We have found our mojo again, and how. It did us well to slow it down a bit and hang out in Pucón for a couple nights. From there, things were on the up again. Especially our time on Chiloé Island was special, and magical as a family. And lest we forget Patagonia…
We filled our last day in Peru to the T. We flew from Cusco to Lima, squeezed Vincent’s paragliding in, and had dinner with Ceciel, Arjan and their kids. It is so special to feel a heartfelt connection after just a couple facebook messages. I can’t thank them enough for the warmth and hospitality with which they opened their home to us, and their boxes of Legos! It made for a fun evening for us all. At every turn, we’re meeting families who, just like us, have chosen a life far away from ‘home’, or chosen an unconventional lifestyle. It is truly inspiring to listen to their stories, and they are encouraging when we share ours.
Next stop, Santiago Chile. From its doorstep, we could sense this city was so so different from Lima. Stylish, modern, affluent. Wow! Whereas Costa Rica and Peru seemed like massive building pits with unfinished structures everywhere, Santiago feels like Brussels but set in a spectacular valley, overshadowed by mountains. We would be there for just a weekend, and we labeled it “kids weekend”. The kids had been such great travelers, that this time, they got to 100% independently choose our activities, and orchestrate our days. They loved it! They researched options (ha! something with an apple and a tree!!), negotiated with each other, and with us, and mapped out the weekend. We all had hoped to go to an amusement park, but … turned out that was closed. Next option was bowling, but we could not locate a bowling alley anywhere near… We landed on playground, Kidzania and swimming.
The weather was a fantastic summery hot. We read that the metro in Santiago is a good way to navigate the city – clean and safe – and so we did. The kiddos figured out how to read the metro lines, to get to where you want to go. After our arrival that first day, we spent time in the playground in Barrio El Golf, also nicknamed Sanhattan. Glitsy indeed. We ate at Tiramisu, recommended by our travel guide and Tripadvisor, but we weren’t all that impressed … Or was this the sign of things to come?
The next day we started out easy. Breakfast in our “own” apartment tasted so good after 2 weeks of hostel breakfasts with scrambled eggs and toast e-ve-ry day. We headed to Parque Becentenario. What an incredible city park! We lounged at Mestizo, wonderful! We most definitely did not fit in with our travel outfits. This was the first time on our trip I longed for fashionable heels and a skirt. A drop in our homesickness bucket…
We laid around in the park, and on our way home fell upon a local fun fair in support of the mentally ill. While this sounds like a guaranteed good time, there was a lot of tugging and grumbling, nagging and complaining, under-our-breath cursing and not-so-brotherly fighting going on. Drip drip in the bucket…
Despite the phenomenal weather, we spent most part of the next day indoors, at Kidzania. It’s essentially an indoor park where kids get to act out and engage in all sorts of real life jobs. (Or, you could also call it a big marketing gig) Let’s just say it was not a big success with our crew. On top of that, Steven and I were not at our best; stressed out that we had no clue yet of what to do and where to stay in Chile. That same weekend, we also face-timed with some of our extended family at home. My brother was with my 92 year old grandmother and my aunts. I just loved speaking with them for a couple minutes. My oma could not get over the fact that she was seeing and speaking with us “live” (urging us to be careful, ‘cause it a big bad world out there!!). My mom had some not so great health news. Drip drip drip…
We would make our way down south from Santiago, and the way to travel over the vast distances in Chile is by bus. When in Rome … We spent 7 hours on a bus ride to Los Ángeles, “semi-cama”, and super comfortable. Giving me a lot of time to reflect on our adventure. Via-via, we had heard about this B&B just outside of town, International Guesthouse El Rincon. While the B&B grounds and rooms might be too basic for some, Carla and Louise make up for it in enthusiasm, service, hospitality and surely cooking skills (they made vegan breakfast for Vincent every day – he was over the moon!). Our kids were truly happy there. They played outside all day long; “baking” in the outdoor play kitchen with mud and water, building and racing boats with scrap wood. They would protest loudly if we just as much mentioned to “go do something”. They were doing something already, weren’t they? (We did manage to see the Saltos de Llaga nearby, but I’d warn that it’s a total tourist trap!).
