Day 23 Punta Arenas
We're leaving these picturesque lakes and mountains today and travelling back to civilisation. However, given that neither of us can even stand after yesterday's ridiculous walk, this is no bad thing. So it's back on with the uncomfortable Fanny (the aforementioned passport pouch worn round my waist, named thusly because of an American man we heard in a Buenos Aires cafe, paying his bill with the words "hang on, let me check in my fanny" before hoiking up his shirt). After the intensive last few days, it looks like a saggy gut hanging over my shorts, to replace the real one which has been whittled down by the walking and diet of nuts.
We have a minibus journey to Punta Arenas, Chile's most southerly city, which is largely featureless after 3 days of being spoiled by the landscape. We trace the border with Argentina, listening to an eclectic mix of European pop, Chilean techno and Who Let The Dogs Out.
There's a slightly uneasy stop with a patrolman who (we think) fines our driver, but naturally we don't know what for, because we can't decipher the angry-sounding syllables they exchange.
We arrive in Punta Arenas in the late afternoon. It looks nice, but with only one night here we can't get too attached. Like Ushuaia on the other side, it also has an enormous naval base, and we drive past some vast vessels in a dry dock along the main road in. Unnervingly, there are tsunami warnings everywhere, so we're glad we're not staying on the ground floor. We treat ourselves to a supermarket to stock up on cash (at last!) and sun cream. We notice all the food at the impulse counter has high sugar/fat warnings on them like Jamie Oliver wants to have in the UK. They're like an advert for great snacks! Pick up a sackful of M&Ms.
Have dinner at La Marmita (primarily so I can say 'you'll either love it or hate it' after everything I order) where Ruth finally gets to eat King crab after chasing it around south America for three weeks. We also 'accidentally' order a litre of beer having got carried away by their reasonable prices, another delicious Pisco Sour and generally over-indulge all round.
Day 24 Puerto Varas
An early flight to Puerto Montt this morning, halfway up the country. Interestingly, we fly over Torres del Paine in about 8 seconds which puts into perspective our three days of slogging up its gradients. I am interrupted from this reality by Ruth, who's received fruit and nuts from the stewardess, and is distractedly humming to the tune of Frère Jacques:
"fruit and fibre, fruit and fibre; lots of poo, lots of poo".
We taxi from Puerto Montt to Puerto Varas where we're staying for the next two nights. A pretty, lakeside town encircled by some alarmingly active volcanoes, we wander through the drizzle to a coffee shop and order the biggest pastry I've ever seen.
Afterwards, to walk off the sugar rush, we traipse the banks of Lake Llanquihue, watching folks with fishing rods landing huge salmon (a multi-billion dollar industry in the region) on the shore. The German influence, courtesy of a postwar resettlement initiative, is very evident in the architecture here, as well as the odd 'strudel' advertised on cafe chalkboards. We arrive in a pub with a lake view, under the promise of being able to try 50 different types of beer. They sure know how to draw in the Brits. Look out the window at what would be a majestic view of the Osorno volcano if the cloud cover wasn't so absolute. Try a precariously-pronounced Kunstman, and a Tübinger red ale - both of which are decent.
We toddle on, and see a bowling lane which we have a crack at ordering a lane for. Inevitably, the minutiae of the Spanish language lets us down again, but the gist of the subsequent transaction is that there are too many niños around to let us hurl cannonballs around.
The Museo of Pablo, a ramshackle house which looks like it's held together by the enormous clock and half a car hanging off the front, and one of Trip Advisor's must-see things here, is closed. So I can't tell you anything about that.
We have a very recommendable, locally sourced dinner in Mercado 605, where we have a vegetarian extravaganza. Ruth, whose Spanish is still ranking at 'patchy', is devastatingly fluent at body language, and spends the meal watching the other couples and quietly evaluating their future happiness together.
Day 25 Osorno Volcano
We have a slightly awkward breakfast in our lovely B&B (which is styled somewhere between a Bavarian chalet, and the Addams Family house) making polite small talk with a frosty Chilean/English family whose body language gives Ruth enough to dissect for the rest of the morning.
Gratefully, we are shortly picked up by Marcello, our cheerful guide for the day, who knows more about Chile than Ruth and I collectively know about anything. He is both interesting and impassioned, and regales us with facts on everything from llamas to lagoons, to volcano Osorno (sitting in low cloud, so its tantalising snow-capped summit remains out of sight again).
When he's not entertaining British tourists, he can apparently be found either as a chef at his restaurant, fishing for salmon or bird calling. So many extra curricular roles put my short, begrudged stint at our estate committee meetings into perspective. He drives us up Volcano Osorno, which offers a lovely view of the lake and town below, just about peeking through the mist.
Afterwards, we see much of the rain-soaked region in 6 short hours, from the green snow-melt river that floods in the winter, to enormous birds of prey (name already forgotten) which look like they could carry off a llama, volcano Calbuco which erupted last year and grounded most flights over Chile, to the lakes that offer nautical passage to Argentina.
At the end of the afternoon, our brains laden with local facts we're soon to forget, we sit down in a cheerful bistro on Lake Llanquihue. I try and drown my developing cold in the vitamin C from a plate of ceviche, and Ruth, examining the other patrons, continues her study of complete strangers' relationship prospects.