At the culmination of our four days of traveling through the Chilean winelands south of Santiago (see previous blog posts), we drove back to Santiago and flew south to the ship’s first port of call in Patagonia – Puerto Montt.
Puerto Montt is a port city with a population of 175,000 in southern Chile, located at the northern end of the Reloncaví Sound in the Llanquihue Province, Los Lagos Region, 655 miles (1,055 km) south of the capital, Santiago. It is at the northern end of the Patagonia region of Chile on the Pacific Coast and serves as a gateway to Western Patagonia.
The city was founded on February 12, 1853, after government-sponsored immigration from Germany that began in 1848 populated the region and integrated it politically to the rest of the country. It was named after Manuel Montt, President of Chile between 1851 and 1861, who set in motion the German immigration. The government’s goal was to begin populating the southern region of the country (Patagonia) in order to maintain sovereignty, as Argentina and other foreign countries set their sights on taking over the unpopulated and undeveloped region.
Today the region is well known for its salmon farming – Chile is the second largest producer of salmon in the world, not withstanding the aquaculture crisis in the late 2000s that nearly wiped out the Chilean salmon farming industry. Hatcheries, fisheries and packing plants are mostly located south of Puerto Montt in Patagonia.
We decided to spend our day there exploring a smaller town, Puerto Varas, on the southern end of Lago Llanquihue, about 12 miles (20 km) north of Puerto Montt. The tourism gem of Puerto Varas is graced with superb views (obscured on the day of our visit by the low rain clouds) of the Osorno volcano and Mt. Calbuco, just across the beautiful and serene Lago Llanquihue (Chile’s second largest lake). It is home to a casino, many restaurants, and several cultural heritage sites. Puerto Varas is probably best known as an outdoor adventure sports destination, great for kayaking, climbing, fishing, hiking, and skiing (on the slopes of the nearby Osorno volcano). The town, like Puerto Montt, reflects a heavy German cultural influence, with approximately 80% of the school children coming from families with a German heritage.
Fundacion Artesanías de Chile commercializes handcrafted pieces on a non-profit basis. Purchases at their shops support Chilean craftsmen to improve their living conditions and to preserve Chilean cultural heritage. (see: http://www.artesaniasdechile.cl)
Quinchamalí is a southern town in Chile where the indigenous past blends in with a peasant tradition of long standing. In its beginnings, the pottery of Quinchamalí was mostly utilitarian – jugs, vases, pots and plates that were bartered for farm products in surrounding areas. With time, these gave way to more sophisticated items, such as the now classical female guitar player, horsemen and animal figurines and ornaments, all highly polished and profusely decorated with patterns of local flowers, leaves and spikes of wheat. The pottery of Puerto varas, chiulke bears the personal stamp of its artisans and mirrors both their ancient traditions and daily life.
Puerto Varas is characterized by traditional German architecture, with houses built from local alerce wood using tools brought over from Europe by the 19th century colonial inhabitants. It was designated a Zona Típica (heritage zone) in 1992 and has a number of protected buildings. The alerce tree is the majestic giant conifer of the southern hemisphere and inspires as much awe as its North American relative, the giant sequoia. The reddish-brown trunk of the alerce can tower up to 200 feet (60 meters) tall.