The House that Fierro built

That’s Pablo Fierro, people.

Who?

Yeah… that was our reaction when we saw that one of the main attractions on the tourist map of Puerto Varas was the Museum of Pablo Fierro.

Suffice to say, seeing it did not rank very highly on our to-do list while we were there (especially not when there are so many amazing cafes and restaurants we could easily spend our days in). Yet, halfway though our walk back to town from La Gringa, we had to stop in our tracks when we saw this…

??!!

My exact thought at that point in time: “??!!”

Yup… CARS IN A FRIGGIN’ HOUSE!

And because we were not looking for it, we’d somehow stumbled upon the Museo de Pablo Fierro… or as we came to find out… it’s more like Casa de Pablo Fierro.

p varas paolo fierro

We must have looked kinda ridiculous standing there with our mouths agape because a spindly old man who had been working on the rooftop shouted out to us “Do you want to come in?”

We don’t have a lot of rules when it comes to travelling, but one that we do have is that as far as possible, we try not to follow strangers into cars or dark houses…. Yet, somehow we figured a dark house with embedded cars should be an exception to the rule.

Our decision was cemented when we saw this sign on the door.

Nope... not "Arte de Sonar" (Art of Sound?). "Entrada Liberada" - Free Entry

Nope… not “Arte de Sonar” (Art of Sound?).  Even after more than a month in South America, our Spanish was still pretty much shit. But one of the first few phrases we learnt was this: “Entrada Liberada” – Free Entry

I don’t want to be overly dramatic, but to me, stepping into the Museum was like falling headfirst into the rabbit hole to Alice’s Wonderland.

Down Down Down...

Down Down Down… or should it be Up Up Up?

We were guided around the house by the wiry tall man who had been working on the roof. Still covered in sawdust and with fresh splinters poking out of his fingers, Pablo decided to show us around his kingdom himself.

Pablo is an artist – and a damn good one at that.

Some works of Pablo Fierro. He specializes in landscapes and would mount his pieces in old window and door frames

Some works of Pablo Fierro. He specializes in landscapes and would mount his pieces in old window and door frames

The story goes that about 20 years ago, he saw this town house at the edge of Puerto Varas. He saw great potential within it and took it upon himself to refurbish the crumbling old house. He filled the house with his art pieces and interspersed these art works with antiques and collectibles from all over Chile.

He hasn’t stopped since.

The Museum sort of grew out of control from there. What started as a two-storey town house now has two additional wings, and Pablo is working on another extension to the place. I suppose in a way, the museum is Pablo’s pièce de résistance 20++ years in the making.

Expected final state of the house... for now

Expected final state of the house… for now

Curios and knick-knacks are scattered all over the house. However, instead of looking like the setting for an episode of Hoarders, there is a kind of order to the madness… Nothing really feels out of place and the whole place just looks… strangely fascinating – like cycling through a warped time machine on a unicycle.

p varas inside pablo fierro museum

Ok… this shot is better for Down Down Down…

p varas pablo fierro interior

Inside the

p varas fierro house More things

Museo de Pablo Fierro is now regarded as a heritage site of Puerto Varas and a must-see attraction here.

As we were walking through the house, Fierro talked to us about many things. Between his English and our (very broken) Spanish, we sort of got the feeling that his life could have taken many paths. He is a relatively successful artist, but he is now the self-appointed curator of the museum.

He spends his time chatting with visitors and teaching art to the local kids. He devotes his energy and finds great joy in constantly expanding and improving the house.

Letters and works from Pablo's appreciative students

Letters and works from Pablo’s appreciative students

It’s not a conventional life that Pablo has led so far. He might be viewed as eccentric by some, but it cannot be denied that he really poured his heart and soul into producing something that he loves.

I don’t think many of us can say the same.

Perhaps that’s the reason why we love the museum so much. We can literally feel the pride and love radiating from the walls of the place. I think he said it best when at one point during the tour, he thumped his chest and declared, “Estoy feliz. Feliz es muy importante”

With the Man Himself

Pablo Fierro – The Man Himself

When Life Punches You in the Balls… Eat Brownies.

No… that’s not a drug reference, it’s about how our plan to get on the Navimag ferry from Puerto Montt to Puerto Natales got a hadoken to the gonards.

