Backpackers… Unite! – Day 93-99 (3rd-9th March)

I find myself feeling a little rusty in the writing department today, as I’m sure you know there has been no entertainment from my side of the pond for some time now, but that is about to end in what I hope will be some serious style. Although you might have to bear with me whilst my mind muscles warm up and my fingers regain some feeling, I have so much to write about for the last week, as Los Tres Amigos have been on the move once again, not once, not twice, but three times, and to three totally different places that have each played host to their own stories, and have produced contrasting feelings from the three of us that might actually come in useful if you were ever to want to step into this wonderful part of the world. I think I might be about to venture into what is called ‘travel journalism’, so I might have to minimise the waffle and keep this short and sweet in order to maximise the entertainment value of my writing, and retain any resemblance to professional writing as I can possibly can.

‘What were the town’s like Matt, and how did they compare to the infamous Puerto Natales?’

Well, that is a very good question anonymous/ non-existent, interviewer/question master, but it’s also very easy to answer, as all three of the new towns we have visited over the past week or so have been completely different to both themselves, and the great Puerto Natales of Patagonia. The first stop on our tour of the Lake District was the small town of Puerto Varas, half an hour away from the big city of Puerto Montt that we had so desperately tried to avoid due to severe bitching we had found ourselves encircled in when discussing where we should base ourselves back in Natales. Whether the rumours of a nearby shit hole were true, we will probably never be brave enough to find out, but despite this, the next town along couldn’t have been further from anything remotely in the cesspit bracket, and provided us with one of the most picturesque homes we’ve had in the last three months. The main feature of the town was the extraordinarily beautiful Lago Llanquihue that sat calmly at the bottom of the steep hillside to create a perfectly arranged settlement that could have easily been mistaken for a Cornish seaside town back in England. We were lucky that the weather was so beautiful whilst we were there, as the views of the shimmering lake and the towering volcanoes beyond it were on show for all to admire, and so we did just that from the perfect location of the peer, and so we watched the world go by, complete with some loved up Americans, and drugged up Chileans. It was perfect. However, in the event of rain, which apparently is about 300 days a year, the town may not be quite as attractive, but there is no need to panic, as the powers that be in Puerto Varas are clearly very prepared for this, as all the walkways are covered, so one can take up a position under shelter and wait for the downpour to end, but you may be there for a while.

Bariloche was second on our list of destinations, mainly because our Chilean visas were looming down on us like the miserable dark clouds outside as I write, so we needed to leave the country and come back again before our three months ran out, but the city of chocolate and Nazis seemed to be an attraction well worth visiting, even just to beat the Chilean immigration system and shovel Argentine sweets down our necks outside some very German looking buildings. Bariloche also had a waterfront, but despite the incredible views out onto the Lago Nahuel Huapi, the location didn’t quite match the tranquility of Varas, partly ruined by the busy main road that snaked along the front like an evil serpent, and also due to the makeshift skatepark that had attracted large masses of youths that the three of us couldn’t help but feel intimidated by. Nevertheless, this didn’t stop us from enjoying our selection of chocolates in front of the abandoned swimming pool and dual carriageway. As for the rest of the city, it mainly revolved around a high street that homed the majority of the area’s population and most of Argentina’s tourists, and although it made a nice change from being stuck out in the sticks, I couldn’t help but feel like I was back roaming the streets of Cheltenham and exploring it’s array of fast food and hobo’s. I think we’ve become fairly accustomed to life in small, peaceful towns with a limited amount of selfie-sticks and McDonalds, and so I don’t think we really ever felt at home, despite a few of the German houses briefly sending me back to Europe.

The town of Osorno changed the game once again, and although it was undoubtedly the worst town in the looks department, I left the place feeling very grateful that we set foot there, even if we did stay for a bit longer than we would have wanted. We chose to stay in the town because it was at the centre of volcanoes and national parks, but what we didn’t realise was that it was more of an industrial centre rather than a tourist destination. This made for a very interesting first impression when we got of the bus deep into the evening with the task of finding our hostel hanging over us. The next day’s light confirmed our fears, but once we had meandered around the streets for a few hours and got ourselves comfortable with the very Chilean surroundings, we began to appreciate the benefits of staying away from the hoards of tourists in the area, as the bargain empanadas that lined the streets and the cheap bus tickets made us really appreciate experiencing the most genuinely Chilean town one can find in a country that relies so heavily on tourism. Although this meant our accommodation was rather expensive, I did manage to get my phone fixed by the first shop I laid my eyes on, after it completely died on me in Bariloche after it’s hundredth collision with the ground. By the end of our time in Osorno, as we sat in the manic bus station we were all desperate to get ont the next bus to tourists and English speakers, but I can’t help but admire the town and I will always have a very positive feeling towards it, and I’ll remember it every time I break my phone in the future.

Of course, none of the towns and cities we visited were ever going to top Puerto Natales, but they did make for a brilliant week of proper backpacking as they felt as though they could have all been at different corners of the world. Natales till I die!

‘What activities and entertainment was available in and around the towns?’