We also very very much enjoyed spending time with Caren, Hein and their 3 kids. They are Dutch, live in the US and are taking a year out as well. They organized their year a bit differently; part travel, part stationary (and kids in school!). It was inspiring to meet them, and to realize that there truly is no rule book, no script, no this-is-how-you-do-it for our, or for anyone’s year. We can quite literally just do what we think is fun. With 10 kids total, it was a blast. Louise’s girl celebrated her birthday, and was sung too in 3 languages. Multiple times. Seeing my kids so happy, and knowing we were bound to say goodbye once more … drippedie drippedie drip.
And so it happened that the bucket overflowed. At the 11th hour, we decided to book a grown-up house in Pucón for a whopping 5 nights. It was perfect in every way. The rolling hills, the lake in the distance, the wood stoves, the floor to ceiling windows, the spacious and well equipped kitchen, … Our kids transformed 2 large cardboard boxes into toys, and for hours and hours enacted spy games, puppet shows and more. We cooked and walked and read and rested. They could tell that mom and dad were having it rough, bless their little hearts, and organized a “party” for the family. Darkened a room, put music on, got drinks and snacks. We danced and laughed, and hugged, and kissed. Looking back, that was the turning point. Little holes poked in the bucket.
It is no surprise then that we did not see much of the greater Pucón area at all. For good form, we drove up to Volcan Villarica one day, but couldn’t motivate anyone to hike and explore. (Who were we kidding?). The one thing to mention is that we did pile into our mini-tuutje and drove over bad bad dirt roads to Thermas Geometricas; natural hot springs in a magical, natural setting. The hot springs could not have come at a more perfect time in our journey. Relaxing and soothing.
We continued our trek down to Puerto Varas by bus. A long travel day again. We had a pancake-and-ice-cream dinner, and stayed at a surprisingly luxurious B&B (Casa Werner), a little north of Puerto Varas. In the hot tub there, I could literally feel my wits, strength, and courage return. Mojo.
I was very much looking forward to driving part of the Carretera Austral, supposedly one of the most beautiful drives on the planet. The road winds between the fjords of Northern Patagonia, and requires taking ferries at different points. Some of those ferries only go a couple times a week, so you want to anchor your drive to the ferry crossings. In Puerto Montt, I went to the ferry office to get our ‘bolletas’. The less-than-friendly person at the counter looked at me in disbelief when I explained I wanted to buy tickets for the ferry. Yes, for this month. Yes, that’s November. And yes, of 2017. For whatever reason – blame my limited Spanish – I left that office without tickets because a) it was unlikely for the ferry to go at all in November due to technical difficulties and b) that we could easily buy the tickets when we got there.
Full of optimism, we started to drive down anyways, expecting the ferry not to be out for too long. Excited for the road ahead, we started out with a “detour” from Puerto Montt, via Volcan Oroso, which made for a good 100km of dirt road to get to Hornopirén. In the mean time, with a lot of roaming and help from a travelling friend (Caren!), I’d figured from the ferry company’s Facebook page that the next ferry on the route would sail. Technical difficulties solved. But the ferry only goes twice a week. So in Hornopiren, we would have to catch the daily ferry the next day otherwise we’d miss the ferry from Chaiten back to Puerto Montt. We casually drove down to the ferry about 15 minutes before departure. Got a coffee. Strolled into the ticket office. Stood in line. Had my blood pressure rise as I kind of, sort of, understood the conversation in Spanish with the customers ahead of me. The ferry was full. Huh? Yes, full. Completa. Nothing to do about it, no other way to get to Chaiten…. Long story short, figure out your ferry schedule and buy your tickets before you get there :).
In the end, we decided to simply turn the car around, back to Puerto Montt (without a detour this time). We would miss out on the Carretera Austral. Helas. First time so far something really did not work out. But it also turned out to be the best thing that could have happened to us. We decided to extend our stay on Chiloé Island, from 2 to 6 nights. We drove all day, arrived late afternoon in Ancud, and checked into our Cabana for the night. It was right on a breath-taking beach, and we walked along the shore, in glorious sunshine, collecting sea-shells. We had dinner in a superb little place downtown … fantastic food, great atmosphere and décor (a boat doubles as bar!). We were back! The Cabanas had no more room the following day, so I carefully looked for a place to spend the next 5 nights. We hit the jackpot! A small and cosy cabana near Castro, with views overlooking the lake. I can’t quite put my finger on what made this place so great for us, it just worked. So that is what Flow is all about, yes?
