Published: May 24th 2011May 13th 2011
Friday 22nd April – Thursday 28th April
All was well as we left San Martin de los Andes, the rain had stopped, the floods in the streets were subsiding and the sun was rising over Lago Lacar. With the border crossing to Chile a couple of hours away it was a chance to get some extra sleep, so we blew up the air pillows, donned our eye masks and reclined our seats. Happy times, until…… bump! We awoke with a start. One look outside was all we needed to realise that we were in the middle of a blizzard, there was 1 foot of snow on the road and the back end of our bus was now in a ditch. What to do in this situation? Take photos!
We waited in the same spot, unmoved for 8 hours whilst all manner of inventive things were tried to shift us, including a tow from the park guard (who also ended up in the ditch - hilarious) and lighting fires underneath the bus (what the?! Apparently it was to stop parts of the bus from freezing). However, two cups of tea, some dulce de leche biscuits (South America is obsessed with
Volcan Villarrica towering above the town
these), two films (thanks to our handy laptop), some irate passengers, a few shoulder shrugs from the driver and a proper tow from a snowplough later, we were on the move again… slowly.
We arrived in Pucon just in time to join in the wine tasting event at our hostel, and share stories of “the worst South American bus trips experienced”.
Pucon, an adventurer’s playground surrounded by natural wonders, is probably most famous for the smoking Volcan Villarrica, which towers above the town. It is 2847 metres high and is one of only five volcanoes worldwide known to have an active lava lake within its crater.... and it’s possible to climb it! We decided to do just that, albeit in a couple of days due to the stormy weather that had followed us from Argentina.
Despite the rain which continued to fall, we decided to get out and about to explore the area, hopping on a bus to El Cani nature sanctuary, for a spot of trekking. After taking 30 minutes to find the path in the forest, it was a 3 hour 9km climb to Lago Los Totoras, (the last hour of which was trudging through
Volcan Villarrica, Chile
All the gear and no idea!
knee deep snow) which due to the change in seasons, was now frozen over. I’m sure the views of Pucon below would have been equally beautiful, had we not been in the middle of a cloud.
Hearing that the weather was clearing, and our ascent of Villarrica had the all clear for the following day, we chose to soak our tired limbs for a few hours and rest up for the big climb ahead in the nearby geothermal pools of Termas Los Pozones, set in natural rock pools beside a flowing river.
Helmet, check. Crampons, check. Ice-axe, check…. Vamos!
It wasn’t until we drove towards Villarrica as the day began that we got our first glimpse of the challenge ahead. The top of the cone was glowing pink and it looked big, very big. Still, energised by the hot chocolate and overhearing a fellow climber say “that guy looks hard core” as Chris walked by in his trekking gear with his game face on, there was no backing out. The climb itself was tough – volcanic scree for the bottom part, then snow and then ice (crampons and ice-axe fully justified) as the incline got steeper and steeper.
The 360 views from the top are breathtaking, Pucon and its lake, the Andes and Argentina, Vocan Lanin and inside, the steaming crater, all well worth the effort. The fun part was yet to come…. sliding back down! After being shown how to break, using the ice-axe, we set off to cries of “more control” and “break, break” from the guides ringing in our ears. SO. MUCH. FUN. 10 ‘slides’ later and we were at the bottom, 6 hours up, 2 hours down.
Still on a high from the ascent (and descent!) of Villarrica, we went searching for more adrenaline fuelled fun, and found it in the form of ‘Hydrospeed’- like white water rafting, but without the raft! Armed with a wetsuit, flippers, helmet, life jacket and float, we set off down a 14 km stretch of grade 3-4 rapids. Brilliant fun (apart from the stretch named ‘the ball breaker’ - this part hurt!) getting taken by the power of the river, between rocks and under big waves.
With that, our time in Pucon was up and we headed for the capital, Santiago, for some birthday celebrations for Keri and a reunion with an old Camp Towanda friend.
Sunset over smoggy Santiago
Having heard lots of negative things about Santiago, we were pleasantly surprised with the character of both the place and the people. Nice historic buildings, impressive monuments, cool bars, amazing ice cream and a free walking tour for us two culture vultures to find out all about it.
The modern apartment we stayed in for Keri’s birthday was also a nice break from the world of hostel dorm rooms and helped our visit feel more like a holiday. However, the hazy views from the top of Cerro San Cristobal really show just how smoggy a place Santiago is, obscuring its mountain backdrop and explaining the stinging eyes at the end of each day.
Whilst happy to stay longer, we were starting to feel the pressure of time for the first time on our trip (having read all about what there is to do in Bolivia, Peru and Ecuador), so we booked our next bus to the home of Malbec, Mendoza, 9 hours away and another journey across the Andes.
There are more photos below