Monday, January 25, 2010

Camping among volcanoes

About 32 kilometers from Pucón, up in the mountains, I joined a small group for a camping trip in the Villarica National Park. Here we get ready to leave Rancho de Caballos, a farm settled by Germans 22 years ago. I am the only English speaker in the group. Fortunately I could carry on conversation in Spanish with our local guide Armín.

Juta and Gaby rest their horses early in the trail.

Gaby and I contemplate the active Villarica Volcano. We are about to leave the tree zone, though the altitude is less than 6,000 feet.

Armín navigates the challenging steep trail. I am next.

There are numerous patches of snow above the tree line. We never know how deep it is until out guide tests it. Occasionally we must dismount and lead the horses. Below, Thomas skies down the slope as he leads two horses.

Here is our first view of Laguna Azul where we will set up our base camp for two nights.

Our camp at Laguna Azul. Lanín Volcano looms over the lake. This is the view from our water source. The water is trickling down the mountain, under a snow pack. Delicious!

On day 2, our guide Armín leads the way through huge lava fields and across more snow.

After three hours on the trail we arrive at this spectacular point for a lunch stop. We are at the top of a cliff that drops straight down about 1,000 feet. After lunch we head back to our base camp.

Sunset at Laguna Azul, Lanín Volcano.

Early morning view of Choshuenco Volcano. So begins day 3 and return to the ranch.

Armín and his Arabian mix horse. Mine is the black steed called Tornado, a great horse full of energy despite his 16 years of age. Happiness is enjoying wonderful views and listening to the sublime sounds of nature.

Wednesday, January 20, 2010

Three Cups of Tea

This is certainly the most important book I have read in recent times. Written by Greg Mortenson and David Oliver Relin, the subtitle is "One Man's Mission to Promote Peace … One School at a Time." I learned more about the conflict in Central Asia than from any other source. Mortenson understands that the best way to progress and peace in the area is not through military action, but through education. He notes that it is most important to educate girls, because boys with some education tend to emigrate to the cities in search of work, while girls stay in their villages and contribute to the progress of the village. I can strongly recommend this book to anyone who desires a better understanding of Islam, Taliban, and village life in the region.

Click here to learn more about the fundraiser in Santa Cruz to support the work of the Central Asian Institute. It will be February 11 at the Rio Theater.

Stones into Schools is the continuation of Greg Mortenson's efforts, and I look forward to getting a copy at the local independent bookstore back home.

Tuesday, January 19, 2010

Short horse ride near Pucón

I joined three other tourists today for a visit to a Mapuche community near Pucón. Here is our guide, Grigorio, preparing the horses. This thatched ruka is where his mother prepares meals. She is cooking now for our lunch, with smoke from the open fire filtering through the thatch.

A typical bucolic scene as we begin the ride out.

My friend is named Bambi.

After about 90 minutes in the saddle we arrive at this lookout. This is looking west toward Pucón and Villarica Lake. The volcano is covered in clouds all day.

Grigorio, our Mapuche guide and host, explains about many of the medicinal plants here. He says the Bachelet government treated the Mapuche very well. We are an international group today. The others are solo travelers as I am, and are from Germany, Canada and Denmark.

One last snapshot of the panorama below before we head back down the mountain to a Mapuche lunch in the family ruka.

Monday, January 18, 2010


This is one of the most popular destinations in the Lake District of Chile. The Villarica Volcano looms over the entire area. It remains active, with puffs of steam that resemble smoke signals in Hollywood movies. I ate lunch at a table on the lawn nearby. It's easy to stretch a midday meal to at least a couple of hours when you find such a lovely place to hang out. This next photo shows the volcano alert system at the city hall. If the mountain begins to belch and rumble, people will be directed to the evacuation routes. There have been serious lava flows in the past. I'm glad the green light is on today.

This area is probably comparable to Vail, Colorado. Excuse me if I don't add photos of the souvenir shops. In this town of about 16,000 people, there are probably almost as many tourists, although the tour operators tell me business is off by 70% compared to last season. Restaurants abound, but the servers are usually just standing around, hoping some tourists will enter. Dozens of arts and crafts stands are seeing little shopping activity. Villarica Lake attracts many people to the lava sand beaches and pleasure boats. Luxury condominiums are sprouting along the shore.

