Heading South for Summer

When I planned to visit Chile, I was more focused on seeing my friends, relaxing and enjoying Viña del Mar. Then I thought – how silly to waste an opportunity to travel, just a bit, during the Chilean summer. After all, I hadn’t explored Chile (outside Viña) since 2017. Perhaps a short jaunt to the south was just what the doctor ordered. And in summer, everything is all about heading south to Chilean Patagonia.

Chiloé Island seemed the perfect idea. Famous for its colorful churches, food and landscape, I had wanted to visit for awhile. However, the south can be logistically challenging. For one, Chile is deceptively big. One might think that Chile is small because it’s so narrow. But Chile is as long as the US is wide! (see picture below) So getting anywhere takes time. It usually requires multiple transfers between buses, planes, cars – and lots of walking. *Sigh* The “bag drag” is not nearly as exciting in my 40’s as it was in my 20’s.

Nowadays, I’d rather set up a home base for a week, then explore.   

Additionally, many places in the south are simply inaccessible by public transport. Most travel sites and blogs recommend renting a car, but I feel immensely uncomfortable renting a car in a foreign country. I will do so only if there are no other options. (For all the reasons you might imagine – breaking down, flat tired, random rental charges which only appear after returning to one’s home country, getting into an accident – no thank you). 

Guided, multi-day tours, were an alternative, which appealed to me only slightly more than renting a car. So I decided to go it alone – establish a home base somewhere, take day trips and explore on my own. 

Puerto Varas became my choice of home base. It is a small town on a volcanic lake near the island of Chiloé (with a spectacular view of the Osorno Volcano). It got great reviews (online and from my friends). It had some neat looking places to stay, and everything seemed to have views of the water. So I booked myself into a hostel for one week. 

Why a hostel? For on demand sociability or anonymity, nothing beats a hostel. I can meet new people, or blend into the background, depending on my mood that day. They would also have a kitchen, and all the local gouge about tours, places to see and eat, shop, etc. Oh, and this one was insanely cheap. ($14/night) Just what my semi-retired budget was looking for!

To ease the number of transfers, I decided to travel via bus from Viña to Puerto Varas. As I’ve discussed previously, the buses in Chile are very comfortable, used by everyone (so generally much safer than taking a bus in the US). I like traveling by bus when I’m in Chile. It saves me trekking to the airport, going through security, etc. 

The direct bus from Viña del Mar to Puerto Varas traveled overnight. Often the night buses have a “cama” (literally, “bed”) option. These are essentially first class airlines seats, the kind you’d see on an international flight. There’s a footrest, the ability to lie flat, blanket and pillow. This is what I wanted. It would make the 14 hour journey entirely comfortable.

I went to the bus station several days before my trip to buy a ticket. I was confident that I was getting a “cama”. I clearly asked for one; I saw the single seat (no one sitting next to me) on the computer screen. I didn’t understand every word that the lady said, but I got the gist. 

Ok, so I sometimes miss (important) details. *Sigh* Language can be so difficult. 

Turns out, I only got a “semi-cama”. This is still a very comfortable seat. I’d equate this to business class on some international flights – the seat leans back quite a bit; it is bigger (so I could still curl up, though it was a bit of a squish), with footrest. But it was NOT what I was expecting. I still got a pillow and blanket (thankfully!), which I was grateful for as the evening got colder.

Just as I was snuggling down for the evening, the bus conductor comes by. He is not happy with me. Truth be told, he seems like an unhappy individual. Remember what I said about bus drivers and grocery store cashiers generally being unhappy people? Well, he certainly fit that description. And he’s asking me something. He’s speaking so fast, of course I don’t understand.

Who else notices that the angrier people get, the faster they speak? But I know I haven’t done anything wrong. All I did was grab a blanket! What could I possibly have done? 

 I did hear one word – “frazada”.

I’ll pause here for a moment, and admit my obsession with TEDx videos. (for educational purposes, of course!) As I’m trying to understand what he’s saying, I remember a video about language and word association. In it, the presenter talks about the uselessness of memorizing random vocabulary. 

Then he goes into a story about a time he was in Finland – about going to a bar, ordering some strange kind of Finnish fish alcohol, which everyone thought it would be funny to tease the foreigners. It was horribly disgusting – green and smelled funny. His buddy downed the shot. The locals thought it was hysterical. The presenter did not think it was hysterical.

But guess what? He never forgot that word. Whenever he did remember (and use) that word, he also remembered that moment in the bar. The full video is well worth watching; the story starts at 8 minutes in (if you’re in a rush). Check it out here.

Back to my story – as my bus conductor and I are getting more and more frustrated, he finally grabs at my blanket and says, “una, solo una frazada!” At which point, I show him that I only had “una frazada”. Oh, he looked crestfallen. LOL. He was one short – that was the problem. He had run out, and assumed that I had taken two.

I will forever remember the meaning of the word, “frazada”, along with my bus conductor’s dismay. This is, indeed, a much better (and more interesting!) way to learn new vocabulary.

The rest of the trip passed uneventfully. Though I slept a bit, I was tired, hungry, travel-grimy and in need of coffee when we arrived in Puerto Varas at 9 AM. Fortunately, my hostel was only a 10 minute walk away. A friendly welcome, a little food, hot shower, nap and a late afternoon run (wow – did that require some motivation!) cured all ills. A good night’s sleep and I was ready to enjoy my time in Puerto Varas – which was amazing!! (A few pictures below to tempt you) I’ll tell you all about it next time.

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