A Christmas Vacation


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South America » Chile » Araucanía
January 11th 2016
Published: January 13th 2016
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With a heavy heart and a few extra pounds around our waists from all the empanadas, we said goodbye to Pichilemu and started our journey southward. We had 8 days before our next job in San Carlos de Bariloche, Argentina and we needed to navigate through a circuit of small towns and numerous buses to get there. We started out by stopping in Santa Cruz, a little town situated in the colchagua valley, known for producing some of the best Chilean wines. After rummaging around town for most of the day for a hostel, we finally found one and settled in for the night. Thanks for sticking around Sam! Our plan was to take a tour of a vineyard the next day, test some wine and catch the next bus out of town but after seeing how beautiful the countryside looked we asked for one more night at our hostel so we could explore the valley. So instead of catching a bus out of town the next day, we rented bikes and created our own wine tour. We stopped at Lapastolle vineyards first and took their tour of the facilities and vineyards. We love wine and know what tastes good but didn't pretend to be wine connoisseurs and asked a lot of questions, probably to the dismay of the other "experts" on the tour with us. But we learned a few valuable things in judging wines so now we can pretend be experts and act act like we know what we're drinking. After Lapastolle we jumped on our bikes and rode to another vineyard, only a couple miles down the rode. Montes winery was the name and it was beautiful. We enjoyed lunch over looking all the varieties of vines lining the hills and then afterwards took our bikes and rode up the mountain side through the groves. It was quite a workout after drinking wine and eating all day but worth every stroke of the pedal. After enjoying a sunny afternoon in Chilean wine country we headed back to our hostel for a good nights rest and another day full of buses awaiting us as in the morning.

We were told by someone in pichilemu, that if we had a chance, we should check out a place called Las Trancas and the Shangri La valley. It was supposed to have great trails for trekking and mountain biking, so right away our interest was stoked. We figured we could do a day trip from the city of Chillan up into the foothills of the Andian Range and be back in time to get to Pucon for Christmas. Like times before, we realized that it's much more difficult to get to more remote places if you don't have a car. We were dropped off at the side of a two lane highway in the middle of the mountains with only a picture of the street name of where our place was for the night. As luck would have it, the backpacking gods were on our side that day. As we were walking around like two lost puppies a looong way from home, we happened on a couple who had just got married at a resort close by and were spending their honeymoon in the area. They offered to drive us around looking for our place and let us use their phones to try and contact the lodge. Finally, almost an hour later we located our lodging and it was only a few hundred feet from where the bus had originally dropped us off. Sometimes your so close and you don't even know it! If it wasn't for the kindness of that couple we probably would've never found our original booking and would've had to find another place or hop back on the bus. We settled into our new home for the night and awoke to bright blue skies and a mountain range waiting to be explored. As we stepped out the door and started our hike, two dogs from the neighboring house decided to follow along and little did we know they were in it for the duration of the hike....even sitting with us at the end while we were getting our end of hike pizza and beer. We left Las Trancas with tired legs and smiles on our faces but couldn't help but wonder what else there was to this area...only if we had a little more time and a car to explore. Maybe next time, but for now it was off to Pucon to celebrate Christmas.

Pucon is the type of town you'd see on the front of a postcard. With a western US ski town vibe, independently owned restaurants, cafes, and outdoor companies littered throughout the streets and the prominent volcan Villarica looming over the town it was easy to fall in love as soon as we stepped of the bus. This was looking like a great choice to spend our first Christmas as a married couple. We found what would be the nicest hostel we have stayed at thus far. It was clean and quiet, we had our own bathroom and from our window we could see an active volcano that at night, the red glow from the lava boiling inside was visible. After getting unpacked we gathered some essentials at the supermarket for the next few days. Our original plan was to meet up with the American couple we entertained at our hostel in Pichilemu and climb the volcano on Christmas Day and leave the following day for Argentina. But our plans needed a little tweaking after they shut down the volcano for Christmas. So instead of climbing an active volcano for Christmas, we rented mountain bikes and explored all day, stopping at lakes and small towns along the way. During our ride back we found this great spot along the river where a massive bolder jutted out and looked like the perfect spot to enjoy a celebratory beer. We gave this spot the name Christmas rock and laid there soaking in the warmth from the huge bolder which had quickly become our new favorite spot. Odds are we will never see that rock again but it gave us a unique Christmas memory that will hold a special place in our hearts. After a nice meal and catching up with family and friends, we needed to get to bed because it was going to be an early day, enjoying our Christmas gift to each other....volcan Villarica!

This was the exclamation point on our 4 weeks in Chile, although we would be coming back in the end of January for some trekking in Torres del Paine. This was a first for both of us, then again I'm sure it would be a first for a good majority of the people coming to Pucon. We arrived bright and early at the base of the Volcano with all of our gear and our 4 guides. Two guides would lead and two would stick back for some of the slower people in our group. Unfortunately with the popularity of hiking an active volcano comes the crowds. Our guides told us that since the volcano erupted last March, tighter restrictions had been implemented and therefore cut back on the amount of people that were allowed to climb up each day. It seemed like a bogus statement looking around at all the other tour companies and the amount of climbers but apparently it used to be way more crowded. Tour companies used to be allowed to take 20-25 people up each day and now it was cut back to 8-10 per group. After a quick briefing on what to expect on the hike up, we took our first steps up an active volcano. After the first hour of hiking up loose scree and lava rock we finally were on the snowfield and needed our ice axes in case we slipped and fell to our death. A few hours of switchbacks and some traversing and we were at our last break before the final push to the summit. This is where we took everything out of our backpacks that the tour company supplied and suited up. For most of the hike we wore whatever we dressed in that morning. Now we needed an extra pair of pants, jacket, gloves, gaiters and our ice axe. It was as if someone flicked a switch and turned on the blasters because as soon as we started up the shoulder to the summit, the wind hit us like a ton of bricks. Every now and then you would take a gust and it would move you just enough to shake your balance and give you butterflies while looking down the side of the volcano at the rest of the groups making their ascent. 5 hours later we made our first and probably last summit of an active volcano. To our disappointment there was no crazy lava flow visible. There was only a massive crater and the choking smell and taste of carbon and sulfur dioxide gases. Along with the restrictions on the amount of people allowed on the volcano everyday was the amount of time each group was permitted to stay once they made the summit. 5 minutes was all we had to take some pictures and soak in the view of the surrounding volcanoes but that was all we needed due to the menacing wind and tear inducing gases. Oh, but now the real fun part! Along with all our gear came this little saucer shaped sled that we strapped on at the top. The way up was by feet and the way down by butt and it would only take us an hour to get to the bottom. During the first couple of runs we were a bit apprehensive to pick up any speed...you know, because we were sledding down the side of a volcano for the first time. But after we got comfortable it was bombs away! We flew down that volcano and by the time we hit the bottom we were soaked from the melting snow and smiling ear to ear. It was sledding on steroids and if it didn't take us 5 hours to get up there I would've turned around and ran back up for another run. But all good things must come to an end so we packed up and headed back into town. The next morning we woke up, gathered our backpacks for another moving day and headed off to cross the border into Argentina for our 6th country in 4 months. After bouncing around from place to place for the last 8 days we were looking forward to settling down in Bariloche, Argentina for 3 weeks.


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