The sun had just risen beneath a low ceiling of clouds. The whole city of Peurto Varas was caste in a bronze hue. It would have been wonderful to capture the moment. All I had in my pocket was a room key, no worries. Llanquihue Lake reflected like a mirror. I closed my eyes and soaked in the mental picture. My feet continued to carry me rhythmically along the lake front. Since arriving in Chile, every moment seemed like a special occasion; maybe they were. With no idea where I was going or where I might end up, I wandered toward whatever might grab my attention.
Breathing light and easy, I deviated from the lakefront hotels and restaurants following a footpath up the hillside. The route led me into a maze of houses. One home in particular grabbed my attention. It was a remarkably old structure with absolutely zero paint left on the exterior walls. Slowing down to observe the haunted house, I noticed something that made me laugh out load. Two dogs stood guard within the gated dirt perimeter. It was like no dog I’d ever seen; it was a French-fry doppelgänger. Square and yellow, this russet potato of a dog was paired with short legs and a long torso. Almost as if he knew I was laughing at him, the dog spun around and gave me a muted bark. I nodded apologetically. My eyes connected with a traditionally dressed woman gazing out one of the open windows. She stared out as if she had been frozen for years. Even with her bright red beret her stillness allowed her to blend right into the windowsill. She had to be at least 90 years old. I reached out my hand and waved. The owner of the haunted matchstick mansion transformed into one big smile. The moment was over as soon as it started, another special experience was saved in my mind.
Winding my way back to the hotel, I stared out at the cloud smothered lake. Behind the wall of grey was an active conical stratovolcano, Volcán Osorno. REI’s itinerary had us backpacking on the volcano in the coming days. If cloudy days in town had me excited, I could only imagine the experience of backpacking on an active volcano. Arriving back at the hotel, I let the volcano dreams fade in leu of a more pertinent destination, the blue waters of Petrohué.
Cesar never touched the brakes as the small Subaru transitioned from smooth pavement to dusty backroads. My legs stiffened; my right hand clutched tightly to the overhead handle. The crew and I were quickly learning that South Americans drive as quickly and aggressively as they are able. Back in Peurto Varas, you could walk into the street without looking and vehicles would yield; outside the city limits, you are best served by looking both ways. South American hip-hop blared from the radio, blending surprisingly well with loud reverberations of our new dirt highway.
The vehicle came to an abrupt stop. My hand tightened over the familiar handle. Cesar said something in Spanish. Fortunately for me and Tyhree, REI brought on two talent that could speak Spanish. Dani and Mitchell graciously took turns translating for us.
“Cesar says that we are here. We are waiting to meet the contact.” Mitchell said.
Looking around, I saw only the dirt freeway and the lush Patagonian forest. To the right, a man suddenly appeared from the thick underbrush. What I had mistaken for a drainage, was in fact a path. Cesar pointed to the woods and spoke. Dani translated. “That’s where we are going to be shooting,” she said. Slightly confused, I took his work for it.
Tucked in by the side of the road, the entire production crew stood ready for action. Our art directors, Simson and Sam, briefed us. The first task was simple. Follow the dirt path with GoPro’s and venture out toward the river. Josh, the videographer, would be capturing our approach to the turquoise water with a drone. Smiling like kids, the four of us didn’t have to be asked twice. As the day wore on, the structure of the shoot became progressively more narrow in its focus. It certainly wasn’t all wandering around playing.
The sun was beginning to set as we all piled into the crew vehicles. We continued deeper into the mountains. Just as twilight began to fade, we pulled into the driveway for the Petrohué Lodge. What in the world was this? A beautiful red lodge appeared in background. This would be our home for the next two days. Linda, the producer, saw our smiles and quickly fueled our excitement by handing us each our own room key. “Wait until you see our next spot. We have to take a boat to get there,” Linda said. Tired and giddy, we disappeared into the warm glow of the Petrohué Lodge.
The next day was filled with shooting and filming. The work itself wasn’t challenging, wearing summer apparel on a cold windy lake for hours on end made the experience a bit more tangible. Once we were back at the lodge for the evening, the chill quickly melted off with a glass of red wine and a dip into a wood fired hot tub nestled at the edge of the forest. We were spoiled rotten and knew it.
One of the talent, Mitchelle, had her birthday while at Petrohué Lodge. With an early checkout time the following morning and a long day of shooting wearing on everyone’s shoulders, only a few of us remained awake to help her celebrate. Dani, Mitchell, Cesar and myself hung around for a little nightcap. Mitchell procured an unopened bottle of Tequila. A childish grin appeared on Cesar’s face. He disappeared into the lodge kitchen, returning with a tray full of sliced limes and a small pile of salt. “Uh oh,” I thought.
One shot, became two. Satisfied, we all agreed to call it a night. Then Josh, the videographer, arrived. Another round was in order. Cesar urged another and then another. I yielded. I didn’t need an expert to know that it would be unwise to get into a drinking contest with a two hundred and fifty pound Chilean.
Saying goodbye to the Petrohué Lodge was difficult as you’d expect, but the anticipation of a new destination had already begun to creep into my mind. I was excited for our next locale because it would be our most remote destination of the trip. Tucked away on the northwestern slopes of Lago Tagua Tagua in Patagonia Norte, Barraco Lodge sounded right up my alley, it sounded right up most peoples alley.
Standing at the mouth of Lake Tagua Tagua a spell of moody weather had settled in with plans to move. While this was standard fare for Patagonia Norte (North), clouds and rain didn’t bode well for a summer clothing photoshoot. I tuned into the production crew as they discussed the options for the next couple days of shooting. After a long conversation, it seemed that our three-day reservation at Barraco Lodge was the only part of the itinerary that remained certain. That was ok by me; the rest of the crew didn’t seem to mind either. We could all bare a couple days of remote dwelling in Patagonia.
Our time at the Barraco Lodge was another type of special. With beautiful cabins tucked away in the forest, incredible hand-crafted meals, and top notch Chilean hospitality, everyone experienced some form of heartache when it was time to leave. If there was one place I wouldn’t mind experiencing a repeat, Barraco Lodge would be one of those places.
The days after Barraco Lodge became somewhat of a blur. The good weather had finally arrived, giving us the sunshine we needed to tackle the missed scenes while waiting at Barraco Lodge. It was time to work. I can still feel the rattle of that old red Mitsubishi truck at two in the morning after a triple day of shooting. Before we knew it, the final scene for the campaign had arrived. The last thing we had to do was go backpacking on Volcán Osorno.
Our last full day shooting in Chile was incredible. We threw on our backpacks and wandering around the martian landscape along the southern face of the vulcano. As evening began to settle in, we made our way to the designated camp to shoot a new plethora of photos for the camp scenes. The moon filled in for the sun as dusk faded to darkness. The glacier capped peak of Osorno glimmered in the darkness. Overhead, the Milky Way spilled across the sky. Mesmerized by the scene, three words brought me back to reality. Was it really over? Everyone was cheering. I heard the words again - “That’s a wrap!”
The measly thousands words above will do little to capture the essence of my time in Chile. It was a complex and over the top experience in so many ways; and yet, the simple moments along the journey seem to resonate with me the most. A friendly wave with a stranger, the sweet taste of another homemade dessert, and shared moments with individuals I now have the fortune of calling friends. Chile sure is a special place. Sharing the experience with others, made it extraordinary.