August 20

Couchsurfing, Muddy Jeans and Yet More Rain: The Lakes District

Back on terra firma after five days at sea, we spent the first 24 hours unable to stop ourselves from swaying back and forth. Christelle, our Super Negotiator, demanded us a free taxi ride to our couchsurfing host´s house, even though we had one last Navimag “right away!” to contend with. Eventually we drove out into the streets of Puerto Montt which in a truly surprising turn of events, was in the middle of a downpour.

Our poor couchsurfer had been waiting for us for hours because of our ever delayed docking time and by the time we arrived it was close to 11pm. He helped carried our bags in, kissed us hello and then ran off into the night to go play football with his friends because apparently 11pm on a rainy Wednesday night is the most optimum time to go play footie with your friends in Puerto Montt. Exhausted after a long day, all we we wanted to do was crawl into bed and collapse but knew that the etiquette of couchsurfing required we stay up to wait for his return.

Before running off, he´d mentioned that there were three beds in his spare room and that Christelle, who had already stayed with him for 2 days before getting on the Navimag, could sleep in his room with her on the bed and him on the couch. After discovering our host had left remnants of some recent manscaping in the bathroom, it was decided Amy and Katie would snuggle in one bed so that Christelle could sleep in the room with us, just in case our host wanted to show off his efforts.

No time for sleep ins, we were up at 8 am on our way to Puerto Varas, thirty minutes away and hailed a collectivo down to the bus terminal. Collectivos are a great concept – half taxi, half bus. Normally a car, you pay a small-ish fare and get the convenience of going where you want to go a la taxi but with the scale of economies of a bus – it can take up to 4 people going separate places but is much more convenient than an actual bus.

Off we went to Puerto Varas and in a break from tradition arrived to no rain, a truly novel feeling in Patagonia. We met up with our new couchsurfer, David, an Ecuadorian studying for his Masters in Finance and working at a posh restaurant. Amy and Katie headed out to hike to a volcano (by which point it had predictably started raining again) and I decided to join Christelle in her sedate adventuring around Puerto Varas and Frutillar, not wanting to do anything to risk my ankle before heading to Easter Island in two days time (so much for that – I ended up gloriously falling down a muddy slope)

Christelle at the Museo

We had a great morning in Puerto Varas, wandering around in the rain going to a quirky little museum run by a local artist and then heading to Frutillar, a town thirty minutes away. By this point, we had spent enough time in the Lakes District to be used to constant rain but the downpour that greeted us at Frutillar was especially vicious. Despite having heard Frutillar was one of the cutest towns in Chile, all towns in the midst of torrential rain tend to lose their charm a bit. At a loss at what to do, we went to the tourist office to see what they recommended. ‘ Ah!’  said the enthusiastic young man, probably excited that we were the only ones stupid enough to come visit Frutillar on a day when it was one rain shower away from being underwater. ‘ The German Colonial Museum is a delight!’  ‘ And is it appropriate for this weather?’, we enquired – ‘ Oh yes, most definitely!’  we were assured. ‘ Vale!’  said we, intrigued by the concept of a nice museum where we could explore the concept of being dry for more than five minutes.

Off we headed, and paid our fare we did. It was only once we’d paid, stared at the map for five minutes or so and had a think that it dawned on us that this was not your typical four walled museum, something BOTH our separate guidebooks had neglected to mention. No, this completely appropriate for a day lashing down with rain recommendation was in fact an outdoor park with reconstructed buildings that German settlers lived in when first arriving in Chile. I’m not sure what passed through Christelle’s head at that exact moment but I believe that my thoughts revolved around some rather unsavory words. We’d paid our admission though, so off we trudged in the rain. The museum complex is rather large and undoubtedly delightful to wander around in summer months but when it is wet and raining, the unpaved, earthy routes turn into slimy, slippery mud. So much for avoiding taking risk with my ankle by not hiking to the volcano (I later discovered Katie and Amy had hitched a ride most of the way and done very little walking. Oh the irony.)

