Valderi, Valdera...some people call it a higher plain


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South America » Chile » Araucanía » Pucón
January 26th 2006
Published: January 27th 2006
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At the SummitAt the SummitAt the Summit

Volcan Villarrica
I could just about crack it for a few bars of “The Happy Wanderer” Is it just the lack of oxygen? I don’t think so, there must be something more….but everyone is so cheerful! Along the road the road workers grin and wave, a gaucho herding some horses along the river bank waves his hat, I almost expect him to pull out a colt 45 and fire a few shots into the air, backpackers waiting patiently by the road wave and smile, call out greetings, cyclists nod or wave, depending if they’re on the ascent or descent, at every stop along the way people wave and smile…it goes on and on…

We decided to Puc off and head for Pucon, just a short trip, couple of hundred kms but the most amazing scenery again. Firstly, out of Junin across the higher plain, winding thru’ the hills, sparse coverage of stubbly pampas grass and craggy outcrops of rock poking thru’ the tops of the hills. Then dirt road and cutting thru’ the hills following another of these swiftly flowing, icy-cold rivers, willow lined banks, patches of foaming rapids.

Around a bend and a massive white cone-head appears on the horizon,
Volcan VillarricaVolcan VillarricaVolcan Villarrica

from my bedroom window (almost)
you really know when you are in volcan territory. Gradually we get closer, its looming up, dominating the horizon. 3,746m Volcan Lanin. Eventually we get to the frontier to Chile, a quaint little alpine structure on both sides and this mighty mountain right there.

Down into Chile, dirt road winds down thru’ forest now and everything coated in the same fine dust, it gets into everything, the visor and face part on my helmet can hardly function, eyes full of grit, bike shaking and rattling, the right hand indicator hangs off when the nut shakes loose, but then into Pucon.
Another exquisitely, chocolately, swissly, alpine tourist junk mecca. The town is dominated by the huge Volcan Villarrica 2,847m and a huge lake complete with yachts, power boats, ferries etc, how much can you fit into one town? Buildings of pine with steep roofs and carved signs, some “artesanas” markets, I guess some of this stuff is locally made as there are a couple of women knitting, but most of it looks like Chinese mass production crapola.

Out to the thermas, hot springs….Several are really commercial so we went right to the end of the road and Pozones. Set
Starting outStarting outStarting out

Volcan Villarrica
in a little wooded valley with a stream rushing beside, a fantastic series of pools and you can really appreciate the understated development, natural rock pools, little shelters, icy-cold showers, gravel pathways, a gardener roaming around the beds clipping and pruning, pulling out what I thought was some rare flower species but obviously a weed!
Then you realise the price you pay for the under-development …the gravel paths are really tough on thermally tenderised feet and there is nothing to eat or drink!…oh well, probably good for a few hours.

Riding back into town I can see smoke coming from the volcan, whoo hoo! Later in the bar we decide to do the trek and book in to one of the local groups. I’m a little apprehensive, it’s a long way to the top, but anyway.

TENSING UP OVER HILARY AGAIN!

A fitful night’s sleep with dogs barking, sirens going off and someone ringing the door bell at 4am didn’t help my state of mind. 6.45 we are at the meeting place as instructed, nothing is happening…gradually the rest of the gang wander in, all up about 60 people. Eventually, and with remarkable lack of direction or
On the way upOn the way upOn the way up

Volcan Villarrica
organization, tickets are sort of checked, we wander upstairs and get boots and back packs.. Back down I check the back pack, water proof pants and jacket, gloves and what’s this? Crampons? Just how serious is this getting?

Then to the bus, another one ordered as the crowd builds, minimal management relying on herd instinct gets us all aboard the buses and 4 or 5 attempts to do a head count finally satisfy the guides and we are off.
The music is Pan Pipes droning away like the background music in some uber-cool day spa retreat. While we are there, why “day” spa, I’ve noticed a lot around at home, whats with it? Were they ever open at night?
Anyway, we are getting closer, looking back I can see we have gained some altitude, good!, every metre in bus is one less to climb. The volcan is dominating the scene!
Then to the park entrance and a 15min wait while the bus drivers talk to the guy at the gate, we could almost be back in Argentina! The endlessly looping pan-pipes now have an electronic snare drum ackompanianment, tak, tak, tak the top end of the scale that degenerates, with basso profundo to doof doof.
Next to me is a brazilian guy with bad nose problems, he’s shnorlegrgling constantly, I’m going crazy…

Then we are stumbling out of the buses in boots that already feel like blocks of concrete, follow vague directions to the base of the chairlift, an optional extra for $9 that I was certainly not going to pass up, just as some of the truly dedicated were heading off to walk it, outraged at the over-priced fare!..all depends on your point of view!

The walk to the chairlift was about a kilometre or 2, and uphill, I was breathing hard, starting to wonder if I was buggered on this bit how would I get to the top?….also wondering if I am the only one panting, there are all these really healthy looking types, (Norgay, the oxygen mask if you would!)….but then I noticed, except for a few of the truly dedicated, most were puffing and panting, stopping for breaks and generally collapsing by the wayside.

The chairlift has an uncomfortably uncanny resemblance to the one at Arthur’s Seat but luckily I’m the only person here who has been to Rosebud!!

