My Grandfather became ill in October (we were in Peru at that time) and was hospitalized for four months. He was released from the hospital in February. While housesitting at Lorraine’s place we made the decision to travel home to Vancouver for two weeks to visit my Grandpa. I didn’t want to have any regrets and my family had told me that he was quite frail. So we hopped on an airplane and arrived in Vancouver 15 hours later.
Being back home was an interesting experience. Upon reaching the Toronto airport for a flight connection I saw curling on the television monitor in the baggage claim area. CURLING? I forgot that curling even existed! Of course we had to buy a coffee and donut from Tim Hortons, even though it isn’t a place we frequented while actually living in Canada. Richard ordered the bowel-wrenching but classic Double Double — two cream, two sugar. So Canadian. Also, that pesky Justin Bieber was on the radio ALL THE TIME. In stores. In the car. In restaurants. Justin Bieber. 24/7.
Most of our time back in the Greater Vancouver Area was spent with family. We became regulars at the Seniors’ Residence that my grandparents (and temporarily, my parents) were living in. We quickly became used to the clean streets and fresh air again. London Drugs was like our second home — they have everything you could ever need there! Healthy snacks, electronics, magazines (in English!!), chocolate, you name it.
My Grandpa had recently moved back to the Seniors’ Residence and was living in a room separate from my Grandma as he required additional care. Every day we brought something new for his room: plastic plants from Ikea that were shockingly real-looking, photographs of family and friends, a new floor lamp, framed photographs for his walls, and the item he loved the most: a mini fridge dedicated solely to his six pack of non-alcoholic beer. It was such a treat to spend so much time with my family, and I know Richard enjoyed his time with the rest of his (our) family in Powell River too.
After two weeks of being spoiled with the amenities of a first world existence, and the twinkle in Grandpa’s eye returning, we kissed our folks goodbye, crammed as many Clif Bars and dehydrated trekking foods as we could into our suitcases and hopped on a jet plane for our most uncomfortable flight pattern to date. Vancouver to Montreal with a six hour layover, Montreal to Toronto with an 8 hour layover, Toronto to Santiago, and then a several hour bus ride and walk back to Lorraine’s Place, where our truck was parked.
March was rapidly approaching and we still had 5,000 kilometres to go before reaching Ushuaia. We knew autumn was on its way down south and were anxious to hit the road before the weather moved in. The truck rejoiced as a couple of major upgrades were made: new brakes and new tires. Our trusty Pro-Comp tires had successfully rolled all the way from Vancouver to Santiago with no major problems (a mere 41,000 kilometres!) and although the tires were still in good shape they would likely be donezo at some point in the near future, plus we had a lot of rough roads to go before reaching Ushuaia.
We rolled into our favourite Santiago 4×4 shop, Monster 4×4, and had them install our new ProComp Xtreme MT2 265/75R16 tires. Richard loves the smell of fresh tires in the morning!
While the wheels were off, we installed some new EBC YellowStuff brake pads. Braking with a fully loaded truck had been marginal at best, so it was definitely necessary to upgrade. After feeling the braking improvement we realized that this was something we should have done before we left in the first place.
Overall, between traveling with Richard’s mom and housesitting, we spent over two months in the Santiago area. We were well overdue for some travelling so we did what we do best… we hammered down for two long days. Almost all of our stops were at gas stations. Shell and Copec stations are a road-tripping nirvana. They have everything you could ever wish for: fuel, coffee, wifi, and a place to sleep.
The Laja Falls provided us with a quick scenic break during a long driving day.
As we headed towards the border between Chile and Argentina, we passed through the town of Villarrica towards Pucón. This section of road reminded us of the Sunshine Coast on Vancouver Island and Salt Spring Island in British Columbia but was more touristy and built up. Coniferous trees were plentiful, wildflowers filled the ditches, and signs for cabaña rentals dotted the roadway. Bathing suit clad sunbathers sprawled on wooden docks on the lake while Villarica Volcano loomed in the background.
Hanger was setting in so we took a quick lunch break in Pucón and soaked in the views.
The landscape continued to change tremendously as we headed towards the Argentinian border. All of a sudden we found ourselves winding through the forest.
Evergreen trees popped up in crowds along the roadway, among them the national tree of Chile named Araucaria araucana (or more easily remembered as the ‘monkey puzzle tree’). Its thick leaves and branches and hardy constitution allow it to survive in -20 degree Celsius temperatures. It produces edible seeds similar to pine nuts, which are harvested by the indigenous people in both Chile and Argentina.
Volcán Lanín made for an impressive sight at the Argentinian border.
We realized how spoiled we are at home when every turn of the Ruta De Los Siete Lagos (Seven Lakes Route) reminded us of somewhere in British Columbia. It was still quite warm out (around 25 degrees Celsius) and there was hardly a speck of ice on the rocky mountain tops. We imagined the scenery would be quite dramatic in the spring, fall and winter with snow blanketing the numerous granite peaks.
Like some sort of magical fairytale our (free!) campsite at Lago Vilarino welcomed us with hopping bunnies, tweeting birds and a grazing cow nearby. The following morning we sat in our camp chairs, coffee in hand, watching ducks gliding through the reeds and fish splashing. The only downside was the used toilet paper which was scattered haphazardly in and around the bushes nearby. We are often baffled that someone wouldn’t have the manners to keep these beautiful and natural places free of trash.
Around lunchtime we were cruising towards a camp spot that was highly rated on iOverlander due to its secluded location and lovely river running through. We showed up at the site and it was already occupied by a man named Rick, his wife, and their three little dogs. We chatted with them for what turned into a couple of hours and just before leaving we exchanged contact information. It took until we saw each others’ email addresses to realize that we already knew each other on the internets. It turns out that not only were we familiar with Rick (Gringo Rick) online because of his many posts on iOverlander, but he had actually read our blog many moons ago!
If you’re interested in waterfront campsites, extended breakfasts and coffee breaks with a view, and generally slow living there are few places that can compare to Lakes District. Invest in an inflatable device of some sort for leisurely floats in the lake when you start to sweat, and remember to have some refreshing beverages (gin and tonic in a can?!) on ice or in the fridge for your self-regulated sunset happy hour.
Our Patagonian weather window was quickly closing, so we only spent a handful of days driving through scenic Lakes District before aiming south. It really would have been the perfect spot to slow down and explore for a couple of weeks, but at least our short time in the area gave us a taste of lakeside living.