Day 35+36: 1./2. 2.2009

Villa La Angostura – Entrelagos – Puerto Octay

        On my way to “little Germany”

        “He who doubles his stride cannot go far.” This is one of the wise sentences the Chinese originator of the Daoist philosphy, Lao Zhi, has said more than 1000 years ago. At least it is reported that way. This is one of the sentences that I have taken to heart and back home from my time in China. Together with (at least) another one: “He who stands on tiptoe does not stand steady”. These words combined keep reminding me that, if you have a long way to go, speed is often much less important than perseverance and endurance. My stage today takes me from Argentina back into Chile, above a mountain pass and down to another one of those wonderful lakes, this time in Chile though. While winding my way up the road to the border and mountain pass (the border between Chile and Argentina runs pretty much along the Andean ridge here in the Southern part of those countries) I try to follow the Daoist wisdom. And it is good idea because the day on the bike today is getting very long. After more than 5,5 hours (effective riding time), 100km and more than 1300 meters altitude of climbing I am tempted by a 5star hotel with hot springs that lies right by the side of the road. A little check of prices and I am already gone further down the road to look for an alternative. Unfortunately it takes a while until further options appear. And unfortunately this while is filled with short but very steep climbs at the side of the lake. On another day and in a car I would have said that this is a wonderful scenic lakeside road. Now I do not really appreciate this beauty. Finally, after 6,5 hours riding I find a cozy campground right at the lakeside, with beach and nice individual camping spots between bushes and apple trees. I am proud of myself not to have given in to the temptation of the 5-star hotel, although I was tired and hungry because I have run out of food (still am, even a bit more now). Also the hot spring pictured in my mind as a great relaxation activity for tired legs. Now I can take a bath in the cold lake. Well done, Jan. You are not here to indulge in comfort, this is an outdoor adventure. And the lake will at least refresh me.

“Herzlich willkommen auf unserem Campingplatz. Ich heisse Helga”. I haven’t had such a friendly and above all easy-to-understand greeting at any place since a while. Helga is one of the many people of the region here in the Southern Lake District of Chile that have a strong German heritage and maintain the language. She is always happy to get a chance to talk to visitors in German. It remains a mystery to me though how she could spot that I am German before I had spoken a single word. Maybe she simply tries? Well, why not. Her campground is in the top league anyway. The setting and surrounding is lovely. The lake is not as cold as  I was expecting and there is even a restaurant where I get a delicious dinner (her granddaughter serves there, which leaves me with another chance to re-practise my German). All this together at a price of  less than 10% of the 5star hotel room rate. Good budget job done here. I find myself being very careful and thoughtful today anyway because I even decline to participate in the campground soccer activity in the evening,, knowing that my legs are probably not up for it anymore and that my shoes are not right. Hence an injury might occur more easily than normal and I might jeopardize my whole trip.. I am proud of myself again. Or do I get too cautious here? Even “spiessig”? Sure I would have played soccer  a few years ago. Well, age has to be good for something. Even if it only for self-protection.

Where does this antique truck come from? It doesn’t fit into this “home”  movie that I find myself  in here right now. It is simply unbelievable. While everything is passing by slowly at biking speed I do really feel as if I was on a Sunday afternoon ride at home in Germany. Everything here reminds me of it. It begins with the weather and climate. It is about 23°C mild, a cloudy sky, sometimes a few minutes of sun until the clouds take over again. There is a mild breeze of wind, mostly head on to me (a common experience most cyclists in northern Germany complain about) and all the trees and plants alongside the road look so familiar. Even the boysenberry bushes that I used to fall into as a kid when trying to get to the biggest fruits are here. I have corn fields to my left and black-and-white and brown-and-white cows to my right. All this has been taken from Germany, for sure. I wonder where the gap in Germany is. I stop by the road to take a picture of an “Afro-bush-entrance-gate” when a yellow DHL minivan passes by and leaves me puzzled. While I was just thinking that this huge and voluminous bush that covers most of this front gate reminds me of an Afro-American haircut (or better hair-no-cut)  and is the first thing that is a bit overdone in the Germany-collage the DHL-minivan takes me right back into the middle of my movie. As does the behavior of the Opel Vectra driver who has been slowed down a bit by another car that just entered the main road (he couldn’t overtake because of oncoming traffic). The Opel driver shows the typical German behavior. Push the horn, get really close behind the other car and show clear visual signs of annoyance (waving arms etc.). Good to get a quick refresher on how to behave when driving a car in Germany. I haven’t done that for a while now.

