Ey, Chicos- Vamos!

Trip Start Jan 28, 2011
Trip End Apr 29, 2011

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Where I stayed
Hotel Casa Grande Valdivia
Happy House Hostel, Santiago

Flag of Chile  , Lake District,
Thursday, February 3, 2011

Heading south from Santiago on the Pachamama (Earth Mother) tour on a beaten-up minibus, driven by our guide Sergio, a multi-lingual driving machine powered only by coffee and yoghurt. He knew 'Cheers!' in 16 languages.  First proper stop was Pichelemu, a coastal town famous for surfing and popular with Chileans for summer holidays, despite the beach being incredibly windy (even by Wellington standards).  But nice if you like sandblasted legs and llama rides along the beach. Saw an incredible sunset later, proper ball of fire falling into the sea stuff. 

Next day we were up and off South again, stopping in Santa Cruz to visit the Museo de Cochagua, owned by Carlos Cardoen, a major league arms dealer, sometime of serious interest to the FBI. Anyway, he has a lot of very interesting stuff, including a giant prehistoric bear skeleton, a 10 foot high gold altar complete with bleeding Jesus amidst lots of bling- Crucifixion, Vegas style, and a 1970s Formula One car.  Crime clearly pays, and anyway, selling cluster bombs never hurt anyone...

We got in cheap (student prices)- as Sergio explained "all my friends here are students." 

Saturday is Volcano Day.  Having got as far as Pucon the night before, we were picked up at 6.25am to go and collect our climbing gear for the hike up Volcan Villarrica. 
Having thought this was a walk, we were a little surprised to be given helmets and ice axes. Heigh ho..

So, the stats:

Height: 9341 feet (we climbed the last 3500).
Crater diameter: 200m
Lava lake temperature: 1250 C
Permanent glacier area: 37 km2
Recorded eruptions: 59, last big one in 1992
Time it took us up and down: 5 hours (4 up, 1 down)
Amount of toxic gas at the summit: lots.
Number of spectacular head first near-death falls down the glacier:1

Absolutely breathtaking views all the way up - and probably down too, if you werenīt trying to avoid impaling yourself on an ice axe whilst sledging down on your bum at high speed.  Pete wanted to do this bit again straight away. Our guidesīmain instruction 'Ey, chicos, Vamos!'  Also popular with Sergio.

Well-deserved beer, dunk in chilly pool and massive piece of meat later that evening.

Our last day of the trip was in Valdivia, a pretty riverside town whose main highlights for us were the sealions that swim right up to the fish market on the riverbank and growl at tourists who get too close (they are BIG animals), and the empanada market a few km away, with 80+ stalls and live local music featuring a band who were excellent at tambourine and terrible at everything else.  They also introduced all the food stalls individually.  Took a while.  We drank the excellent Kunstmann beer (note the German immigrant influence), ate very tasty empanadas and a massive cake (not totally equal shares of the latter), and avoided the cloudy orange home-made cider, unlike several elderly dancing Chilean men.

From Valdivia it was a mere 11 hour hop by night bus back to Santiago and our flight to Rapa Nui.
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