Trees, Waterfalls and Volcanoes are three words to describe the area north of the lake district, Araucariana.
We left off at Arica. We had a major travel day on Friday which went well even with a few hitches. We got up at 5:30am and decended in darkness and awaken the night clerk. He sleepily checked us out and walked across the street to wake up the owner of the parking lot where we left our truck. We made it to the airport and turned in the "mountain goat" and made out plane. Unfortunately, there was mechanical issues in Iquique and it was enough of a delay to miss our connection in Santiago. Fortunately there was another flight in 2 hours and we made it to Puerto Montt by 3. We had 4 hour drive yet to do to Villarrica. Fortunately the roads were great.
Here in the South, the Pan American Highway, Ruta 5, a continuation of I-5 in Seattle. It is a 4lane highway peppered with toll booths. 50 cents here, 1.50 there. That is probably why they are mostly empty except for the truck and busses. What is also different is there are people walking and crossing the hwy everywhere as well as oxen carts hauling wood. But the speed limit is 120km so we made great time.
Our hotel for the 4 days was the Hosteria de la Colina, an outstanding bed and breakfast owned by Glen and Bev Aldrich. They are wonderful hosts who are extremely knowledgeable of the area and can supply lots of handdrawn maps and recommendations for everything. They have a beautiful garden and nursery which got George's attention. Our room was panelled in the local wood and had a huge window with a view of the garden and lake Villarrica. Unfortunately, we only saw the volcano the day we arrived as it was cloudy
the rest of the days.
Our first day was a hike to Los Lagos in Huerquique National park to see the Araucaria (monkey puzzle) trees. It was a 14km rt hike which climbed up through beech trees and bamboo. George immediately spotted orchids, ephiphytes and a wonderful red trumped flower related to african violets. They were everywhere. The trail switched backed with views back down the valley and if it has been clear we would have seen the volcano. At the ridge top, we came across our first Araucaria. The trail took us through three Andean lakes which felt somewhat prehistoric walking under the trees. We returned to the Colina for a beer and soak in the hottub. We ate all our dinners at the Colina also which had great kitchen. A couple of baby salmons and salad and it was off to bed.
The next day we toured the waterfalls near the Argentian border. There were three of them that were reached via a dirt road. We did a lot of driving on dirt roads during our time in Villarrica. The Toyota Yaris did great.
The first waterfall, La China, was the highest. It was 70-80 meters high. The walls surrounding were lined with gunnera (a native plant to Chile which looks like a huge rhubarb plant). The next waterfall, Los Leon, was the wettest. We got soaked by the spray but fortunately we were wearing our waterproof hiking gear. The last waterfall, La Puna, was the most remote. It was a staircase fall and we found calceolaria or pouch plant scattered throughout the forest. We returned to a leisurely evening at the hosteria.
Yesterday we drove to Conguillio National Park, two and half hours from Villarrica mostly on gravel. In the center of the park is a recently active volcano. but we only saw the base but we saw evidence of it everywhere. After entering the park, we drove through a huge lava bed on a single lane pumice road. You could see the path of the flow from the mountain side and it left two large green islands of trees. Here we did a hike up the ridge above Lago Conguillo where we had spectacular views of the lake and the Sierra Nevada Mountains with all the araucarias. It was a scene from Jurassic Park. We expected to see dinosaurs lifting their heads at any moment. We later found out that BBC filmed the "Walking with Dinosaurs" series in the park. We returned to our car for the long drive back via the north road which took us through rolling green hills and dairies. The sun peeked in and out of the clouds. No hot tub because we were too tired. A shower and dinner would have to do.
Today, we sadly left Hosteria de la Colina and are making our way down to Puerto Varas about 200 miles away. We are in Valdivia to see the fish market and see the botanical garden and then we will be on our way. Tomorrow we fly to Patagonia. Time to get our all the warm clothes we have and hope for the best weather possible. Some guests at the Colina had been there two weeks ago and it snowed a bit. The wind will be the biggest challenge. But the views and scenery will be awesome. Until later,