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October 27

October 27, 2008

The whole hostel was up early in eager anticipation of the ferry this morning, it seems everyone was there to catch it. We lagged a bit behind the others as they were all rudely ousted for breakfast at eight, whereas we’d opted to forego it due to the astronomical pricing scheme at Casa Rocco. This ended up being to our benefit, though, as we were heading out the door just as the first disappointed, better-organised people came back to tell us the news that the ferry was delayed. We went down a bit before ten and were told that the ship wouldn’t arrive until 9pm, and there was the possibility of a midnight boarding.

In this way, we found ourselves with an extra day spare. We decided to take our chances at the hostel and check out rather than possibly waste a night’s accommodation, and had a flit through ideas of where to go, settling on the lakeside retreat town of Frutillar. Not long later we were on one of the little buses that ply the more local routes, and heading towards Lago Llanquihue to the north of town.

Frutillar is a dual city, arranged to optimise the relaxed country feel without sacrificing services. Frutillar Alto, where the commercial districts are housed, is two kilometres to the west and up the hill from Frutillar Bajo, a collection of German colonial houses on the lakefront and scattered up a hillside. We were dropped right at the shore of the lake, and opposite a convenient tourist information map, which we read eagerly to locate the University of Chile Experimental Reserve, where we intended to have a bushwalk.

The reserve was located at the top of the hill, and on our way up we kept ourselves entertained by thoughts of building funky little three-storey writer’s garrets on the various hillside lots for sale. When we arrived at the entrance to the forest we were met by a man in coveralls who was obviously engaged in some important, greasy sort of task and waved us through without bothering to collect the entrance fee, pointing out that we should obey the directive signs as the trails weren’t yet cleared from the winter. Then we were off.

The trail was a short one but the forest was a lovely, densely treed area with little wooden signs indicating the Latin names of certain species. The most impressive trees were two ancient laurels, planted in 1305 and 1495, though the latter had been hollowed out on one side and was leaning at a precarious angle over the path below, not inspiring the greatest confidence in its remaining lifespan. We got to the end of the trail and were pointed in the direction either of the nursery and exit, or the plantations. We weren’t quite ready to call it quits, so we chose the plantations, though took a short, steep wooden staircase up an embankment and thus ended up deep in the woods instead.

It was now obvious what the coveralled man meant about the paths not having yet been checked. This trail was quite overgrown and crossed a number of tiny muddy streams, but we decided to persevere with it for a little adventure, and found ourselves ducking under, over and around a number of fallen trees that tried to blck our path. We eventually emerged on the wrong side of a “DO NOT ENTER” sign up near the old laurels, were slightly embarassed at our unintentional trespass, then headed back down the hill and out of the reserve.

Since we were in a quaint lake-side resort, we thought the best thng to do then was a stroll across the waterfront towards a nice lunch. The lake was quite large, at one time connected to the inlet to the south of Puerto Montt, I’d guess, and the opposite shore was guarded by a majestic, snow-drenched volano, Volcan Osorno, which was all but camoflagued against the clouds and blue water. We spent some time dawdling under a pagoda at the end of a lovingly carved wooden pier, watched by a group of schoolkids on what looked like an art excursion, before reading the tempting sounding menus at the restaraunts lining the road, all of which were kitschily German-themed in honour of the early German settlements in the area. We decided on one set back from the lake a little, and indulged in a brilliant meal supervised by a stand-offish older male waiter, who had obviously decided we weren’t quite up to the standard of his establishment. We didn’t let him put us off, however, and throughly enjoyed our food- pea and ham soup then stir-fried salmon and potato in a citrus vinaigrette for me and a Greek-style salad followed by rice and chicken in a delicious bitter orange sauce for Tom, topped off with a crème caramel and coffee each for desert.

Having quite topped out our indulgence levels for the day, we had a quick browse of the local artesanias and hopped back on the bus to Puerto Montt via a collectivo to Frutillar Alto. Back in town, we shopped for supplies- wine and cheese for the boat and a cheap pair of sneakers each as a back-up in case our boots get wet on our Torres de Paine trek, which we hear is most likely, especially since they’re both developing leaks where the stiching has pulled away from the lining.

At about seven we’d had enough of wandering, so went back to the ferry terminal, where we spent the next five hours lounging in the old bus seats; reading, knitting and waiting to board. A buzz of excitement swept over the room as the boarding announcement started, and everyone applauded. We were then let through in groups, and walked through the working dock to the large, gaping mouth of the cargo (and only) entrance to the boat, painted bright orange and glowing under the floodlights. Tom and I got briefly separated as he hung back to take a photo, and without warning the ground I was walking on started to raise as an invisible elevator, just a flat platform that looked like the rest of the deck. The elevator brought me and a bunch of other tourists to the boarding level past big crates full of teenage cows that had just come from Puerto Natales, and I certainly felt a measure of cattle-like treatment myself, being herded with the rest by the people in orange vests.

Once our platform had clanked to a halt, we all found our cabins- Tom’s and mine on the bottom-most floor, a narrow room with four low bunks, a set of lock-boxes and a porthole. Tom showed up a few minutes later and we both met our cabinmates- Laurence and Jean-Francois, an elderly couple from France. The deck had a particularly school camp feeling to it as everyone did some exploring and hung around in corridors, conducting excited conversations while waiting for their bags to arrive. The bags showed up at about two, and though some intrepid souls were indulging in a few drinks, Tom and I decided instead on the sleep, and crawled into our bunks, both actually nodding off about three, which made it a very long and very exciting day.

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