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Published: August 14th 2012
The Lovely Off-Season
My idea of heaven is the delicious off-season when gorgeous resort towns are blissfully empty and filled with residents enjoying their own towns. I'd arrived in popular Pucon in November and enjoyed a peaceful month and a half before the hordes of summer tourists inflated the population ten-fold. Fortunately, by then I'd discovered little pockets of beauty to hide away from the masses. I'd return the following fall in May and again enjoy the spaciousness of its small-town atmosphere.
The charming little resort town of Pucon sits under the spiritual presence of smoking, snow-covered Volcan Villarica. It's built along the sublime, cobalt Lake Villarica with black, volcanic sand beaches and surrounded by jagged, forested mountains. Everyday, I took a long sunset walk along the landscaped lakefront promenade, the costanera, and stood in awe of beauty so profound it took my breath away.
Rough Ride over the Andes
From my beloved Caviahue, high in the Argentine mountains, it had taken many hours and and a couple of buses to arrive at San Martin de los Andes, the way station for crossing the Andes Cordillera into Chile. I was leaving Argentina on the
glorious Portuguese Broom--late spring.
Unfortunately, beautiful broom is an introduced, invasive species that crowds out natives that feed wildlife.
last day my visa was valid, a Sunday, to avoid taking buses on other days that left at an obscenely early hour. We boarded an old funky clunker, rather than the fancy dancers which generally ply the international routes; I suspected we were in for a rough ride.
Indeed, once we chugged up the wild-west looking Argentine side with its prehistoric-looking araucaria trees and passed the massive, cloud-shrouded Volcano Lanin and the border crossing, we descended into Chile on a bumpy dirt/gravel road. It was every bit as jarring as the infamous Ruta 40 through Patagonia, but I guess it doesn't get bad press because the rough part lasted only an hour and not 24, and traveled through a scenic, forested narrow river gorge, not endless flat pampas and steppes.
Once in Pucon, I'd hoped an eager tout would whisk me off to a cheap hospedaje (pension). However, since it was late spring and off-season, I was left to wander the streets. The scads of nearby hostels were too expensive, but I was lucky to run into Luis who trundled me in his car to Casa de Mario, on the outskirts of
town. As in Bariloche, the dorms were full of groups of Israelis doing their post-army Patagonian tour.
For several lovely weeks, Luis and Veronica gave me a private room for my fave $10, and we became great friends. I introduced them to the public library, where their granddaughter, Coni, found a book-lovers' paradise, and I located a low-cost clinic where Veronica could finally get some affordable eyeglasses.
They included me in family excursions to the countryside and even lent me their camera since mine was broken. It was with this ancient, 3 mp, 3x zoom camera that the spring and most of the summer photos were taken.
Ojos de Caburga Waterfalls
One Sunday, Luis, Veronica, little Coni and I visited the Ojos del Caburgua, amazing waterfalls that emerge from underground springs. Each rainy season, new springs pop up creating new waterfalls and rearranging the old ones. The colors of the deep azure pools and the verdant green foliage were surreal and looked as if they'd been photoshopped for a commercial. Curious when reality looks too good to be true.
We then continued to the wooded Lago Caburgua with
its exclusive vacation homes accessible only by boat. We walked along the black-sand beach and, unusual for this area, a white sand one too that was much softer to walk on. From a lakeside stand, Mario bought tasty veggie empanadas, the first I'd ever had that weren't too dry.
I ended up in Pucon for three months on my first visit in the hunt and wait for a new camera. First, endless hours on the internet researching new models that caused me to be so sick of the internet, I even stopped reading about my friends on this great travelblog site--sorry about that, friends.
Once I chose the compact, 8 mp, 12x Sony HX9V, I had to figure out how to avoid paying double the US price. My friend Neil came through and bought and sent the camera from Hawaii; then I only had to wait for Chilean customs to release the camera, which arrived just before my visa expired. What drama!
Yet it was also wonderful to be in one place so long that I could watch the seasons change and make lasting friendships. When I arrived,
the smoking volcano was blanketed in snow, and carpets of brilliant yellow Portuguese broom lit up the stream beds and trailsides. Giant purple hydrangeas and wild orange poppies bloomed along the costanera (lake front promenade), where I met and became friends with fellow walkers. Successions of flowers and berries sprouted, bloomed and faded in the cycles that can only be seen over time.
11/11/11 at the Hot Springs
For 11/11/11, I visited the Termas de Los Pozones, an hour bus ride into the mountains from Pucon. Located in a narrow, forested gorge, the rustic hot springs are carved out of the rock and surrounded by boulders. A lovely walk down the gorge takes you to these most natural and affordable of the many hot springs in this geologically-active region. In that lovely springtime, there were few people there, so I could listen to the river cascading down the canyon and the wind moving through the tall poplars and pines.
I spent the day floating and soaking in the pools of water of varying temperatures. As the moon rose, I had a ritual for balance on earth and within myself and all beings. Just
as I finished, groups of young people, beer and boomboxes in hand, descended the trail to the pools: perfect time for me to catch the bus home. I visited the hot springs again when I returned the following autumn, but during the busy summer, I avoided trying to relax in the middle of noisy crowds.
While waiting for my camera, I enjoyed lots of day trips to beautiful nearby towns and parks. Just south of Pucon is the Seven Lakes area with charming towns--all variations on the themes of volcano views (there are four nearby volcanoes), black sand beaches on very blue lakes, and surrounded by forested mountains. My favorites were the smaller ones like Conaripe, population 2000, which sits in the direct path of the Villarica Volcano, so it's not been developed as much as other resorts.
The day I visited Conaripe, the temperature soared, and I was still in my winter clothes. Fortunately, Chile has lots of Feria Americanas, second-hand shops brimming with the cast-offs of our thrift shops. I entered one of these with its uninviting piles of clothes and explained my problem. The helpful owner brought me
a cool rayon blouse and some matching cotton shorts--what a relief, and all for $7.
Parque Huerquehue was another great day trip accessible on public buses. The Los Lagos trail steeply switchbacked up past waterfalls and through forests to gorgeous alpine lakes. Unfortunately, it was one of many gray days with spots of rain, so I didn't take any photos. Still, it was one of many cherished memories of this gorgeous mountain lake country.
For the Summer Solstice, I honored that longest day with a swim in the lake and a ritual thanking the universe for the light and beauty in the world, and welcoming the return of the dark. Well, the dark soon arrived. Hordes of visitors began descending for their summer and Christmas holidays. Pucon wouldn't be the same for another two months. But that's another story....
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