Osorno is famous for looking a bit like Mount Fuji. Its perfect cone looked pretty good across Lago LLanquihue.
Articles tagged with "water"
Volcán Calbuco had erupted in May. I’d gone to see it, but I’d been out of luck and the weather was bad for two days. I’d gone back to Santiago without seeing anything. Now I was back in Puerto Varas, and it was really upsetting to see how close the volcano was to the town. If I’d had clear skies, I’d have seen epic, epic views of the ash column surging up into the upper atmosphere.
Another short boat journey took us across Lago Frías. After that, we crossed back into Chile, and got a boat across Lago Todos los Santos. A cloudy day was turning into a sunny one as we headed towards Volcán Osorno.
I travelled on to Bariloche, where it seemed to be ultra-low season and I had a hostel to myself for three days. After Bariloche, I travelled back to Chile, going via three lakes in the Andes. The first step of the journey was across Lago Nahuel Huapi to Puerto Blest.
I got a bus from Pucón to San Martín de los Andes. I only spent one night there, and it was very quiet. I hiked to Mirador Bandurrias, for a great view over Lago Lácar.
After the conference in Australia, I headed for New Zealand, to visit my friends John and Juliet who’d moved there at the same time as I’d moved to Chile in 2011. We took a drive around Auckland on the evening I arrived.
I had 12 hours between flights in the Netherlands. It was still dark when we landed at Schiphol at 7am, so I hung around in the airport until it was daylight and then got a train into Amsterdam.
I like getting out into a city for a few hours between flights. It feels a bit risky, leaving your bags behind somewhere in the bowels of the airport, and trusting that you can get back in time for the next flight. And I always have the temptation of leaving everything behind anyway, ditching my luggage and my plans and starting a new life as a permanent traveller.
But I just went to Amsterdam. It was a cold grey December Sunday and everything was quiet at first, but later on the town centre filled up with Christmas shoppers. I wandered randomly, stopping for lots of coffees. At some point I passed a monument to the murdered Jews of the city. I thought back to the fake guns of Wai’an, 6,000 miles away, and thought about the unbelievably horrific scale of the second world war.
After a long wander through the grey streets, I headed back to the airport and flew to Paris. There I had a few more hours to kill but I’ve seen Paris enough times not to need to go there for a couple of hours on a dark winter’s evening, so I just waited for my Chile flight. 48 hours after I’d left Taipei, I was crossing the Andes and descending into Santiago.
I had one final day in Taipei. I went to the Longshan Temple, the last of the many, many temples I’d seen in Taiwan. I read that there are 15,000 temples, up from 5,000 only a couple of decades ago. All the ones I saw were incredibly intricate, and very beautiful. Even the Longshan Temple, which was very touristy and crowded, had an atmosphere to it. It seemed to serve as a gathering place for Taipei’s homeless – the sad and dirty crowds of them near the temple were the first real sign of serious poverty that I’d seen in Taiwan. Inside the temple I left some offerings at some shrines and hoped that the monks would make use of them to look after some homeless people.
As I left the temple, a van drove by flying a Chinese flag and shouting something from a loudspeaker. It had confused me at first here that the international news in the China Post was about places like Honduras and Swaziland, until I realised that these are among the few countries which recognise Taiwan instead of the mainland as the “real” China. And while I was there, the big news was that the Gambia had switched allegiance, making the score 170-22 to the mainland.
Later on, I went to Ximen, and there was a big separatist demonstration going on. People were marching around a traffic intersection, crossing each side as the lights changed. I happened to be crossing at the same time and one of the demonstrators spoke to me. He first of all asked me why I was only wearing a t-shirt when it was so cold – the headline in that morning’s China Post had been about a fierce winter taking a grip of Taiwan, with temperatures “plummeting” in places to just 13°C. And then he asked me if I agreed that Taiwan should be independent. I think that self-determination is the only thing that matters, and that if the majority of the people of whatever territory want to be independent, no-one from any other territory has any valid say in the matter. But I also have a tendency to be contrary and I couldn’t help suggesting that the two nations used to be one and was it really OK for a right-wing general who’d lost a civil war to flee to an offshore island and take it over for himself? He was adamant that Taiwan had never been part of China, even if it had spent a few hundred years being ruled from China. We discussed it a bit, I said I agreed that if there was a majority in the island who wanted independence, then that was all that mattered, and with that, we shook hands and the demonstration crossed the next road.
I’d heard about the Font Màgica last time I was here. It sounded a bit cheesy and I wasn’t too keen on visiting, but on the other hand it was up on Montjuïc and I thought there might be some good views over the city. So we all went up there, arriving just as the show started.
