Last stop: South America

OK, fair enough: last stop before returning to good old Germany. And not just some place in South America but Northern Patagonia – the region of the lakes on both sides of the mountains: Argentina and Chile.

We started in Puerto Montt, where we had great sea food and terrible rain for the first days. Perfect in its own way as it allowed us to sleep in and make plans for the rest of the trip. The sea lions in the harbour and the very friendly hosts were a great start.

From Puerto Montt, to Puerto Varas, to Valdivia, to Villa la Angostura to Bariloche. From the sea to the mountains to the lakes. All by bus and mini bus, always with the kind help and support of the locals. A small regret that the bus didn’t stop in the Andes.

More rain in Bariloche, and again, not for worse. The mountains are even prettier with a snow cap! Lots of hiking, lots of cold, lots of good food.

Back to Puerto Varas by bus, boat, bus, boat, bus, boat, bus. Yes, in that order. It’s expensive but crossing the Andes by boat is one of the best experiences, I ever made. And for all the rain before, the sun really did show up this time!

Plus, a volcano or two on the horizon do give the landscape a certain je ne sais quoi. 

Gracias Argentina, gracias Chile! Saying good-bye to South America wasn’t easy, but visiting these beautiful places made it memorable.

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Parque nacional la Campana

The Parque nacioal “La Campana” is in any decent tourist guide as a day-trip from Santiago; though, unless you rent a car, it’s somewhat further. Other than that,  it’s known for the fact that Darwin stopped by on his second trip on the Beagle. We went to La Campana from Valparaiso, by train, bus and some walking and arrived rather late in the day despite an early morning start.

Though it didn’t matter too much in the end as we would not have had the equipment to climb the top of La Campana. Plus, it takes 4:30 hours for the 7km trip (one way), of which 2 hours are for the last 1800 meters alone.

We, on the other hand, got all the way to the basecamp thanks to a really sweet couple that was driving up and kindly answered to our “hacer dedo“. As we already had walked and hiked 8km by that time, it was just perfect to get up this high and enjoy the beautiful view on the top. Before hiking a relaxing 5 km down to the park entrance and catching another ride into the nearest town where we enjoyed a well deserved late afternoon lunch.

La Campana

Valparaiso – a street art paradise

is the largest harbour of Chile, it’s Unesco world heritage and rather dirty.

Valparaiso

But most impressively is certainly the sheer number of street art:

Santiage do Chile

Where would you go if you had to leave Brazil for a few days due to visa issues, while flights to Europe are bloody expensive, not to mention cumbersome? Santiago! As it turned out, it was the cheapest destination in LatAm and with an 8 hour trip much more enticing than a 30 hour trip to Europe.

The weather in Santiago was not the best. For one because of the cold – it’s winter after all. But more importantly, there has been no rain in recent months leading to an all-time high in air pollution which meant that we didn’t get to see much from the mountain scenery that Santiago is famous for.

Smoggy mountains

Still, we found Santiago to be a very interesting city. Not exactly beautiful, but more a bric-à-brac of houses, streets and neighborhoods, modern, old; without too many traces of urban planning. The city features many soul-less apartment blocks and as we rented flats in two different ones, I can now say that Chilean constructions are just as badly insulated as Brazilian ones. In other words: you can be happy if the windows close properly.

Nevertheless, many of the neighborhoods are quite charmful, featuring parks, museums, pubs and coffee places; thus giving the city its very own flair.

One  other thing that was noticeable were the many, large, peaceful stray dogs that behaved as if they were holy cows. Appearing rather well fed, often with sewed jackets – provided by animal activists as we later learned – they were everywhere, either sleeping or chasing cars (never people) and generally acting as if the city belonged to them.

Please don't disturb

Gramado, Canela and the beautiful canyons of Cambara do Sul

Benefitting from a four day weekend, plus some additional holidays to make it a full week, we started by heading South along the coast of Santa Catharina. We were advised to go and visit Gramando and Canela in Rio Grande do Sul but first, a couple of days spent in the tiny town of Pinheira seemed about right.

Later during that week, Gramado and Canela turned out to be one more classic example for the mismatch between what Brazilians think is great and what we consider so. While Canela is a pretty little town, Gramado is much bigger, very touristic, though in a well kept “German style”. All in all, much better than Blumenau but still not quite our cup of chimarão.

So the best part of the journey was the one between the coast & the cities, two days spent exploring the huge canyons close by the little town of Cambara do Sul. With the nights being frosty cold, the days turned out to be amazingly sunny and clear. Both canyons, one called Itaimbézinho and the other one called Fortaleza, are accessible through well managed, easy hikes. The most adventorous bit is the crossing of the stones just above a waterfall.

During the second hike, we were lucky enough to observe two playful foxes from a short distance; though the most impressive animal on the trip was a onça – a Jaguar – in the Zoo of Gramado.

The famous onça!

Hiking in Parana – Morro do Sete

The intention was to hike the way up to Morro do Sete and enjoy the view over to the Pico de Parana. After two and a half hours we gave up though we learned one more Portuguese word: barro – mud or clay.

With our shoes ankledeep in the same, that’s all there is to say about this.

Hiking in Parana – Tucum

The Tucum mountain belongs to the region of the Pico de Paraná – with 1800 meters Paraná’s highest – and allegedly offers a great view over the same.

Or so we were told by a couple on the way down who had spent the night on the mountain and woke up to a sunrise in the East and the full moon in the West.
By the time we reached the top of Tucum however, the Pico had firmly surrounded itself by clouds.

Maybe next time..