Chile

  • Traditional churches on the wild & remote Isle of Chiloe, Chile.

    The Isle of Chiloe sits off the coast of northern Patagonia, it’s only a short ferry ride across from the mainland but feels a world away. read more

  • Winter Hiking in Torres del Paine, Patagonia, Chile

    This is a rather epic blog post about both just getting to and then exploring a rather incredible place even more so in the depths of winter; read more

  • Eating Chilli and other Chilly adventures in Chile

    So besides hiking in about 20 national parks and ski touring some cool places we did a lot of duller stuff associated with such a long trip. While this was often a bit dull it also sometimes led to micro-adventures of its own!

    Chile has so few laundrettes, it is harder to find a place to wash clothes than it is to find a sober travelling Australian. We always ended up wearing the same stuff for several weeks after giving up walking around towns and getting directions to places that were non-existent, closed or took 3 days to wash my socks! Osorno was a “favourite” place; we had 6 hours to kill here, and kill is an appropriate word as after 5 hours here you were about ready to! (One exception it had a fantastic cake shop). We had a similar long wait in Chillan, which has a fascinating market but nothing else. After 2 hours of hanging about in Chillan we drove until we got bored and then cooked up pancakes in a public park with an audience of local, slightly feral village kids! The place we ended up at had a super cool huge wooden bridge – see below:OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERA

    During our trip we drove miles and miles and we saw some amazing stuff from the side of the road. Rarely anything uber spectacular just lots of cool scenes; rainbows over forests, sheep being herded; flocks of ibis in cow fields. We particularly liked this traffic island near the Argentine border before Volcan Lanin:OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERA

    Before my trip to Chile I had never seen oxen pulling carts before, these beasts are huge – taller than the locals (OK so Chileans are quite short!). Often the carts were attached directly to the horns which must be a little uncomfortable for them. The island of Chiloe was a particular oxen hotspot, which went with the slow way of life there. Below is a picture of horse and cart, fairly common in remote rural areas of South America; I guess it’s cheaper to run than an old tractor. After our earlier trip to Eastern Europe and Albania in particular it seemed to have become a fairly normal sight this summer.

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    After celebrating our escape from Osorno a few weeks earlier, we found ourselves once again stuck in the town. This time we were en route to Argentina and Bariloche, however Chilean national day was on and the connecting buses from Osorno to Bariloche were full so we had to overnight in Osorno. Worse still everything was closed as it was a national holiday. We knocked on guesthouse doors trying to find a place to stay, and of those that answered the prices seemed sky high; finally we used our old Lonely Planet book to find a budget B&B. The lady who answered was in her late 60s wearing her dressing gown at midday. We entered her house, which was full of… lets call it “old lady chic”. Porcelain, white lace everywhere, jars of jam in glass cabinets in the hall and a pervading smell of the 1970s. It was cheap and had cable TV to pass the time in Osorno though so we weren’t complaining!

    We coincided with both Bolivia’s and Chile’s national holidays celebrating their foundation as countries: cue much band playing, marching and partying. We did see a great parade in Orsorno including canons mounted on donkeys, men with truncheons dressed in hats and the ski regiment of the army. We ate some bitter oversized rhubarb which came with a free bag of MSG(?!) from a street vendor and watched kids throwing confetti in random people’s faces. See the ski army in picture below;

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    With all this driving we got to know the roads well. Generally the highways are in great condition; better than Belgium’s anyway. The Pan American Highway is like the backbone: a fast dual carriageway, the major artery, loaded with executive coaches, lorries and 1000s of cars around the Santiago area. However given how busy this road is it was surprising how many people used it as a footpath and cycle lane regardless of the direction of traffic. Some stretches were so busy with people that it was like a computer game where you had to swerve to avoid hitting people – it was sketchy, super sketchy. Now walking along the highway during the day is bad enough, but at night with no reflectors or lights it is crazy. Hitting a stray dog was even more inevitable, amazingly we avoided hitting the hordes of pure breeds roaming the streets. The “road” in picture below was particularly fun, it was up Shangri La valley near Nevados de Chillan resort. You can just make out the snow starting to fall:

