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Lago Llanquihue is huge. It’s the second-largest lake in Chile, at 330 square miles. The scenery is magnificent, with five snow-capped volcanoes that can be viewed from the water’s edge, splashing rivers, thickly forested cliffs that rise right up out of the water in some places, and beaches and sloping farmland rising out of the water in other places. It’s located in southern Chile just west of the northern boundary of Patagonia, a region famous for its beauty. The lake basin was carved by glaciers and filled when the ice melted. Its name, from what I can tell in Internet research, is from the Mapuche language (the local indigenous population), and means “sunken place.” It’s pronounced Yan Key Way.
Margaret does vacations with intent, researching ahead of time to find a way to get the most out of each day. This morning she encouraged me to take it easy and work on the blog a little. The rest was much appreciated. 🙂 We got a late start under overcast skies and drizzle. Our hostess Vicki recommended a trip up to Puerto Octay, then a leisurely road trip back, along the shores of the lake.
Puerto Octay has a cute history to its name. From Frommers: “Puerto Octay was founded in the second half of the 19th century by German immigrants; folks in the region know it for its well-stocked general goods store — the only one in the region — run by Cristino Ochs. In fact, the name Octay comes from ‘donde Ochs hay,’ roughly translated as ‘you’ll find it where Ochs is.'” Over time the name was shortened to Octay (pronounced Oktai).
In fact, the German history around here is a big part of the tourist draw. After we found a cemetery on a hill over looking the lake, we explored the town and easily recognized the European influence on the local architecture. This region welcomed German families to settle here in 1850 and their descendants include many light-skinned, red-headed, blue-eyed Chileans. We visited one of many wooden churches, bought some local cheese (from all the farmland filled with cattle, cheese is inevitable), and left town for the most German city of our trip: Frutillar.
We stopped for lunch at a fabulous barbecue buffet, called Rancho Espantapajaros that had been recommended by Vicki. The meal was a bit pricey, but it was our only real expense of the day, so we were happy to pay for the wonderful meal and atmosphere. Our first view upon walking into the place was a twenty-foot-long spit turning over a fire, holding beef, chicken, and lamb. They also served sausages and wurst, cold potato salad, beet salad and sauerkraut, sticking with the regional theme. We sat beside a window with a view of the lake and some llamas and ate a bit of everything, including fresh water mussels and salmon ceviche. It was here that Margaret tried a dessert that turned out to be the Nalca I mentioned in yesterday’s post. We climbed into the trusty rental car that had taken us so far already, and continued south along the coast, with stunning views of wildflowers and rolling green hills.
German immigrants arrived at the seaport of Puerto Montt in the 1850s, traveled across land to Puerto Varas, and then took ships up the coast of the lake to form the communities of Puerto Octay and Frutillar and Llanquihue. Frutillar is so German that Margaret and I began singing Edelweiss as we walked the streets. It’s a very pretty little town, with a German museum and a German club, and many restaurants serving German food. The most striking building is the theatre, on the shores of the lake, which is primarily a concert venue, but was deep into preparations for a ballet performance of the nutcracker while we were there. Kids arrived in baggy workout gear that I identified as most likely a warm cover-up for their leotards, and M and I watched Clara practice her dance for Christmas Eve night when she first receives the gift of the nutcracker. I wish Tara could have seen it.
You may recall I am not a dog lover, but the multitudinous Chilean stray mutts loved me. In every city we visited, dogs would seek me out, lean up against me for comfort, and trot happily at my feet as we walked. I never fed a one, but they remained hopeful. After one bounded up to me delightedly on the beach at Frutillar, I played tug-of-war with it, with a stick. A child watched me the whole time and then picked up a stick and went over to the next stray dog that showed up, but her momma shouted and took the stick from her hand. Ooops, guess I’m a bad influence.
We struck out once more, this time for the town of Llanquique. I mentioned to Margaret that I suddenly was not feeling so well. As prepared as any boy scout, Margaret deftly whipped the car into a pullout when I needed to get out and spew my lunch on the side of the road. And 5 kilometers later, again. And when we stopped in Llanquihue so M could get me a bottle of water to rinse out my mouth, again. Ugh. Three cheers for food poisoning. I admit I stopped delighting in the scenery and focused just on protecting the interior of the rental car. No more photos. We passed a Deutsche Schule (German School) in Llanquihue, but that was basically the only thing I noticed. M got me back to the hostel as quickly as she could, wincing in empathy as we bounced over the often-gravel highways. I went directly to bed and slept the rest of the evening away.
