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Apr 302013
Apr 212014

Is there a lot to do in Puerto Varas, Chile? Your hostel and the businesses housed along the quaint downtown streets will give you plenty to choose from. It seems adventure activities are what people come to Puerto Varas to do, but trips such as rafting, canyoning, or lake kayaking will set you back between $50 and $100 USD per person. What is there to do for a couple of budget travelers, nearing the end of their trip and the bottom of the money barrel?

Fortunately, bike rental is reasonable and if you’re okay with DIY navigation, there is plenty to see without the need of an expensive tour or guide. Instead of blowing our budget on adventure tours, we decided to spend a Patagonian autumn afternoon biking from Puerto Varas to the small town of Frutillar, 32 km north. We rented mountain bikes from la Comarca on San Pedro, just around the corner from our hostel and the guy who helped us spoke great English. The bikes were 8000 Chilean Pesos (14 USD) each for a half day.

Along the railway

There’s no official bike lane from Puerto Varas to Frutillar, so bikers use a combination of off-road trails, old roads, and highway along Lago Llanquihue. For about three kilometers, we biked alongside the railway. Fortunately there were no trains running, but the gravel trail took a little getting used to. We immediately understood why vendors rent out mountain bikes instead of road bikes. The clouds were still lifting and the air was cool as we started to work up a sweat.

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Lonely swans

The railway path lead to a narrow path through a field, and eventually we found ourselves in a residential neighborhood on the outskirts of Llanquihue (yep, the same name as the lake) an industrial town with little tourist appeal, except for some random public art. The large, cartoonish cement swans looked a little sad and lonely on the mostly deserted beach.

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The blue sky fought its way through the clouds while two men parked in a 1990s hatchback smoked a joint. A group of school kids shouted in the distance as we rolled along toward the main road to pick up where we left off.

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Over the farm lands

After Llanquihue we took the highway which rolled through green farmlands reminding us what an agricultural country Chile is. We passed brilliant green fields of cows and birds cheered at us up and down the rolling hills. The sun won the battle with the grey clouds and for a few kilometers, Chile shone.

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A few escaped cows trotted along the highway, not knowing how to react to the speeding humans on two wheels.

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Eventually we made it to an intersection where we could turn right and add several more kilometers onto our trip, or go straight and make a short cut, climbing a steep hill on a gravel road. We went straight and climbed through more beautiful farmland.

The ghost town of Frutillar

Frutillar seemed to be mostly about their large theater building and their quaint German-style architecture. It was hard to tell because the town was mostly lifeless. It was nice to look at, but there was not much to do. We headed up the hill a little further to check out the beers at Salzburg, a hotel with and on-site brewery that was, to the dismay of our burning calf muscles, closed. (If you going during low season, check opening hours first.)

We came back to town and picnicked on the public wooden pier. The sky started to darken and a few rain drops splashed on our necks. It was time to head back.

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A stop at Chester Beer

Peter, in continuation of his quest for good microbrews in South America, had researched breweries in the area so we stopped at Colonos. Tired and in need of rest and a brew, our hearts sunk as we tried the door of the restaurant and it was closed. But our spirits lifted when the owner invited us into the brewery for a quick taste of their lager. We thanked him profusely and hit the road again.

The rain had failed to make an appearance but the sun was sinking. When the sun sets, Southern Chile autumn may as well be winter. Still we had to have a beer, so after a quick stop in Llanquihue for some bottles of Colonos, we veered off the path in search of Chester Beer.

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We about wept with joy when we spotted a few guys sitting on a picnic table outside Chester’s tiny double-wide trailer/brewery house. “Tienen cervezas?” They did, and though Chester only had bottles and no draft beer, we didn’t complain. His other guests were Americans, a visitor and two other expats. They were beer lovers and makers, and two of them were from my own Northern California. We talked beer and exchanged brewery recommendations while the sun faded, the chill set in, and the cows mooed at us to go home.

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We arrived back at the bike shop just in time to return our bikes. We drank our Colonos lagers with takeout pizza at the hostel, our behinds just a little sore, 64 kilometers sore to be exact, and our heads a little dizzy from the fresh Patagonian air and the Chilean sun.

Apr 182014

In all iterations of our round-the-world trip, Australia was but a layover on our way from Southeast Asia to South America. Out of our way and especially out of our budget, we gave the down-under continent little consideration. Then in Thailand we changed our itinerary to head south to Malaysia and Singapore and decided that it would be a shame to not spend any time in Australia. I remembered I had an Australian connection after all.

In the summer of 1996 I traveled to the United States for the first time, to work at a camp for two months and travel for one afterward. One night the all-male staff of my boys camp met up at the pub called The Depot with the all-female staff of the nearby girls camp. Part of the unofficial agenda was identifying travel buddies. I made acquaintance with Zita from the Czech Republic and Joanne from Australia. We spent all of September traversing the U.S. (driveaway cars from Boston to San Diego and from Los Angeles to Seattle, and a three-day-straight Greyhound bus ride from Seattle to New York City).

America 1996 ColoradoSprings 690x517 In Sydney, Australia, a travelers reunion

Colorado Springs, Colorado, September 1996

It was the best trip of my life until then and for years after (until my European hitchhiking stints in 1998 and 2001). Thanks to the trip, I have seen more of the U.S. than many Americans.

America 1996 GrandCanyon 690x516 In Sydney, Australia, a travelers reunion

The Grand Canyon, Arizona, September 1996.

We traveled well together, the three strangers that we were.

America 1996 SanFrancisco1 690x516 In Sydney, Australia, a travelers reunion

San Francisco, California, September 1996.

After parting ways and returning to our respective countries, we kept in touch. I visited Zita in Brno, and all three of us even met again in Slovakia and the Czech Republic the following year when Joanne visited. Then, as things like this go, we gradually went our own ways again and lost touch.

I was a little apprehensive about reconnecting after such a long period of silence. But when I friended Joanne on Facebook and messaged her to say we’d be in Sydney and would like to meet up, she not only said she’d love to but also that we could stay with her for a few days. Then she told me the most amazing part: Zita was going to be visiting with her at the same time!

In other words, we went from ignoring Australia to an 18-year travelers reunion. We all stayed and hung out at Joanne’s house, where we also met her partner Russell and their son Riley (my eternal thanks goes to them all for their hospitality). And Lindsay finally met the people I have mentioned throughout our relationship.

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We also took a day trip, along the coast south of Sydney.

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Eighteen years after road-tripping across the USA together we sat around the dinner table and retold stories from our trip. We giggled at the old photos and with nostalgia in our eyes remembered the way we were.

As I mentioned in the reflections on 9 months of travel, the trip aka the 2013-2014 Where Is Your Toothbrush? World Tour reconnected me with my traveling past. Not only did the 18-year travelers reunion reinforce that sensation, I now know that once you start traveling, even if you settle down for a few years like I did in the States, you cannot leave the road again.