Wednesday, February 10, 2010

Serving Drinks in Peulla, Chile

We took the Andean lake crossing to get from San Carlos de Bariloche to Puerto Montt, Chile. It involved three boats and two buses, and we chose to stay overnight at the mid-way point in Peulla, Chile. Peulla has a population of 152 people and the complete list of buildings include the customs office, school, the hydroelectric turbine building, and towering above all else are the massive old hotel and the even more massive new hotel, the Hotel Natura.

Peulla overlooks a many-acre marsh at the end of the lake, and is sandwiched between two mountains that jut suddenly from the rainforest below up into the clouds. We never actually saw the top of the mountains because they're just that tall. It's quite dramatic. The pictures we have are beautiful, but quaint by comparison to standing looking at it.

There is no shopping, nightlife, or anything else in Peulla, and the transit schedules are carefully designed so that you'll have many, many hours to kill before you depart. What to do with all that time? Fortunately, Peulla is run by a tour company. Guillermo paused with facetious excitement at the notion of TV in your room, or Internet in the hotel lobby. He thought a self-guided walk was a nice idea, but clearly the superior way to while your time in Peulla was one or more from the menu of attractively-priced excursions conveniently timed to avoid conflict with your departure the next afternoon.

But in case you didn't like any of those options, you could always run from the biting flies.

Included at no extra cost, Peulla offers an exercise program to ensure that when you do leave the Hotel Natura, you will return at a full run. Every time the sun comes out, the 1.5 inch orange horseflies come droning through the air like helicopters looking for blood. And they are not easily deterred. Insect repellants are pointless. Swatting at them turns it into sport. And smacking them with anything less than all your might doesn't harm them in the slightest. First one arrives, strafing and diving, then a whole family of bloodthirsty idling chainsaws the size of the smallest hummingbird is swirling around you looking for a place to land. And drink.

Within a couple of hours, tourists like ourselves who'd tried to go on a walk and been driven back indoors sat around in the lobbies and lounges of the hotel looking at each other with blank, fly-bitten stares. Personal anecdotes of our shared horror of the horseflies galvanized us, and became conversation starters. Joanna from South Africa was horrified to be trapped indoors without champagne or ice on her anniversary. Michael from Canada had one get under his hat. Lee from Canada had been bitten on the ankle and even skipped a pre-paid outdoor excursion in fear for her precious vital fluids.

The locals, no strangers to the daylight onslaught, were full of good humor and broken English sympathy at first. But while they were not new to the winged menace, they were also too familiar with the complaints of tourists for their own tastes. The obvious comparisons to Hitchcock were apparently so cliche that by the time the third English-only tourist made reference to 'The Birds' in 15 minutes, they could no longer suppress the eye roll. "Oh, please," it seemed to say, "Hitchcock? Really? That's the best you can do?"

Peulla was wonderful in all other respects. The views were amazing, and once evening started to bring temperatures down the flies settled in for the night, savoring the taste of fresh blood on their proboscides. Jeff and I fearfully sniffed the air and once we were certain all danger was past, we left the hotel under the cover of an early dusk. We spotted five waterfalls, at least a dozen native plants we consider to be exotic, and took lots of pictures without anyone in them. Given the extreme remoteness and the short supplies they had on hand, Hotel Natura's staff managed to prepare excellent cuisine.

The pictures will tell the tale of our night and day in Peulla, but we will always remember it for its predators. Peulla. Come for the vistas. Stay for the excursions. And run for your life.

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