Morning clouds on the lake. Located 540 miles south of the capital of Santiago, the town was founded in 1883 as part of the “pacification” of the region’s indigenous Mapuche people. By 1904 the army had left and German families from Valdivia to the west began to settle the area. The first families were Holzapfel and Gudenschwager. The Mapuche moved to the marginal lands at the foot of the mountains.

Friday, January 15, 2010

Puerto Grés Ceramics, Puerto Varas, Chile

Puerto Varas, in the Lake District of southern Chile. This is where German farmers brought their families beginning in 1852, to develop farms around the large Lake Llanquihue.

The German farmers brought their language and culture, including this Chilean favorite, "kuchen".

This is one of those days when you can see six or seven volcanos in the distance. These three are Osorno, Tronador, and Calbuco.

One of the great attractions near Puerto Varas is the Salto de Petrohue, with Osorno Volcano as a backdrop

Ceramic artist Hanny Bergen at Puerto Grés in Puerto Varas. The word grés refers to the style of firing. It might be translated as stoneware.

My new little house in California needs some Chilean touches. Here is a new set of dishes by Hanny Bergen, sent by mail from Puerto Grés in Puerto Varas. Thank you Hanny!

Tuesday, January 12, 2010

Volcán Apagado (Extinguished Volcano)

I had the good fortune to meet up with Robert from Patagonia El Cobre in Hornopirén. He and his wife Noemi arrived here about 20 years ago to start a family. They purchased some land near town and began to create a destination for tourists, including a campground and botanical park. They and partner Cristián offer tours by land and kayak in the fjords. It's a bit cold and rainy for me this year, so I chose to explore the land where there is an old volcano with a sandy lava cone and crater. It carries the undistinguished name of "Extinguished Volcano".

A lovely road leads us up into the mountains. This is one of the better sections of the road.

Looking west toward Chiloé

We stop to visit a portion of the dense forest. One of our guides, Patricio, is caretaker of this huge property, more than 50,000 acres. He knows the forest well and can explain much of the flora here.

Logging of the ancient alerce trees was big business in decades and centuries in the past. This remarkable species is very much like the coast redwood of California, with a similar bark. A preferred wood for construction and shingles, the alerce is now protected. Only felled trees can be harvested. This tree is only an adolescent at about 1,500 years of age.

Notro or ciruelillo

This is me in front of a nalca plant. It looks like a giant rhubarb, but the flesh of the stem is sweet and juicy. We decided that it tastes somewhat like a mix of celery and cucumber and is eaten raw.

An ancient Russian truck once used in the logging operations here

A few obstacles in the road must be cleared before we continue. At this altitude (3,000 feet?) the mountains are shrouded in a cold mist with little visibility.

This narrow saddle has perpendicular walls. I try not to look down as we pass over.

We leave the vehicles behind and head up the side of the volcano. The lava is like sand. The air is cool and a little windy. This makes the hike easier than if there were sun.

We conquer the top of the volcano. Here I am with Robert and Patricio, our two excellent hosts and guides.

We have our lunch as we contemplate the crater. The younger folks visited the bottom of the crater. Our descent on the lava sand was like skiing, great fun!

Looking down into the crater.

A small forest on the slope of the volcano

The sky clears considerably in the afternoon as we prepare to leave the volcano. This land was once covered in giant, ancient alerce trees. Many houses along this narrow country are constructed with the wood.

The next couple of days are very rainy, with thunder and hail. I am very content with a book in front of a wood stove in my cabin, but I will have to return here another day to see more sights by boat and horse that I couldn't do this trip. Hornopirén is a town with very friendly people. It is typical of the south of Chile in that one feels completely comfortable. And the food at the Mercado Típico is excellent. I am grateful to the people of Hornopirén for their generous hospitality. Tomorrow I return to Puerto Montt and more adventures.