Edit Blog Post
Published: July 12th 2013
Saturday 18 May to Wednesday 22 May
So after an amazing month in Argentina, it was time to board the bus and head for the Chilean border.
Destination: Pucon, via Osorno.
The journey was pretty uneventful all in, though I had my eyes opened to the strictness of Chilean Customs at the border crossing. The country is extremely protective of its natural habitat, so pretty much all foodstuffs need to be declared. Their sniffer dogs are trained to seek these out, so there's no hiding an apple in your bag! To be on the safe side I decided to declare my Herbs de Provence, though it seems those of the dried variety do not pose a threat. My cooking ingredients therefore lived to see another day...
Once we were back on our way and further into Chile there did seem to be a distinct shift in the terrain, compared with Argentina. The greens of the landscape were more verdant, with a greater variety of trees and a more agricultural feel to the environment. My excitement began to build in preparation for all the sites I might see.
I had a short stop in Osorno early afternoon
The Mushroom Tree
Parque Nacional Huerquehue
and then it was on another bus to Pucon.
My five nights and four days there blew the budget!!! There was just too many attractive activities to do and sadly Chile is one of the most expensive places in South America.
The first night at Paradise Pucon lived up to the name, with a visit to the thermal hot springs. After a swift bite to eat, myself; hostel co-owner David; and fellow guests Lillian, Sara and Caesar piled into David's 4x4 and set off on the 30 minute drive. During the journey I discovered Lillian was from China. She had been working in Santiago for 6 months. It was her final weekend in Chile before flying home to Beijing. Caesar was from Madrid and he was studying for 6 months in Santiago as part of his degree. Sara was his girlfriend and had come to Chile for a visit.
We reached the entrance to the thermal park and proceeded to descend down a steep gravel path into the valley, aided only by the lights of the 4x4. Safely arriving at the car park area we made our way to the changing rooms, shivered into our swimwear and
Walking Sticks at the Ready
Kiwi guide, David and Lillian raring to go on the day's hike
then made a mad dash for the first thermal spring. The water was beautifully warm - a welcome feeling, compared with the night air that was about 5 degrees. We were also lucky not to have to contend with the lovely aroma of sulphur, which was common in the hot springs in New Zealand.
There were around four thermal baths operating at the time - all natural. The first one we tried was definitely the best, being the biggest, deepest and warmest (some areas were super hot). It was deep enough to take a swim in this one.
I made hard work of getting to each of the next thermal baths, having not thought to bring my sandals along! Walking barefoot over gravel paths in very cold temperatures resulted in a slow, slightly tense form of tiptoeing. This was all accompanied by the soundtrack of "Oooh, argh, argh!!!!" I hadn't helped myself by failing to secure my towel properly at the first bath, which meant it was sopping wet and slightly frozen. I was therefore unable to wrap myself up in between baths.
In the second of the baths we all managed to lose an hour, falling
Enjoying the view from the first mirador in Parque Nacional Huerquehue
asleep. It was just deep enough to submerge your body when lying down and was about body temperature. When combined with the stones surrounding the bath, which handily made perfect pillows, it had a very soporific effect.
After managing to rouse ourselves we tried the remaining two baths before heading back to the first, where it began to drizzle slightly. Somehow the rain hitting the surface of the water made the experience even better. If only the stars had made an appearance too!
We all managed to get to know David a bit more over the course of the night, finding out he had left New Zealand many years ago to travel. He'd been living in Chile for around 6-7 years and had been in Pucon for about 3 of those years, after deciding to buy the hostel with his Chilean friend, Daniel.
Around 1:30am it was time to leave, made obvious to us by the lights going out. Getting changed back into my clothes by the light of my mobile phone turned out to be a bit of a challenge.
The 4 hours of relaxation at the thermal springs had definitely got me zenned out
Waterfall in Parque Nacuional Huerquehue
by the time we got back to the hostel - when I climbed into bed it was seconds before I passed out for a great night's sleep.
Day 2 was a visit to Parque Nacional Huerquehue with David and Lillian. We bought empanadas (filled with beef, olives, onion and boiled egg) en route, which were delicious. Once inside the Parque we stopped briefly at a kiosco, attached to a small farm, for coffee and torte. The farmer kindly agreed to let "us girls" use the facilities in his house. Whilst I was waiting I got to see some tiny wee chicks that had just been born that were keeping warm by the fire. They were all chirruping away and extremely cute. The farmer's wife was in the kitchen turning out trays of biscuits and cakes, which all smelt amazing. I was very tempted just to set up there for the day!
