Attack of the Tabanos

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January 22nd 2008
Published: January 31st 2008
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Smoking VillarricaSmoking VillarricaSmoking Villarrica

Approaching the summit of Volcan Villarrica. Villarrica is one of the most active volcanoes in South America, and you can see clearly the smoke at the top.
Leaving Chiloe behind we moved onto one of Chile's most visited regions, the Lake District. We had taken things relatively easy in Chiloe, so we were looking forward to plenty of hiking and climbing after leaving the islands. The Lake District in Chile lies roughly between the cities of Temuco & Puerto Montt. The main towns are connected by the Pan American highway, running through the western half, while most of the lakes, mountains and volcanoes are found within a series of national parks and reserves, in more remote areas closer to the Argentinian border. Access to these parks is often via dirt roads, meaning it takes time to see all the sites, and that you usually need to return to the Pan American to move north or south. The relative inaccessibility of these parks, however, means it's very easy to escape the crowds and experience very remote and beautiful scenery.

Osorno was our first stop in the Lake District. It's a bit far from the lakes and volcanoes to be a proper base, so we only stayed here one day. We had a quick look around the town, then rented a car for the next two days. At a cafe in Osorno we ended up chatting for a long time with the owner, who had visited Europe before and knew Ireland quite well. He spoke some English but we ended up speaking in Spanish, so it seems like we're making some progress with the language. He suggested a few things for us to see in Osorno for the rest of our stay, and told us about the history of the town. Somehow the talk got around to politics, and it turned out he was a big admirer of Pinochet, the Chilean dictator from the 70s and 80s. Hmm...

If nothing else, speaking with this man made me realize how few Chileans outside the tourist industry we've actually met. I guess it's difficult as were always moving on and never staying in one place too long and in general the people we have most in common with are other backpackers from abroad. I'm currently reading Sara Wheeler's book, Travels in a Thin Country, and one thing that surprises me is how many Chileans she meets and how easily she seems to befriend them. In general we've found Chileans a little harder to get to know than Argentinians.
Celebrating back in PuconCelebrating back in PuconCelebrating back in Pucon

My audition for Right Said Fred had gone very well!

We spent the rest of that day seeing Osorno, which, to be honest, isn't the most interesting place. The churches here are especially strange: our guidebook described them as hideous, and I don't think it was far off the mark. The friendly cafe owner seemed to like them. Perhaps Pinochet had them built in some cost efficient way...

Puyuhue National Park
We drove east from Osorno towards Puyuhue National Park, home to a number of volcanoes and hot springs. At about the halfway point we found a hotel in Entre Lagos, then continued to Puyuhue. Our plan had been to climb Volcan Casablanca, whose summit can be reached in about 3 hours from Anticullura ski centre in the park. The weather, however, was against us, and the volcano was covered in clouds, so we instead did three shortish hikes around Aguas Calientes at the park entrance. We later drove out to Volcan Casablanca along a dirt road and up to Crater Rayuhen, where the trail to the summit begins. The cloud was still covering the mountain so we limited our walk to crossing the crater. This was my first time on a volcano or inside a crater, so despite
Crater RayhuenCrater RayhuenCrater Rayhuen

This crater lies below the main summit of Volcan Casablanca in Puyuhue National Park. We hiked across the crater but couldn't go any further as the clouds were coming in fast.
the bad weather it was still an interesting hike.

The clouds remained over Puyuhue the next day so we moved south towards Frutillar on the shores of Lago Llanquihue. Here the weather was slightly better, and we spent an enjoyable day relaxing in the town. This is a popular spot, especially with Chileans, but without the view of the volcano it was a bit dull. Frutillar, like many towns in the Lake District, was a popular destination for German immigrants in the early 20th century, and the lady at our hotel even asked us "Sprechen Sie Deutsch" when she found out we were European. There is a small beach on the shores of Lago Llanhuique, which was packed with people, and there were even a good few in the water, but I don't know how they managed as it was freezing. We drove up to Frutillar Alto (the new part of town up near the Pan-Am) and found an Internet cafe, which gave us an excuse to skip the town's museum. I think we'd exhausted all Frutillar's possibilities by now, so to pass the time, we decided it was time for a new look. I shaved all my
Sea Lions in ValdiviaSea Lions in ValdiviaSea Lions in Valdivia

They congregate behind the fish market
hair off while in return Ruth agreed to dye her hair red! That's what happens during bad weather in the Lake area!

We returned the car to Osorno and moved further north to Valdivia, near the coast. This is a University town, so there was more of a buzz than in Osorno, though I think it must have been summer hols for the students as the University area was very quiet. We struggled through the historical museum (as in Argentina, museums are not Chile's strong point), then spent a few hours in the Botanical Gardens. By our second day in Valdivia, the weather had finally changed so we booked our tickets for Pucón, the Bariloche of Chile, and one of the best bases for exploring the region.

