I arrived in Puerto Varas despondent.
I had spent a lot more money than I had intended to on my week in Chilean Patagonia and only saw a fraction of what I wanted to see because of poor weather and non-existent infrastructure for a solo traveler. And due to a series of events I now found myself in Puerto Varas for too long — six full days — before my flight to Torres del Paine.
I had pre-booked my hostel in the small, lakeside town of Puerto Varas, which is about one hour from the bigger city of Puerto Montt. My email exchanges with the hostel owner were in fluent English, so imagine my surprise when she met me at the airport and couldn’t speak a lick.
Now, if this had been at a different point in my trip I would have just rolled with it. It is my responsibility to speak more Spanish and not hers to speak English. But coming off a rough week I found I just couldn´t handle struggling through Spanish to get information. This coupled with the fact that she was a 15-minute walk from the center of town — and any tour information — prompted me to search for new accommodations.
I popped into a lakeside restaurant for a delicious seafood dinner and it was here that I met the American owner of another hostel. She offered me a cheaper deal than my current hostel and was located closer to town so I made plans to head there the next morning.
The weather was dismal when I woke up and as I trudged through the rain with my bag in tow, I thought about how I would spend my six days in Puerto Varas. Chile is not cheap and while I do relish some down time I would have preferred to do it with nicer weather and cheaper food and accommodations.
When I arrived at my new hotel, I realized the lady I met last night actually owned two hostels and I was at the wrong one. As I turned to head back out into the rain, I heard someone call my name. Imagine my surprise when I turned to see Anne and Sarah from Valpariso!
We spent a few minutes catching up and when they asked what my plans were I briefly told them about my last few days. They insisted that I join them in Bariloche, but I had to think fast because they were catching a bus in 15 minutes. I spent two seconds stressing over the immediacy of it all and then quickly realized that this was the answer I was looking for. My brain was so tired from constantly making decisions and now I would be able to see Bariloche (which I cut out to see Chilean Patagonia.)
Fifteen-minutes later I found myself on a bus to Bariloche, winding through lush green fields as low clouds started to weave their way around the mountain tops. As we climbed higher into the Andes snow started to fall and pile up on the roadside and treetops.
It seems the mistakes and frustrations that littered the road through Patagonian Chile and Puerto Varas had led me to the correct path after all.
Bariloche is stunning. The city snuggles up against a glacier-blue lake ringed by blindingly white snow-capped mountains. It is littered with Swiss chalet architecture and restaurants selling smoked fish and fondue. I wanted to bust out with the Sound of Music on more than one occasion.
Anne, Sarah and I spent one day hiking in Parque Llao Llao, taking us high above the lake and skirting the edge of one mountain before dropping us down into little sheltered coves. Here the lake ranged from crystal clear to turquoise to powder blue and lapped onto a shore ringed with velvety flowers in buttercup and fire engine red. We could hear the soaring trees creaking in the wind.
We also spent some time in El Bolson, a village that lays in a valley about two hours from Bariloche. They have a great artisan market there and we spent our time shopping, eating and enjoying the warmer weather.
We traveled back to Puerto Varas, Chile from Bariloche, Argentina by a bus-boat combination, crossing many lakes that create natural borders between the two countries. One lake would be iceberg blue, the next moss green. The views were outstanding and left us slack-jawed, in awe of what mother nature is capable of when left to her own devices. Interestingly, there are several people that live along the lakes, where there are no roads, and wait for this daily tourist boat to cruise past and give them a lift into town.
We ended our day at Petrohué Falls, which weren’t very high but were certainly powerful, cutting narrow crevices in the rock and thundering to calmer, wider spaces.
These three days in Bariloche helped restore my travel equilibrium and left me on a happy sigh… and ready to tackle the German town of Puerto Varas!
It curves around a lake with imposing dormant volcanoes sitting across the shore and on a clear day you can see Orsono´s white peak. German roots make a strong showing in the architecture and coffee houses serving Kuchen (cake) and strudel.
Full of chocolate, cake and meat I am off to Torres del Paine national park!