A date with a Volcano

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South America » Chile » Araucanía » Pucón
December 9th 2011
Published: December 9th 2011
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Valdivia to Pucon

Day 55 – Monday 5th December
Started the day with yet another breakfast that had been delivered the night before. Yesterday we had got 3 of everything but today was only 2 of everything except we didn’t get jam, but we at least got milk. The advantages of getting breakfast the night before is we can have it anytime we want, but the downside is that the rolls and cake are stale. Luckily we have a microwave so we were able to heat up our bread rolls, so in the end it was all eatable. The cabana we have is actually really good and the kitchen is well equipped so it was a wise choice.
Today we were going to do a river cruise and so we headed down to the wharves to check out what was on offer. Looking like lost gringos we were quickly set upon by the tour boat touts who took us through what was on offer. The cruise took off at 1.45pm cruised for 5 hours and we had time to explore the old Spanish forts at the mouth of the river, the cruise also included lunch. The price for all this was 18,000 pesos ($36) each, which sounds fairly reasonable, but in the end it was a little more than we wanted to pay for the experience so we knocked it back. We were really only wanting to do this cruise so we could spend a day out on the water we didn’t really want lunch, as from previous experiences from around the world, (including Australia) food served on boats is usually rubbish. From photos we had seen there really wasn’t much left of the forts so again it was easy not to bother with the boat cruise.
We spent some more time down at the wharf watching the sea lions fighting with each other and seagulls, and then went for a long walk around town again. Discovered that the only bookstore in town only had one English novel (gone with the wind), so I will probably need to wait till we reach Santiago before I get my new novel. I must admit I was in the dumps a bit today and suffering a little travel fatigue and was sort of looking forward to moving on again. Valdivia is a nice town but not a lot to hold our attention, without going further afield or paying more money than we were willing to pay. We eventually made our way around to a coffee shop for a nice coffee before heading back to our cabin.
In the afternoon we spent a bit of time trying to work out where we were heading after Santiago. The original plan had us heading up to the top of Chile and spending Christmas in a small tourist town (San Pedro de Atacama), but we are now considering changing the plans and heading back into Argentina….it’s a tough life. We had picked up supplies yesterday so once again Shelley was able to whip up a fantastic pasta dish for dinner.

Day 56 – Tuesday 6th December
Yesterday afternoon a van full of young men and women moved in at the cabanas, and they were all wearing Coca Cola “staff” shirts. We sort of figured they must have been on some sort of company tour and Shelley rightly guessed we were going to be in for a noisy night. I think they came back around 2 (well that’s when they first woke us up) and stayed up talking and laughing till around 3.30. Their racket was combined with the local discotheque thumping away till around 3 as well, making us both feel very tired when the alarm went off at 7 in the morning.
Managed to have our breakfast and packed and at the front desk by 8.45 for our getaway. The cabana had been really great for us except for the noise on this last night. Shelley spotted a taxi parked a couple of doors up so we didn’t need to have the hotel call one. The ride down to the bus station cost us 1000 pesos ($2), which had us wishing all the taxis of the world were so cheap. The Valdivia bus station was fairly typical of all the bus stations we have spent time in and they are now starting to feel like home. The hardest thing is that they are generally long and buses are coming and going constantly and they don’t always hang around very long so you have to keep your eyes peeled. Our bus arrived a little late but thankfully we spotted it and at around 10 we were underway.
Our bus today was with JAC, a company we hadn’t used before but we were finding that they were all pretty much the same. The bus was clean, but cramped and stopped constantly to pick up people along the way. The country side we travelled through was lush and green, and we followed the course of a river for a while. Around midday the huge snow capped cone of Volcano Villarrica came into view. The bus dropped us off in the middle of town so it was only a short walk to the hostel, we had chosen Donde German, which is a fairly new hotel and we got a really nice room overlooking the volanco and a balcony facing town.
We went for a walk around the town and then down to the lake with its black sand beach it is a stunning setting and the town has a great vibe. We went to a café right on the beach and just took in the scenery we sat here for about 2 hours just relaxing. For dinner we went to a Peruvian restaurant we had heard was spicy, although the food was nice the only thing spicy was the side order of salsa which we got because we asked for spicy. This town is expensive for eating and everything, but is a nice place to be for a couple of days.

