Puerto Montt, Chile

After traversing the Golfo de Ancud during the night, we found ourselves alongside a pier for the first time in almost a week. We had arrived in Puerto Montt, a bustling town of some importance due to the bottleneck created here by the sea and the Andes. Virtually every person, package, and vehicle has to pass through this relatively small city on their way north or south. As a result the markets thrive, while the traffic stalls. Still, if you must be stuck in traffic, there aren’t many cities that can offer more distracting scenery out every window and in every mirror. The city lies at the mouth of an impressive fjord and in the shadows of several snow-capped volcanic peaks.

One such volcano, Volcán Osorno, is the centerpiece of Vincente Perez Rosales National Park, to which we paid a visit this morning. As a result of the volcano’s numerous eruptions, the Petrohué River’s former route has been blocked, thus forming the beautiful turquoise-colored Lagos Todos Los Santos. This stunning lake gets its unique hue from the surplus of minerals dissolved into the water table, mostly copper and magnesium. Of course, the black sandy beaches lining the shores certainly add to the lake’s appeal as well. Eventually, like us, the river still manages to return to the sea south of Puerto Montt. Along the way it cuts some spectacular channels through the lava flows and produces numerous rapids and natural chutes that left a few of us trying to imagine what the ride would be like in one of our trusty kayaks.

Fortunately, we left that adventure for the more foolhardy and made our way back to the Endeavour in Puerto Montt. En route we managed a few more wildlife sightings…well, one “wild” and one domesticated animal sighting, I should say. First off, swimming upriver, from rock to rock, our sharp-eyed birders spotted a couple of torrent ducks. These attractive birds are powerful swimmers and known to frequent class IV or stronger rapids. A little further down the road, we passed a small llama farm near the park entrance. Though obviously not wild like the guanacos seen earlier in Patagonia, the llamas offered us a chance to view some of the guanaco’s relatives up close and without disturbance. The llama is thought to have been separated from the guanaco species several thousand years ago and has played a significant role in South American history. Now, strictly a domesticated species, these animals were the beasts of burden for the Incan empire which likely began selectively breeding the camelids almost 6,000 years ago. When the Spaniards first arrived in the new world, they reported that over 300,000 llamas worked the Incan silver trails daily often under loads topping the 200 pound mark; an impressive testimony to these animals’ fortitude and usefulness in the difficult terrain found throughout Chile.