March 5, Day 2
The next morning over breakfast, I did a little research on my phone and verified that the hotel was built in the 1930’s; the patina of the aged wood floors, the dulled shine of the marble bannisters, and the graceful elegance of the back veranda and sloping lawn all led one to that very conclusion. Hotels in Chile, it must be understood are not, in comparison to North American hotels, well-maintained. Carpets are left stained, wallpaper peeled back to plaster, and tile once chipped will always be chipped. Although some of these things were indeed present at the Gran Pucon, the hotel still managed to impress.
The four pools were nice, and I’m sure Oli would say these were her favorite part. Two were outside – which was far too cold for us to try — and two were located in a fitness complex, and were bathtub warm. A curiosity of Chilean pool etiquette: bathing caps are required. If you don’t happen to bring your own, you can easily buy one poolside for only 2,000 pesos (about $3).
Following our leisurely dip, we strolled into town for a bit of sightseeing and lunch before we hit the road. Although we only spent a few hours in Pucon, I can share that the town has a reputation for being a tourist hotspot. There were lots of restaurants to choose from, many what I call “gitchy” shops selling everything from bikinis and sweaters to jewelry and handicrafts. In particular, my mom and I enjoyed browsing the local yarn and wool shops, unassuming little stores run by aging widows in full skirts. We came away from our explorations with a paper bag full of dyed wool, rough spun into loose yarn – material you could either knit or felt with. Wool, or lana, is sold by the ounce and what would easily cost $100+ in the U.S. only cost us 10,000 pesos in Pucon. That’s about $15, which is bit more costly than one might find elsewhere – afterall, Pucon is the Vail of the Chile Chico Sur.
Lunch was randomly picked from a menu Mark had seen on an earlier venture into town with my dad while looking for a fly shop. We had only two requirements (which is actually a lot) for our choice – Oli wanted spaghetti and my dad wanted Casuela de Ave (or, phrasing it blandly, chicken soup). We found Restaurant Milla Rahue, and everyone ordered what they were most in the mood for, among the typical Chilean food options. Everything was to our expectations and a little more, with the single exception of the Crema de Asparagos that I ordered.
This soup alone would cause me to drive the 10 hours south of Santiago to revisit Milla Rahue and salivate over the rich velvety spoonfuls. Unlike other cream soups I’ve tried, Milla Rahue’s was thick and savory both hot and cold. It was served piping hot, which was best obviously, but as it cooled, it did not develop an unsavory skin or lose any of its superb flavor. That’s normally a difficult feat to achieve, if I am to be judge. And, while tasting of asparagus, the flavor was not overwhelmingly asparagus, if you catch my drift.
Not a traditional “dive,” Milla Rahue also would not be considered a “hot spot” for tourists. I assume it does well because its location and its reasonable menu. Like other restaurants in Pucon, it is pricier than typical Chilean fare would be in other towns. For the five of us, with a couple appetizers and each ordering a main course, we spent 80,300 pesos, which translates to around $121 USD or roughly $25 a person. Rather unassuming, the Crèma de Asparagos was only 4,500 pesos or $6.80 USD.
After filling up the gas tank, we retraced our route around Lago Villarica back towards Ruta 5 South. I slept most of this time, eventually being startled awake as we drove through a toll. A couple in car beside us were honking and waving to tell us that one of our trailer compartments had fallen open. We passed through the toll, fearing the worse, but luckily discovered that nothing had fallen out. Mark cinched up the chains and tightened them so that if the wayward lock failed again, the door would fail to open all the way. Afterall, all our shoes were housed inside that very compartment. I shudder to think of the cost of replacing our hiking boots, flip flops, and tennis shoes in one go.
We came to our highway exit a mere hour and a half later and proceeded east towards the distant and towering Andes. Our drive towards the town of Llifen (where my parents had rented a house), was beautiful and serene. We passed rolling hills vibrant with brilliant green grass, gnarled and overladen apple trees, cows and pigs, errant chickens pecking at the roadside, and lines of wooden fencing covered with moss. Little clapboard and shingled farmhouses were tucked here and there roadside, often with signs advertising fresh bread or empanadas or produce.
In the town center of Llifen, which was the only cross-roads, a T-intersection and nothing more, we met up with the property’s cuidadero, or caretaker. He led us down the intersecting road and past the handful of houses and businesses that made up the tiny town. Less than 10 minutes outside of town, he turned off onto a dirt drive lined with wooden fences and flowering bushes. Blackberry brambles filled an overgrown field where cows grazed between the thorns. Bees buzzed audibly around the bushes thick with fruit and large white grey birds with long tapering bills honked loudly in the trees.
At the far end of the dirt drive, we at last pulled into the property.