Puerto Varas and the Burn-out
The Boat and the Border
From Bariloche, I hopped on a boat and crossed the border into Chile, heading for Puerto Varas. Having read a few reviews before undertaking this leg of the journey, I would like to point out that the boat rides themselves, with the necessary bus intermissions to join up the lakes, are not that particularly impressive or luxurious – they do the job, nothing special. It is what nature throws up in front of you that takes the breath away.
The scenery for the boat crossing is stunning, though the weather patterns changed several times over quite a short period, going from blue skies to total cloud cover. I particularly like the landscape image with the red beacon, where the sun is just managing to break through; the man behind the counter provides refreshments on one of the boats; the portrait of the border guard with the moustache is so archetypal that I felt that I was almost in a movie scene from ‘Traffic’ as he approached; and I have no idea why the statue of the religious figure has coins scattered at her feet but it’s never a bad idea to hedge your bets at a border crossing.
I thought I’d been suffering for the last couple of days with a bad case of rhinitis, something that can hit me hard, but all became clear when I arrived at my AirBnB stopover in Puerto Varas, the Wool and Wood House. As soon as I stepped over the threshold, the shakes started and the fever quickly followed. I’m indebted to the three guys at the house, Victor, Franco and Juan-Pablo, who cared for me when I was down and out, feeding me food and painkillers when necessary. Victor is the owner, originally from Santiago, and he’s trying to make a success of it down in Puerto Varas so that he can convince his wife and family to up sticks and head south with him. His dream is to buy a piece of land on Chiloé, a large island just off the coast, settle down with his family and live a good life. Hearing him talk about his involvement in socio-political activities as a young man, I can understand his desire to aim for a life where the land and the sea provides you with all that you need. Franco is his cousin who has been sent down from Santiago for safe keeping. Juan-Pablo is the previous owner of the house and he pops by every now and then to make sure all is running smoothly, maybe cook some delicious food, drink some good wine… It’s a working system.
I was stuck in my room for a couple of days but, eventually, I made it downstairs. I wasn’t strong enough to venture outdoors yet, so wandered around the living quarters, revelling in the change of scenery. My favourite image from this series is the one by the kitchen sink looking out the window, the cold light, the warm wall, the colourful washing up implements… The simple things in life always tend to have more resonance after an illness.
My bus out of town, heading to Santiago, was leaving in the evening so I only had the one day to check out a bit of Puerto Varas, the City of Roses (rosebushes are everywhere!). It’s a popular summer resort town, both for Chileans looking to head out of the big city and for the backpacking crowd heading to or from the border crossing with Argentina. A tour that was often recommended to me was a trip up Osorno volcano, visible on the other side of Lake Llanquihue, but covered in cloud when I was there. Anyway, there was no way I was heading up there in my condition, maybe not quite feeling ‘as sick as the two dogs in these pictures’ but close enough. I pretty much stopped taking pictures of dogs after this, deciding that there were just so many of them roaming wherever I went in South America, that I better just get over it and ignore the easy photo opportunities (one of my greatest achievements over the whole two months is that I only trod on a dog turd once and that was in the first few days. Considering the amount of walking I did and the fact that I generally had a camera up to my face, that’s almost miraculous!). Instead of doing a tour, I headed to a nearby restaurant and went about building up my strength in the traditional way, eating well, though could have done without the coca-cola sign spying on me through the window.
After lunch, I headed away from the centre of town to photograph some of the traditional German wood shingle houses that had a bit more ‘character’ to them, from the simple fact that they were in a poorer neighbourhood and less well-kempt. Being a newbie to the area, with a big camera round my neck, I was a little nervous in my wanderings, but couldn’t but stop to ask this smiling man if I could take his portrait. A quick chat later, I found myself in his backyard, with him explaining to me the job he has collecting the recyclables from the city’s trash. I didn’t even know there was any recycling going on in this part of the world! And that is why I like heading off the beaten track, you never know what is round the next corner; your imagination may get your mind racing about the dangers to self and then you come across something that reaffirms your faith in humanity. The last shot here of the Xmas decoration on a door in the bus terminal suited my mood as I waited for the bus to take me on to Santiago. Again, I wished I’d had more time to explore Puerto Varas. It’s a feeling I’m going to have to get used to.
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