My first sight of Puerto Varas was not auspicious. This was partly due to the weather, cool and cloudy, and partly to the fact that I had been dumped unceremoniously at the side of the road out of town. I had taken another Cruz del Sur bus, this one heading north to Concepcion, but also acting as a local. I had noticed the conductor telling people when their stop was coming up, and assumed, wrongly, that he would tell me when we neared Puerto Varas. I also expected to recognize the bus station.
I was not warned, and the bus “station” was an unlabeled shed with a covered parking area. It was only when I noticed a “Puerto Varas, center of tourism” sign (or words to that effect), for the second time, that I thought to ask my seat mate if we were in Puerto Varas. Actually, we were leaving.
Fortunately, this was merely annoying, not disastrous, illustrating rule of travel number something or other: “if in doubt, always, always, ask”. Not to mention the subsidiary rule: “if you’re sure, ask anyway, you could be wrong”. Never mind being embarrassed, better to look a fool than be one, and after all, you’re never going to see these people again, right?
So, since the bus “station” was itself out of the center, I had a longish trek into town to locate the T.I., after which I had a further, uphill, trek to the Hostal Carla Minte. Friends had recommended this place, and I had a comfortable stay. Once I got oriented, I realized I could cut out a lot of walking by heading down (or up) the path along the waterfront (I do mean down, the Hostal, along with the aggressive, new, Hotel Cumbres, was up on a cliff).
The hostal helped improve my outlook. So did lunch, my first experience with a pollo y palto sandwich – chicken and avocado, and I just love avocado. And then the clouds lifted. Believe me, you go to Puerto Varas for the view. Not one, but two, snow capped volcanoes emerged from the clouds, and one, Osorno, was a stand-in for Mt. Fuji. I didn’t get to see Fuji-san when I was in Japan, but now I didn’t mind so much. While Volcan Calbuco wasn’t a perfect cone, it was quite impressive, too.
Puerto Varas is a resort town, quite a pleasant one, but aside from admiring the view, there really isn’t a whole lot to do. I did walk round (and up and down) to look at all the historic buildings touted by my guidebook and by the TI, but unlike one Fodor’s poster I was not particularly impressed. Most seemed be in serious need of TLC.
I was also less than enthusiastic about Puerto Montt’s Angelmo market. Of course, it didn’t help that there was a cruise ship in port the day I visited, nor that I saw places advertising prices in USD as well as in the local currency. (It’s one thing in Argentina, where currency controls make dollars especially valuable, and another in places where the local currency is fine.) Aside from a couple of alpaca scarves, none of the handicrafts caught my interest, and I found some repellent. The fish market was OK, but nothing out of the ordinary.
My trip to Frutillar was much more successful. As with Nice, I would probably hate the place in season, but when I got off the bus at 10:00 on a weekday morning, the place was whisper quiet. Even when a few small tour groups showed up, they didn’t stay long. The place is almost too clean and tidy, and almost too cute. Basically, it’s just two long streets, parallel to the waterfront, and lined with Germanic buildings set in beautifully maintained gardens. I also visited the open air museum, along with several school groups.
As in Puerto Varas, Volcan Osorno was hidden by clouds in the morning, but as the day warmed, the clouds started to disappear. I realized that the reason most tours don’t leave for Frutillar until 15:00 is that the views are best in the late afternoon, but I had no complaints. I ate another pollo y palta sandwich looking straight at Osorno, and then went back to Puerto Varas, where I had found a couple of places that fixed decent coffee. I still hadn’t recovered from my first morning in Chile, when I discovered that my breakfast “coffee” was hot water and Nescafe – powdered Nescafe at that, not even the granules I carry for emergencies.