Fire in the belly and snow up the bum

Trip Start Aug 03, 2006
Trip End Dec 13, 2006

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Flag of Chile  ,
Friday, November 3, 2006

We came to Pucón, on the shores of Lake Villarrica in Chile's Lakes District, hoping to climb Villarica Volcano that towers over the town. The first 2 days were cloudy and rainy and we were beginning to doubt that there even was a volcano. Memories of our hike up Cotopaxi came flooding back.

The first night we arrived was Hallowe'en and it was almost reassuring to see kids wandering the streets with eggs in hand. Almost made us feel like we were at home. Not so nice when one kid lobbed a water balloon at us whilst we were eating a meal in a restaurant.

We filled time during the rainy days by making phone calls and catching up on these blogs. We spent one evening at the hot pools at Los Pozones. The water is heated up naturally by the volcano and the 6 pools are set next to a rushing river in a deep valley. Quite bizarre to turn up at 9pm when it was completely dark and stay until midnight.

Finally after waiting for 2 days the sky opened up and sure enough, right ahead was a huge, perfectly shaped volcano. The kind you draw as a kid, or if you are more adventurous, make out of paper mache and then put vinegar and baking soda together and watch it all erupt on the kitchen table! (don't forget the red food colouring for best effect!) After seeing the beast before us we were getting pretty excited and a little nervous about the day ahead.

The next day we got all geared up - wind breaker, snow pants, gloves, hats, gaters, boots, a helmet, crampons, and one hefty ice axe - this was going to be serious! We filled our bags and were off. The first bit involved taking a chair lift, which suited us fine, the hike ahead looked daunting enough as it was and we needed as much help as we could get.

The chair dropped us off and as we got off we noticed all the other groups gearing up. They had all their stuff on and were practicing how to stop themselves with their ice axe in case they fell down the mountain. It looked a little scary; you slide pretty fast on such steep ice, as Steve demonstrated when he put down the sun cream and it raced down the hill. It was gone in a flash. (Steve: Like a div, I tried to chase down the side of the mountain after it, crampons strapped on and all. The only thing that stopped me was the horrified cry of the group shouting, "Nooooooooo!!!!!!"). Made us think what may lie ahead if we were not careful.

Our guide was a little less safety conscious than the other groups - we just clamped on the crampons and were off. (No demos. No helmets. Just a little hint for us: If you fall dig your pick in and lift up your legs or they will break). Well needless to say we were walking pretty slowly and carefully. That and Steve's agonizing achilles tendons made us the remedials in the group and we were given our own guide to lag behind with us while the rest raced ahead. Once we were free from the group and their gruesome pace we were able to enjoy it a bit more and actually look at the surroundings instead of stare at our feet and hope they were in place in our mad rush to keep up. The scenery was stunning, lots of other volcanos in the distance, a landscape of lakes and clear skies. Lovely!

After 5 hours of steep icy slopes and carefully placed steps we arrived at the top. Either we missed the talk about the volcano because we lagging behind or our guides were just too busy huddled together gossiping to share with us the facts about what we were seeing. So we sat at the edge and began to eat our lunch. It was an impressive sight. Not the bubbling pool of lava we were expecting, but hissing steam and smoke coming from the belly of the volcano. It was made even more impressive when it began to rumble and red hot molten lava shot up into the air. It was amazing but made you feel like it was a little silly to be standing there and made you want to give it some space.

We saw quite a few eruptions and then it was time to make our way down. This was the fun part. The good thing about climbing 5 hours up a snowy hill is you get to slide back down! This is the longest tobbogan ride ever! We used our ice picks as brakes and slid on our bums. Fun! Fun! Fun! Tara turned out to be quite an expert whilst Steve floundered around on his back like an overturned beetle. You go pretty fast when you finally stop being scared and lift up that ice pick. It was great. The way down was much more enjoyable than the way up and took a fraction of the time. We were exhausted by the end of it all and looking forward to taking off our rental boots. We were in bed and fast asleep at 10pm!


- Stayed at: La Tetera. Nice and cosy place with nice breakfast, but we were trying to save money so we moved somewhere cheaper. Recommended.

- Stayed at: Arauco, Arauco 272, Pucon (Tel 442223). Cheap as hell and it looked like it. It was cold in the nights, but certainly passable if you're looking to save some cash. Recommended.

- Trip organised by: Sol y Nieve. We deliberately picked the more expensive agency expecting a better quality of service but were a little disappointed. When we asked them why they were more expensive they said they had better gear, English speaking guides, smaller groups and were safety conscious. We did not see much of this. They did speak English but did not really interact with people, their gear was average (it would help if they gave you the right sizes) and safety was not really accounted for. We saw many other guides on the volcano offering tips and telling their groups about what they were seeing. We were dissapointed!! We could have probably paid a lot less and got the same value. Not recommended.

- Wikitravel: Pucón
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