Strange Games, Sea Lions, Hot Springs, Volcano Climbs - Chile in One Week (Part 3 of 3)

Unfortunately we couldn't get in contact with Beatriz (she'd probably heard of Tom's dalliance with the elderly rayuela lady!), so we explored the town ourselves, strolling down the riverside promenade on a still day of clear blue skies, skies so contrasting to those experienced so far this trip. Some other mammals were also enjoying themselves - five sea lions frolicked about in the water, strategically keeping their play alongside the riverfront fish markets from where a plump female fishmonger would drop them a fish from time to time.

Pic: Sea lion waiting for a fish next to Valdivia Fish Market

Pic: Sea lion waiting for a fish next to Valdivia Fish Market

A couple of the sea lions lay about languidly on the concrete ledge at the water's edge. The smaller one seemed to have good reason, with a visibly bloody wound on its back, sustained I presumed in the fight for fish, though superficial research suggests he may have come off second best in a territorial battle.

Some of these lazy pinnipeds were still lying on the dock when we returned that evening, proving that effortless daily fish is a good enough reason to not move anywhere.

Pic: Fine wares at Valdivia fish markets

Pic: Fine wares at Valdivia fish markets

From Valdivia we took another bus out to Niebla on the coast, to visit Castillo de la Pura y Limpia Concepción de Monfort de Lemus, or the more economical English "Niebla Fort". It is one of several fortifications built by the Spanish around the mouth of the strategic, and picturesque Valdivia River. The whole area was very attractive, with the lighter tinged seas moulding into pretty coves and inlets, the coastal views enjoyed by the visitors amid refreshing sea breezes as we roamed around the expansive fort system, safely behind its bountiful cannon defences.

Pic: The Cannons of Niebla Fort face out onto the Pacific Ocean

Pic: The Cannons of Niebla Fort face out onto the Pacific Ocean

Local Ice Cream and Beer

After lots of walking around, we headed back to Valdivia, fatigued. Appetites whet and mouths salivating for some ice cream after reading Lonely Planet's complimentary review of Austral University of Chile's range of on-campus produced dairy products, we now had renewed purpose. All dairy products were described as excellent, and at bargain prices.

Unfortunately the products must have been too cheap, because we sadly found the dairy outlet had gone broke six months prior. The 'Milk Institute' linked to the university looked like a pretty sorry institute now, with a big out-of-use factory attached to its office. Years later, the university still appears to be involved in dairy research and technology, so I wonder whether pure commercial pressures were the simple reason for the plant's closure.

My unfulfilled ice cream yearning soon became a fixation, turning me into an agitated and relentless detective, desperate for a breakthrough as I systematically searched most of the university, corridor after corridor, corner after corner, spurred on in the hope that each new portal might lead me to any sort of shop selling the dessert that I desired, or at least a lead in the quest for any sort of frozen dairy confection, an ultimately futile search, an eventual cold case, but not lickable and on a stick as I had been hoping.

Dairy depression was the result of the first of several considerable variances between what our guidebooks led us to expect (of certain places and attractions) and what we actually found in reality. It was to become symptomatic of this multi-month South American trip, where so much seemed to have changed since the printing of our travel manuals.

Tom and I had bought separate South America Lonely Planet guidebooks around the same time, but I ended up with an old version, and Tom a freshly published version. The contrast between them was stark in many cases, despite just a 2-year difference, and even Tom's version seemed somewhat out of date, despite having just come out. I had recently used equivalent guidebooks in Europe and Asia, and hadn't noticed such great discrepancies there. Granted, Argentina's economy was in meltdown, with the peso dropping markedly on an hourly basis, but maybe the whole continent was more in a state of flux than other regions?

Valdivia contains many citizens of German heritage. Most came in the mid 19th century, due in part both to unrest in Germany at the time, and a targeted campaign by Chile to recruit Germans to resettle and develop industry in the Valdivia area. Develop they did, in a range of industries including agriculture, steel making, ship building, and more relevantly for Tom and me, in beer brewing.

Heavier substances were definitely required after the failed quest for ice cream, and the quest for beer was thankfully more easily satisfied as Tom and I settled in by early evening, and by happy hour, at the local Kunstmann microbrewery. With several interesting flavours to try, the German style beer was great but the attached 'museum' pretty average, a complete reversal, on both counts, compared to the Heineken brewery and museum experience I'd had in Amsterdam just a few months prior.

As I write in early 2016, I can report news as refreshing as Kunstmann's beer - they are still in business -

Liquored up after happy hour, I slept well on that evening's overnight bus back to Santiago. In two days' time, Tom and I would be at the other end of the continent, in Caracas, Venezuela.