Pucón & Volcan Villarica
Pucón is a very touristy town, but for good reason, given its location at the shore of Lago Villarrica and close to the volcano of the same name. We found cheapish accommodation and based ourselves here for 4 days, exploring the surrounding regions by day, and relaxing in Pucón by night.

Volcan Villarrica is one of the three most active volcanoes in South America, but that doesn't prevent thousands of people climbing it every year, and it's by far the most popular summit in Chile. A huge tourist industry has developed in Pucón, centred on guided trips to the summit, and there are many such companies in Pucón, with prices ranging from 35,000 to 50,000 pesos. You can only climb it independently if you can show proof of your experience to CONAF, plus have all the required equipment. We called into five companies before settling on Sierra Nevada, which had a 7am departure the following morning for 37000 pesos. Based on all the information they gave us and all the gear we had to try on,you might think we were about to climb Everest rather than a 2800 metre volcano!

The next morning, we were up bright and early at 6 to prepare for our 7am departure. From our bedroom window we could see the summit was clear of clouds, and the weather looked good so that was one worry of our minds. We put on all our gear at the Sierra Nevada shop and met the seven other group members (two Chilean couples and three Americans) before setting off for the trail head.
Ruth at the start of the Villarrica climbRuth at the start of the Villarrica climbRuth at the start of the Villarrica climb

Ruth gets ready to climb Villarrica

Arriving at the ski centre we were encouraged to take the chair lift to 1800 m and begin the climb there. This cost another 5000 pesos! At the top of the chairlift we were given instructions on how to use ice picks, and then we finally set off with our two guides. About 100 others were setting off at the same time, and we were all on the same path, so progress was slow. But by the first pit stop, it became a little less crowded. The views were fantastic and we were going at such a slow speed we had plenty of time to enjoy them. We had an excellent view of Voclan Llaima, which erupted as recently as last month.

After taking a break at 2200 metres (roughly halfway), we climbed to a ridge and the summit came into view. We could see the smoke emerging from the crater and as we got closer to the top we began to smell the sulphur. Exciting! It took us 3.5 hours to get to the summit. I reckon had we been on our own, we'd have been an hour faster. It's one for all in this group and
On Villarrica summitOn Villarrica summitOn Villarrica summit

Normally the clouds cover the summit, but today it was clear though there was plenty of cloud cover below us
we had to walk as fast as the slowest person.

At the summit we were barely given 30 minutes. I'm not sure what the hurry was, probably the guides wanted to get back to the pub, but I could have easily spent another hour there, to take in all the fantastic views. I was hoping to see Volcan Lanin, but the guides insisted we stay in the small area we had chosen area. It's not that it was unsafe as I could see other groups circling the rim. Well, I'm being a bit negative about this climb, but, despite some misgivings I certainly enjoyed it; the views were fantastic, we had a good group and guides and it was a nice feeling to climb my first volcano.

Descending Villarrica was great fun. It took us less than an hour to get down, as we slid down all the way along five or six toboggan paths. Some of these toboggan paths were very steep and I was glad I had the ice-ax to steer and stop. We arrived back in Pucón at 4, returned our gear, and sat in the sun drinking a beer provided by the company, a
Volcan ChushuencoVolcan ChushuencoVolcan Chushuenco

Looking south from Villarrica, Chushuenco was the only thing we could see above the clouds
nice touch!

We took it easy the next day, spending a day at the lakeside beach in Pucón, an excellent spot to rest and relax. The water in the lake is great for swimming, and you can see Volcan Villarrica in the background as you swim. We also rented kayaks and went out on the lake for an hour from where there were even more good views.

Huerquehue National Park
Before leaving Pucón we had one more enjoyable day of hiking, this time in Parque Huerquehue, 40 km northeast. The national park here has been created to protect the Aracunia (monkey puzzle) trees, and offers excellent day walks and one multi-day trek. We chose to do the 20 km return trek to three small lakes. Once again, as in many of Chile's parks, there were no maps, but the trails were well marked and the helpful Conaf staffed assured us we'd easily find our way by keepoing to the paths. The trek began at Lago Tinquilco, then climbed up through the forests, passing a number of waterfalls and miradors, from where we had great views of the lake, and Volcan Villarrica in the distance, to finally reach Lago
Araucarias in HuerquehueAraucarias in HuerquehueAraucarias in Huerquehue

Araucaria trees can be seen all over Huerquehue National Park
Verde and Lago Toro. There were very few people on the trails, and it was one of the nicest spots we've visited in Chile. The park is well set up for camping, so we regretted not having brought tents for the longer trek. That more or less rounded off our time in the Lake District. The towns may not have been too impressive but the lakes, volcanoes and general scenery was fantastic.

A final few words on perhaps the most annoying part of our hiking. The fine weather meant the tabanos were out in huge numbers. Anyone who has hiked in the Chilean or Argentinian Lake District in January will know (and hate) these little creatures. Insect repellent doesn't work against them and you spend most of our time trying to stay on the move or swat them. It can become very frustrating as you can never stop anywhere for more than a couple of minutes before them swarm all over you. Their bites are harmless but can be painful. We killed a good hundred or so that day in Huerquehue but I doubt they're a threatened species given the numbers that followed us. Hiking above the tree line
Quick descent of VillarricaQuick descent of VillarricaQuick descent of Villarrica

Three hours up, 30 minutes down!
usually means you avoid them - but you have to descend sometime!

