Monday, 6 June 2016

Forests, lakes and volcanoes

(A post from Saturday) After a very comfortable night spent in Chillán on Friday night, we drove through this sweet university town and headed straight for the highway South. Back on Ruta 5, the Panamerican Highway, it was trucks-trucks-trucks all the way.

We love the COPEC gas stations. The 'ultracity' ones are smaller than ours but they even have showers (around R15) and their front outside wall is a vertical garden.

We loved the drive from the highway to Panguipulli. It made me think of the valley to the hamlet of Rhodes in the Eastern Cape. Wider valley, longer, bigger but with farms the whole way.

The colours... autumn-winter tones but almost 'smudgey'. I am sure it is stunning here in summer with the greens - millions of trees - but these colours are really doing it for us. Goldens, yellows, browns, whites, dark evergreens and a whole lot more.

We got to our accommodation in Panguipulli after a quick stop at a supermercado (supermarket) to get some groceries. This cabaña was also one that we booked on AirBnB and we expected it to be the best of the four places we reserved...

It is so close to being fabulous... the little things are missing. There was only a little wood for the wood stove and no matches. No mat on the cold floor. Lovely big sliding glass windows - not one of them locked closed. A kettle and a small microwave (it does say on the site there is no kitchen). Lovely wicker chairs on the porch - no cushions for them. A window in the bathroom with louvre panes that don't close properly (it is 8C in the day so much colder at night), no countertop, no hooks in the bathroom... little things like a mat on the cold, tiled floor and a picture on the wall would finish it off properly.

After bending the latches on the large sliding windows (almost door size) so that they lock, we headed for town to get matches and wood.

The wonder of a wood-fired estufa. It warmed this single room up in a jiffy. We used my little camping pot on the stove to cook a delicious marrow, did potatoes in the microwave and completed the meal with cooked chicken bought at the supermercado.

The bed had layers of bedding, including an outer eiderdown, so we were toasty.

This morning (Saturday) we headed out of Panguipulli on the Circuito Siete Lagos (circuit of the seven lakes) route.

We missed the turn-off to the geometric thermal pools but in terms of timing it worked out well. We absolutely loved the road from Coñaripe, a town on the far side of Lago Calafquen. Dense indigenous forest, excellent quality hard-packed dirt road (called ripio) and views down into the valley - catching occasional glimpses of Lago Pellaifa. Once in the valley we drove to the farm of Pellaifa, which we'd seen from above. What a great location! Down here there are thermal pools (and many other spots in the area).

Another divine road, sheltered by a canopy of indigenous forest, took us to a junction where we turned left to Neltume and the end of the road at Puerto Fuy. On the way to the small port is Huilo-Huilo and a massive treehouse-like hotel - too expensive for us but well worth looking at. On the other side of the road is the entrance to the Huilo-Huilo Reserve. We read online that it has something like 250km of hiking trails!

We're staying in the small town of Neltume. This area is clearly focused on summer visitors because not much seems open or accessible now. We found a small place to stay for the night - friendly and suitable and went for a walk around town.

We heard numbers coming from a large hall and thought that there was perhaps an auction on the go. We went to take a look. Inside I saw lots of people sitting on chairs at long tables, warm clothes and blankets over their knees. "Bingo!" I said excitedly to Celliers. The man standing near the door smiled and confirmed that I was right. We'd  stumbled on a Saturday evening bingo game.

The streets of this town are dotted with large wooden sculptures. We saw a cluster in the woods near the hall  and went to take a look. They really are lovely and most feature birds of prey, fish, pumas and traditional Mapuche people.

Walking back to the hall we saw some men standing around, taking turns to throw something. We went to look.

There's a small wooden 'wall', below which is an inclined tray of thick mud. The men take turns to toss metal discs from a distance. The discs lodge in the mud. The men throw from different distances, presumably by ability. There's a piece of string across the tray and I presume that if your disc lands above the string, you get to take a step further away when you throw. If it doesn't,  you stand in the same place again until you better your throw.

The men (no women there) were friendly and allowed us to watch. Before we left, I asked if I could see the discs. I felt a few and it seems like the discs have slightly different weights too. I did ask the name of the game but when I don't see words I struggle to remember them. Looks like a really sociable game.

Aside from serving tourists in summer and skiers in winter (apparently all year skiing here), this is a logging town. There is plantation between indigenous forest.

Tomorrow we want to see the Huilo-Huilo cascades - it is listed as an impressive waterfall. It should only be a few minutes walk from here. We can see a hint of a snow-capped slope of what we think is Volcán Coshuenco. Chances of seeing it are slim because of the thick low cloud all over... but we're optimistic.

Earlier today we were in the 'explosion zone' for Volcán Villarica. It is quite cool to be in towns where there are signs for volcano evacuation. In Lican Ray town, with its black-sand beaches, we saw a 'traffic light' that indicates the status of the volcano. It was green, which is a good thing.

Our route on Sunday will take us to Lago Ranco, another of the seven lakes. We're  sure to be in for more rustic farms and forests and, I hope, some glimpses of volcanoes and snow-capped peaks of the cordillera (mountain range - parts of the Andes).

I've included a selection of photos showing scenery along the road, wood sculptures in Neltume, men playing the disc-throwing game, a panoramic of Lago Calafquen from the town of Lican Ray (black sand beaches). And maps of our routes.

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