Apr 8th, 2007
Day 50 – 2/27/07 – Transfer to Pucon, Chile
So here’s a good one. We showed up at the airport on the wrong day! According to our self made hotel itinerary, we were supposed to check out of Mendoza and into Pucon, Chile on 2/27/07. According to the flight itinerary, we were supposed to fly from Mendoza to Pucon on 2/28/07.
Way back in December, we changed our itinerary to subtract a day from Mendoza to add it to Pucon. We both had an enormous amount going on in the weeks before the trip, and at that moment at the airport, it became evident that Lou “may or may not have” actually called the airline to make the change.
However, once again, LAN proved to be an excellent company. They didn’t panic, laugh at us, or send us home. The agent calmly took our itinerary and went into the back room. The “arrive at the airport one hour before departure” ticked away, but 30 minutes before the scheduled take off, she came back with the price of $50 each to change our tickets. We rebooked, PAID, and rushed through security, and we made it onto both flights (Mendoza – Santiago and Santiago – Temuco).
In passing through Chilean customs we had a second surprise: It cost $100/person in US dollars (cash or credit card) to enter Chile. There was a huge sign saying that there is a reciprocal tax to enter Chile for certain visitors. We learned the US, Canada, Mexico and Australia all charge the same fee for Chileans to enter their countries. Again, here’s a moment where we just knew that the “US started it”, so we swiped the MasterCard and had our passports stamped. The consolation prize ass that the $100 ticket was stapled into the passport and good for the life of the passport. Without even stepping foot outside the airport, we had rationalized that we’d have to come back to Chile because we’d automatically be saving $200.
Since we were going to be in Pucon for 5 days, we decided to rent a car. Feeling a little more comfortable with an international agency, we rented with Avis and on the advice of the guidebook, we took every insurance they offered. The only thing not covered on the car was the radio. We rented a lovely little red Peugeot in excellent condition, and Lou called it his Chilean Ferrari.
The drive through the countryside was fantastic. There were rolling hills in the forefront of mountains and snowcapped volcano peaks. The mountains were lush green and we passed pastures of llamas, cows, and sheep. We made a few wrong turns in the small towns but they were easily fixed. Our drive from the airport to the hotel took 90 minutes.
This week’s retreat, Hotel Antumulal, was absolutely lovely and Gloria, the manager, was fantastic. The hotel was a 1970s masterpiece in the Bauhaus Style and we were pretty convinced it was architected by Mike Brady himself. The rooms had lush bedding, loads of the blankets and a fireplace. The hotel was on 5 hectares of lands and had numerous pathways to hike around the property in the mornings. Rather than a beach resort, it felt much more like a ski chalet.
Through the package on the Internet, we had breakfast and a $10,000 peso/person credit for lunch or dinner every day. That translated to just paying for drinks at dinner – approximately $7 for a ½ bottle of Chilean wine and two small bottled waters.
The only downside was that the meal service in the dining room was relatively slow. We say relatively because it’s probably a very healthy, socially enabling, gastronomically correctly paced dinner. But to Americans, it took freakin forever to get water, bread, salad, then entrees, and then the check. Each meal was a 2-hour endeavor. But the food was excellent and well worth the exercise in patience. And, we’ve taken it as a message to slow down.
Day 51 – 2/28/07 – Pucon, Chile
After a leisurely morning and breakfast, we drove 10-minutes into downtown Pucon. It’s a charming little town that resembles any tourist or ski village with one supermarket, gear stores, jewelry stores, and restaurants. Lou bought a sweater to replace the one that had been shrunk to a child’s size 6x while being “dry cleaned” in Africa. Julee bought a bra, because these South American women no how to “push up” like no one else in the world.
For lunch, we walked 5 blocks outside of town to a restaurant called Marmonhi, where most of the patrons were local. The food was excellent, but Julee’s favorite was the breadbasket, which came with a Mapuche favorite: Fried Doughnuts (without the glaze). It is the perfect way to start a meal – any meal!
This afternoon’s adventure was fishing. Our guide picked us up at our hotel and we traveled in his jeep up into the mountains about 50 minutes. Lou and I didn’t know what to expect. In fact, we thought we were going fly fishing on a river. As it turns out, we went up to a small mountain lake to troll for wild trout. The altitude meant chillier conditions, and thankfully we were basically prepared. Although the guide did lend Lou his stylin hat.
