The Lakes District in Chile is located in the Southern Chile. Here, many National Parks and volcanoes tend to slow down tourists on their journey down to Patagonia further south. The sights and small towns are sometimes spectacular and are begging for a nights’ stop. One of these places is Valdivia where I arrived after a short bus ride from Pucón.
Located at the confluence of the rivers Cau- Cau and Calle-Calle, Valdivia features a lot of riverside promenades. It also has one of the nicer downtown areas I’ve encountered so far in Chile. Maybe the University students are a reason why walking the downtown streets is both relaxing and picturesque at times.
Again, like in Pucón, street names like “Schmidt” or the local beer “Kunstmann” are some of the indications of German settlement history. To my surprise, a lot of Hebrew is spoken as well. The hostel I actually stayed with, is owned by a Hebrew speaking couple. They are descendants of the second wave of settlers that occurred when the Jewish Germans did migrate to Chile after leaving their home country during the second world war. The third wave of colonization is more known: When some of the Nazi’s fled after the war – to Chile as well. Quite an interesting mix of culture.
Over the past weeks, I grew accustomed to Chilean beer, which decidedly has the taste and consistency of ice tea. One night, I went out with two Israeli tourists – I met at the hostel – to the local hangout, called the “Pub en el Cavo”. My hostility towards the local beer was mitigated, when I found out that the town’s brand, “Kunstmann”, is as good and strong as I expect a beer to be. Moreover, since it was a long time ago, since I last felt the urge to discover a city’s nightlife, I was expecting to have some fun. And I wasn’t disappointed: Chileans (and us tourists) know how to create a good atmosphere. And since the Christmas holidays approached, it seemed that large parts of the town were in a mood to party until the morning.
However, I did rather learn Hebrew than Spanish that night. I did almost give up in a seemingly fruitless exercise to learn the talk of the locals. But rescue was on its way: Upon returning to the dorm, we discovered our new roommate from Argentina. By coincidence, he was traveling on the same bus later that day to my next stop, Puerto Varas. Moreover, he had booked the same hostel there.
During the small talk during the bus trip, I told him that I would understand quite a bit of Spanish. Adding to this, that my lack of practice would make me scramble for words when talking. To my surprise, he instantaneously switched from English to his native language. I should have kept my mouth shut about this – I was thinking. While his initiative to force me speaking a very, very broken Spanish (to the general amusement of the other passengers on the bus) was certainly full of good intentions, my brain was ragged until our arrival Puerto Natales. Hungover, plus the constant concentration on a new language had its toll on me.
While I haven’t had seen much of Valdivia (for the obvious reasons), I had – after a good night’s rest – a much healthier mind to explore Puerto Natales. Here as well, “Germanismos” are ubiquitous to a much higher degree than in the towns before. Probably, I’d have gained the habit ordering “Strudel” (apple pie) for breakfast in the “Hotel Weisser Haus” (which is actually a red building) – if it wasn’t for my Argentinan shadow. Having had a good start acquiring some very basic Spanish stuff and being keen on continuing to lear the local language, I still tend to mix Italian and Spanish words. “Molto bien” or “Mucho bene” are my spontaneous answers, whenever locals ask me how I am.
Another advantage having a native speaker at hand is the ease of getting around. Therefore, we explored the surrounding areas of Puerto Varas extensively. One side trip to the neighboring town of Frutillar was quite interesting: The town is separated into an “Alto”(Upper) and a “Bajo” (Lower) Frutillar – being 2km apart of each other. The scenic, lower part feels like a lakeside town in the German Black Forest. This cute place to visit is dominated by Lutheran churches. On the other hand, the upper part of Frutillar is looking like any Chilean, Roman Catholic town – featuring shops and a functional bus terminal. Such a harsh segregation of cultures and their religions isn’t that visible in Puerto Varas, to where we returned after our day trip.
Here, we were celebrating Christmas – Chilean style: Shops close early on the 24th of December (and remain closed during the 25th). We would hear Christmas carols wandering around town, being supported by the local church chiming in using their carillons. Although I always strongly believed in the fact that I would need snow and dark, cold days to put me into a Christmas spirit, Puerto Varas definitely proved me wrong. It was a wonderful and memorable holiday period for me.