Having competed our time in El Calafate, it was time to return to Chile and fly to the Lake District. The drive took all day and was punctuated by a few notable events. First, we completed the audio book Watership Down – so the kids needed to start entertaining themselves. Next, we spotted a few of the large flightless birds trotting along the road and I pulled over and tried to get a picture – by the time I climbed the bank of the road they were disappearing on the horizon and I snapped a long-range fuzzy shot. We stopped at the same small gas station that we had visited a few days earlier, and the attendant was either away or taking a siesta, so we had to push on and hope another gas station would come into view before the light on the dash raised my blood pressure again. Along the way we had to take a 30-40 km detour on a gravel road due to road construction; and as I turned on the road I realized, too late, that the wheel ruts were too deep for our little car! I hit the brakes but couldn’t slow down before we heard “CRUNCH”, followed by “SCRAPE”, and finally “BANG”. Yikes!!! I pulled over and looked under the car, nothing was hanging loose and no liquids were draining into the dust, but there was a bit of “rattle-and-bang” in time with the engine idle. I whispered a quite prayer that it was just a loose heat-shield, climbed back into the car, turned up the radio, and continued down the road. Every time we stopped for something (gas, lunch, border crossings, etc) I checked under the car dreading to see a pool of oil accumulating in the dust, but we made it all the way back to the airport without further auto issues and the rental agency took the car back without comment. Perhaps this sort of thing is pretty normal for rental cars in Patagonia where there are so many gravel roads – I didn’t ask.
The next day we were off to the Chilean Lake District. Suzanne found us a comfortable cabana in a little town called Llanquihue, just north of the main tourist town of Puerto Veras. I was completely unable to pronounce the name of our town until someone explained that it sounds like “Yankee Way”. All I had to do was completely forget what the word looks like on the map and remember that there were Yankees on the way. Our cabana was only 50 meters from the lake front where we could see the classic snow-capped volcano that sets the background for so many pictures from this part of the world. Also, to my surprise our cabana was heated by a wood burning fire that the owner started for us on cool evenings. We slowed down a little in our comfy little cabana, completed a couple of mornings of school, and explored the nearby towns in the afternoon. This area of Chile was settled by German immigrants so many of the buildings and homes have a Bavarian look to them.
Our adventure activity during out stay was white water rafting on Rio Petohue. It was Patrick and Alex’s first time in white-water and they loved it. The river had lots of water flowing, the water was clear with a turquoise tint, the cloud-wreathed volcano towered in the background, and the thick forest continued down to the river’s edge. Our boat included a couple from Brazil and Conner, our Chilean guide. Suited up in wet suits and helmets, we received basic instructions from our guide and pushed off into the rapids. We were all quickly doused in the cold water, but after the first shock of cold the adrenalin started flowing as we faced down towering walls of white water. After we passed the more hazardous rapids, Conner moved the kids into the bow of the boat so they could experience the white-water up-close-and-personal. As we came on a flat area of the river we all jumped in and floated for a few minutes to get a little different view of the water. We also happened to be on the river during a big salmon run, and we saw many large salmon launch themselves a foot or two out of the water. We were hoping would jump into the raft, but no such luck.
We completed our time in Puerto Veras with short hike around the back side of the volcano. The entire area is covered by many inches of volcanic ash from recent eruptions – which made the forest floor look more like a dry river-bed. After the rush of river rafting, Alex was not too keen on a hike that required actual walking. She managed to make it to our turn-around point, even though it appeared that gravity had doubled underneath her, and she moved with heavy, sluggish steps. She did not suffer in silence, and she even convinced her brother to come to her aid in her time of need…