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    This is what the same area above looked like the next morning……powder day! We skied the volcano you can see above the resort.
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    There is little more disturbing than being suddenly awoken by a loud “thump, thump, thump” of the police banging on a window, with the blue lights flashing as you open you sleepy eyes. It happened last to me in Banff, Canada, my nemesis city (it really is just a tourist-filled Disneyland outdoor town), where I was fined for illegal camping in a fairly non-illegal looking place. In Chile we knew it is legal to camp/sleep in our vehicle if we were just off public highways, but this parking up in random places sometimes led to a bit of suspicion from the police hence the early morning wake up calls, however they just wanted to know what we were up to. They were always friendly after seeing our passport and wished us a good holiday. A lack of Spanish always sped things up too – the police quickly lost interest in trying to communicate using our pidgin Spanish!

    The weather frequently got the better of us on this trip. This is the approach to Volcan Lanin; we never summited as the cloud was always too thick. It also started snowing soon after we took this picture. 

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    To live up to the Chilli title we found the food fairly wanting in Chile, although the fresh fruit and veg could be superb. The empanadas were also a saving grace, especially with sweet onion and dash of chilli. Otherwise the food just seemed to lack imagination, and there seemed to be an obsession with western fair like pizzas. It appears to me that the economic and cultural development that has rapidly overtaken the country has not yet been applied to the cuisine. It is very much subsistence food: basic but filling with limited spice or flavour. Of course I am generalising – there are spectacular restaurants like in Putre in northern Chile where we found a real gem. Also some dishes that use great fresh simple ingredients can be spectacular, the traditional fish dishes on Chiloe follow this logic. However generally in random towns in middle and southern Chile the food sucked. The wine though is a different story!!

    Marion is vegetarian, and wasn’t too sure in advance what kind of veggie options she might find in Chile. In general we cooked fresh stuff to save money and to save ourselves from the large amount of artificial additives that frequently make an appearance in S American processed food. Generally we found that good fresh fruit and veg was available almost everywhere and it was much cheaper in the local green grocer shops than in the supermarkets. In particular Avocadoes were crazy cheap and we had them with almost every meal. The supermarkets were full of processed junk, a lot of which contained non veggie animal fat and gelatine, not to mention a lot of weird random stuff that’s mostly banned in Europe. As for eating out, the veggie options were generally pretty limited / boring, although at the above-mentioned favourite restaurant in Putre we did find some interesting vegetarian options on offer using local delicacies like pond weed (tasted better than it sounds!). All in it is probably is a better place to be a meat lover, and we haven’t even started on Argentine steak….

  • Snowboarding on Volcano Quetrupillan, Chile

    Wanderlust Blog of the Week

    I think this was my favourite volcano of the nine we snowboarded in Chile. It is located in a remote part of the Villarrica National Park read more

  • Snowboarding Volcano Villarrica, Chile

    Well the weather finally cleared leaving 20cm of fresh snow on a perfect bluebird day to ski tour on split boards up Volcano Villarrica near Pucon, chile. It is without doubt the most popular volcano to climb, it is pretty straightforward, not easy but not as steep as many of the others. We felt pretty sorry for the few large guided groups who were trudging along walking the whole way in crampons. The slow pace up and more notably the long drag down in this fresh snow meant all but the very fittest and quickest walking groups had no chance of summiting. Do the guides tell them this in advance? A certain smugness was to be had as we skied up past them, but not as smug as the way down!

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    As seems normal now, we camped in a random spot, potentially illegally within the national park just off the access road. The night before a sudden cold snow shower left the lower elevations of the park blanketed in a white dusting, a stunning sunset then illuminateed the fresh snow, it was beautiful. Marion panicked that we would be snowed in by morning, but the van was fine driving up the final slopes to the volcano base. 

