Published: February 24th 2007January 14th 2007
Breckenridge, CO or Pucon, Chile?
I thought I was in a ski town, until I saw smoke coming from the mountain! It is actually Volcan Villarica.
I may have been on the shore of any lake in Wisconsin. The motor boats were coming in for fuel, there were jet skis for rent (I mean moto acuaticas), and I was sitting close enough to smell that familiar smell of water with a hint of gasoline from the fuel station. But the sand was black, which I cannot remember seeing in Wisconsin, and a glance to my left gave me a full view of Volcán Villarrica.
I arrived here in Pucón, in the south of Chile, by way of a ten hour overnight bus ride from Santiago. It reminds me very much of a Colorado ski town. Many buildings have a chalet style and are of natural wood construction. Pucón is a place drawing in tourists who use the town as their adventure headquarters. The streets are lined with excursion shops, retail stores, and restaurants. My plan to stay for only two nights placed a severe limitation on my chance to sample from the wide variety of cuisine available here.
One of the major activities outside of Pucón is to climb Volcán Villarrica. I set out with an organized group to do this on my second day.
When we arrived at the foot of the volcano I noticed that I was beginning to show the symptoms of an allergic reaction. At times my chin, lips, or forehead swell in reaction to an unknown irritant. This time I could feel half of my bottom lip beginning to get itchy and swollen. We were unloaded from the minibus and as is the norm, I had packed an excess of food and water making my daypack quite heavy. I think I inherited some of the hoarding tendencies of my grandmother; I seem to always travel with enough food and beverage to feed a small group if necessary. This posed a problem for me as my pack was the heaviest as I was hiking UP.
I started strong and got more and more exhausted as we hiked steeply uphill for the following four hours. My lip continued to swell and I hiked with it hanging out and exposed to the sun. When we stopped for a break I ate separated from the group as it seemed I had just been to the dentist and had no control over what may fall from my mouth at any minute. I managed to
finish the chips and an apple and then the lunch break was over.
One of the guides took a liking to me after I told him I was a profesora de Ingles. From then on he would yell to me, "Profe, venga! Teacher, come on!" No rest for the weary and boy was I weary. Nearing the peak I was forcing myself to take fifty steps before allowing a breather break. I finally reached the peak and was then able to enjoy the remainder of my lunch when the noxious fumes from the volcano were blowing in the opposite direction.
After some time at the top it was time to begin the event I had climbed for in the first place - to slide down the snow on my butt! It was a view I will never forget. On this day I also temporarily conquered my fear of heights (inherited from my dad) when the guide grabbed my hand and showed me how to "ski" down the steep snow on my boots. We alternated sliding and skiing down the volcano until we arrived once again at the soil cover. After such an effort to reach the top, the
descent was finished too quickly. I dozed in the van on the way back to the hostel covered in dust from head to toe, my lip size decreasing and a look of accomplishment covering my face.
There are more photos below