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los tres lagos hike

Thursday, July 30th, 2009

The day after my epic biking adventure I was going to get up early and catch a bus to the National park nearby for a day of hiking.  However due to the fact that I was completely exhausted, when my alarm went off, I turned it off and went back to sleep for a few more hours.  When I did venture out I didn’t get up to much, just got a badly needed haircut and wandered down to the lake with black (volcanic) sand beaches.

volcanic beach in Pucon

Since I still wanted to go hiking here, I prolonged my stay for that night and booked a night bus to Valparaiso for the next evening.  I managed to wake up at 7:00 the next day, and make it down to the bus station for the (only) morning bus to the national park.  The first thing I noticed when I got off the bus at the park was that it was significantly colder than it was in Pucon, and Pucon itself was pretty chilly.  No further motivation to start hiking needed.  With the trail to the lookout peak closed for the winter due to ice the tres lagos trail was the only option for a day hike, 17.6km round trip and it was a pretty good workout.

view of the volcano over lago Tilquilco

First walking through dense forest, scattered with bamboo, then up into a more airy forest with much larger and taller trees.  To start out with there was no snow underfoot, that soon changed to pack ice and the higher I got, just snow.

bamboo forest



To get to the 3 lakes, you have to climb up what could be mistaken for a small mountain if there weren’t other much larger mountains around it, 700-800 meters is what I had to go up anyway.  Along the way to the top there were a couple lookouts and two waterfalls.  I didn’t think about any of this before the hike (not sure why), but since it’s the middle of winter here, nearly everything is frozen once you get into the mountains.  This means that the higher you get, especially in this national park setting, the more like a untouched magical winter wonderland it looks like.  The waterfalls being surrounded by ice in a million different shapes and sizes, beautiful.


After the waterfalls, and a good deal more hiking through the snow I reached Lago Chico, the first of the 3 lakes (and as the name suggests, the smallest) and the one that was feeding the waterfalls I saw earlier.

lago chico

lago chico

After Chico, was Lago Toro, the most spectacular of the 3 for me, almost completely frozen over, surrounded by snow coated forest and on the far side of the lake, jagged, snow coated, dramatic mountains rising seemingly straight out of the lake.  I decided this was a good place to eat lunch.

lago toro

lago toro

En route to the last lake, starting the loop part of the trail you walk along Lago Toro, but significantly above the lake level, giving you practically a birds eye view of it.

lago toro

The last lake, Lago Verde was pretty uninteresting compared to the others for me, or maybe since I had to walk through the deepest snow to get to it, it was just more work.  Either way, I didn’t linger long there and headed back down the trail I came up to wait for the bus back.  Here’s a few more random photos from the day…

lago verde

lago verde


The bus arrived back in Pucon right at sunset, and it was am absolute stunner, unfortunately my camera batteries died while I was trying to take photos of it, not before I snapped this though…

sunset in Pucon

I grabbed some dinner, in the form of the least impressive empanadas I’ve had yet, and headed back to my hostel where I paid my bill and re configured my bags before leaving for the bus station.  Next stop Valparaiso.

Valdivia briefly, Pucon, and a 40km bike ride

Monday, July 27th, 2009

Instead of spend a whole day on buses and in bus stations, I decided to break up the two 3 hour bus journeys from Puerto Varas to Pucon and spend half a day and a night in Valdivia.  Valdivia is near the coast on the banks of a river, it’s not that big and the main centre is on the river front, where a few colonial buildings remain and the fish market is.  I like fish markets, but this one was nothing compared to the ones I saw in Asia, everything was already dead!


riverfront fish market

central valdivia

After walking around the whole town centre, I returned to the hostel, which got progressively colder throughout the evening.  Seriously, both of my hostels in Chile so far now have been cold when going to bed and freezing when waking up!  Wooden stoves/fireplaces may be quaint, but if they aren’t heating the place up they need an upgrade!

Next morning I left for Pucon, amidst nearly freezing temperatures and thick fog.  Fortunately the fog cleared soon after we left on the bus and the temperature rose gradually all day so by the time the bus arrived in Pucon, the sky was clear and the air not frigid.  Here is the view of Volcan Villarrica from Pucon, one of Chile’s most active volcanos (or so I’ve read).

