Wednesday, January 25, 2006

Pucón to Puerto Fuy, Chile


Amidst just another boring Andes landscape, Volcan Choshuenco


Driving down Pucón's main street this morning, a bicyclist came alongside and, noticing my license plate, said

"Long ride, eh?"

"Si."

"I used to live in Tahoe."

Figuring he must be a skier, I asked "do you know Jimmy from Valle Nevado?"

"He's a good friend. I work for him!"

"Where's the best coffee?"

"Here. Shall we get a cup?"

That’s how I met Carlos Garcia Schlie. He has a business, “Captura Fotos y Videos”, here in Pucón. Interestingly, he knows Max as well, as they are both in the same field (action photography).



Volcan Villarrica looms behind the resort town of Pucón


For one of the best views of the volcano, Carlos recommended a ride around Volcan Villarrica on a road that runs through the National Park and emerges near Coñaripe. He leads motorcycle (trail bike) tours of the area, and often goes this way.

After coffee (which he insisted on paying for), we went a few blocks to his shop, where he showed me photos on his computer of a recent trip to Punta Arenas and Tierra del Fuego. There I also met Philipp Galluccio of Ardmore, PA, who had come here to run a "half-ironman". Carlos photographed the race and invited runners to come by the studio if they wanted to purchase the photos.

I went off to see the volcano. The road Carlos recommended starts as gravel, but just inside the park boundary, it suddenly started a steep, rocky climb that with a loaded bike seemed unwise. Even turning around in the narrow path, I nearly dropped the bike in the rocky debris. As I was working my way out of this little dilemma, I met two young ladies, one jogger, the other on horseback. The jogger, "Lauren" from Chicago was incredibly beautiful! Her friend, the equestrian, was Australian and lives on her family's ranch back down the road.



The active volcano Villarrica in Chile's "Lakes District"


Defeated in my little venture, I returned to Pucón. Lunch at "Condor Italia Pizza". They make an excellent lasagna. Checked on e-mail: Geoff and Nina, who are just south of here, need a new sleeping pad, and asked if one's available, could I could bring it with me? Checked a few stores (there are a number of outfitting shops here), but the "Pro-Lite" they want was not available in town. But, I could bring them a simple foam pad.

Replied to their query, and waited for an answer, but time was running out. By 6:30, I needed to leave if I were to reach Puerto Fuy today. Drove west to Villarrica, then south toward Lican Ray, reaching Coñaripe the long way around. Just beyond town, the pavement ends, and the dirt road that winds around the eastern shore of Lago Calafquen is a dusty one, with lots of traffic.

A beautiful landscape reminiscent of Germany's southern hill country. But in the late afternoon, I was more preoccupied with all the dust I was breathing and with the poor visibility driving into the sun. "This sucks!" An on-coming truck came barreling along with clouds of dust behind. I motioned for him to slow down, but he just raced by.



Evening, Lago Panguipulli, Chile


Inexplicably, there is a twenty-mile stretch of perfect highway along Lago Panguipulli's eastern shore. Few homes and businesses. Hard to explain why it was paved, when the previous stretch of dirt appeared to serve so many more people.

Then came 20 miles of gravel, and in areas it was pretty deep and "squirrely". (Nina later told me it was just graded today. "You should have tried it when it was all washboard!")

In the dark, I passed the almost non-existent town of Neltume, where Nina and Geoff were staying (at someone's house, I believe). There's a campground nearby, but the price is 8,000 Pesos (about $16) and it looked bad.

Driving the deep gravel in the dark was no fun; definitely not a brilliant idea. And there was a pick-up pulling a jet ski on a trailer that would occasionally pass and create so much dust in the still evening, it made driving even more difficult. After a bit of leap-frogging, I pulled ahead and stayed there.

Breathed a sigh of relief reaching Puerto Fuy. That is, until I saw the town. It looked like a pretty poor and miserable place, despite an apparently idyllic mountain setting.

The ferry was just pulling away from the shore. I had arrived only minutes too late. Just behind me, the pick-up arrived to the same disappointing view. Now we were competitors for a room. They beat me to the only decent-looking hospedaje in town. It didn't look that good anyway...

Slowly drove around the few dirt streets of this dismal place, then returned to the ferry landing where a small restaurant seemed to offer the only source of comfort. I asked a fellow outside if there were a campground in town. He simply said "en la playa." On the beach, about fifty feet away. "You can camp there, no problem?" "Si!"

It's just a narrow strip of sand on the lakeshore, but a perfect solution. I would be sure to catch tomorrow morning's ferry! Selected a spot, far from the lights of the landing and restaurant, and just below the Chilean Armada (Navy) barracks.

The restaurant was preparing to close, so, before setting up the tent, I slipped in to get something to eat. About all they could offer at this time were empanadas. I ordered three of the ham and cheese turnovers.

A young man joined me out on the patio. Jorge Alarcon speaks English and told me he's a scout leader from the Providencia district in Santiago, near Las Condes.

He said there's a scout camp just up the beach. He had come over to get a burger. I guess the "s'mores" were not quite doing the job. After he left, the server said he didn't pay his bill. I honestly think, distracted by our conversation, he simply forgot. I paid for the burger.

A perfectly clear sky and few lights made this an ideal place for enjoying the heavens. But after a while, the bite of a frigid mountain wind drove me into the tent.

I could hear its engines' low rumble for half an hour or more as the ferry slowly came up the lake. After midnight, it beached at the nearby landing, and shut down for the night.



After midnight, I poked my head out of my tent on the sand at Puerto Fuy. The ferry was just finishing its final run of the day, and beached a hundred yards away.

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