Before this trip to South America I had no appreciation of Chile’s major regions and diverse ecosystem. In addition to its long coastline and the Andes Mountains, Chilean geography includes archipelagos, islands, volcanoes, rivers, glaciers, fiords, deserts, and lakes! I’ve traveled about halfway down the country, and it continues to amaze.
Rivers and Islands Region de los Rios
Yesterday I joined a group for a river tour. Our boat, Reina Sofia, departed from Schuster Pier near the Riverside Market in the early afternoon. We passed small islands and navigated through portions of eight rivers that surround Valdivia in Chile’s Region de los Rios. The strikingly beautiful area is densely forested and at times the rivers seemed more like lakes. We saw black-necked swans and many other birds. At certain points, different rivers crossed paths creating a change in the color of the water. In one area, salt and fresh waters join.
The rivers we cruised included:
The Islands are:
Our group of about 50 was mostly Chilean, Argentinean, and Bolivian. I’ve been feeling lackluster for a few days and the River tour was upbeat. Our Mapuche guide spoke mostly Spanish covering a vast amount of information in a short period of time.
I requested English commentary, and he obliged by giving me an abbreviated version. He was knowledgeable about history, folk tales, and superstitions in the area.
Valdivia is about 550 miles south of Santiago, near the mouth of the Valdivia River, the port of Corral on the Pacific Ocean, and the confluence of the Calle-Calle and Cruces Rivers. German immigrants settled in Valdivia during the 1850s, bringing their European culture and customs.
The cruise was reminiscent of Germany and an afternoon years ago spent floating down the Rhine River. Except for the absence of German Castles on the hillsides, it could have been the Rhine. Even music on the boat was more German than Spanish.
1960 Earthquake and Island Hikes
Along the way we stopped for hikes around two islands and saw the remains of several Spanish fortifications designed to protect major locations from colonial invasion. With its strategic position on the rivers, Valdivia was the most heavily fortified port in the Spanish colonies.
Much of the guide’s commentary was about the severe impact of the 1960 Valdivia Earthquake and the roles indigenous people played in rebuilding and restoring the ecosystem. It was the largest earthquake recorded in the 20th century. Originating off the coast on May 22, the temblor caused “substantial damage and loss of life in Chile and other countries, as a result of the tsunamis that it generated”. Descriptions of how the earthquake and resulting tidal wave wiped out almost everything in sight were chilling.
One large ship was literally carried from the bay into the rivers and almost a thousand people on board died. There is a shipwreck marker along the river.
Our first stop was Isla de Mancera and the Ruins del Fuerte Español known as El Castillo San Pedro. The fort’s chapel was one of the most beautiful in Chile but the earthquake left only rubble. It was interesting to see the organization and layout of the fort.
Sea Port of Corral
The next stop, the sea port of Corral, is best known for the forts of Corral Bay. It was headquarters for a system of Spanish fortifications and defensive batteries built to protect Valdivia during colonial times. We spent about an hour touring the fortress. It was beautiful and the history is fascinating.
Isla Del Rey
We passed by Niebla on Isla Del Rey, the largest island and a resort city in the area. During colonial times Isla Del Rey was an important fortification that protected the estuary of what was then Spanish America. Niebla is popular with tourists and known for its local Chilean cuisine.
The trip was relaxing with warm, sunny weather. We ate lunch on board, enjoyed tea and coffee on the way back to Valdivia, and arrived at Schuster Pier at about 7:00 p.m. I chatted with the other passengers, including a Chilean family and a fun couple from Santiago. Valdivia is a popular getaway for people who live in Santiago. Everyone was aware of heavy rain and flooding in northern Chile’s Atacama Desert. Apparently, a storm is on the way south, and this morning Valdivia skies were overcast.
On Sunday I leave for Frutillar in Chile’s Lake District. Frutillar is surrounded by Lake Llanquihue with Osorno Volcano in the background. I met a classical musician at a café in Valdivia who told me about concerts at Teatro del Lago (Theater of the Lake) in Frutillar. It sounds like a fantastic place and I hope to attend a few concerts.
As I work my way south toward Chilean Patagonia, the next post will be from Frutillar.