Pucon and Villarrica Volcano

I didn’t arrive until the middle of the afternoon so it was too late to do much of anything, so I had to wait until the next morning.  I decided to rent one of the hostels mountain bikes and do the circuit recommended by the owner.  He said, “3 hours, maybe 4 if you go slow and stop a lot”.  I managed to return to the hostel (that in itself was a success!) about 5 1/2 hours later.  heh.  Having biked for around 40km, up and down the whole way.  I have not been this exhausted since I climbed half dome in Yosemite last September, I also haven’t ridden a bike anywhere near that far on anywhere near those kind of up and down hills for at least 2 years.

The view was good along the way, crossing a few rivers and getting closer to some mountains you can’t see from Pucon itself, also a different side of the Volcano.


Villarrica Volcano

At one point along the way there is a blue lagoon, and a pool feed by 3 waterfalls in different directions.

blue pool

3 waterfalls

3 waterfalls

The farthest point I got to, was Lago Caburgua, where you can start to see the major mountains in the National Park to the East.  Nice view, but getting up the last 5km (all up) to the lake sapped most of the energy reserves I had.

lago caburgua

lago caburgua

On the way back (all 18km of it) the sun hid behind a cloud, I had wind blowing directly at me and the temperature starting dropping quickly.  Not a good way to end the ride, though this is a good preparation for the inca trail which I’ll be hiking in 3 weeks!  I did have just enough energy left to go to the supermarket to buy dinner and before collapsing into a chair at the hostel, to take some pictures of the stunning sunset, one of the coolest I’ve ever seen!

Villarrica Volcano at sunset

Puerto Varas

Saturday, July 25th, 2009

Puerto Varas is a small town on the edge of a lake, with two volcanos on the other side of the lake.  A hotbed of outdoor activities in the summer, somewhat subdued now.  It’s a quaint town, with a good amount of nice 19th century buildings from German colonization. 

19th century church

el centro de puerto varas

I didn’t get to see much of the volcanos though, since they were almost completely covered in clouds the whole time I was there.

looking across the lake to the volcano

I basically chose to spend a day here because it was the closest place to Osorno (where the bus from Argentina stopped) that sounded interesting.  I have noticed some differences to Argentina immediately.
Firstly, there is no change shortage!  Tienen cambio aca!  Unlike Argentina, where a 1 peso coin was seemingly worth more than gold dust due to the lake of coins and certain things (such as some local buses) requiring change, and breaking a 100 peso note (what you inevitably get out of an atm) was not an easy proposition.  Here, I have broken several 10,000 peso notes (what the atm gave me here, worth about 70 arg pesos) at various places with no problem at all.

Things seem less frantic here, and here’s a big thing, cars stop for people!  Though some of this may be because I’m in a small town in the offseason for traveling here.  Also, the empanadas are much bigger here, better value for money but the two I’ve had weren’t nearly as tasty as the Argentinean ones.  Less choices of fillings as well.

bus ride across the andes to Chile

Friday, July 24th, 2009


After the wonderful lookout hike, I decided that would be my last day in Bariloche and Argentina, and I’d leave for Chile the next morning.  This is straightforward enough except that in the evening a group of us stayed up until 4:00.  This isn’t usually a problem, but the last bus to Chile leaves around midday because they have to reach the border before it closes later in the afternoon.  My alarm also failed to go off, but I managed to have just enough time to get my stuff together, eat breakfast and get to the bus station in time.  I didn’t really want to leave Bariloche, or the great hostel I was at there but I’d done the majority of stuff I could do there without spending lots of money on ski lessons or something, and hey I was going to another country so that’s always interesting.  I was thinking, when I got on the bus to leave though, that I’m pretty sure I’ll be back to Argentina, there’s so much I haven’t seen here, in the Northern and Southern parts of the country, especially Southern Patagonia, that I have to come back in the summer some time and see that, it’s so amazing in Bariloche and by all accounts it is even more spectacular farther south.

Moving on though, after the mad rush to get the bus it was time to sit back and look out the window for the next 6 hours since most of that time is going straight through the Andes.  Here’s the view near the beginning. Keep in mind that these were all taking from the bus while it was moving so stuff might be more blurry or crooked than normal ;-)

view of Bariloche and Cerro Catedral



In between the border stations you drive through the pass, where there is a lot of snow and a totally different environment.




