"Run like hell........."
Trip Start Jun 16, 2007
41Trip End Nov 13, 2007
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Had decided to catch the cheap day bus from Santiago to Pucon rather than take the overnight service as we thought it would be a good way see some of Chile. However turned out this stretch of the Pan American highway is rather dull and viewless! A long and rather dull 12 hours later we were in Pucon.
Pucon is a small town on the side of a large lake and below the smoking mass of the active Volcano Villarrica. Its a lovely town with all buildings made of wood, and it felt very alpine. We stayed in a gorgeous hostel on the outskirts of town, and our room was in its own cabin in the garden, with views directly to the volcano. Its was nice to be in a much smaller town and out of the cities for a while. Very peaceful and chilled, if you could forget the fact you were living under an active volcano. Worrying green arrows and lines painted on the roads indicated evacuation routes in case of eruption, and the air raid siren was tested everyday at noon. Our hostel owner cheerily told us that if you hear a continuous siren..."run like hell" to the lakeīs peninsulaīs. This was hilarious until the siren went off in the middle of one night and we nearly died of fright. On checking out of the window, no one seemed to be running anywhere and the volcano appeared much the same as the previous day! Probably only went off for about 2 mins but felt like forever. When we quizzed hostel owner about it the next day he explained the siren is automatic and goes off whenever activity reaches a certain point...canīt believe how relaxed about it they all are.
On our first day in Pucon it rained heavily nonstop and we did not venture very far. On the second day the rain had cleared and it was a beautiful sunny spring day. We hired bikes from the hostel and followed their map of circuit through the surrounding countryside, along rivers and through lush scenery. We had a picnic by some waterfalls and saw some fantastic views. It was a long (35k) ride, and made a little more challenging by the discovery of a lack of brake pads!
Ross madly decided to recover the next day by scaling the Volcano (please note this was before the siren episode!). This is a big tourist attraction in the area and several companies organise the excursion. It is harder to do in the winter as there is deep snow all the way up and after being advised of the difficulty of walking through deep snow for 7 hours, Claire decided to relax in Pucon for the day.
Ross left at 6:45am the next day with his guides and 5 others. We gathered at the tour office and were kitted out with jackets, trousers, boots, gloves, balaclavas, crampons, sticks and an ice Axe. The bus took us to the base of the mountain where we cheated and took the one working ski lift as far as we could, but nothing like far enough. It still then took 6 hours to reach the summit of the volcano. The guide led the way thought the frozen snow sometimes having to hack foot holes in the ice for us to follow. In some parts the snow was knee deep and it was very tiring to walk though, and frustrating that you had to walk in zig zags up the volcano due to the steepness. The guide showed us how to use the ice Axe to stop ourselves in the event of a fall. We stopped for regular breaks and to take snaps of the great views. Towards the top it becomes hard to breathe because of the strong smell of sulphur and the smoke from the volcano. At the top you could hear the lava bubbling and in peering into the volcano, you could sometimes see the red magma splashing around. Didnīt dare get too close to the edge! After a long break at the top we began the descent which was hilarious as you basically just ski down on your bum. It only took 2 hours to get back to the bus at the base where we received a cold beer and a certificate (a "Diploma de Honour!"). It was great fun but was exhausted the next day!
The next day we hired a car with another British couple from the hostel to explore the local area further afield. On hearing reports of the icy, unpaved roads we opted for the beaten up pick up truck over the brand new white Toyota Yaris! We headed to another lake nearby, and then chose to venture up into the national park (closed until December but the warden let us in to view another lake). The roads were covered in sludge and snow, and a bit tricky at times, but well worth it for the views, even despite the stubborn bull road block! A local driver waved us to a stop at one point to say "el camino es mas or menos......" ("the route is more or less....."). More or less of what we didnīt catch but we ventured on! We stopped at some beautiful waterfalls which we hiked up a hill to view close up, and saw some stunning scenery.
To end the day, we stopped at some thermal pools for some R & R! The valley around Pucon is full of different thermal pools all heated naturally by the volcano. We visited ones at a plush hotel beside the river and with outstanding views. Was absolute bliss to wallow in the hot water for an hour or so!
We headed back to Pucon for our last night before heading south west to the Chilean island of Chiloe the next day..........