Day 57 – Wednesday 7th December
The hotel does not do breakfast so went to a local café, on the way there we dropped off our laundry, well gave it to a woman sitting out the front of the laundry mat. It was meant to open at 8am and it was now 9.30am and the door was closed and this woman was just sitting outside smoking, she motioned for us to leave it with her and said cinco which is 5 and I said my name was Michele and we said goodbye to our laundry not sure if we would see it again. At the café we ordered the Gringo breakfast which included scrambled eggs, ham, toast and a good cup of coffee. On the way back we stopped at the tourist information office to find out about the volcano climb unfortunately they did not speak any English so just read the comments book which other travellers had written in. Out the front of the tourist information was a large traffic light that indicates the state of the volcano, thankfully it was on green, meaning stable. An amber colour would mean pack your bags and put on your running shoes, and the red with a loud siren would mean run for your life. The volcano has erupted several times in the past, with the last eruption in 1984. The eruption in 1971 caused major destruction and deaths as well, with huge streams of lava melting the glacial peak causing mudslides and floods.
Back at the hotel we started speaking to an English couple who climbed the volcano and said it was not too hard and gave us the name of the company they used, but warned us to use the company’s backpacks etc. as everything gets wet. About every second shop in town is a tour company and we decided to check out their rates and services. The first company we went to was the same price as our hotel (45,000 pesos) and then onto the company suggested by the English couple which seemed to offer the same as the others but was only 30,000 pesos ($30 a head cheaper). For better or worse we booked with this company and walked away a little apprehensive, but at least if we could not make it we would not have lost as much money.
Walked around enjoying the rest of the afternoon and at 5.00pm went back to the Laundrette to see if our laundry was ready or had been kidnapped. To our surprise the woman was inside and said “hola Michele” and passed us our clean clothes, not a problem so we took our clothes home and got ready to go out again. Tonight we had an early dinner of Mexican which was spicy although I do not know if I trust my taste buds as they’re spice deprived, there is not even pepper on the tables at the restaurants only salt. Got to bed about 10.00pm so we would be well rested for our walk up an active volcano tomorrow.

Day 58 – Thursday 8th December
We had made rolls for our breakfast and lunch last night so we grabbed everything together and arrived at the tour company at 6.40am. We were the first to arrive so we got all kitted up before the other 9 people arrived meaning we could eat our breakfast while we waited. The bus picked us up at 7.15 and we were on our way to the volcano, once there at 1200m we had a choice of walking or taking a ski lift up to 1800m which everyone took as it saves an extra hour of walking. At the ski lift there was a girl who we thought was having a panic attack and a guide standing over her almost shouting “you have to make a decision now are you going or not”, we had read and heard that the guides are not very helpful. Scott and I jumped on and there was no safety bar not sure if this is usual as we have never been skiing, but this area does not have a good safety record. The weather is beautiful today with bright blue skies and warm, which is unusual for us as every other walk up mountains so far has involved snow and rain. We did not need to put our crampons on as it was snow we were walking in as we zigzagged our way up to the top. The walking for us was easy although we did lose 2 people who could not make it, Scott keeps saying that we are pretty fit but I never think I am. We had three stops along the way for water, food and photos for about 10 minutes each. As you can see from the photos, the angle of the incline is incredibly steep and you just knew that if you were to slip it would take a maximum effort to stop you sliding down to the base. The last 45 minutes of the walk was a bit more icy and we had to be more careful that we did not slip, but thankfully there were no problems and after hiking for 4 hours we arrived at the top 2850m.
The top had spectacular views down to Pucon town and the surrounding volcanos and of course the crater on the volcano we were standing on. At present it is on green alert which means it is safe and there is no lava just the gases puffing out which only affected us once for a second as the wind changed direction. We spent about 40 minutes at the top as the weather was good, some groups have to turn back before the top if it is a bad sulphur day or if the weather is bad so we were very lucky. Not only can you see the smoke and gases coming out but it makes a weird sort of rumbling sound as each huge puff billows out.
The way down was not so good it was on a plastic disk downhill with ice picks in hand, neither of us have done any snow sports so it was all new. I thought and was wrong that we would be sliding down in a zigzag so the speed would not pick up too much. Oh how wrong was I, it was downhill in 5 sections and I came a cropper twice, but not hurt. There were small stretches where you just stopped as the snow had built up and you had to wriggle along. The guide just kept saying “vamos” – go, so we just kept moving to the bottom and then a 10 minute walk back to the van. I wished I had more experience in snow sports and I may have enjoyed the ride down more, well it was a new experience but next time I will try it on a slope that is less steep to try and get the hang of it more. We stopped at a house on the way back where we dropped off all the company’s gear which was now very wet, my backpack even had ice on the inside. We arrived back in town at 4.30pm and went straight back to the hotel for a well deserved hot shower and dry clothes.
We went back to the same restaurant as last night for happy hour and a few drinks and more Mexican food. The weather is still beautiful and sitting on the deck with the sun on our faces having a beer life could not be better.

Additional photos below
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12th December 2011

Just conquering humps, thats all...
Hey you two xx!! How great was that!! Awesome photo\'s. Love the way you vamoooosed down. I remember doing something very similar in Bavaria, except I was only given a plastic bag, it was along ride down, many stacks (cropper?) very cold and wet, but i laughed all the way down, even when in pain.. hahaha... How good is the shower and dry warm clothing afterwards and the food!!! I had too many cognac\'s that night. Its wet and cold here in Syd....hello....summer???? xx

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