• Aperture: ƒ/7.1
  • Camera: ILCE-7RM2
  • Taken: 10 December, 2015
  • Flash fired: no
  • Focal length: 55mm
  • ISO: 2000
  • Shutter speed: 1/250s

The Boat and the Border

From Bariloche, I hopped on a boat and crossed the border into Chile, heading for Puerto Varas. I could maybe get away with just that first sentence but it would be unfair to the incredible scenery if I did not at least try to do it justice. Having read a few reviews before undertaking this leg of the journey, I would like to make clear 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, and the tour guides do theirs well enough, just nothing special. It is what nature throws up in front of you that takes the breath away, the rest just gets you there. I shot quite a bit of video here on the Sony A7SII and have to admit that I still have not gone through any of it yet. I’m a little overwhelmed by the amount of material I’m collecting and am struggling just to get through the stills. I promise to try harder!

I particularly like the landscape with the red beacon; the man behind the counter provides refreshments on one of the boats; I have no idea why the statue of the religious figure has coins scattered at her feet but may be a good idea to hedge your bets at the border crossing; 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; the only reason for including the photo of the wooden cabin surrounded by all that green is that it is so similar to what you’d find in Finland that I had a bit of a ‘plus ça change…’ moment; the next four images are of a local school by the side of one of the lakes; and the ‘Monte Tronador’ shot is just to give an idea of what most landscapes look like when you’re part of a tour (this time, crap light and cloud cover).

The Burn-out

I thought I’d been suffering for the last couple of days with a bad case of rhinitis, something that can hit me hard, usually from an allergy to dust mites, this time maybe accentuated by a mild allergy to Adriana’s cat, and by all that volcanic dust that was been blown around by the strong winds in Bariloche. 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, which helps explain the photos of the wall at the foot of my bed and the lightbulb on the ceiling; there wasn’t much else going on in my world. Eventually, I made it downstairs. I wasn’t strong enough to make it 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. Eventually, I made it out and saw a bit of the town…

Puerto Varas

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 saw it. 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, so you’ll have to make do with a mural of the volcano I came across in the town centre. 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.

I tend to shy away from organised tours, for various reasons, but usually because I end up disappointed in the visual experience and much prefer to wander around in a more dis-organised fashion. True, I may miss out on some great sites but there are plenty of other rewards out there. Take the smiling gentleman in this gallery… I’d 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. It’s a small moment, but true. Standing on the side of a mountain has its pluses but tours rarely give you the time and space to savour a moment.

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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