I check into Hotel Haase. The building is from 1895. It is built in the style of an old “Herrenhaus”. A huge mansion, rectangular in shape, two stories high, with high ceilings and a huge lobby in the centre of the first floor. Around this lobby is where the rooms are lined up in a circle. This house has character. In the first floor there is one room preserved which seems to have been the personal room of Madame Haase until she died only a  few years ago. The room contains a traditional  old German decoration, an old TV set, a  gramophone, an old piano and many tiny small details (Nippes) that make it unique. Fascinating, I could be in a German museum or in the house of the “Buddenbrooks”. 

There is “Kuchen” all around here. Every house at the side of the road seems to sell Kuchen. In Puerto Octay, the village that I will stay overnight today there are also many Kuchen shops. Every restaurant offers it as well. In the hotel I do my first Kuchen-test. My victim is a Kirsch-Käse-Streuselkuchen. It looks spectacular, surprises me in texture and taste though. Not that it is bad. It is just different from the Streuselkuchen I had in Germany so far. It is too soft in the middle, almost like a Quark-Kuchen. But maybe that was the intention, you never know. I might have just had a piece of a new Kuchen-invention, a mixed breed between Käsequark- and Kirschstreusel-Kuchen. Maybe I should bring the  recipe back home? After all the taste wasn’t bad, just different to my expectations. Well, I will wait. I am sure that this hasn’t been my last Kuchen-tasting in this area. I think I will even get Kuchen for breakfast..  

Over dinner I meet an interesting guy from Vina del Mar (close to Santiago). I forgot his name but lets call him Ramon (which might even be his real name but I am not sure). Ramon is self employed as an engineer. He was the first entrepreneur in Chile to offer equipment to drill holes for pipes under streets without opening up the street. Currently he is on his way south to Hornopiren in Patagonia (also on my route) where he will meet with two other guys to go in kayak into the fjords of the Patagonian coastline for 7 days. This sounds very interesting. Maybe I will see him when I pass by (or he) while I am on the Carretera Austral. I learn quite a bit about kayaking during dinner. Great. An option to spend my time in future in case I might get bored.

Another thing that reminds me of home (and work) are two Nestle signs I see at two of the farms I am passing by today. These are milk farms and Nestle has put up signs at the roadside that promote the origin and quality of the fresh milk from these farmers. I act as any other good Marsian would have done. I tear down the signs, kill the owners and burn down both farms to the ground. J I am in a movie here anyway am I not? This is my first victory over competition this year. Congratulations.

Day 37: 3.2.2009

Puerto Octay – Puerto Varas

        Kuchen !!!

        The Nestle guys take their quality assurance job here very seriously. I have passed by at least another 10 of those milk-quality-assurance signs alongside my road today. Either they just put the signs anywhere into the countryside or they do control a huge network of very small farmers to supply their fresh milk. In any way, both is quite surprising to me. I would not expect them to cheat with those signs nor would I expect them to work with so many tiny suppliers in parallel. What it means for me is that I give up the “burning down job”. There are too many of them. Too much of an effort. It would take me days to clean up that mess properly here. And the risk of being caught is getting too big. We (Mars) will have to sort it out competitively then.  

        Is this a fata morgana there next to the road? I am in the middle of one of those short but extraordinarily steep uphills of the day. And on a very bumpy dirt road. Hence things like these might appear. It is a strange fata morgana though. Nothing you would expect like a beach bar, a lake or something else refreshing. Instead I see a camping caravan in the field which carries a “Lays” label. Do the “Lays” employees camp out here in the countryside in the middle of a potato field ? I stop by, manage my heart rate below 200 again and check the fata morgana more in detail. It turns out to be a mobile quality laboratory. They seem to do the quality control right on the field for those farmers, who are not equipped to do so themselves. This is the way you manage quality here as a good company. You just deliver the expertise and equipment and control yourself.. Great. I will buy a bag of lays crisps in the next supermarket. They have just won a new customer.