We then headed off for our walk. It was beautiful from start to finish. We began under cover of an intense green forest, made all the more lush from the rain. Each shade of green jumped out at you, whilst the tree trunks and branches had become
A Sight to Behold
View over alpine lakes in Parque Nacional Huerquehue
a vivid red. There was a lovely autumnal smell to everything too. Navigating our way across the web of tree roots we stumbled upon a tree covered in mushrooms and other funghi, which was a sight to behold.
As we continued the walk we climbed higher and higher into the Parque, stopping at miradors to enjoy the views - mountains and lakes, dressed with clouds. As we got higher the trees began to thin out slightly and David guided us to a number of lakes surrounded by trees (including the Monkey Puzzle tree) and a beautiful waterfall. We crossed bridges on the way, walking over babbling streams filled with moss.
At the last lake we enjoyed some tea together and ate a few snacks to re-energise for the trip back. As we left the lake the sun was beginning to set. This was not ideal, but lucky for us David had done the hike a million times, so had the trip ingrained in his muscle memory. It still felt a wee bit creepy walking back through the forest in the dark though!
Lillian ended up playing music from her mobile phone (consisting mainly of pop music with
Bridge Over Untroubled Water
One of the beautiful lakes on our trek through Parque Nacioanl Huerquehue
a few traditional Chinese songs thrown in for good measure). I think she was trying to distract herself, being convinced there were ghosts in the forest. It all became pretty hilarious as I realised how surreal walking through a Chilean forest in the pitch black, listening to Adele sing "Someone Like You" was. With Lillian becoming more preoccupied with the music than concentrating on where she was walking, she managed to slip over a couple of times as well, taking David with her, which just fueled the giggles I had already developed.
We all breathed a big sigh of relief when we got back to David's 4x4 and then it was back to the ranch.
Because our plans to climb Volcano Villacurra were scuppered the next day, we chose to go white water rafting as a group. I was super excited, it being something that I have wanted to do for years. We were picked up from the the hostel and taken to the start of our Grade IV course, where we had to wiggle into some very cold and damp wet suits and boots. It brought back memories of our family holidays to Cornwall, when we'd don
There's Always One!
Yipeeee! How many poses can we find to do on this bridge?
the wet suits to go surfing in Polzeath. These lovely rubber items have got no more attractive in the twenty years that have passed since then! But they served their purpose and kept the body warm on what was a very cold day.
We shuffled our way down to the river bank where we were met by our two guides - Rodrigo was in the raft with us, whilst the other guide was in a kayak to gather up anyone who might fall / fly out of the raft. Rodrigo gave us the various instructions we would need (in Spanish) as we travelled down river. This included the different combinations of paddling directions we'd need and jumping from our seated positions on the edge of the raft to the inside.
The first rapids were relatively tame, which gave us a good opportunity to practice what we'd just been taught. From then on they got more exciting. One section of river was particularly calm and quiet. I commented that this probably meant the biggest rapids were going to be next. Turns out I was right! We jumped inside the boat, as we did for each of the rough sections,
Ready to Get Wet
My comrades on the white water rafting expedition - Sara, Lillian and Caesar
and were buffeted up and down in the rapids. Rodrigo expertly guided us through the rocks so we came safely out of each one, with all crew members still inside the raft I'm pleased to report. After each successful descent we'd cheer as a group and tap our oars together.
One section of the river called for us to climb back out on to the riverbank and take a walk through the trees. This was to miss a particular section of the rapids that cannot be included for safety reasons. Usually this is the point at which you re-enter the river by jumping from a rock. For some reason we didn't get to do this, which was slightly disappointing.
In total we were on the river for about an hour, which in my opinion was way too short. I totally loved rafting and am already planning where my next experience might be. It's something I could easily see myself getting hooked on! The combination of adrenaline and sheer excitement anticipating and descending the rapids, with the sound of the water and its sheer strength is just incredible.
On day 4 the weather was still not good enough
Sunset in Pucon
Sunset from the bay just down the road from my hostel
for volcano climbing. The following day was forecast to be perfect, so I chose to stay one more day (it being one of the main reasons for my visit to Pucon). This gave me the opportunity to look around the town a little more, which is was very pretty. The log buildings are filled with lovely restaurants, trendy bars and the odd hot chocolate and cake shop (which I very much regret not getting to). It comes across strongly as a base for outdoor activity and, like Bariloche, is reminiscent of a European ski resort. I can imagine it's buzzing in high season when all the skiers and snowboarders arrive.
When David and Lillian returned from their cycling adventures later that day we wandered down to the bay and watched the sun set with a can of beer each. We discovered at this point that David's Labrador, Domo, had a bit of a thing for beer as David poured some into his mouth and he lapped it up with great pleasure. It turned out a few weeks earlier the dog had actually managed to get drunk during one of their house parties. We saw the photographic evidence!