After you cross into Chile, you drive down out of the mountains, it then becomes a lot greener, almost like rainforest in the hills before flattening out completely to farmland.  With the odd volcano…


My bus ended in Osorno, where I had to wait for 3 hours to catch my next bus to Puerto Varas, slightly farther South.  I was unimpressed with the efficiency of the Chilean bus station, and nearly missed the bus that was 1/2 an hour late because one of the attendants told me it wasn’t my bus!  The bus itself though was nice and comparable to the Argentinean ones I’ve been on.

I arrived in Puerto Varas at 8:30pm, tired and freezing, and the place the bus let us off didn’t look like the place the guidebook said it would so I just jumped in a taxi for my hostel.  Fortunately it wasn’t very far and as soon as I got there I went out looking for dinner, which I found in the form of a delicious Churrasco, a Chilean steak sandwich with avacado, tomato and cheese among other toppings.  After that completion of an extremely long travel day I went to bed and slept for a long time.

Cerro Otto lookout hike, Bariloche

Friday, July 24th, 2009

Next morning the snow clouds had cleared and I woke up to this.

morning view from my bedroom

A couple of us decided to hike up to Cerro Otto, the other major lookout near Bariloche.  The first part of the hike was on tiny trails through the snow coated forest, every now and then catching a glimpse of a view through the trees, really cool.  Then, you reach the top of the first hill and the forest clears off suddenly to give you these views, stunning panorama.

view on the hike to cerro otto

view on the hike to cerro otto

view on the hike to cerro otto

The rest of the hike was on a (snow coated) dirt road so all open, but the kind of forest changed a few times and so did the view.

view on the hike to cerro otto

view on the hike to cerro otto

view on the hike to cerro otto

The few clouds that were there at the start of the day had pretty much vanished by the time we reached the top, where there was a great view of not only the lake and mountains across it, but in the opposite direction as well, including Cerro Catedral, the main ski resort here.

cerro catedral from cerro otto

view from the top of cerro otto

Snow in Bariloche!

Wednesday, July 22nd, 2009

After another good night at the hostel with the great group of people there, I woke up the next morning, looked out the window and it was snowing. At first I wasn’t surprised since that was the forecast, but while eating breakfast I looked at my watch and thought, hang on a minute, it’s July 21st, and it’s snowing. I guess I’ve been in the Southern hemisphere for so much of the last year that it took a while for me to realize that this weather now is strange for me…
Anyway, with the weather snowing one minute and clearing off the next it wasn’t a day for hiking or any outdoor activities. For most of the day I just chilled with everyone else at the hostel, when the snow got heavy at one point around midday we had some photo moments outside on the patio…

hammock in the snow

Later in the afternoon I ventured out into town, to check out the cathedral and chocolate shops. After taking some pictures of the cathedral and buying a few chocolates I walked up the hill that Bariloche is built on for a view of the mountains behind the town, which are no less impressive than the mountains in the other directions. Everything looks so great after a fresh coating of snow anyway.


snow clouds across the lake

After seeing that I headed back down into town, to the lake shore and when I got there, a large dark cloud was covering the lake at the Eastern edge. It looked pretty wild so I took some photos, then started walking the 10 minute walk back to the hostel. Before I got back there it was snowing, and that cloud had covered half the lake, started to break up and made for awesome cloud formations through the sunset. Looking out the hostel window was like watching tv, every few minutes a different wild view across the lake, awesome stuff.

snow clouds across the lake

snow clouds across the lake

snow clouds across the lake

snow clouds across the lake at sunset

Bariloche, Patagonia; it’s cold now.