One of the things that we keep telling ourselves is that the best part about travelling the way we do is that we get to change our plans as and when we want to. We are not exactly bounded by any time frame, we can afford to take things slow and we are free to go wherever our whims take us.

But honestly, that’s something that I tell Jo sometimes so that when I want to change our plans to spend a day in lazing and reading… I don’t get a swift punch to MY balls.

It actually kinda sucked to have to spend three days in dreary Puerto Montt to find out that we have to switch plans totally.

We still wanted to head down south to Fin del Mundo (Ushuaia, Argentina), and since we had a bit of time on our hands, we decided to not take a flight, and instead take the more scenic (cheapo) overland route through Argentina. Our first order of business was to head back North to Puerto Varas to catch a connecting bus on to the Argentinian ski resort town of San Carlos de Bariloche.

Maybe it’s because of the three days that we just spent in Puerto Montt, but I swear, I think I fell almost instantly in love with Puerto Varas.

In place of the topsy turvy, unplanned sprawl of Puerto Montt, the main drag of Puerto Varas comprises of six very neat and… “compressed” streets of very quaint houses. The air feels fresher, things flow along in a more orderly manner and the people definitely seemed just that little bit friendlier.

Normally, I don’t like to resort to stereotype, but I would like to just take this opportunity to (very casually) mention… Puerto Varas is comprised mainly of second/third generation descendants of German immigrants.

And that’s all I have to say about that….

But one of the best part about Puerto Varas has probably got to be the food. After 3 days of Curantos and stale burgers, we were kinda spoilt by the quality of food served in the numerous cafes and gourmet restaurants available in Puerto Varas. (think piping hot schnitzels, creamy pasta, freshly caught seafood from Lago Llanquihue and exquisite German cakes/pastries).

Since we’d saved a fair bit by not going on a cruise/plane, we decided we could console ourselves by splurging on good food in the next few cities we were visiting. In the case of Puerto Varas, we pampered ourselves with the local specialty – the freshly caught Anguila (eel).

We pampered ourselves A LOT.

p varas anguila

Living the good life at the relatively high end Mariolas Puerto Varas. I know… the photos don’t really do justice to how amazingly fresh the fish really is. I don’t want to sound overly dramatic, but it is like biting into a slice of the ocean that has been steamed in a herb garden. Lousy food prose on top of bad food photography.  I blame the good home brewed beer

Even with all the good food in the area, special mention must go to La Gringa, a quaint little cafe that is a good 15 minute walk away from the main part of Puerto Varas.

It’s a rather pleasant walk around the lake, and at the end of the walk, we arrived at a house that looked like it came straight out of Hansel and Gretel… sans evil witch inside. In fact, the only similarity the cafe’s friendly American owner, Naomi (and hence La GRINGA) has with an evil witch is the wicked broth she has brewing in her cauldron.

Quaint German house

Quaint German house

Freshly picked flowers with a hand written chalk board menu - simple but so nice

Freshly picked flowers with a hand written chalk board menu – simple but so nice

As far as I know, most of the dishes are created from scratch out of organic ingredients purchased daily from the local farmers.This included the bread used for the delicious sandwiches and the juice for the Soda Italiano.

And the best part is that they offer an affordable (US$10) Menu del Dia that includes a soup, a main dish and a drink.

Lentil Soup with Purple potatoes. Really MUCH nicer than it sounds

Lentil Soup with Purple potatoes. Really MUCH nicer than it sounds

Sitting in La Gringa, looking over the gorgeous lake with an aromatic mug of coffee in our hands and a fresh-out-of-the-oven brownie on the plate in front of us, I can’t help but feel  that the best part about travelling the way we do is that we get to change our plans as and when we want to.

Sometimes, from the most unpleasant of situations, life throws up the best surprises… and brownies.

A little too late and much too early… also more Puerto Montt!

I don’t want to say that Puerto Montt is a boring place. It’s a nice port city in its own right. I just think that there are better places that I could visit… like the local dental clinic, where they can perform a root canal operation on me, using only a toothpick and a hammer.