    In the carpark we were surprised by the number of people, up until now we had only shared a volcano with one other group. Here there were at least 50 people. Mostly walking, but a few skiers too. We made progress up under the stationary lifts, following an ice ridge up that required crampons. We then hit the main face which was filled with deep powder and a long skin up to the crater edge. The top got progressively more icey with huge ice boulders blocking the path. The picture below is just as it started getting interesting! OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERA 

    The wind had transformed the snow higher up, but with axes and crampons we climbed onto the crater rim. The view had gone, replaced by whispy cloud and the pluming white sulphuric gases belting into our faces, more than a few minutes resulted in light headedness and shortness of breath. As you would agree not ideal when on the crater of a active volcano. We traversed upwind of the toxic sulphur, narrowly avoiding a huge hole down into the snow ,disappearing to goodness knows how deep and probably ending in magma!OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERA

    It was then time to start down. The intial section from the crater was intimidating as it fell away steeply and was covered in ice. We progressed with ice axes in hand as per above picture, this was to help arrest us if we fell and started to slide a bit. It wasn’t long until we found the softer snow lower down, which let us open up and shred the consistent slopes for the full 1000m odd of powder descent.

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    Lower down the trees in the distance were still iced in snow  as we reached the natural half pipes of the old lava flows. We raced past the walking groups, who sadly all but one had failed to summit. The walk back home must have felt longer for them as skiers whistled past them having the run of their lives….sorry! All together a fairly unforgettable experience that I would highly recommend.

  • Pucon, Chile – Termas Geometricas and the National Parks

    While waiting for a clear weather window to climb Volcano Villarrica we explored some of the local sights around Pucon. In summer Pucon must be heaving with hordes of tourists but on a rainy winters day it is pretty deserted. We dodged the rain and found some cake and empanadas. Both overpriced compared to the rest of Chile but hey this is Pucon; tourist tour capital of Chile! One of the sadder trends of traveling is the rise of the backpacker tour. It is fair enough for locals to earn some cash but it is sad that backpackers don’t explore or seek independent adventure and experiences. When  I write this blog a 1000 others pop up where they have all written about the exact same tours they have done in the Pucon area. Visiting in winter is one way to see the area differently, but a bit less planning and a bit more adventure goes a long way to experience novel and more worthwhile experiences.  OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERAWe hiked in Villarrica National ParkHuerquehue National Park and Villarrica National Reserve. In the wet weather the glorious depth of green set against the darken sky made for an unique experience. We first visited Huerquehue, we arrived quite late and after a chat with the CONAF ranger we camped next to the entrance arch. He let use use the office facilities, as we sheltered from wind and rain. The trees were bending over double under the strongest gusts, a branch 6 feet above the van was whipping the roof all night, we were convinced a tree would fall near the van! Luckily it didn’t and the next day we cooked breakfast and set off on a hike to the lakes in the park. OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERAThe large Tinquilco Lake is one of several lakes in the park which we passed on the “Tres Lagos” (Lago Chico, Lago Toro and Laguna Verde) hike. After the recent rain the waterfalls were thunderous, the force of the wind from the falling water was snapping branches off trees! We struggled to cross bridges that had become submerged in water, like the one below.OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERA

    The Tres Lagos themselves were nicely set surrounded by monkey puzzles trees and dramatic mountains. On the drive out the next day we came across a few goats on the road!OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERA

    We camped on the access road to Termas Geometrica a truly inspired hot spring. It has been designed to engage the beauty of the vivid and luscious green canyon while taking influence from Japaneses Onsen. The result is 19 hot pools fed by numerous hot streams above a fast flowing river that cuts down the centre.  THe angular red board walks add a touch of Japan.The picture below shows the atmospheric rain falling and steam rising in the dramatic green canyon.     OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERA

    This is one of the 19 hot pools that we enjoyed to ourselves. On a wet day like this we had nothing better to do so took full advantage of the empty pools. We spent the whole day hopping between different temperature pools, including the brutally cold waterfall.OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERA

     