        The great condor is a member of the family of vulture. He only feeds on dead prey. And there are many members to the greater biological family of the vultures that hang out here in the Southern Andes. So far I have only had bad luck in trying to spot one closely and properly. They were always high up in the air and pretty far away. Now this is different. They are sitting there right in front of me in the middle of the road, maybe 5 meters away. 10 of them, maybe more. They are big and ugly. Obviously an animal has been killed on the road and they all feast on the leftovers. They seem to be hungry because when a car passes by they only fly away in the very last second. I figure out that this is their group survival strategy. They sit in the big group on the street and feed. When a car comes the one who leaves last can eat most of the food but is also ,most likely to be killed. When one is killed by a car the next chunk of food is there for the others and the Russian roulette begins again. A self supporting virtuous circle of life. A self sustaining population. My theory is supported by the fact that the remainders of the animal that I find on the road when I finally move on are the feet of a big bird. Most likely one of their family members who had a good last meal and then sacrificed himself for the rest of the family (probably unintentionally). I regret not to have chosen biology as my career.  

        On my way along Lago Llanquihue I pass by loads of old houses in traditional German style. The heritage is clear and obvious here. The whole setting and scenery is really like Germany some decades back in the past. Funny. In the street you even hear people who look anything but German to speak German, with strange accents. A bit of  Schwäbisch and/or Southern German is the prevailing accent I find. Very funny.

        In Fruitillar at the beachfront I pass by the “Puppenhaus” and “Residenz am See” as if I was having a Sunday afternoon ride around Bodensee. I sit down to enjoy two big pieces of Kuchen. My well deserved lunch after a few hours of shaking and  rattling on a bad dirt road. I had the chance to either follow the paved road higher above the lake in the backcountry or to take the smaller but unpaved lakeside road. Of course I took the hardcore decision to follow the lakeside road. And I have been rewarded with great views and a superb scenery. The Kuchen tastes great, not too bad at all. Much better than the one I had yesterday. We are getting closer to German Kuchen standards here.

        An English fellow stops by to check my bike and we get into a conversation. This guys has done the Carretera Austral, the road through southern Patagonia that I will be doing next, 21 years ago. He tells me about five river crossings he had to do and catastrophic road conditions (if there was a road at all). Wonderful. Now my spirits are really full on for adventure.  Although I do believe that the whole road has been civilized quite a bit over the last two decades. Interestingly the guy, his name is Hallam, he is from London, lectures about his trip from 21 years ago on one of those big 5 star cruise ships that does connect Puerto Montt and Ushuaia (or does go even further).  This might even be a way for me to get a free ticket back up to Puerto Montt once I have made my way down to Ushuaia! I  could easily put some pictures together and entertain a crowd of elderly cruise ship passengers with my stories. I will keep that in mind. What I will do for now is to stay in Puerto Varas for a few days. To recharge my batteries, prepare for the Carrereta Austral, be with people in the hostal and update my notes and pictures.

Day 38-41: 4.-7..2.2009 Puerto Varas 

        Tranquilo”

        Do all these people have to walk right through my room at 6 and 7 am in the morning ? Maybe my feeling of joy and luck was a bit premature when I captured the one individual room (with shared bathroom) in the hostal during my sign in yesterday. Actually now, at 7 am in the morning awake in my bed I deeply regret to be in this room. The whole hostal is a lightweight wooden structure, no noise insulation whatsoever. And my room is right under the staircase to the upper rooms and right next to the entrance hall, only separated by a thin wooden door. The noise level is amazing. It really feels like everybody walks right through my room and stands there beside my bed and talks there in the middle of my room. These will be nice and “relaxing” 3-4 nights…