I’ve always liked towns by the beach. I don’t really know why, but most places by the beach gives me the sense of tranquillity tempered with the possibility of adventure that might jump out at you around every corner. Probably one too many readings of Enid Blyton when I was growing up. The contingency plan is that when all else fails, you can always go for a walk down the beach.

sea

“Sea” side town

Except in Puerto Montt’s case, I could only use the term “beach” in the loosest sense of the word.

Boat Buddies!

Boat Buddies… at the “beach”!

Of course, it doesn’t help that being situated at the edge of Patagonia, Puerto Montt is “blessed” with the gale force winds and blistering rains that the Patagonian region is notorious for… without the stunning and isolated beauty of Patagonia.

This meant that we didn’t have many chances to go down to the salted sand pit they call a beach anyway.

And then there’s the food… The local delicacy is this dish called Curanto.

In essence, it is a platter stacked with mussels, clams, potatoes, milcao (a kind of potato bread), chapaleles, fish, and mystery meat of the day.

So, how does the Curanto taste like? Is it good? Well.. Curanto is a traditional dish and the Chileans at Puerto Montt has been eating it for thousands of years… I think we managed to grab some leftovers from the first cooking.

Curanto

Curanto

The only good things we got to look forward to is the brief moments (strong emphasis on “brief”) after the rain.

Ok... this part is kinda awesome

Ok… this part is kinda awesome

So how the hell did we end up staying three days in Puerto Montt???

Puerto Montt is THE gateway to Chilean Patagonia. It is also the only place that you could take a cruise ride on the Navimag Ferry down the Chilean coastline to Puerto Natales and the famous Torres del Paine.

The 4-days cruise was supposed to take us “along endless fjords, desolate channels and uninhabited islands that are covered by virgin temperate rainforest and overlooked by the snow-capped peaks of unnamed mountains that stand above the Northern and Southern Patagonian Ice Field”.

At US$400/head for the off season rate, it almost sounded too good to be true.

It was… for us anyway…

Since the ferry is scheduled to sail every Tuesday, we didn’t want to (literally) miss the boat. We arrived in Puerto Montt on a Friday night, hoping to catch the next ferry out. We figured we would get the tickets from the ticketing office first thing the next morning.

Guess what?

We overslept!

By the time we reached the ticketing office (at 2PM) (Not too late what!), it was closed. Since they don’t open for business on Sunday as well, we needed to wait till Monday to get our tickets. So, that’s three days we needed to stay in Puerto Montt.

At that point in time, we could’ve gone to nearby “tourist-friendly” Puerto Varas to while away the time, but we chose to stay in boring (windy and rainy) Puerto Montt. There was a very good reason for that… We were very settled at Casa Perla and cannot be bothered to repack our stuff and move our lazy asses… also, we figured all the hard work we’ve put in would be worth it once we stepped on the ferry.

I know... I can see the irony so clearly now too... we thought that we could take a break from lazing from doing THIS by going on a lazy four-day cruise...

I know… I can see the irony so clearly now too… we thought that we could take a break from doing THIS by going on a lazy four-day cruise…

We never did find out if that assumption was true.

After waiting for three days to get our ferry tickets, we found out that we were too early for the ship.

The first ferry of the cruising season will only run in a month’s time.

Of Houses and (Possibly) Witches… Puerto Montt

One of the best parts about travelling is that we get to learn new things every step of the way.

For example, as we traipsed from city to city, we were able to begin cultivating an appreciation for architecture. Where once I would have been satisfied to label most structures as “buildings”, I am now able to further differentiate between the three main types of architectural works we are normally faced with – what architects refer to technically as “new buildings”, “old buildings” and “REALLY old buildings”.

And in the port town of Puerto Montt there are A LOT of “REALLY old buildings”. I’m pretty sure some of them even fall under the special sub-categories of “disintegrating piles of waste” or “a hazard to life and limb”.

Jo thought I was being overly critical. She thinks there are many redeeming qualities to these old buildings, chief of which is that these stalwarts of a bygone era have a lot of “character”, which in Jo-speak, means that they are “colorful”.

Looks like it is on the verge of collapse, doesn't it?

Looks like it is on the verge of collapse, doesn’t it?

Death Trap!

A colorful Death Trap by any other name and color….

Ok... I have to admit... some of these buildings are QUITE pretty...

