Patagonia - part I

12 December 2016 – 31 December 2017

Our big trip to Patagonia – Part I

Late last year we decided to take one more big trip before Indi goes to school. To soak up inspiration, enjoy nature and meet new people we decided Patagonia would be our destination.

 

On the 12th of December, our house left in the hands of house sitters Ines and Gary we left for Buenos Aires.

This is Part I of a series of posts documenting our trip. Part II is available as well and so is Part III and Part IV.

Buenos Aires

To break up the long trip from Amsterdam to Southern Chile we decided to stay a few days in Buenos Aires.

City Life

We just loved that city. With its numerous playgrounds (the mere existence of these places has gotten a lot more important to us since the arrival of Indi and Jona) was just one of the things that’s so great about the city.

Japanese Gardens

We  stayed within the Palermo district for most of the three days we were in town. Playgrounds aside, the Japanese gardens were great as well.

El Aleph

Of course, when in Buenos Aires, we had to visit El Aleph on Jorge Luis Borges and snap a picture.

Puerto Varas and Chiloé

On the 16th of December we headed to Puerto Varas. With flights to Santiago and Puerto Montt it took us pretty much the entire day; traveling with kids and all their luggage definitely takes more time than on your own with just a carry-on.

We arrived in Puerto Varas, just 50 kilometers or so north of Puerto Montth late in the evening and the next day we picked up our little Superwoman camper van.

Somewhere in the first week we renamed her Schuddel Buddel (which translates to something like Shakey Bakey) as most of the roads we took in our trip were gravel. The van by the way we hired from Wicked Campers. By far the only affordable way (as far as we are concerned) to travel the entire Carratera Austral by hire car / camper van.

Puerto Varas...

really was a nice town to start our trip in Chilean Patagonia. It has a very relaxed yet energetic vibe. Situated along Lago Llanquihue it’s very scenic, has numerous nice restaurants, bars and terraces, and is a great place to do some  last-minute shopping.

Chiloé

After Puerto Varas we hopped on a boat for the crossing over to Chiloé, the large island just  south of Puerto Montt.

There we camped for a few days in various places.

Penguins

We also visited the Puñihuil penguin colony.

One of the main objectives of our trip was to search for penguins.

Neither Indi, nor we could have imagined it was going to be so easy to find them :-).

Getting Adjusted

The three day side trip to Chiloé provided us some much needed time to figure out how we were going to spend two months in this tiny van without going completely mad…

We slept with the four of us in the tent on the roof.

Muelle de las Almas

We also tried our hands (or rather feet) at a little hike to Muelle de las Almas, a beautiful artproject by Santiago wood sculptor and art professor Marcelo Orellana Rivera on the Pacafic coast of Chiloé.

In her quest to breast feed in the strangest locations on the planet, Lin had some luck once again, ‘coz Jona proved to be quite hungry that day :-).

Unfortunately...

this was also the place where we lost Indi’s favourite bear (or lievelingsbeer in Dutch). It’s not just her favourite bear,  its name is even Favourite Bear, so you can imagine what a loss it must have been.

Soon after

We heard from a sea gull we spotted circling above our heads for a while that lievelingsbeer had been picked up by a sea lion and that soon, Indi would be reunited with him. On the beach, we wrote lievelingsbeer a letter, telling him to please come back.

Petrohue and Cochamó

Our plan was to travel down the Carratera Austral, the (in)famous 1.250 kilometer long ‘highway’ traversing much of Southern Chile. It’s mostly gravel and was first completed only in 1988, most of it having been constructed during Pinochet’s reign in the 70’s and 80’s.

By limiting the scope of our travels to only the Carratera Austral, we figured we could move really slowly, not stressing the kids, leaving plenty of time to find playgrounds every day. Stretching it and doing too much we thought would make the kids unhappy and in turn, us as well.

For various reasons...

our initial idea was to skip the first bit of the Carratera,  first go into Argentina for a week or and start our Chilean adventure in Futaleufú,  the world-famous rafting village.

Petrohue

In Petrohue however we met with a Chilean family from Santiago and after pleading for about an hour, they convinved us to not skip the first bit after all.

Petrohue, with its views on various volcanos and situated near the lake is a great place by the way.

Cochamó

So, after having driving back to Puerto Varas one last time we started our one-way trip down south.

Our first stop was Cochamó.

Camper at farmers

Although camping in the wild is allowed pretty much everywhere, we usually stuck to campsites and the occasional farmer that allowed us to camp in their fields.

The bulls in Patagonia...

fortunately proved to be more friendly than their Dutch counterparts. Here we parked in the middle of a field to find ourselves surrounded by big brown male machos in no-time.

Jona did not mind at all and ran at them, ignoring the fact
that he had never walked before in his entire life!