Tuesday, July 21st, 2009

18 hours on the bus to Bariloche isn’t as bad as it sounds, I slept for a large portion of it and the last few hours before arrival you are passing great scenery.  The weather on the other hand was shit, freezing cold and raining, couldn’t see any mountains when I arrived in town, couldn’t hardly see across the lake.  Fortunately I had made a wise decision about the hostel I was out, just about as good as the last one with awesome views across the lake of the mountains (when the clouds cleared), the hostel has a bar, with amazingly good, and cheap, local beer.  That was the rest of the night.

sunset from my hostel window

Next morning, the clouds started clearing, and I took a bus along the lake shore to do some hiking.  When I got off the bus near the start of the trail, this was the view, a good start to the day.

llao llao hotel

The hike was through forest, some of which was bamboo (I didn’t know that was here!) with the occasional lookout over a lake to a mountain or two on the other side.

Lago Moreno

I hiked to Lago Escondido, or the hidden lake and ate lunch to this view before hiking back to catch the bus.

Lago Escondido

Since the weather was so great (cold but sunny) I decided to go up the Cerro Campanario chair lift to see what was apparently one of the top 10 views in the world according to national geographic (or so I was told).  I was impressed anyway.  Mountains, lakes and forests in just about every direction.  Can’t really describe it too well, so here are some photos:

view from Cerro Campanario

view from Cerro Campanario

view from Cerro Campanario

view from Cerro Campanario

view from Cerro Campanario

view from Cerro Campanario

I got back into Bariloche just before sunset, and nearly froze to death taking photos down at the lake shore…

sunset across the lake

sunset across the lake

I like it here.

me @ bariloche

Mendoza, winelands and more swine flu mania

Saturday, July 18th, 2009

My bus from  Córdoba to Mendoza was good, I actually slept well.  Far superior to the semi cama bus.  The seats recline all the way back, are wide and very comfortable.  Sunny skies greeted me in the morning upon arrival in Mendoza, along with a view of mountains.  Something I haven’t seen for a while.

Mendoza is the heart of Argentina’s large wine industry, on the very flat plains near the andes.  The 4th largest city in Argentina, but less than a million people here.  My hostel was one of the best I’ve stayed in on the whole trip, with the best guitar I’ve ever played in a hostel.  They even brought out free wine every evening.  (and it was actually pretty good wine).  One of the best things about the hostel was you are always meeting/talking to everyone else there.  I scarcely did anything on my own all of the four days I was there.  I walked around the major points of the city my first day there, sensing a much more laid back feel and less people rushing around than Buenos Aires or Córdoba immediately.  There’s none of the old buildings here like the last 2 places I’ve been because they have all been destroyed by earthquakes, so the town is not attractive in that sense.  It has lots of plazas and a central pedestrian area that give it some great character though.

plaza independencia

When the owner of the hostel asks you if you want to do a biking winery tour and get your bike for free the next day you don’t hesitate much.  Especially since the winery tour offered by minibus here costs a staggering $80, more than any I’ve done in other countries.  By biking around, paying only the small tasting fees and for lunch I visited 4 wineries (one of them was revisited at the end), biked between them in the great weather, with a view of the snowy Andes not too far away the whole time, spent 8 hours in all and spent less than $25 all day on it.  You get a bike, a map and a briefing on which order to go to the wineries (to make sure you are there for the English tours), there were 8 of us all together, from my hostel and two others.  Great fun, and lots of good wine.  It’s a lot less diverse than some of the wine regions I’ve visited previously, but the Malbecs (trademark wine from here) and Cab-Sav’s were all good.

wine cellar

I walked up through the very large park on the West side of the city to a lookout to see more of the mountians, unobstructed by buildings.  A lot of walking and an anticlimactic view, you can see mountains, but not the snow caps of the Andes, because there are smaller, brown mountains in between at this point.  To the South you can just start to see a line of snowy mountains stretching into the distance.

el parque

el parque

One last thing before I cook some food and then catch my 18 hour bus to Bariloche, swine flu mania is growing to obscene levels.  Apparently there have now been over 120 deaths here, making it 2nd only behind the USA.  In a country with 40 million people.  How many people die from malaria or any given number of other diseases every day that never make the news?
Anyway, today they enacted more emergency measures.  Only a small number of people are allowed in public places (banks, supermakets etc) at once.  I just waited in a line to get into a supermarket, a large one, that maybe had 30 people inside the whole place.  They are also banning anyone who is under 18 from entering such places at all!  Signs warning people not to stand to close to others are everywhere.  The upside of this is the last place I am heading here, Bariloche is in a major ski resort area and this is normally the peak ski season and travel season for the winter holidays.  However, due to the swine flu, buses and accommodation that wold normally be booked out, does not need to be booked in advance at all.  Less people around, no advanced planning required, awesome!  I’m thinking the mountains themselves are unaffected by swine flu…


