"My poetry was born between the hill and the river, it
took its voice from the rain, and like the timber, it steeped itself in the forests."
Despite its frequent appearance on postcards, Volcán Osorno is actually a rare sight. When Charles Darwin passed through this part of southern Chile during his famed voyage on the HMS Beagle, he found it "difficult to get a single glimpse": "Once only the volcano of Osorno stood out in bold relief," he wrote, "and that was before sunrise." The problem is perennial overcast. It rains more than 200 days a year here, with many fierce squalls rolling in off the South Pacific. The poet Pablo Neruda, who was raised in nearby Temuco, called the rain "the one unforgettable presence" of his childhood.
The wet climate explains the volcano's surrounding greenery, part of the second-largest temperate rainforest on Earth after the Pacific Northwest. Travelers from the coastal areas of Northern California to British Columbia often experience southern Chile as a mirror version of home, a kind of looking-glass Cascadia. Osorno sits almost exactly as far south of the equator as Mt. Shasta is north of it; the island of Chiloé bears a striking resemblance to its Canadian cousin, Vancouver. Chile even has its answer to the coastal redwoods in the alerces, slow-growing giants that may live up to 4,000 years. Like the redwoods, the alerces were heavily exploited, and remain only in remote, protected stands scattered across the southern Andes.
Volcán Osorno lies in Chile's oldest national park, Vicente Pérez Rosales, founded in 1926. A nearly perfect cone, the mountain rises steeply between two large lakes: Lagos Todos los Santos and Llanquihue, which provide splendid views of Osorno's glacier-clad flanks on those occasions when the sky clears. The best vantage point may be from the saltos, or waterfalls, pictured above, of the blue-green Petrohué River. On a fortuitous clear night, Darwin witnessed a midnight eruption from the deck of the Beagle: It was, he wrote, a "very magnificent spectacle."