The scenery and circumstances were picturesque. The lake was breathtaking, with calm waters surrounded by mountains. There were no motors allowed on the lake, so we could only hear cows mooing and birds calling.
And adding to the experience, all the rowboats were pretty old and made completely of wood. They were so charming that we ignored their questionable sea worthiness.
From the beginning; we had a great feeling for our guide Marcos. His was well prepared with extra clothing for us and had packed a cooler of tea, cookies, juices and sodas. His English was wonderful, so we could easily joke around. It took about a half-hour for Marcos prepare the lines and flies and put the paddles on the boat. Once we were ready to shove off, he gave us our fishing technique instructions, “Pull back when you feel a tug”, and we were off.
Convinced it was the lure, Julee and Lou changed reels at then Julee promptly caught a fish on Lou’s once dormant line.
Then, Lou was convinced there was a preferred side of the boat. So, we precariously changed places. That was the magic bullet as finally Lou got a bite and reeled in the biggest fish of the day.
We stayed out on the Lake past dusk and didn’t head in until 8:30pm. In the meantime, Julee was freezing despite the long underwear, sweater and jacket. In addition, we both had sore butts! After catching 11 fish between the two of us, we headed back to shore. Just as we made the decision to leave, Julee got one last strike and finished out the night bringing in the last (and her biggest) trout. It was the perfectly book-ended fishing excursion.
Starving, we had dinner at the hotel. Still trying to warm up, we both had soup (Lou – mushroom sesame and Julee – carrot/pumpkin). In honor of the all the fish we threw back into the lake, Lou also ordered grilled Lake Trout in a light leek and butter sauce. At this hotel, we discovered our favorite cheap Chilean Wine Concha y Toro’s “Cassillero del Diablo”. Fortunately, it’s very easy and affordable to get here in the States.
Day 52 – 3/1/07 – Pucon, Chile
We enjoyed our guide so much that we signed up for a second evening of fishing. This time we requested fly fishing in a river. And, if you ever travel to Pucon, we highly recommend Marco. His website is http://www.flyfishingchile.cl/.
Marco picked us up at 4pm from the hotel. Our first stop was to the super market to pick up some Whiskey, and then we continued about 30 minutes outside of the city to his favorite riverbed. It took about 30 minutes to put on the gear and set the lines, and then we had a quick casting lesson. “10 and 2”. “10 and 2”. It really takes a bit of coordination and practice to develop the rhythm of casting. But Marco was patient and gradually added a few more tips. After a half hour of practicing along the banks, we waded into the river.
Here’s a funny note. When we arrived, there were kids jumping into the river. Check out the snow gear that Julee was wearing.
At dusk, thousands of mosquitoes appeared and the trout were jumping. Watching them launch out of the water was fascinating and frustrating. They would jump three feet from us but we couldn’t reel them in. In the end, Julee felt a couple of bites and Lou caught the smallest fish on record, which Marco called a “keychain”. Despite the lack of fish, the experience of wearing the waders, being waist deep in the river, and private casting lessons for hours was simply awesome.
The whiskey at the end was a nice touch too.
Day 53 – 3/2/07 – Pucon, Chile
Here’s what was supposed to happen: An all day excursion which included ascending an active volcano with the aid of crampons and ice picks and then sliding down the ice luge to the bottom.
Here’s what actually happened: Julee woke up sick as a dog. Her unidentified bacterial-viral-tapeworm was back with a vengeance and at 6:15am she knew she wasn’t going to make through an all day excursion. A sweaty, weepy mess, she went back to bed. Lou called to cancel the trip and talk to the desk staff.
In the hallway, Lou ran into a frantic couple screaming on the phone. They were trying to catch a bus to Puerto Monte, and their taxi transfer did not show up. Always a gentleman, Lou offered to give them a ride to downtown Pucon (about 8 minutes from the hotel). Pulling out of the driveway, the guy pointed to the bus and said, “There it goes”. Lou raced down the road and finally got the bus to pullover and stop. The couple jumped on, and the bus and sped off. Lou came home. All this before 6:30am.
We spent the balance of the morning back in bed.
For lunch, Lou headed out to the terrace overlooking the lake and feasted on a fabulous steak with mushroom risotto. Julee, having skipped lunch, felt better and couldn’t bare the thought of missing the alternative excursion: The Canopy.