To my surprise I was quite impressed. The timing was good, with the sun having set and the sky darkening as the water shone in rainbows of colour. The number of people there made it difficult to see the show that well, but it was better than I’d expected. And after it was over we walked up to the front of the Palau Nacional and looked out over the city as the crowds dispersed.
I stopped a night at Geysir. We’d stayed here ten years ago, and for some reason we’d copped out and stayed in the hotel. Not in proper rooms or anything, a cheapo dorm in the loft where we were allowed to lay our sleeping bags onto wooden boards, but still I’d have preferred to be outside. So this time I camped, and it was good to be here again.
It’s touristy here, very very touristy. Hundreds of people mill around during the day, and I found the sight of name-tagged travellers following guides with little flags very depressing. I amused myself by watching people fail to understand what geysers do. It was a breezy day, and every time Strokkur erupted, masses of hot steaming water would fall back onto the ground nearby, marking out a large wet streak stretching away from the geyser. To me it seemed obvious that standing there would make you get wet. It wasn’t obvious to a lot of people. I watched one guy standing right in the target zone. Strokkur erupted; he took lots of pictures; he realised he was about to get very wet; he turned and ran; he tripped and fell; he lay face down on the ground as tonnes of hot water fell on him.
In my malicious traveller-superiority state of mind, I chuckled inwardly. The guy got up and he was perfectly ok. He walked away, dripping but nonchalant, affecting a “that’s exactly what I expected to happen and I don’t feel stupid at all” attitude. But we all knew that he did.
Later in the evening, the place was empty. I went up to Strokkur at midnight and listened to the subterranean bumps and rumbles and watched some eruptions. I chatted to an Icelander there, who kept on predicting that the next eruption would be huge. “It always does a big one after three small eruptions”, he told me. “Um.. maybe after four small eruptions”, he claimed. The Icelander told me that his father had set up a ski-resort in the Kerlingarfjöll, a group of wild mountains near Hveravellir. We could see them in the distance from here. My guide book from 1997 mentioned the place but it had now closed down due to insufficient snow in the summer.
In the morning I walked up the hill. The views over the countryside seemed different to what I remembered ten years ago, somehow, but it was only when I compared photographs later on that I realised that the plains were now dotted with summer houses. There had not been a single one ten years before. Saplings had grown into trees, the hotel had expanded, paths had been built. I hate the changes that tourism forces on places, hypocritically imagining that somehow I’m not part of the reason for them.
As we drove back to Reykjavík I saw the Vestmannaeyjar archipelago off the south coast. Red Eldfell and green Helgafell looked familiar and I remembered the great times I’d had on Heimaey. I was tempted to go back but I had new places to go. I spent a night in Reykjavík, limping about with a foot injury that had suddenly flared up, and then I headed out into the interior again.
I got a bus across the Kjölur route to Hveravellir. It was an Icelandic nostalgia trip at first as we passed through Hveragerði and Selfoss, and then stopped at Geysir and Gulfoss. After that, we were into new territory for me. The tarmac stopped and we were in parts of Iceland that are only accessible for three months each year. We rumbled on. It was a sunny day and it was really hot inside the bus. The landscape was desert-like. We stopped a few times on the way at points of vague interest, and every time we did I was slightly shocked to get off the bus and feel cool air.
We got to Hveravellir in the early afternoon. There was not a cloud in the sky. I spoke to the guy in the small shop as I bought a coffee, and he said it had been like this for a week and didn’t look like it would change any time soon. I almost couldn’t believe him. In my Icelandic experience, stable weather for seven hours was almost unheard of, let alone seven days.
But he was right. It stayed awesome the whole time I was at Hveravellir. After the daytime visitors had gone, there were just a handful of campers left. I went to explore the hot springs. In the strangeness of an Arctic midnight, the twilight sky never faded to darkness and the landscape looked surreal. A full moon peeked above the horizon. The geysers here were all constantly bubbling. A mud geyser spurted intermittently, and I spent ages trying to photograph it before I finally caught an eruption.
I kind of fancied doing a long hike from here. I could have spent two or three days hiking to Hvítárvatn. But the strenuous bits of my trip were behind me, I only had a few days left, and I decided to relax a little bit. So I saw what I could at Hveravellir, relaxed in the sunshine of the arctic desert, and then headed back towards Reykjavík.
I walked from the palace all the way down Bulevardul Unirii, which was another of Ceauşescu’s grand projects and is a few metres longer than the Champs-Élysées. Fountains lined the street, making the hot day seem a little bit cooler, and trees kept it shady.
But soon it was time to leave. I should really have sacrificed a lazy day in Braşov for a more active one in the capital, but it was too late to worry about that now. I bought a snack from a shop and then got on the airport bus to Otopeni airport. It took me past lots of things I’d have liked to see properly, and I thought I’d probably like to come back to Bucharest. But all there was left to do now was allow myself to be relieved of a shocking number of lei as I bought a drink at the airport, board the plane and fly home.
