Friday, January 15, 2010

Chile, Day 19

Osorno Volcano looking out over Lake Llanquihue.

Today I left Castro, in Isla Grande de Chiloe (it’s South America’s second-largest island), rather reluctantly. I really liked Chiloe, but I felt like I’d seen much of what there was to see, and in any case I wanted to spend a couple days in Chile’s Lakes District, and specifically Puerto Varas. With this latter idea in mind, I grabbed a 10:10 a.m. bus to Puerto Montt. (In the bus station, I watched, off and on for ten minutes, a custodian in his office watching television through a bottle of yellow liquid soap. I have no idea why he was so intent on watching TV this way, but it was funny. I also got shat on by a bird.) My reluctance to leave was all the greater as we passed northern Chiloe’s rolling pastureland and numerous lakes under sunny skies. Three hours later, I stepped off the bus, grabbed my bag out of cargo, and got a taxi to Puerto Varas. By two o’clock I was checked in to a new hostel, and a few minutes later I found myself wandering along the lakeshore, staring in disbelief at two beautiful snow-capped volcanoes, Osorno and Calbuco, rising up majestically from the other side of Lake Llanquihue.

The lake's beach, or what little there was of it, was packed with sunbathers and swimmers, though I was told that the water was extremely cold.

Since it was already late in the day, I didn’t dawdle at the lake, though it was tempting. Rather, I took the hostel-owner’s recommendation to have lunch at a restaurant only a block and a half away called Donde El Gordito.

It's a small restaurant, and I was lucky to find a table at 2:30 p.m. I ordered fried congrio (conger eel) in a creamy shellfish sauce (6800 pesos, ~$13.80; the menu had it listed cheaper – oh well).

Admittedly, this photo makes the dish look a little gross. But it tasted very nice. That shellfish sauce was amazing.

And when they say shellfish sauce, they mean lots and lots of shellfish, as well as small shrimp and scallops. It was a huge amount of food, and there seemed to be as much shellfish as congrio on my plate. It was an excellent meal, though my side of two whole boiled potatoes was more than I could deal with. The family that runs this restaurant is very friendly, and they seem to have many regulars coming here. They often exchange kisses on the cheek with customers, and then invariably wish them “Suerte!” with a wave when they leave. There’s also a photo of the owner with Anthony Bourdain, who apparently came here when filming his No Reservations – Chile episode.

Donde El Gordito is located at San Bernardo 560, Interior Mercado Municipal. Tel: 233-425.

After lunch I decided to walk off that rich shellfish sauce, and started by climbing up San Francisco Avenue to see the Iglesia del Sagrado Corazón, a giant of a church built in 1915 that towers over the rest of Puerto Varas. I passed through a small, pretty park with a fountain in the middle of it and a shrine to the Virgin Mary being attended to by a young woman and her little boy.

I climbed up a small hill behind the shrine, where my view was almost assaulted by the site of the enormous church and the bright blue sky all around it. When I went inside, I was the only person there, and it was a very serene place to be alone.

Puerto Varas is known for its German influences, which are found most readily in the local architecture, food, and the people themselves. Sagrado Corazón Church, for example, is meant to resemble the Marienkirche of southwestern Germany’s Black Forest, or Schwarzwald. Since I’ve never been to Germany, I have no idea if the resemblance is strong. But it does feel somewhat European here, as much of Chile does, and the architecture is certainly different than what one finds in Santiago or Valparaiso.

I continued walking through Puerto Varas for another hour or more, and at one point, as I was turning around on Pasaje Ricko, I decided to sit down for a cortado at a tiny, uber-charming café called Emporio Almacen Haritz.

The woman running the café was very nice, but she got to talking to other people for about fifteen minutes before she finally decided to make my drink. And when it came, it was lukewarm and tasted like water.

Still, the setting itself was probably worth the 1100 pesos she charged me (~$2.20).

When I got back to my hostel I decided to arrange for an individual tour of Osorno Volcano, which is costing me 35,000 pesos (~$71). It seems a bit much since we’ll be traveling by local bus, but…I’ll just have to wait until tomorrow comes before I can determine if the tour is worth it.

Once I had this done, and had rested for a bit, I went out to get dinner. I was waylaid by a very friendly homeless dog that the hostel has sort of adopted, and by the time I’d gotten away from it I was covered in dog hair and my hands were filthy. I figured I’d wash them at whatever restaurant I went to, but where I ended up the bathrooms had no soap. So, I decided to eat with the hand I managed not to pet the dog with.

I went to a place just down the street from my hostel called El Reloj.

It was a friendly little restaurant, and not being super-hungry I opted for a chicken sandwich with tomato and avocado. I also thought a pisco sour was in order – not for any particular reason, but just, well, because. It was good. A pisco sour might be in order tomorrow, too.

The chicken sandwich arrived and was not very good. It was like hot chicken salad, and the meat was so soft I didn’t really have to chew it. But it was only 2500 pesos (~$5), and it was maybe the cheapest thing on the menu. What more could I expect?

This makes me feel ill just looking at it. Not that it was awful. I just wasn't in the mood for what I got.

True to my deteriorating eating habits, and probably my health, I had to go with a piece of raspberry pie for dessert.

It was pretty decadent, though not as sweet as I’d thought it would be. Just as well, as I really don’t need the extra sugar.

El Reloj is at San Francisco 310. Tel: 312-475.

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  1. After seeing seeing that last picture I think we know the answer to the question posed by the name of the first restaurant you visited today. Suerte!

  2. Anonymous: Ha! That's about right. And don't think I didn't consider this as I was waddling out the door of that first restaurant. In the bathroom of the hotel I'm staying in now, there's a scale on the floor. I haven't stepped on it yet, as I don't want to feel guiltier than I already do about eating my way through South America.