    I particularly liked the Chilean road signs some made no sense, this one indicated the slope was steeper than a steep hill. We only saw these signs on sketchy gravel roads!OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERA

     

    I am not sure if it is because they are in the southern hemisphere but the spiders seemed to go a bit crazy postmodernist in their web design!OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERA

     

    The was a great spot on the access road to Villarrica nationa park. We asked the ranger where to camp and he told us to speak to the house opposite so we did. The old chap appeared and showed as a spot including a picnic table where we could stay, he dusted down an old outhouse we could use as a toilet and then brought us some dry wood to start a fire. He also showed me the tinderbox properties of the Coihue tree leaves, even when soaking wet straight off the tree these leaves burn like dry paper. Ideal for starting a fire not so ideal at quickly burning national parks down….

    His dogs kept us company all night by the van and next to the fire.OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERA

     

  • The magical island of Chiloe, Chile

    With the weather hitting a rainy patch we bee lined south to the Island of
    Chiloe
    . With its green forest, lush rolling hills and wild pacific coast we felt it was a stunning place to visit what ever the weather. We stayed the night in Puerto Octay on the southern mainland. A German influenced lakeside town that was shutdown in the winter. We camped by the lake on a quiet road. Not quiet enough as the police banged on the window to see what we were up to. A quick check of our passports at 3am and a sleepy response before they bade us a good holiday in Chile. Next morning we caught the ferry across to the island and the port of Chacao.
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    We then headed west to where there is the Penguin sanctuary past Ancud. A desolate place in winter, the fast flowing ford to the beach was too high to cross so we parked up and wandered over a foot bridge. The rain was lashing down as we sheltered in the CONAF park hut. We watched a good documentary about the penguins in English that the helpful warden had found us, before a break in the weather let us strain our eyes to spot penguins. We saw a few outlines on the nearest island that the warden informed us were penguins, maybe!  It was just great to be in such a wind lashed place in the dark heart of a southern winter, just a few hardy souls spotted working on boats or hanging  about, certainly no tourists littering the beach.

     

    After the penguin sanctuary we drove down a back road to Chepu. The rain was still lashing down as the road narrowed and steepened, then when we were halfway down a steep descent, the road fell away, we stopped on a flatter section to inspect. It had washed out. We tried reversing back up but there was no traction. We were stuck in the middle of nowhere on Chiloe which is already the middle of nowhere!! After some road works to widen the road with rocks and a 25 point turn we managed to get back to point uphill again. Then on the 3rd uphill attempt we managed to keep traction and reclimb the hill. At this point is was getting gloomy and the rain was still falling. We cautiously made it back to the bigger road and took the long way around! The road to Chepu in the wet wasn’t great but it was all driveable. We camped up on a random spot for a night listening to a chorus of frogs while hoping we wouldn’t be flooded in place tomorrow!

    Chepu was isolated, we didn’t really know what to do, so we kept driving. We eventually arrived above the large beach at the head of an impossible rough and steep track down. We didn’t want to get stuck again so parked up and walked down. Some men on horses overtook us slowly treading down the track. The beach and dunes were vast, the featured image above shows some fairly wild horses roaming the wild expanse. We climbed headlands and over dunes past, arches and sea stacks, huge waterfalls spilling onto the beach. Then at the end some of the beach we saw women cutting and preparing seaweed. We saw a couple of local men on horses striding along the beach dragging huge bales of sea weed that they had prepared.

    After detouring to Castro’s markets and the stilted houses, we headed due west to the national park of Chiloe past the two lakes and on to Cucao. A village at the end of the world, where it was fair to say the sunsets are amazing.

    The next day was spent wandering the beach as far as the national park. The setting was remote with just the odd shack settled up the cliffs above the beach. These must belong to the few fishermen working the coast. We passed an old brightly coloured stock bridge crossing the river at the back of the beach for the cattle that are still in places grazing the dunes and back of the beach. This also linked the odd houses in the cliffs. The area at first felt empty but sitting down taking time we spotted an old lady with a large bag collecting driftwood, an old jeep pulled up before the river ford crossing. Two men got out put on neoprene trousers and waded into the sea. Another truck crossed the ford with water up to the bonnet. It survived. The tide then receded enough that a herd of trucks appeared with the men all wading into the sea to harvest shellfish. The seagulls were also harvesting them, they dropped them onto the hard sand to crack them open.