Sadly not the best shot, but my only one of the summit
my final day in Pucon I awoke at 5:30am to have an early breakfast ahead of being picked up to climb the Volcano. The guides arrived in what appeared to be the A-Team van and we made our way to Hostal El Refugio to pick up the rest of the group. Grace, who I'd met in Bariloche ended up being one of the people we collected there, so we got to catch up on the last week's activities.
The group was then kitted out with hiking boots, crampons, snow-wear, a helmet and gloves before getting into the A-Team van and driving to the volcano. On the approach we got to see the snow capped peak of the volcano shining in its full (2,847m) glory, backed by a totally cloudless sky - both beautiful and a wee bit intimidating.
A short briefing preceded the start of our climb and then we were off! There was no need for crampons for a good deal of the ascent so I managed to keep up with the pace of the group, which was pretty quick. We took a break after each 30-40 minutes to take water on board and have a quick
Parque Nacional Villarrica
View from Volcano Villarrica
snack, get a few photos of the stunning views and lose some layers as we started to heat up. We could see further volcanoes and mountains in the distance alongside lakes.
After a couple of hours climbing we reached the glacier at the top section of the volcano, which was getting continually steeper. At this point the group leaders helped us to put on our crampons and gave us each an ice-axe. They then gave us a short tutorial in how to use the ice-axe to assist your ascent as well as how to stop yourself should you fall on the glacier. We all had to drop down and put this into action - not something I was particularly keen to do, having looked down! My heart was in my mouth! We were all successful at the practice run, coming to a quick halt and managing to get back on to our feet with no hiccups.
The climb from here became steeper and steeper and extremely tiring. Although making you more feel more secure, it was also tricky getting on with the crampons. I didn't seem to take to it naturally and started to fall a little behind,
Bariloche to Pucon
Grace who I met in Bariloche, reunited with me on Volcano Villarrica
so our main guide Uber took me to the front of the group. We climbed for a good 20-30 minutes and then had another stop. At this point I was getting very short of breath on a continual basis and my legs felt like lead. Despite my hatred of failing at anything I began to doubt if I was going to make it to the top.
Starting out on the last 40 minutes of the climb, I looked up the slope and felt a slight sense of dread. I asked Uber about the remainder of the climb and was told the slope's angle would go past 45 degrees and that stopping again would be dangerous. He told me that I'd need to come back to the rest point if I began to find it too difficult. Pretty soon into the last part of the climb I had to turn back, which was gutting. I just knew I wouldn't be able to keep going for the full 40 minutes with no break and didn't want to put the rest of the group at risk by stopping on an unsafe area. The other guide, Christian, accompanied me back down (which made
Other members of my volcano climbing group
me feel worse as I'd also put a stall on his day). For 90 minutes I got to enjoy the clear views whilst beating myself up for not making it to the summit!
My self loathing was somewhat lessened when a few people from a following group had to turn round at the same point. They had made it further than five other people in their group too, so at least I wasn't the only person to fall short.
When the rest of my group got back to us, we set off down the volcano at a pretty quick pace. Having had 90 minutes to stare at the slope I was feeling a bit nervous about the descent, but with the crampons I felt very safe, very quickly. This gave me chance to take in the beauty of the glacier. With the sun hitting the ice it appeared as if we were walking on a field of diamonds. This combined with some of the icicle formations can only be described as awe inspiring!
Whilst Christian led us down, Uber enjoyed himself skiing down the glacier on his 'Big Foot' skies. This looked like great fun and was
Before the Pain Set In
When I was still feeling good and optimistic about reaching the summit
a fitting way for him to celebrate his birthday.
In total it only took us about 90 minutes to get back to the base. I proceeded to send Grace into fits of laughter at this point. Having put on my snow gear to keep warm whilst waiting for the group, I paid the price on the trip down. I'd been able to remove the jacket when we briefly stopped, but not the trousers. My legs had got so hot by the time we reached the van that it looked as if I'd taken a shower in them, or worse, had some form of accident! Luckily no pictures were taken.
Back at Hostal El Refugio we all enjoyed a couple of beers and chatted about the trip. I got to see some photos the others had taken of the crater and heard about the views. It sounded amazing. I also felt somewhat better about my decision to stop when I heard one of the girls in another group had a panic attack at the summit. She'd been finding it pretty difficult at the point where I stopped (crying in a heap on the floor). The remaining climb seemed to
Pictures taken from my resting point where I had to give up my desire to reach the summit
send her physically over the edge. At least all I had to worry about were sweaty trousers!!!
After saying our goodbyes I headed back to my hostel to pack up and go catch my bus for the next destination.
Tot: 0.069s; Tpl: 0.021s; cc: 13; qc: 44; dbt: 0.0119s; 1; m:saturn w:www (184.108.40.206); sld: 1;
; mem: 1.4mb