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Published: January 29th 2010
vista from villarica
about halfway up now
Pucon . . . . I can see why you'd hate it . . . that is, if you hate life generally. But unless you're suicidally depressive, and maybe even then, you might find Pucon to be one of the most perfect places on Earth. I'd say it is the
most perfect place, but obviously there's a lot I still haven't seen.
After an overnight bus ride from Valpo (with a change in Santiago), I arrived in Pucon with no set itinerary, and with only one goal - to climb the Villarica volcano. The weather is notoriously uncooperative with would-be climbers, so I decided to book a climb right away for the next morning, since I only had two chances before I would be moving on to meet my dad in Argentina. That next morning, the weather was uncertain. The clouds were lying higher than usual, and there was some light rain at the base of the mountain. The guides warned us repeatedly that the weather was uncertain, and that if we wanted to, we could have our deposits refunded or reschedule because it was iffy whether we'd make it up to the top, but that as soon we stepped
Almost at the top
you can see the volanic gas behind me
onto the mountin we were liable for the full amount of the trip (roughly US$85). The weather forecast was in our favor, though, and it looked like the clouds were clearing, so I decided to take my chances.
Luck was on our side. We started in fog and rain, and ended in sunshine and heat. As we ascended the mountain, the skies cleared, and I ended up having to remove all the layers of clothing I was wearing except for a t-shirt and windbreaker. Although it was an option at additional cost (~ US$10), I and almost everyone I saw climbing the mountain decided to take the chairlift up the first part of the hike, since it would cut a little over an hour off the hike. It's not that I didn't think I could do it (I'm pretty sure I could have), it's that I wasn't sure what our pace would be and what sort of shape I was in relative to the rest of the group. My previous weeks at altitude - skiing in Telluride and hiking in Machu Picchu - along with climbing the hilly streets of Valparaiso prepared me well to make the climb.
But as we approached the top, we all started to feel the energy in our limbs quickly being sapped. I had chalked it up to the deeper and now more melted snow/ice that made the going tougher, along with the altitude and the lack of sleep we were all suffering from (we met for the hike at 6am, which meant we were up by 5). All of that might have contributed, but the guides told us that, although we couldn't smell it yet, the toxic gas fumes from the volcano were the primary cause of our exhaustion. When we got closer, we were literally surrounded in brown gas and it burned our noses, throats, and eyes. At one point, even one of the guides was doubled over coughing from taking a fume-y breath. But we made it to the top of the volcano and stared into its gassy depths, and we felt its warmth as it belched in our faces. The wind at the top was part friend, and part foe, because it sometimes blew the gas away from us (and sometimes towards us), but was also so strong that it nearly blew me over the edge of the nearly
looking over the edge
you see sooty snow in the foreground, the lake at the background, and Pucon is somewhere under the clouds in the center
So, the combination of natural forces quickly made me realize that it was time to go. When I finished my picture-taking, I started asking (along with some others) if we could just get down already and out of the gas.
Going down turned out to be the best part of the whole day - and not only because we were getting away from the fumes. No, we also ended up sliding down the entire mountain on our butts, sometimes with a little butt-shaped plastic sled to speed us up. This ain't grandma's sledding hill. Probably one of the most fun things I've ever done in my life.
When we got back, we unloaded our gear, drank some beer together on the sundeck at the gear shop, and chatted for a bit. But I figured the day had been so awesome thus far that I didn't want to end it quite yet. So a few of us decided to meet up for drinks and then head to the hotsprings to soak away the stress of the climb.
The days before and after Villarica were very laid back. I didn't go rafting, kayaking, dirt biking, hang
At the municipal center of Pucon.
gliding, mountain biking, or even beach lounging - all of which make up only some of the things to do around Pucon. Mostly, I just walked around the town and over to the lake, sipped some coffee, and read a couple of books at the hostel, enjoying the view.
Yeah, I'll definitely be back here.
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