The German Colonial Museum. Photo clearly taken on a day with very different weather from our visit.

Up the steep, muddy hills we went to view stimulating, utterly thrilling things like a blacksmith’s hut and an utterly ordinary house. I will confess that at this stage, I was thinking some particularly unkind thoughts about early German colonialists in Chile, especially after slipping in the mud and getting my jeans covered in mud. Determined to get our money’s worth, we visited all the sites of ‘interest’ in the park. Towards the end of our trek, the rain lifted and our last hut was the most interesting of them all but forgive me for still having a tinge of bitterness about the German Colonial Museum. By the end of it, we were ready to bid farewell to wet Frutillar and hopped back on a bus. I left Christelle to journey onwards to Puerto Montt, where she was catching her flight back to Santiago and met up with Katie and Amy in Puerto Varas.

Our night in Puerto Varas was pretty hilarious. David (our couchsurfing host) had said he could hook us up at his restaurant, so off we went in our dirty, ugly travelling clothes and unwashed state – I won´t reveal just how long we’d gone without showers to protect our dignity but we all felt utterly disgusting. It would be fair to say that boat life and couchsurfing don’t lend themselves to usual standards of hygiene. David hadn’t mentioned that his restaurant was obviously one of the classiest joints in town and all three of us felt spectacularly out of place, as well as nervous about the prices. Luckily, he really did hook us up – unlimited ceviche and pisco sours all night. It was so nice to be in a fancy restaurant eating delicious food, even if we didn’t look like we belonged there one bit.

All dressed up to go to the Puerto Varas casino

Afterwards, Amy decided she was feeling lucky and that she wanted to try out the Puerto Varas casino. What a sight we were. We accumulated a group of stray dogs as we walked over who promptly begun brawling as soon as we arrived at the steps of the casino, barking and screeching. I definitely felt dressed in suitable attire – rolled up jeans covered in dried mud, scruffy top and damp rainjacket topped off with unbrushed, crazy hair. I´m surprised we were let in to. Amy was very lucky at the start of the night but was not so fortunate by the end of the night. Deciding to leave before we had to start betting anything other than money, we went back to David´s house, a special place which I will never, ever forget.

David is a chain smoker and particularly enjoys smoking in his living room. His entire house reeks of fumes, to the point that every fiber of your being will have the smell of smoke attached to it for days to come (I promise it’s true. I smelt smoke on myself for days afterward.) I´d come down with a run of the mill cold and sore throat on the Navimag, which up until staying in David´s house was progressing as these kinds of things to do. One night in David´s house and my normal illness turned into a smoker´s cough so bad that as I write this in Leticia, Colombia nearly a month later, I am only just beginning to feel normal again. It has been so bad this past month I’ve had all sorts of smokers giving me knowing looks and sympathetic smiles as if we’re members of an exclusive club. One night led to one month of gasping coughs, heaving lungs and sleepless nights spent coughing – all from less than 24 hours in David´s house. We all found it highly entertaining when Amy discovered his anti-tobacco spray. Here´s a handy, cost effective tip: Don’t smoke in your house to the point that it is hazardous to basic human health and you won’t need the spray.

With all that said, David was a nice enough guy and we appreciated his hospitality. We spent our last day in the Lakes District visitng Frutillar, which is a thousand times more charming when dry and sunny and enjoying delicious homemade hot chocolate and kuchen, a type of sweet German cake. We did NOT visit the German Colonial Museum.

Getting all German in Frutillar

We went back to Puerto Varas to catch our 14 hour bus back to Santiago. While I had bussed down in a luxurious salon cama bus, we went back up on salon cama bus which was a lot less comfy – it would be fair to say I’ve had better nights of sleep and certainly ones that involved a lot less back pain. It was rather nice to arrive back to Santiago just for the fact that I put away my rain jacket and didn’t need it for the first time since leaving Santiago city limits. Also rather nice for another reason…because it meant that tomorrow, we were on our way to EASTER ISLAND!!