Ok… I have to admit… some of these buildings are QUITE pretty…

Under normal circumstances, the more “character” a building has, the further I would stay from it. But in Puerto Montt, it seemed like I did not have a choice. The only accommodation we managed to find online was for Casa Perla.

Home for 2... maybe 3 days

Home for 2… maybe 3 days

Ever wondered what it would be like to stay in a witch’s cavern? Well… neither have I, but Casa Perla managed to surpass all my expectations from the moment we stepped into the house.

I don’t think the owners of Casa Perla are practising witches, but the knick knacks they have lying around the house could certainly convince you otherwise.

Ingredients for spells... perhaps?

Along with floors that creak at every step, dimly-lit hallways and the howling winds and perpetually stormy weather outside the house, I half expected to hear chantings of “Double, double toil and trouble; Fire burn and cauldron bubble” around every corner.

The house has clearly seen better days (possibly in the year 1321), but the people at Casa Perla sort of make up for this.

Perla’s husband (it is after all Perla’s House, but no… Perla was not home when we were there) is a perpetual fixture in the living room. And I mean that VERY literally. For the entire three days we were there, he was stooped in front of his television in various stages of consciousness, rousing only to give us the most detailed description of where to go and what to see in his “hood”.

It seemed like Uncle Perla (we never got his name) is a permanent fixture on his arm chair. He would be there when we woke. He was there when we left for our excursions around the town. He was still there when we returned for the day. And he was there when we went to bed. I think he was also there when we snuck to the pantry for a midnight snack.

I have to admit, it was kinda weird at first. But after our run-in with drunk Jackie Chan man and a day exploring the colorful character-ful houses about town in the blistering winds and rain of the lakeside town, we I can see the appeal of just lazing about the house.

So you see… it’s not that I WANT to spend three days in the warm, comfortable beds at Casa Perla. We HAD to.

Homework Time!

Homework Time!

Next: WHY the hell did we spend three days in Puerto Montt????

For the last time… I am not Jackie Chan!

It was 8 in the evening and we were walking down the streets of Puerto Montt looking for dinner.

There was one small problem… The shops on both sides of the streets were all closed and a lot of the street lamps were flickering like they’d just been cannibalized off the set of American Horror Story.

Lonely Planet mentioned that Puerto Montt was the “springboard to Chilean Patagonia and a nice port town to spend an afternoon in”.

We did not know that they were actually literal about the “afternoon” portion of that statement.

Since our arrival in South America, we had sort of adjusted to their “normal” dinner time of 9pm. At the recommendation of the owner of our guest house, we decided to take a walk down the water front towards the pier-side restaurant area.

It must’ve slipped his mind to mention that it was a 20-minutes walk to the pier, and that the streets leading there are not very brightly lit…in fact they were not very well-lit at all.

As you might (or might not) know, since our arrival in “crime-infested’ South America, I’ve been extra-paranoid about the prospect of being robbed/mugged/raped/killed. Yet, for some reason, walking down those dark streets in Puerto Montt, with no one around us for (what seemed like) miles, my Spider senses did not go a-tingling.

Probably the hunger speaking…

In fact, it was Jo who started squirming uneasily once she realized that the ONLY shops that were still open were liquor stores winding down their business for the night.

And HER spider senses were spot on.

A clearly inebriated old man stumbled out of one of these liquor stores. He broke into a toothless grin the moment he saw us and proceeded to walk alongside us, chattering to us  excitedly in rapid-fire Español.

Honestly, I was super freaked out, but being stereotypical polite-to-a-fault Asians, we smiled and nodded along even though we understood approximately 8.5% of what he was saying.

That’s why, to this day, I am not really sure how the conversation evolved from restaurants in the area to him repeatedly saying “Jackie Chan” whilst dancing around us and waving his hands wildly in the air.

The straw that broke the proverbial camel’s back was when he suddenly let out a blood-curdling, “HAAAIIIIIIYAAAAAAAHHHHHHHHHHHHHH!!!!” and got into Wong Fei Hong-style fight stance.

That was it.

I took one last glance at the long dark road still ahead of us, grabbed Jo’s hands and did an immediate U-turn, mumbling “Not hungry not hungry not hungry not hungry not hungry not hungry not hungry”

And that’s the story of how we had stale biscuits and melted chocolates for dinner.