         I will stay here in Puerto Varas for a few days. To relax a bit, recharge batteries, check my bike, fill up my food reserves and plan the next stages of my trip. When leaving here on the 8th I will get on the famous Carretera Austral. This mostly dirt road winds its way more than 1000 km through Southern Patagonia all the way to the big glaciers and most spectacular national parks. I will see some of the highlights of my trip. I will pass through the ghost-town of Chaiten  (erased by a volcano eruption last year), do multi-day.hiking in many national parks (e.g.“Torres del Paine”), see Fitz Roy mountain, the big glaciers, fjords,  tropical forest and so on. This will be absolutely superb. Unfortunately it also means that it will get colder, with more rain and much less infrastructure (if at all). Hence I enjoy the last few days of preparation here in civilized Puerto Varas. And I enjoy being with very nice people here.

        There is a group of 4-6 people together here which is almost a bit familiar with itself by now. Neli and Mirko are two of the Swiss group that I met in Villarica and Pucon two weeks ago. Michael and Ole are two Germans I met here. Sandra and Tea are the two German girls who run the hostal here during their internship-assignments. The group is really nice. I like this atmosphere in the hostals. It is much friendlier and warmer than in a normal hotel. The people are there to meet likeminded travelers, to group together for activities, to exchange information about the trip and the routes and to simply enjoy some time in a nice atmosphere, with nice people. I am sure that many lasting friendships are generated in these places. I enjoy this.

        “Como vamos? Vamos bien?” The guy from the massage place keeps checking whether I am happy with his massage service. I have decided to start the relaxation part with a massage for my back. I do indeed have some severe pain in my left back/shoulder area after the long hours in the bike and thought this might be a good idea to help with this. Unfortunately the guy is quite afraid to give me a “real” massage, to put some pressure on the sore muscles to help get them softened again. I keep telling him to get deeper into the muscles and to apply some more pressure but he doesn’t really dare to do so. In the end I leave the place with a relaxed feeling (it was a pure relaxation massage, no real sports massage) and a strong smell of chocolate (the oil he used had a chocolate odor) but with no real improvement for my shoulder. Anyway, it was worth a try. And I paid half price only because of the new opening promotion.

        What does a long term traveler like I do on an “organization day”? Why would you need a whole day for supposedly little stuff that you would usually do within a few hours at home? Well, not sure. I will try to list what I did today and see if it justifies the utilization of a whole day. And anyway, if it doesn’t, I guess then it is simply the luxury of long term travelers to have more time to do things with less pace and less stress. I suppose this is part of the whole concept. My thought here kind of indicates though that I might not really qualify as a long term traveler (yet) because then I would certainly not ask myself this question. Doesn’t matter. I am not concerned. Not even if I find out that I will never develop a real long term traveler mindset. Imagine you would do long term traveling with a short term traveler mindset and pace. You would see and experience twice as much, that would be great…except the experience of being in the long term traveler mindset and state. Okay, enough of that. So what did I do?

        First we (Mirko and I went together) have to go to Puerto Montt by bus because Puerto Varas does not offer the shops and offices we need. We use a “micro” one of those hundreds of mini-buses that move around every bigger town and connects places up to 100 km apart. For 1 Euro we go the ca. 25 km to Puerto Montt.  We have a good lunch and then do our shopping part. I buy a new pair of hiking pants, hiking socks and a very lightweight fleece pullover. The pants and socks follow the “one in – one out” principle in my baggage to keep the weight constant or to decrease it. The old pants are crap and one pair of socks already fell apart. They all go into the bin now. The fleece sweater I have to add to my luggage because I need some more stuff for the colder days to come. It doesn’t add much weight though.

        I am surprised to see a supposedly very good saddle in one of the bike shops for the first time during my stay and give in to the temptation to buy it. There are many more kilometers to come and on roads that will be worse than the ones that I have been on until now. My saddle now is ok and helped to get rid of most of the seat problems I had in the beginning of the trip but still if doesn’t really qualify for the term “good saddle”. Hence I will give it a try and see if I can upgrade my bike a bit.