At Selfoss, we were harassed into staying at a guest house. We went to ask about the price, ready to compare it with the other place in town, but the owner rather fiercely said that hers was the cheapest, and the best. She dragged us inside. We now discovered that it was, in fact, an incredibly nice place. She showed us to our rooms, made us coffee, did our washing for us, put on the TV, and let us use the cooker to do dinner. After two weeks of camping and isolation, this was almost more than we could take. We relaxed completely for the evening, and slept as well as anyone ever has. The next day, we went to Geysir.
Unbeknown to us, the bus timetables had radically changed in early September, and we arrived at the bus station to find that we were three hours early. It was a Sunday, and so all there was to do was sit and play cards until the bus came. Just before we all went completely insane, the bus arrived, and we left for Geysir and Gullfoss.
We were going to stop off at Geysir, and go to Gullfoss later, but the friendly bus driver took us to Gullfoss free of charge. Gullfoss, the Golden Falls, are a hugely impressive double waterfall only 10 minutes down the road from Geysir, which makes this small corner of Iceland a tourist haven. Indeed, this was the busiest place we had yet been to. At least 40 people were wandering about at the falls. Golden Falls seems a bit of a misnomer, given that the water is a mucky brown from all the glacial silt it carries, but it actually refers to the rainbows that can be seen in the spray on a sunny day. Unfortunately, the day we went was not sunny enough, but it was impressive nonetheless. It lacked the utter isolation of Dettifoss, but was every bit as noisy and wet (see the curtains of spray in the photo). After an hour at Gullfoss, we went back to Geysir.
Geysir is the original geyser, of course. Earlier this century, it used to throw boiling water up to 60m in the air, but only every three or four days. Impatient tourists would customarily throw a rock or two in there to try and encourage it, but sadly, by 1916, this had altered the plumbing deep down to such an extent that it stopped erupting entirely. The local tourist industry, such as it was in those days, didn’t like this state of affairs, and so they drilled holes in the ground to artificially lower the water level. This set it off again for a few years, but it soon began to slow down again as the holes filled with mineral deposits. Unwilling to damage the delicate underground structures any further, people began instead to throw soap flakes into the water. This lowered the surface tension enough to cause an eruption. Eventually, though, even this was deemed environmentally unsound, and after a final Independence Day eruption party in 1996, Geysir was left alone.
Fortunately, there is another active geyser nearby. Strokkur (the churn) erupts every 10 minutes or so to heights of up to 20m. This keeps the nearby hotel in business, although clearly they are not so popular that they can bleed the tourists dry, because we managed to get a bed there for only £7. We booked in for two nights, and then went up to the action. It didn’t take long to find. As we walked up the path to Strokkur, a sudden rush of water burst from the ground, dwarfing the tourists standing around. “Gee WHIZZ! DID you see that? That was suure something!” shouted one of them. Yes, this was tourist country all right.
Nonetheless, snobbish traveller attitudes were quickly forgotten when we saw an eruption from close up. What you see at Strokkur is basically a pool of water with the top of a deep hole visible in the middle. The water in the hole is constantly moving and churning about as, deep down, it begins to boil. For what seems like an age between eruptions, the surface undulates eerily, and if it’s quiet, mysterious bumps and belches can be heard from beneath the ground.
Eventually, suddenly, one of the undulations will grow rapidly into a huge dome of water, which bursts, lofting the boiling water high into the air. After the water falls down again, it rushes back down the now empty hole, ready for another eruption.
Occasionally, another eruption will happen within a few seconds of the first. Very occasionally, more will happen after this. We were very lucky, while we were there, to witness one memorable thirty seconds during which six large eruptions occurred. Not even the tourist hordes could detract from that.
Much later in the day, when all the tourists had gone, I went back up to Strokkur. It was long after the sunset, and a heavy rain shower had left the sky looking moody. In the quiet and near-darkness, Strokkur took on a much more spectacular appearance. The muffled thumps from below seemed much louder now, and when an eruption occurred, it was much less expected, and much more breathtaking. Part of the reason I went up was to get rid of the vague feeling that it was all put on for the tourists. Happily, it proved not to be, and I was left much more impressed.
Later still, when it was completely dark, I went up again, and found that it really was still going, and now, when I could only see it by the light of my torch, it was truly awe-inspiring. The sudden mighty rush of boiling water and spray was breathtaking. It seemed all the more unique and amazing to realise that almost no-one ever sees this side of Strokkur. I went up three times after dark while we were there, and didn’t see anyone else.