The bus picked us up at the hotel and drove about 20 minutes to the canopy park. There, we were once again strapped into a harness, given gloves, a helmet and abbreviated instructions in English. There were about 15 of us in our group. In a single file line, we climbed up the ladders through the trees to the canopy platforms.
Despite the rickety feel of the tree houses, we felt relatively safe and the guides ensured we were attached via carabineers to safety lines at all times. Once on the platforms, the guide would reattach our equipment to the correct lines, tell us to sit and then give us a push. We spent the next hour zipping from tree platform to tree platform; it was just like the Ewok village from Star Wars. On the second to last zip line, they even gave us a spin. It was a fantastic way to spend an hour and see more of Chile’s forests and rivers. Once again, our excursion had exceeded our expectations.
A side note from Lou:
One of the guides had a little crush on Julee. Looking for which one was her boyfriend, the guide kept asking all the men on the tour if they were Lou. Needless to say, I was very nervous letting him “secure” my harness to the zip line.
On the excursion, we met two hilarious guys from California. We started talking to them because Lou had “lens envy”. Since Lou speaks fluent “photography”, he struck up a detailed conversation with Thomasz and Lev regarding camera lenses. These guys provided great commentary on the along the way and we have them to thank for our canopy action shots.
We took our new friends dinner recommendation and ate at a lovely Spanish restaurant called Puerto Pucon. It was Midnight once again, so we called it a night.
Day 54 – 3/3/07 – Pucon, Chile
We cruised around Pucon in the morning trying to find a laundry mat so that we could have clean clothes for the grand finale, the Inca Trail. There were several lavadaria’s in Pucon, however, they only offered drop off service and were closed on Sundays (the day of our departure). We finally came across Lavandaria Nelly, and the sweet laundress took pity on Julee’s Spanglish and look of desperation and agreed to do the laundary and come in at precisely 9am on Sunday morning so that we could pick it up.
We then grabbed some pretty questionable empanadas from a roadside restaurant and headed back to the hotel. There, we packed up for our next excursion, which included stealing the robes and towels from our room. We drove back into town and met up with Thomasz and Lev.
While swinging through the trees, they mentioned they planned to spend the next day visiting one of the thermal baths in the area. Since Julee had read “Frommer’s Argentina and Chile” from cover to cover, she had read about the best hot springs in Chile. With “3 stars and a moments” rating, it had to be awesome. Frommer’s never lies. So, Thomasz and Lev put their trust in us and followed us for two hours (70km) through farmlands and winding dirt roads through the mountains.
Termas Geometricas did not disappoint. It was another occasion where we ran out of hyperbole. It was beautiful, serene, majestic…it was perfect. There were several tiers of hot springs, each a different temperature, carved into a mountain ravine. Some of the pools held only 3-4 people, while others could hold extended families. There were couples, travelers and families with small children there that day. But with so many options, the four of us found a quiet pool and hung out there until we wanted a change in temperature or a change in scenery.
From the last pool, the path led up to a beautiful waterfall, which has the iciest-cold water we’ve ever felt. Just wading to the waterfall and back was nothing less than painful and then numbing. Feeling “refreshed”, we jumped back into the hot springs.
Our friends had brought a bottle of wine, so we topped off the afternoon by sitting in front of the fire at the mini-lodge, drinking wine and eating cake, all discussing how outstanding these hot springs were. Tom and Lev also confided that they weren’t too sure about Julee that day on the canopy. Julee was really quiet the entire day and didn’t engage in much conversation. Belted in and flying through the trees, Julee was quiet because she was concentrating on NOT barfing. Needlesstosay, she was doing much better and far more her talkative and not-so-shy self at the hot springs. Tom and Lev found that hilarious.
The drive back down the mountain was equally fun. Lou again pretended that his 1.4 L Peugeot was a “Chilean Ferrari” and he took the turns likes a racecar driver.
Back at the hotel, we had our last Chilean steak and salmon and packed up for our trip to Santiago in the morning.
Our final thoughts on Chile:
The Chilean Lake District is an amazing place. It’s a giant outdoor playground. The food is a little more expensive than Argentina, but it’s still fresh and fabulous and a bargain for US travelers. It’s worth the $100/person to get into the country. We were really not ready to leave.