Today I heard something I hadn’t heard for a really long time. Silence. No shouting Chinese neighbours, no karaoke, no drilling, no hooting traffic, no reggaeton; just the faint sound of the wind, buzzing insects and birds flapping their wings. It was marvellous.
Having left the big bad city, I arrived in Puerto Varas yesterday afternoon. A short bus ride from the cement factories, pointless grafitti and electricity pylons of Puerto Montt (think Slough or Stoke with a lake), Puerto Varas is a world away; the North Face 80 lucas kagool to Puerto Montt’s one luca non-waterproof copy. Humming to the sound of lawnmowers and smelling quite literally of roses, at first glance it looks and smells like green and cloudy England, albeit with two giant volcanoes towering over it, a whiff of wood smoke rather than chicken tikka and plenty of German architecture.
First stop was lunch and if ‘Donde El Gordito’ is good enough for Anthony Bourdain, it’ll do for me. Small and pokey like a train carriage with frilly net curtains and a dazzling collection of tat, coins and pens, this is the place to come for seafood. When everyone else goes to Argentina, they coo and fuss about the size and quality of the steaks and as a non-red meat eater, I always feel a bit left out. Now it’s my turn. Expect me to return home very very clever as I intend to eat kilos of fish while I’m down here. At ‘El Gordito’ I was served a piece of salmon the size of a small country smothered in a garlic, coriander, prawn and pepper sauce. It was utterly delicious but rich and intensely garlicy. As I left the restaurant, people were actually crossing the street to avoid me exhaling. I cleared shops it was so bad.
I’d gone out of the way to search for Hostel Casa Azul – it sounded great- but it was one of those places that reminded me that unless you’re totally chilled you really shouldn’t open a hostel. The bed was comfy, the showers were good and the people were friendly enough, but there were signs everywhere. ‘Don’t leave your dishes here’, ‘No cooking fish’ (and this in a lake town famous for salmon), ‘No use of kitchen until 12 noon’, ‘Be careful with the shower curtain’ etc etc. I fear if I opened a hostel I would be equally intolerant and start showing Northern Europeans how to rinse their dishes after they’ve smothered them in washing-up liquid and tutting at people who left towels on the floor.
Refreshed this morning, I did what I always do when I’m alone and somewhere pretty. I hired a bike. With no map but some decent instructions, I did a 25km loop along the side of the lake and then cross-country on a hilly dirt road with volcano views that brought me back into Puerto Varas. I saw hardly anyone the whole time I was out, a reminder that although Chile is much bigger than the UK it has only a fraction of the population and most of them live in Santiago. Away from the road, the silence was total. A precious thing after years of city living.
Later this afternoon I’ll be heading to Ancud on the rainy island of Chiloe. With any luck whilst my Chilean friends are voting in tomorrow’s general election, I’ll be gawping at penquins. Can’t imagine that tonight will be a late one. All the bars and bottle shops in Chile will therotically be closed tonight for the 24 hours of the election. It’s a nice enough idea that shows a new-found and much needed respect for the democratic process, but it’s not friendly to those folks who are just passing through town on a Saturday night and want to sample the local beer.
See you all in Ancud. Let’s hope there are penquins.
p.s. This trip is sponsored by Pia (rucksack), BB (waterproof) and Lya (camera). Thanks!
p.p.s. It’s true. The Southerners are more friendly.