormy coastal town of Niebla. It was cold and windy and we were shocked to see Chilean families jumping around in the surf on the black sand beach. We spent the day being touristy - we visited the old spanish fort and saw the museum devoted to the defense of Chile and the interaction of the Europeans with the native Mapuche people. And we visited a German brewery for a midday pint. Chile has quite the German population, due to the migration of Germans after the second world war. There is also a Nazi commune somewhere in Chile with a scandalous past.
We then briefly passed through Osorno on our way to the hot springs in one of the many National Parks in the area. The park itself was closed off to hikers on account of the rain, but it was perfect hot spring weather. The hot springs were nestled in the mountains and right beside a beautifully frigid river.
The rain, however, was not perfect for the next phase of our plans for the day: hitch hiking to the Argentine border and then onto the Patagonian town of Bariloche. With hair still wet from the springs, and backs laden with our packs, we waited miserably in the pouring rain. No one stopped. Yuval convinced a bus to take us to the border in exchange from some inflated Chilean pesos (2000 pesos for a bus ride!) but he insisted on dropping us off 5 kilometres away from the border at a small, red wooden Church that looked like a barn. It wasn't raining anymore and we figured it wouldn't be difficult to catch a quick ride from here. We were quite mistaken.
Walking the 5 km wouldn't have been so bad except for Yuval's gigantic pack; it was much too heavy for a long distance walk. So we waited. And waited. Again, no one stopped. In the field next to the church there was a dilapidated farm house, and I saw that there was a man standing on the porch, watching us. After some time, he began to cross the field in our direction. But instead of coming over to chat, he stood in a grove of trees and continued to watch. We prayed for a kind soul with truck space, but still no cars stopped.
Another figure appeared out of the field across the road, a weathered old gaucho carrying a child's car seat and stroller. He came right over and told us in incredibly difficult to understand Castilleano that we were unlikely to get picked up here. Something about drugs. Perhaps no one wanted any wild cards at the border.
Our watcher friend eventually came over to us. It turned out that he was mute. He mimed all sorts of macabre warnings at us. We gathered that he was the caretaker of the barn church and either loved or hated god, was afraid of the looming volcano and traveling down either direction of the highway.
A little shaken, very frustrated and with dusk beginning to gather, we began to walk towards the border. Thankfully, we came across an American couple out fishing and they agreed to drive us up to the border.
At the border, we were only momentarily relieved. The Argentine side of the border was an hour's drive away. We ate some empanadas to quiet the gurgling of our stomachs and chocolate to stave off the grumpiness, and began to ask the stopped cars for a ride. Eventually, we were saved by a genuine and warm Argentine family who drove us to the other border, waited for us to go through migration and then drove us to a town very close to Bariloche.
Further frustration awaited though... just when we thought we were in the clear. It's peak tourist season in Patagonia and everything was booked solid. After a couple of hours wandering in the dark, being barked at by dogs and turned away from every sort of lodging, we gave up the search and camped at an overpriced site beside the supermarket. It was a miserable night for me: it was freezing cold and I had no sleeping bag. We improvised the best we could but I woke up all through the night shivering. Morning could not come soon enough; all I wanted was to get to Bariloche and a hot shower.