Additional photos below
Photos: 24, Displayed: 24


Volcan Villarrica viewVolcan Villarrica view
Volcan Villarrica view

Taken from Villarrica town, on the shores of the lake
Reward for HikingReward for Hiking
Reward for Hiking

Ruth enjoying a pisco sour
Hiking in Parque HuerquehueHiking in Parque Huerquehue
Hiking in Parque Huerquehue

Huerquehue is a beautiful park, one of the nicest places we've been to in Chile
Lago ToroLago Toro
Lago Toro

This was our lunch spot in Huerquehue National Park. Perfect only we were devoured by tabanos.
A brief glimpse of Volcan OsornoA brief glimpse of Volcan Osorno
A brief glimpse of Volcan Osorno

Early in the morning of our last day in Frutillar we caught a quick glimpse of Volcan Osorno, which had been completely covered for the previous two days.
Botanical Gardens, ValdiviaBotanical Gardens, Valdivia
Botanical Gardens, Valdivia

Beside the nice Arrayan trees in the University Botanical Gardens.
Volcano warning signs in PuconVolcano warning signs in Pucon
Volcano warning signs in Pucon

Green = All is ok Orange = Time to book that bus Red = Run as fast as you can, the lava's coming
Bernardo O' HigginsBernardo O' Higgins
Bernardo O' Higgins

The Irish connection in Chile? O' Higgins was the first leader of Chile following Independence. He's often called the Liberator, though San Martin is probably more deserving of that title.
Twilight on Volcan VillarricaTwilight on Volcan Villarrica
Twilight on Volcan Villarrica

Taken from our hostel in Pucon
Views from VillarricaViews from Villarrica
Views from Villarrica

You can see Volcan Llaima, which erupted on 1-Jan-2008, in the background

1st February 2008

Jap Staam, your hair is terrible. U lose a bet with Ruth?
1st February 2008

Wow, those critters sound fierce! More great mountain images though, especially the volcanoes :)
2nd February 2008

Thanks for your comment
Hi James, thanks for your comments on my blog, it was very interesting to read. I was kind of joking about Pinochet building the churches, and I had guessed it was earthquake related. (The church in Castro on Chiloe was far nicer and survived the 1960 earthquake so Osorno's could have been designed better perhaps). I find it strange the way you try to excuse a dictator. Could Chile have not become the economically strongest country in Latin America without 3200 people being killed and 27000 jailed without trial? Consider my country for example. In the 1980's, probably the poorest country in the EU, with huge immigration and unemployment. Now, probably the strongest economy in Europe. And no dictator. Coming back to Pinochet, the fact that there were "worse" dictatorships in Latin America and elsewhere doesn't really excuse him in my opinion. You can always find worse dictators. Santiago is our next stop so I look forward to seeing it. Cheers, Barry. Btw, we had 4 Chileans in our group of 9 climbing Villarrica!
3rd February 2008

on democracy and capitalism
wow, i really do sound like a preachy "pinochetista" in my previous comment, but those aren't my personal beliefs (and i reckoned you were joking about the churches, but as you know, when reading on line it's hard to tell sometimes ;) ). i was trying to present why some people like or love the man. weather a country can develop within a democratic framework is an interesting questions. obviously, many countries have, but others (like early japan, taiwan, s korea, early germany and others like china now) have done so with repressive governments. unfortunately (and i say this as a center-leftist) i don't belive chile could have done the same thing with a democratic government. pinochet, being "lord and master" of chile could pretty much do as he liked and didn't have to answer to a parliament or the supreme court. in the mid 70's, tens of thousands of civil servants were laid off, when the economy was opened to int'l competition hundereds of companies employing tens of thousands of workers went bust. unemployment soared, and this would have been unpalatable in a democratic system where you have to worry about elections. the "trimming of the fat" of the economy had a high human cost. the idea of the economists was that these tough changes needed to be done swiftly and immediately (i heard one economist use the analogy of a dogs tail. "if you want to cut off the dog's tail, you have to do so quickly, in one stroke. if you cut the dog's tail in pieces, you will kill the dog. so it was with the economy". the lower, working, and middle classes suffered much during the 70's and early 80's but after the mid 80's things began to turn around, to the point that when democracy was restored, the center-left governments left pinochet's economic model intact, tweaking it to better serve the poor which pinochet ignored. it's an intresting dilemma and one that is discussed much in chile. i think the economic changes could have perhaps happened under a democratic government, but they would not have been as far reaching and would have taken a long time since many vested intrests (small business owners, govt employees, unions) would have resisted. anyway, this has been an interesting exchange. i promise that if i ever comment again i will avoid touching upon political issues. while they are intresting, they can be a bit tedious as well.

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