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    The tranquility of the place in our rare winter sunshine was infectious we stayed in a deserted campground, where they kindly let us use showers in a summer rental cabin. We stayed longer than expected hiking and admiring the sunsets. The island is famous for its wooden churches of varying designs across all the 3o islands that make the area up. These were all quaint with some bright coulors and unique designs, the most interesting ones are covered by a UNESCO World Heritage designation.
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    The island has a slow way of life, preserving some ancient traditions that have long been lost on the mainland. A unique Chilote population still populates most of the island.   Oxen pulled carts in the fields, where cattle grazed bright green grass. It really felt like time had stood still here. It has nothing of spectacular note but that is not the beauty of Chiloe, it is soaking in a way of life that exists in few other places on earth.

  • Ski touring Volcano Llaima, Chile

    Volcano Llaima is in the Conguillío National Park in the middle of Chile, this is one of the more active volcanoes we skied/boarded, it last erupted in 2010…….that was just a couple of years ago, and it erupted again 2 years before that. Had I known quite how active it was and that it was due an eruption I would have been a little more anxious, but I didn’t so I was in blissful ignorance. Probably the best state when snow boarding volcanoes.

    Looking back up the face of Volcano Llaima

    Llaima has the Las Araucarias Ski Center at its base, a slightly more interesting area than some. We camped on the access road in our Wicked Campervan overnight in dense forest of Coihue trees, witnessing a stunning sunset in the process. The next morning we wake early and head up to the base area. We pull along side a fancy 4×4 camper and two Germans outside. True to style the Germans have beaten us to the start. They are pretty unfriendly and have no chat for us. It almost seems there is a competitive edge as we both rush to get ready. They set off before us with a few random stray dogs in tow. 

    The approach road to Volcano Llaima

    The resort has some more interesting terrain and a decent vertical drop, but was closed when we arrived, snow was thin. The weather was good though. We climbed next to the piste and saw the huge bulk of the volcano rise before us. At this point the stray dogs following the Germans ran back and the 4 of them proceeded to follow us all the way up to where we fitted crampons to climb!

    There are 2 routes, simply; left and right flanks, we went left as it looked less glaciated on the map. It was mixed ice and softer snow.Riding down Volcano Llaima, dogs in tow

    The upper slopes were pretty much blue ice on the verge of unrideable but we progressed with crampons and ice axes.

    The ride back down was OK the dogs chased us, as we went which was super fun, I nearly hit a couple of them. We initially thought they were after food but it appeared they just loved coming ski touring! The volcano was another perfect cone as the pictures show it was shrouded in a light mist as the day drew on so the summit views had diminished. The final section down to the van was weaving in and out of monkey puzzle trees. The video below that I made shows quite a bit of Llaima; 

     

  • Snowboarding Volcanoes in Chile – The Movie

    This is a Go Pro edit of us in Chile; hiking, splitboarding and snowboarding 9 Volcanoes across the country. We had every condition possible; sunshine and periods of endless rain, we had deep powder and scary windswept ice, winds that rocked the van and snapped trees and calm perfect days. Somevolcanoes had 40+ degree, super steep, 2000m of uninterrupted conical slopes, some were cruisey, but all had spectacular scenery.

    The Volcanoes were as follows; Volcano Antuco, Volcano Chillan, Volcano, Lonquimay, Volcan Casablanca, Volano Villarica, Volcano Quetrupillan, Volano Calbuaco, Volano Lanin and Volcano Llaima. If anyone wants more info check out my blog posts or let me know. It seems there is a lack of info on skiing volcanoes in Chile so I am happy to answer any questions.

     

     

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