Volcan Villarica and the food of Pucon

Trip Start Apr 14, 2010
Trip End Apr 16, 2011

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Flag of Chile  , Lake District,
Wednesday, March 23, 2011

Now, after our multiple volcano extravaganza in New Zealand we had thought that we had had enough of lugging our way up to the top of them and so had no particular plans to climb volcanoes in Pucon. However, on the bus across from Barriloche we met an English couple and an Irish couple who were both planning on climbing a volcano called Villarica and had heard it was a really fun trip. It was about this time when the bus swung around a corner (we were in the panoramic seats at the top in the front) and a huge, white tipped, smoking volcano muscled into view. We both took one look at it, glanced at each other and knew immediately that we would do it. It was just too there to not climb it.

So, the next day we all were fitted out with some climbing kit, bundled into a minibus with a bunch of guides and taken off towards the volcano in the dark. From certain angles you could see the light from the crater shining on the wispy fumes coming out of it; awesome.

It was a fun climb up through the snowfield with crampons and ice-axes; not too tough because the pace was pretty slow with a large group winding its way up. As the sun come up it was clear we had lucked out and got a beautiful day. Only an hour or two in and we could start to see the vistas laid out around us: the town of Pucon, the lakes, mountains and five other big volcanoes including the most active in Chile (we were still, to a constant but slight niggling worry, bang on the Pacific fault line - the other side of which had recently given us Christchurch and Japan and just up the road was Valdivia - site of one of the largest earthquakes ever).

Some sections of the climb were pretty steep and slippery and whilst we were mostly relishing the challenge of digging in ice-axes and scrambling up it was at this point that Lisa (the Irish girl we had met on the bus) confessed that she was terrified of heights. Nevertheless she pushed on like a true trooper and, despite a few hairy moments, made it to the top. The views were, as they usually are, even better from the top and we had to re-take all of the photos we had taken on the way up as well as running around on the summit whooping and cheering like schoolchildren and heading over to where you could see the steam, fumes and wavery heat spewing out of the churning crater; also awesome.

After about 40 minutes the guides (who had been trying to get the group together to leave for at least half that time) finally ushered us over towards the start of the snow-field and gave us a very brief introduction into the art of glissading (sliding down the mountain on your arse with a nylon carpet strapped to your bum using your ice-axe as a brake) which started with "If you do it right, it can be fun it you do it wrong, it can be goodbye". Short and to the point.

After about 30 seconds of brief and hard to hear instruction the lead guide plonked himself down on the remarkably steep looking slope and disappeared off into the distance at alarming speed. Leaving most people with puzzled looks glancing at each other saying things like “Which end of the pick did he say to use?” or “What did he say about how to put your feet?”, Ali, the English guy we had met on the bus manned up to go first and stepped carefully out onto the steep snow bank. He then promptly lost his footing covered the first 10 metres on his back headfirst, somehow managed to turn over and do the next bit superman style before finally managing to sit up and get the ice-axe in to slow down. It was classic. Gordon started on down, mostly managing to stay facing the right way but when he reached the bottom of the first run the guide shouted something at him & Ali and they turned to see another girl who had lost her ice-axe right at the start come barrelling down lying flat on her back arms and legs waving in the air. The three of them had to literally onto her as she came flying past and take the hit to stop her careening down the whole mountain. Never has coming down a mountain been so much fun.

On arrival back in the town, most of our group when down to the local bar that does 2 for 1 beer all afternoon and settled in for an afternoon of quenching thirst. When we left 3 or 4 hours later heading to an asado (BBQ) at one of the hostels the bill arrived and was quite simple: 52 beers and not a sausage else. The promised hostel BBQ, while very nice, took a very long time to materialise and drinking that quantity of beer after a long day in the sun and then not eating anything on return until about 11pm turned out, surprisingly, to be a bit of a mistake. In the crowning moment of the evening Gordon turned away from the assembled group of about 20 people waiting for food by the fire and stalked off at pace towards the hostel intent on finding a toilet. The crash from the French windows he promptly walked into could be heard a mile away and the 20 people all turned to see Gordon turn to acknowledge the laughter, wave that he was okay and then turn briskly towards the open side of the French windows to get out of the embarrassing situation as fast as possible. The 2nd crash as he walked straight into the next set of French windows only 10 seconds later was therefore witnessed by everyone in all its glory and could well have been the most talked about event in Pucon that night. It was later described as like a fly trying to get out of a car window and repeatedly flying into it.

When the dust settled and the general hilarity had subsided Gordon finally made it through the door and to the toilet and was rather disturbed to see a big red swelling forming on the bridge of his nose that indicated a little break had occurred.

As we spent the next day recovering from the climb of the volcano (or perhaps it would be more accurate to say recovering from the 52 beers and French window incidents) we decided that we liked Pucon and would stay for a few days: we had the cheapest room we had had in South America to date, the town was really nice, next to a lake and surrounded by volcanoes and full of excellent restaurants that had been conspicuously lacking in much of the rest of Chile to date, and a bunch of people we had met along the way from the south were in town or were going to be in town.

We spent another day horseriding which was great fun and a bit like a Spanish lesson and horse ride all rolled into one as the very chatty guide bombarded us with questions and chatter for the whole day in Spanish (Which countries does the UK border? How big is London?  How much does rent cost?  How much does a horse cost in London?). We have taken to explaining to horse riding guides that we are both very experienced at riding because this tends to mean that you get given a better horse that might run a bit and actually do what it is told. This may have backfired this time though Gordon was promptly given a massive, retired race horse (no joke). She could really fly as was attested to when it got into a bit of a race with Sarah's horse and overtook it in a flash in what we had thought was a already pretty fast canter before breaking into a gallop; terrifying but fun and unlike in Mongolia Gordon managed to stay on the horse.

Our last day in Pucon was spent “Hidrospeeding”; a bit like the riverboarding we had done in New Zealand but with more of a mini raft type thing. This was also great as the rapids were significantly bigger than ones we had been in on a bodyboard and the clarity of water combined with big rocks that you had to avoid everywhere made it very exciting. Sarah even managed to make it through some of the rapids without doing her drowning dog impression.  Finally, after a fun but also relaxing week in Pucon we had a final nice Mexican meal and an evening polishing off a box of cheap wine and reminiscing about Gordon’s famous French window incident with some of the guys we had climbed the volcano with before we headed off to catch the night bus to Santiago.
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philfi on

french doors are gordo's kryptonite!!

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