Wow, you’re on fire! I’ll be honest, we haven’t done a great deal of ‘stuff’ in the last week, especially in comparison to the once in a lifetime adventures we have been lucky enough to partake in for most of the trip. It has mainly been about experiencing some different places around Chile and Argentina, and wasting some valuable time before we pick up our Wicked camper and set off on what promises to be another cracking expedition. However, we still managed to fill our time and avoided wasting many minutes to the attractive prospect of simply staying in bed.

Rather surprisingly, the highlight of the week came in Bariloche, as we managed to uncover an absolute gem of a day out, despite being fairly clueless to what we were going to be doing and therefore horrifically unprepared for what lay ahead. It took as a fair few tries to leave our hostel in such a way that was necessary to even attempt a walk, but we were soon heading towards Cerro Otto, a nearby tourist attraction that Benj had found in the travel guide. The round trip in total turned out to be nearly 20 km, and although this was done with a combined total of three two pairs of jeans, two pairs of trainers and some boat shoes, Los Tres Amigos pulled off a huge upset by making it to the top in one piece. It was incredibly painful, especially when I had to watch my beloved Roshes falling apart on my feet, but our hiking experience in the harsh conditions of Patagonia had stood us in good stead, and me made it to the summit and some of the most incredible views yet. I felt as though I was standing in front of Rio De Janeiro as Benj fulfilled orders from me with my phone camera to take a photo worthy to take over as my profile picture, as behind me was the attractive city of Bariloche, sat on the shore of the Lago Nahuel Huapi that stretched along some incredible scenery and all the way to the horizon that was made up of the astonishing Andes. It was truly incredible, and on par with many of the other unforgettable sights we’ve been lucky enough to witness, but the day trip was soon capped off at a little Refugio on the hillside. It happened to be closed when we went, as we tend to do things at the wrong times, but despite it being the religious day of Sunday, we made the most of the balcony seating, and got a fantastic automatic group photo after only 100 attempts.

During our stay in Osorno, we were quite desperate to get out of the hustle and bustle of the city, so we found ourselves a bargain of a bus after only an hour of trying to find the right bus stop, and headed over to the nearest national park, Puyehue, that was home to some infamous and very sought after volcanoes. This turned out to be slightly less successful in terms of entertainment and amazement, as the only notable sighting of the day was probably a not so rare sighting of a herd of Chilean tourists in feeding season, that were enjoying the delights of some natural hot springs, and in doing so took away the delights of the warm pools of water for everyone else. However, the day out was still virtually free, and courtesy of a solid waterfall and two empanadas each, we made the most of a day’s travelling, with the only downside being we still haven’t got near one of the areas volcanoes. We will find them, and we will climb them.

Our stay in Puerto Varas was more of a chilled out one, and to be honest we spent most the time shopping, eating, drinking, shopping, walking, browsing, shopping and then sleeping. I flirted with the idea of buying a floral shirt in aid of the Mexican dream, and we came close to buying a tent and camping gear, only to decide once and for all that we wanted to hire the campervan and not spend all our money of very cool varieties of camping appliances that were on the market. Our ten pounds worth of ice creams and crepes were a highlight, and as was the second hostel we stayed at that literally defined the image of a youth hostel, with dorms on balconies, a large central living room with a breakfast bar and sofas, and a tiny kitchen that could barely accommodate the pots and pans, let alone a whole hostel. It was certainly a less exciting part of the trip, but it was just what we needed at a time when plans were becoming hard to come by, and new clothes were becoming harder to not come by. There is an awesome sounding day trip in Puerto Varas that takes you up the Osorno volcano and then back down on bikes, so that is undoubtedly going to be our next mission.

‘What was your favourite place of all, and which one would you recommend to potential travellers’

Another tough question there boyo, but in truth it can’t be answered in just one response. It all depends on what kind of traveller you are and what you are looking for. Puerto Varas suits both the backpacker and the family, as the picturesque location, the array of shops, and the good travel connections make it the ideal place to stay for a fairly lengthy amount of time, during which you can branch out to find the nearby adventures. Bariloche on the other hand is definitely designed for the tourist, with hundreds of chocolate stores and expensive restaurants, it makes for a nice city, but a place that would probably only be used for the accommodation from where you can head deeper into Argentina, and get a little bit fatter. As for Osorno, to be honest I probably wouldn’t recommend this place to tourists, as despite our accommodation being so amazing in our little cabin, the town doesn’t have much interest to offer to your average tourist. However, if you are like Los Tres Amigos, and reading this thinking we’re the dogs bollocks and you are now beginning to plan your trip to Chile at the age of 15, please go to Osorno! Even if it is just for day, as I can promise you will leave with huge relief that you are leaving, but also with a feeling of satisfaction that you have experienced a TRUE Chilean town. Honestly, I loved all three places, and I wouldn’t tell anyone to avoid any of them, but one tip would definitely be to do some research and plan ahead, just so you can really make the most of these wonderful places.

The shoutout of the last week is going to be awarded to the incredible bus network in this part of the world, that has allowed us to cross borders, pierce through the monstrous Andes, and even fed us whilst we did it, and all at a day’s notice and for the price of a Banana split in Puerto Varas. They may have forced Benj to unpack his brilliant efforts and methods in packing his bag, and the chocolate cake may have tasted like air, but they have allowed to span the width of Chile back and forth with absolute ease, and so we owe them so huge respect.

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