We headed towards the volcano we couldn’t see, stopping at an odd llama farm that also had an alpaca and a litter of adorable puppies. In the Argentinian accent, those would be “jamas” which sounds like pajamas, and for half a second, everyone on the bus was confused.
After the fluff, we continued towards the mountain, the fog burning off as the bus drove up the side. Every corner showed us an even more beautiful view. The plants along the road were often covered in ash, and the dirt was white with it. There had been a large eruption in April of 2015, and the ecology was still recovering. An eruption is scary enough, but the damage from the ash was extensive. If it coated the leaves of a plant, the plant could not get the sunlight it required for photosynthesis. If the animals eat too much of the ash, as every blade of grass and leaf was covered in it, the animals bloated as the ash churned into concrete in their stomachs and died.
If one wonders why there aren’t very many animals in Patagonia, the volcanoes can give you an answer: because ash makes it hard to survive.
We reached the base of what is a ski resort in the winter. A chair lift was available, if we wanted it. Most of us hiked up, a few switchbacks, and then to a crater. There was a bench, comically available and completely unstable, should an unsuspecting visitor attempt to sit, and get dumped onto the ground in a puffcloud of ash. We hiked up for the view, which did not disappoint. The Andes range was in view (of course), and off to our right, the cloud cover blanketed Puerto Varas.
Mary Joy stayed home that day to work on a presentation she would give the day after she returned to the States, and I was kind of glad. The views were impressive, absolutely, but the amount of ash we kicked up as we walked in our little line was hard on the lungs.
After some appropriate rest time back at the lodge with an excellent violinist entertaining us on the patio, we piled back into the bus and went down to a river for yet another fabulous view of Osorno. The volcano was a peacock, showing off every chance it got.
We got to a river, and boated across the windy channel, where we ate trout, served by another local family. Trout. Remember that whole thing about how I don’t like seafood? Well, I ate three bites of it. The sauce was really good. So I ate the sides, and had an extra piece of bread. Even now, thinking of the trout, my stomach flip-flops. Three bites, man. I tried.
We boated back across the river and watched a local artist make spray-paint tiles, before loading up on the bus to go to Parque Nacional Vicente Perez Rosales.
Had we done this interpretative walk before April 2015, I think I would have loved it. The fact that we did this walk eleven months later, I did not have very much fun. The trails were beautiful, the temperate rain forest was lush, and the creek that ran through it was babbling and clear. But the ash was everywhere. We walked single-file down the narrow trail, each person kicking up more and more dust. I was at the back, barely breathing.
Caro, our new local guide, was doing a great job pointing out the different flora, explaining weird, cool things about local plants. (One such fact: a cousin of the American redwood tree there is always cool to the touch.
I thought that was complete bull, but I touched it and another type of tree simultaneously, and sure enough, that redwood cousin is cool to the touch. The California redwood, when the bark is peeled off, also feels cool.)
The main draw of this place is the Rapids. We hiked around a bit and then checked out these rapids, water shooting through strange tunnels made by volcanic rock, again with the strange matchstick organization that occurs when lava comes into contact with a glacier.
That night, we all were blowing our noses, finding just how that ash turns into cement. We got back to the hotel and went to the bar area to learn how to make a proper Pisco Sour. The bartender let us smell a few different bottles of Pisco, to let us learn our palate, and then I volunteered to be the apprentice bartender. Pisco, lemon juice, and powdered sugar into a shaker filled with ice, and that’s about it. Strain into a champagne flute. They served everyone else ones they had made earlier, and I drank mine. I thought mine was better–less sugar in the one I made.
Then Mary Joy, Jan, Erich, and I went to dinner seaside, where we discussed American history. Erich was a history teacher before retirement, and so we got deep into Andrew Jackson, which was a thrill for me. A contentious figure in our presidential lineage, and it was fun to talk about the hows and the whys of a guy like Jackson. (Neither one of us think he was a decent human, by the way).
We ended the night with a little ice cream, because why not? Sitting outside, next to a lake, people buzzing around you with the I’m-On-Vacation vibe, the buildings painted bright blues and greens, and flowers bursting from every bush, it all pointed to stay here, and enjoy.