Wednesday, July 15th, 2009

My overnight 11 hour bus ride to Córdoba was not as luxurious as I was expecting, I elected to go with the semi-cama class instead of the full cama class due to the price so I wasn’t expecting a near horizontal recline but based on what I’d read and heard I thought this class would be nicer. The seats weren’t particularly comfortable, no more so than buses I’ve taken other places before. The seat did recline farther than any night bus I’ve taken before though, I managed to get some sleep. Unfortunately the state of my budget means I wont be upgrading to cama class on this trip with the price for that going up 50% over semi-cama.

That’s enough on the bus though. I arrived in Córdoba at 8AM and was met by my couchsurfing host soon after at the station. This was the first place in South America that I had gotten a positive response on couchsurfing, though I’d been trying for everywhere I’ve been the last 2 weeks.
We walked around central Córdoba in the afternoon, but since it was Sunday almost everything was closed so it wasn’t particularly interesting. In the evening we went to a nearby art street market, on a road lined with small shops, bars and cafes, people everywhere and a band playing in the road.

Monday I headed into town, to see what it was like when it didn’t resemble a ghost town. Much better. The city is full of churches, all of which are old and spanning several different building styles. There’s some other grand buildings in the centre as well, though not nearly as many as Buenos Aires.

central cordoba

the cathedral

That night we had a asado at my hosts place, a variety of great meat. Delicious, and the prices of the meat at the supermarket are unbelievably low. My last day there (which was the coldest day of the year so far here, -2C overnight) we went North by bus to the nearby town of Jesus Maria, where my host was from. It’s a pleasant small town, home to a good sized Italian colony. You can also see some hills on the edge of town, the first sort of geography I’ve seen down here, though that will change dramatically when I wake up from my next night bus, to Mendoza, in the centre of wine country and on the edge of the Andes.


Colonia del Sacramento and Montevideo, Uruguay

Saturday, July 11th, 2009

Upon arrival in Colonia, Uru I noticed two things very quickly. 1st, it was freezing. 2nd the historic centre by the harbour (the reason anyone goes here) was small, very small. I spent the rest of the afternoon wandering around the old cobbled streets, tried to stay warm and found some lunch. It’s picturesque, but not much in the way of actual sites.

waterfront in the old town

the historic town

I woke up the next morning to even colder weather, still sunny though, and caught the bus to Montevideo, the capital and by far the largest city in Uruguay. The bus was nice, probably the nicest I’ve been on the trip so far and it still didn’t look as nice as the pictures of the Argentinean buses I’ve seen. I managed to sleep for a fair bit of the 2 1/2 journey. After finding my hostel in the old city centre I was starving and found lunch quickly, in the form or a chivito, which is a steak sandwich loaded with toppings, a national dish here, and the steak rivals the Argentinean stuff. Very good.

old town

looking into the old town from plaza independencia

Next day in Uruguay was still cold, and sunny. I went down to the indoor market, which has a few shops in it, but is mostly parillas, and since it’s inside the place smells great. You watch them cook the steak on the massive grill right in front of you, just as good as the Argentinean steaks I’d had, however a bit more expensive, like most things here. The chimichurri sauce with it was excellent.

old town

my steak cooking

I spent 2 nights in Montevideo, wandered around the old city and some of the newer areas. The ramblas that surround the old town are probably happening in the summer but deserted now. The city is more run down than Buenos Aires, though there’s still quite a lot of cool architecture. It’s also much quieter, especially at night. A pleasant place but nothing much happening really, this was made worse by the fact that the hostel I was staying at was full of strange people, the type who start talking to you and you can’t seem to make them stop no matter what you try. I haven’t met that many off the wall people in one place anywhere before.

old town

I decided to head back to Buenos Aires and from there inland towards the mountains instead of heading up the coast in Uruguay since it’s really cold and the main attraction there is the beaches. I’ve been on plenty of beaches in great weather on the trip so far, no point in visiting them in the winter.