This type
Venting LavaVenting LavaVenting Lava

Volcan Villarrica
of outfit could not operate anywhere in the west, or rather the lawyer dominated world of the litigiously unchallenged, but here, anything goes! (there was a small disclaimer notice, in español, in the booking office advising against this trip for the old, vertigionously challenged, heart conditions, asthme or pregnant! (the sulphur fumes chicas, relax, not an attack on womanhood!)

At the top of the chairlift we get a 30 sec safety talk on how to hold your ice-pick and we’re off on the first traverse across the snow. Head down follow the footsteps of the person in front, its slightly steep and the safety instruction is close in my mind, if you slip, hack the long spike into the snow to stop yourself sliding down, into the rocks or over the precipice…oh yeah.If I slip I reckon the first thing is I'm gonna drop will be the pick!

It’s getting harder, breathing hard, when are we going to get a break??…legs are going to jelly, lungs burning, sweat pouring out from the little helmet and onto my glasses, we stop for a 5 min break. A sight to gladden an old smoker's heart, many of the young are
37 kms to Chile37 kms to Chile37 kms to Chile

Nearly there
carking it..

When we move off somehow we have become groups of 10 to 15 with our individual guide, and although it seems chaotic, and there are another couple of similar groups on the mountain, they seem to have it all under control, sort of!

Below me, I can sometimes hear the shnglekrgnlting of my braziliano mate, his sinuses enjoying their big day out!…he’s going to start a flipping avalanche if he keeps it up!

Looking down is very positive as the base station is a long way down, looking up however is daunting, I can see the small groups of climbers way above, slowly plodding back and forth across the ever increasingly steep face. And above them, where the top of the volcan seems to be leaning back out and over me, more smoke from the core.

The group I’m with are plodding along with our guide seeming to have found the perfect pace,, just one step after the other, breathing at a fair rate but not hurting, I went thru a couple of pain barriers on the first couple of stages, now just head down and do it! We are he lead group for
Welcome to ChileWelcome to ChileWelcome to Chile

On the Mountain Pass
our mob I think, and I can look back and see many of the young and fit struggling with the climb. Ha!

We stop for a lunch break and I dig into some chocolate and fruit, some of the truly dedicated, in the tradition of the triathletes, break out several bags of hi-energy stuff and chaw down on mouthfuls from each bag, they even have 2 or 3 different drinks..

Onwards ever upwards, its getting severely steep and we criss cross back and forth and even some directo uphill bits that strain everything...a bit of vertigo cutting in as the bozo in front of me slips back and nearly takes me out...aaarrgghhh, slippery icy snow all the way to the rocks below...at the next break I get in front of him but still its a steep edge and the footprints are dicey to follow.

From time to time the call goes up..'piedras' or 'rocas' as a lava rock, dislodged by something or someone higher up, comes thundering past!...gathering a collection of smaller rocks on its way...like a prophet surrounded by his accolytes all hurtling into the abyss.

Well, to cut a long (6 hours) trip short,
Bike, Volcan Lanin and SkyBike, Volcan Lanin and SkyBike, Volcan Lanin and Sky

On the Mountain Pass
we got there. Then up to the actual crater, man oh man, craggy edged and a steep slope down to the devil’s lair, the crater is about 200 metre across and 100 deep, at the very bottom a small vent in the rocks gives out a red glow, there’s the sound of venting, bubbles of molten rock, your real porrige of lava, great bubbles of molten rock, unbelievable... then a bit of a roar, smoke rushes out and then a mighty spit of lava bursts out of the vent, up and outwards, great gobs of lava, glowing red hot, splatter over the rocks and quickly cool to grey, I can feel the blast of heat from up on the edge….that’s pretty impressive, well, worth the trek! The big spits are every 3 or 4 minutes and unlike the glacier calves, these are pre-announced by the roar and the rush of smoke.....kaplooie, a monster spit blows bits of magma up to our eye level..sheeee-it!! As the bloke next to me says, it would only take a little bit of that to spoil your whole day!

The guide tells me that it blew bigtime in 71, killed 23, again in 84, killed 30, now I'm oing the maths...hmmm the ods aren't good, I gingerly move back from the edge..hehehe

After an hour or so of watching the fabulous views and the eruptions we head down, putting on the waterproofs and into the fun zone! We are led to these slides where several earlier bums have made tracks down. Another brief safety note to hold ice pick a certain way to slow down! Ha…I sit and start to slide down, totally out of control, this is insane, a real St Moritz bobsled thing but without the bobsled or the safety rails and down this gigantic mountain..aarrgghhh…soo fun, and with stops every few hundred metres where everyone slams into the first arrivals if they don’t get out of the way in time!!..ice picks flailing, snow and derision all over, laughing like fools, then on to the next one.

So that’s it..one day watching glaciers calve, another watching the lava blowing out, what a life!

Ah, the sense of achievement, ah the stiff muscles this morning, ah time for a coffee and I’ve found a WiFi at the pub on the corner….pix to with any luck…

I’m good, hope you all are too..

I love youse all…still!

And Happy Stralya Day!!



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Volcan LaninVolcan Lanin
Volcan Lanin

On the Frontier


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