The Cruce Andino/Cruce de los Lagos or Lakes Crossing, a marathon boat-bus-boat-bus-boat-bus ride from Bariloche, Argentina to Puerto Varas (or Puerto Montt), Chile took the entire day and substantially lightened my wallet, but the experience, in my opinion, was worth every peso and then some. We made the voyage across the Andes on Easter Sunday, which turned out to be a fitting date for the tour, as I was continually reminded by my surroundings that only a divine hand could have wrought the spectacular natural beauty we saw that day.
In the faint morning light, we set sail from Puerto Pañuelo in Bariloche. After discussing the details of the day's itinerary with one of the tour coordinators, we ordered a few medialunas and cups of hot chocolate from the boat's snack bar. Vince, my stepdad, and I climbed the stairs to the upper deck, where we marveled at the mountains looming on all sides of the expansive Lago Nahuel Huapi, while my sister Marianna snoozed down below in typical teenage fashion.
We stopped at Puerto Blest with its lovely pink hotel [photo] for a few minutes before boarding a bus to Puerto Alegre, just 15 minutes away.
The early morning temperatures in Bariloche hovered around the freezing mark, and we were cautioned by the crew to watch our step as we boarded our second boat at Puerto Alegre, as patches of ice had accumulated on the deck.
The boat glided over the milky green waters of Lago Frías en route to our next destination. The lake's unique color, which can be appreciated in the photo below, comes from minerals suspended in the water.
After exchanging some Argentine pesos for Chilean ones, we were successfully stamped out of Argentina at the Puerto Frías border checkpoint before continuing our journey by bus. The actual Argentina-Chile border crossing at Paso Vicente Pérez Rosales is located deep within the Patagonian forest with nary an official in sight.
[Cerro Tronador from the Chilean side – Puerto Frías, Argentina to Peulla, Chile leg]
The bus ride from Puerto Frías to Peulla through the national parks (Nahuel Huapi in Argentina and Vicente Pérez Rosales in Chile) offered fantastic vistas of the forest, the Andes, several small waterfalls, and the Río Peulla.
*We now interrupt this regularly scheduled blog post for a public service announcement.*
How My Stepdad Almost Caused an International Incident
The only hitch we experienced the entire day came when we passed through the border checkpoint in Peulla, Chile. Marianna was first up to the plate with the stern-looking Chilean carabinero. She presented her passport to the officer and waited patiently as he reviewed the details on her photo page. The officer looked up from the passport, unsmiling, and asked in broken English if Marianna knew how to speak Spanish. She shook her head no and beckoned to me for assistance.
The officer asked whom Marianna was traveling with, and I replied, "Her father and me – her sister."
"And her mother? Where is she?"
"She died almost four years ago."
"Do you have proof of that?"
I turned to Vince and asked him if he just so happened to be carrying a copy of my mother's death certificate. The obvious reply came, and I responded with a tinge of worry in my voice, "No, I don't."
After establishing that we didn't have any other documentation such as a birth certificate or consent form for international travel with a minor (Vince had traveled several times before with Marianna, and no one had ever asked him for such proof), the carabineros made us sweat it out as they busily typed away at their antiquated computers.
A few minutes later, having somehow determined that, indeed, my stepdad was not attempting to abduct his own child from his deceased wife, they waved Marianna on through, followed by me and then Vince. We were lucky this time, but we easily could have been denied entry into Chile. For the record, Argentine border officials never requested any sort of documentation to this effect.
Moral of the Story
Minors traveling internationally with just one parent should carry a notarized document granting written permission from the other parent. In the case where the parents are divorced or one parent is deceased, the traveling parent should carry a notarized affidavit of sole custody and legal proof such as a death certificate or custody order.
OK, now back to pretty photos of flowers, glacial lakes, and snowy volcanoes.
[Flowers in Peulla, Chile]
After (barely) getting stamped into Chile, we sat down to lunch at the Hotel Natura, whose dining room features floor-to-ceiling windows with views of the surrounding meadow and mountains. Following our meal, we set out on foot to take in the scenery and shoot some photos before the next leg of our journey, a ride on a catamaran that would take us past not one, but two, volcanoes.
The people who make their homes along the shores of this lake lead a life of relative isolation. As there is no road between Peulla and Petrohué, anyone living in the area must rely on boats as the principal means of transportation. A couple of passengers used our catamaran as a sort of water taxi to get them close to their homes. A pair of smaller motorboats pulled alongside, and the passengers hopped off and went on their way!
After the breathtaking views along Lago Todos Los Santos, we disembarked at Petrohué for the final leg of our day-long adventure through Patagonia. We boarded a bus bound for Puerto Varas, and we zipped alongside the Río Petrohué and dense forest before the majestic Volcán Osorno and the neighboring Volcán Calbuco came into view. We hugged the shores of Lago Llanquihué as we sped toward the city of Puerto Varas with nightfall fast approaching, and the snowcapped peak of Osorno glowed in the evening light.
About 12 hours after leaving Bariloche, we arrived at our hotel in Puerto Varas. I slept like a Patagonian rock that night.
Next up: Puerto Varas, Chile