        I also visit the LAN Chile office to check if the changes to my travel plans hat I might want to apply would be feasible. My idea is not to fly back from the South of Patagonia after I have finished the bike ride straight away but to go to Easter Island for a few days and then fly back. Good news from the LAN people. All feasible. No problem. And the extra flight to  Easter Island would cost only 308 USD. That is ok, Anja and Michael paid 700 USD when they went a few months ago. Sounds like a plan.  

        I also exchange USD into Argentinean pesos to be prepared when I go back into Argentina at the very end of the Carretera Austral. I will cross into Argentina cross-country and not have a chance to get local currency or to exchange money down there in the first few villages because they are too small. Good forward planning is needed on this trip. Much more than one would imagine in the first place.

        But that is it for now in Puerto Montt. We go back to our hostel where I do some internet research about ferry times for the first ferry to come on my way south. I buy my ticket for the 11.2. online and close the organization and planning day for now. Did it qualify for a whole day of work? Maybe not.  But it certainly keeps you busy for quite a while on a trip like I do. Everything simply takes more time than at home. The other travelers confirm that opinion. It is just a fact that I have to accept.

        “Ich kann dir genau sagen wie das laufen wird. Da kommt dann die Angie vorbei und sagt dem Martin: „Mein lieber Martin, ich möchte dass du jetzt einfach mal ein paar mehr Kredite vergibst.“. Und der Martin der sagt dann:“Vielen Dank, meine liebe Angie. Das werde ich natürlich tun“ und dann läuft das so. Und da kannst du mir nicht erzählen dass die staatliche Sperrminorität bei unserer Bank keine Auswirkungen auf unser operatives Geschäft haben wird.“ Ole and I are in a heated debate about the future direction and changes at Commerzbank after the German state has claimed a 25% stake as a condition to offer the financial support package.  He works at Commerzbank and does look forward to find out about the changes that he will find applied after his coming back home. This is a very normal evening-get-together and discussion session in our recently formed group travel here in the hostal. Our discussion goes around all places and delivers a  lot of very funny and interesting insights for all of us.E.g. the secrets of the financial sector, strange traditions in Switzerland, how to succeed in making petfood, who is who in the food industry, the Japanese and their drinking habits (and strengths and weaknesses), American eating habits, pit falls in hostal life etc. The list does not end. We have decided that we will all claim our travel expenses back with our next  tax statement because we find ourselves on a real “Bildungsurlaub / Education holiday” here.  It is hilarious and extremely entertaining. And easily fills the evenings.

        “Oh my god, this is high. Was it really such a good idea to do this abseiling and canyoning?”. I find myself under some pressure here. We have had great fun in the group while doing the canyoning today. Sliding down a river bed in a wet suit, following the water streams on your back or front on washed out rocks, falling and jumping into small ponds from quite high up, all this was great fun and the challenge was acceptable. Now being up here, 30 meters above the big natural pool down there, hanging lose on a rope with nothing under my feet, not even a wall to hold on to, this is quite a bit of a mental hurdle that I have to overcome to go down there. The “abseiling” in the end of our “canyoning”-activity, ca. 30 meters vertically down, free hanging in some parts, this is a challenge. I have never done that before and for sure feeling comfortable is something different. But I have to accept that most of the group has gone down there right before me as well, so I should also be able to do it (no group pressure here). And I do. Of course a few moments later it is just a great feeling. But I have to be honest. I had my heart in my pant for a short while.        But every great thing has to come to an end at some point. Otherwise it wouldn’t be a great thing in itself anymore. By tomorrow morning our nice group will have parted ways and we will all be on our respective individual journey again (except Tea and Sandra, who will stay to manage the hostel). We will spread into all four directions of the wind and each one of us will soon meet more interesting new people. And maybe we will meet again somewhere further down the road or later in life in a reunion. I will be on my bike on the Carretera Austral, loaded with food to be prepared for the next stretch to come. There will be ca. 1000 km with much less infrastructure and more challenging weather. The scenery and landscapes should reward me for this sacrifice though.