I woke around 8 pm and went out into the common room where M and Vicki were chatting. I felt remarkably better. We could not figure out the source of the sickness. The only thing that I had eaten that M did not was a taste of miel (honey) at a shop in Frutillar, where tourists had dipped out of the same jar. And the salmon ceviche at Rancho Espantapajaro. It could easily have been either. I drank more water, but passed on dinner.
Thursday we were able to spend the whole day in Vancouver, and that was a boon, because this huge fabulous city deserves as much time as you can give her.
One of the first things that struck me was the number of apartment high-rises sprouting like shiny stalks from a garden. On both sides of the highway bridge, grey and glossy in the daylight, home to how many tens of thousands of apartment-dwellers, I don’t know. Right away M and I could see that people want to live in Vancouver.
We agreed that it would be a good idea to take a Hop On Hop Off bus tour, to get a sense of the place. I think those tours are a great idea for your first time in a big city: get off and look around at the interesting places, and then get on the next bus when you’re satiated. We took the trolley tour so we could push back the windows and take lots of photos.
I was struck by the creative architecture in Vancouver. I’m not used to so many modern skyscrapers in a single city reflecting so many elegant, sweeping curves. No fish-eye lenses used in the photos below: those are curved buildings. Seems like I’ll spot one stunning example in any given city, but here, there were many. Too many to catch them all from the window of the trolley.
One nice stop was the lookout over Lion’s Gate Bridge in Stanley Park. This is a 1000 acre forested city park on a high hill overlooking First Narrows, separating North Vancouver from Vancouver. The huge park holds gardens, biking and running along the seawall, memorials, wildlife, and some really old Western Red cedar trees.
We were hungry by the time we arrived at Fisherman’s Wharf on Granville Island, and it was the perfect place to be hungry. M was fascinated by the large open-air market, and commented how it was similar to the one he had seen in Arcata, California. I am used to these markets, so it was fun to be amazed again, through his eyes. We stopped at the butcher to ask for a recommendation on where to get a good steak. M owed me a steak from a little mishap on day one (someone forgot their camera battery charger and we had to turn around and go back). This resulted in our finest meal of the trip: steak and lobster perfection. The flavour was not better, but equal to the oysters earlier, but the presentation was fine dining this time.
We took the last trolley out of there, and the driver was hilarious and gregarious. Since it was the last trip, he delivered each person on board exactly to their final destination, even if it wasn’t part of the tour route. Score!
By then it was evening and we had to blast on out of town. Before we knew it, we were going through the border crossing. The man at the gate headed directly for the back of the Jeep, pulled out the luggage, and lifted the storage lid in the back, like he knew exactly what he was doing. The only thing we had hidden back there were nearly six pounds of Tillamook cheese! It had been my idea to keep it in the back, likely the coolest place in the car. For 10 minutes we had been grilled with pretty official questions, and then we were asked, “Why do you have so much cheese?!” M and I burst out laughing. “It’s Tillamook!” I answered. “Have you tasted it?”
As we made our way south in m.p.h. rather than kilometers, we debated whether to bang out the last few hundred miles and go all the way to Portland that night. M asked if he would miss anything by skipping Seattle. I said, “Well, it’s a city on the water. It’s beautiful, eclectic, West-coast laid back, diverse, and energized. The architecture is awesome. The food is outstanding. And since you like outdoor markets so much, Seattle has one of the best.”
I texted my brother about recommendations for places to stay, and – as I suspected would happen – got an invitation to stay at their place! Woo hoo! Their place is a treasure. They rent a three-bedroom home (we won’t disclose the amount, but the owner has neglected to increase the price for years) with a full yard and fruit trees and a garden only blocks from the Space Needle. It is surrounded on all side by apartment buildings, and the entrance to the house drops down a hill, so you can’t even see it from the street. As we were chatting before bed, we found out we were walking distance to Kerry Park – a famous overlook spot for the city – so M and I went for some spectacular nighttime views.