Full of energy, we set out to see those long awaited penguins. At Puñihuil, both Humboldt and Magalan penguins have colonies (it’s said to be the only place on earth where they cohabit). It was a very smooth, family friendly and well run operation. The weather was great again, and so with hardly any wind, the boats could get quite close to the small islands off the coast. It was magical to see those penguins hop around. We saw lots of pelicans too, and the red-legged cormorants nesting and feeding their young. We chatted with some of the locals, mostly life-long, small fishermen who had lived and worked with the sea all their lives. They visibly had a hard time with the changes that big fishing had brought to the region. Not only did they have to re-invent themselves from fishermen to tour guides, the penguin colony is threatened too. The number of penguins here has dramatically reduced, and the local guys point to over-fishing and climate change. We ate at the family run restaurant and had “locos”… large snail like creatures with mayonnaise. That dish did not make it onto our favorites list!
That same day, we visited the ruins of the Spanish fuerte in Ancud. A handful of canons, but granted, with an amazing view out over the bay.
We spent the rest of our time on Chiloé well. We hiked in the Parque Nacional the Chiloé, with amazingly varied landscapes, from native rainforest, to dunes and beach. (It’s here that I experimented with the iphone camera, photographing flowers, and wood details and more). Everyone was in good spirits. In Castro, we visited the MAM – Museo de Arte Moderno. Truly worth the visit – small, but in an old grain silo, and with classy works on display. I was the only one to get into the church of Castro. Chiloé’s main selling point, apart from the fauna and landscape, are its churches. The islands of the archipelago are sprinkled with the most charming wooden churches, built by the German settlers. The German influence and heritage is still very apparent everywhere, with Kuchen and Apfelstrudl on every corner. The churches are protected as a Unesco World Heritage site, and some of them have been exquisitely restored. We chose to tour the churches on Isla Lemuy, and were treated to the most spectacular views of the Andes mountain range. The day was exceptionally clear, and we could see the snow-capped mountains and volcanos from left to right as far as we could see.
Caren, Hein and the kids in the mean time had also arrived in Castro, and invited us for a fantastic evening at their place. Wine, bbq, stories and laughs; we couldn’t have asked for more!! Thank you Caren, Hein, Tom, Micky and Naut!!!
After those days on Chiloé Island, our batteries were now completely restored. We were all excited for the next leg of our trip in Chile … South Patagonia and Easter Island!
As always, including a list of places we stayed, ate and played that we very much enjoyed – not mentioning the ones we did not :)!
Where we Stayed:
* Los Angeles: International Guest House El Rincon – contact via Facebook, or via Booking.com
* Pucon: AirBNB Guillermo – despite the language barrier, Guillermo was an outstanding host. He really made us feel welcome!
* Puerto Varas: Casa Werner, B&B
* Chiloe Island: Cabanas Alcamar: little cabanas with great view onto the lake, well appointed kitchen, and an automatic pellet stove (in lieu of a woodstove!)
Where we Ate:
* Santiago: Mestizo – great place to lounge in style, with view of the Parque Becentenair
* Ancud: Club Social Baquedano – great food, and an inviting decor and atmosphere
* Chiloe Island: El Fogon De Cucao: (sorry, can’t find a link!). We had lunch here on our way to the Parque Nacional . An unassuming place, but gracious owner. And the fresh salmon was grilled perfectly!
Where we Played:
* Santiago: Parque Bicentenario
* Chiloe Island: Penguins and more at the Pinguineras, Puñihuil
* Chiloe Island: Hiking in Parque Nacional Chiloe
* Chiloe Island: Castro – MAM – Museo de Arte Moderno
* Near Chiloe Island: Isla Lemuy – churches, especially the renovated church of Aldachildo.