The day after

we woke up and were happy to find Jona still sleeping right beside us given what was parked right outside out tent ;-).

Parque Pumalin

The (double) boat ride from Hornopirén to Caleta Gonzalo proved to be quite an adventurous one in retrospect. It was then and there that the December 25th 7.6 earth quake struck. The epicenter was just miles away from us, but we literally didn’t feel anything, except for Chilean phones beeping and showing tsunami alerts. A small wave aside, we learned later, that tsunami didn’t come and once we set foot on land again in Caleta Gonzalo we could continue our journey.

One of the great things about this trip has been that we met so many inspiring, fun and nice people. On the boat trip to Caleta Gonzalo we met with Cata and Victor and half way (the trip is split up by a small 10km road that needs to be traversed before hopping on a second boat) we shared our pineapple with them and in turn we got delicious homemade bread.

Really, the people we met on this entire trip were worth as much as  anything as else!

Parque Pumalin

after getting of the boat and entering Parque Pumalin,  we made our way to the nearest campsite where we invited Isabel, Uwe and Nick to have Christmas dinner with us. Isabel and Uwe are crossing all of South America by bike(!) and Nick had just started on a backpacking trip without deadline. They turned out to be great company. We shared our (simple) meals and had a wonderful evening together.

Parque Pumalin is one of two private parks set up by controversial ecobarons Doug and Kristine Tompkins.  The former Esprit founder and his wife – ex-CEO of the Patagonia clothing company – started buying up land some 20 years ago and have since given millions of acres of  land back to nature.

The next morning we did a small hike through the temperate rainforest where numerous thousand year old Alerce trees line the trails. These mighty giants grow only millimeters per year!

Inspiring as it is...

the Tompkins couple was (Doug has died in a kayaking accident late 2015) controversial and we learnt until this day still not everyone seems to agree with what they’ve aspired to do.

Controversy aside, the parks they’ve created are world-class, the campsites the most spacious and nicest we’ve ever seen anywhere on the planet and nature is just overwhelmingly beautiful.

Landscaping is applied heavily in some areas with hectares of freshly mowed lawn near park entrances and picture perfect natural wooden fencing.

Stupid governmental regulations are getting in the way  it seems. One (deserted and really beautiful) campsite was closed down the park ranger told us a few hours after we had arrived. It turned out the composting toilet that was availale conflicts with regulations. We stayed nonetheless citing too much alcohol as a reason why we couldn’t move the car :-).

El Amarillo

We especially liked the area of the park near the  village called El Amarillo. This is where we hiked half way up to the El Amarillo glacier. The hike turned out to be much longer than we expected  but it very beautiful nonetheless.

Lago Yelcho and Futaleufú

Leaving Park Pumalin behind us we continued our way in a southerly direction until we arrived at Lago Yelcho, a large and beautiful lake that doubles as one of the best fly-fishing areas in the country.

Driving onto the property of Yelcho en la Patagonia, a luxurious lodge straddling the lake we learnt that they also had a campsite and that’s where we finished our day.

The next morning...

the beautiful lake was part covered in mist, providing great conditions for some nice pictures. The lodge and  associated campsite are great with sit-on-top kayaks available for free and plenty of hiking opportunities nearby.

Really...

the water is only 20cm deep,  so don’t worry about Indi’s safety

;-).

As a pleasant surprise...

Lin got to take a horseback riding tour with a local guide and before she took of, Indi got the opportunity to test her riding skills. She was pretty convinced she could ride the horse all by herself.

Jona had his chance

as well, but wasn’t nearly as competent a rider as Indi. When he got off the horse though, we heard him wisper:  “You better watch me, in ten years I’m a real gaucho!”

Indi and Jona

had plenty of friends along the way. Although not every campsite saw families with kids joining in, most of the time there was somebody for Indi and Jona to practice their language skills with.

Futaleufú

After Lago Yelcho we continued to Futaleufú, the rafting village. This is where we met with our friends Erica, Piri,  Nico and Pedro.

A real asado

With them we celebrated New Year’s Eve with a real  Chilean asado. Lamb on the grill is the traditional  dish here to celebrate just about anything  from a birthday to New Year’s Eve.

The weather wasn’t really good, so we did not get to participate in any rafting activities. We originally planned to do some sort of family floating  that would have allowed the kids to come too, but that didn’t work out.

If you’re in town, definitely plan an activity or two, and if you do so, book with Bochinche Expediciones, they really are the best!

End of part I

Approaching Futaleufú, we already knew the weather on the West side of the Andes was going to be seriously wet for quite a number of days. This is why after having celebrated New Year’s Eve, on the 1st of January we decided to cross the border into Argentina for a few days.

In part II, we’ll document that part of our trip.