We were excited to arrive in Pucon for many reasons. First of all, we were meeting my good friend Paz there.We knew he was going to be in South America around the same time as him but didn't know if our itineraries would intersect. Fortunately, by shear luck we bumped into him in Bariloche a day before we had planned to leave for Pucon. He was also heading to Pucon, but was arriving one day after us. Another thing we were looking farad to in Pucon was climbing the Volcan Villarica, and it was now even more exciting because we would be doing it with Paz. The border crossing into Chile was pretty slow, as they pulled us all off the bus multiple times and checked our bags with X-rays and dogs. They are very strict about bringing food into the country but don't seem overly concerned with weapons for some reason. On our bus of 50 people I would estimate that about 42 of them were Israelis, which was only a sign of things to come in Pucon
. Once we arrived in Pucon and checked into our hostel we decided go to what looked like a fancy restaurant, but turned out to just be an overpriced and untasty meal. The hostel we were staying in was also overpriced and only alright in quality. The town of Pucon is pretty nice, but as I just said many of the things are quite costly, especially now in the summer when hoards of tourists flood the city. Once Paz arrived and told us about his hostel we decided to cancel the remaining nights at ours and head to the one he was staying at. For 2500 pesos ($5) less per person per night we had a nice private room with private bathroom in a nice family run hostel. Once again we were the minority, as every person besides us without exception was from Israel. We joined some of them at the Chabad house on Friday night for Shabbat dinner, which was absolutely lovely. It was run by a nice family with a cool outdoor courtyard to house such Shabbat dinners.
We spent a couple of days just hanging out together and seeing the town. There is a nice lake with a rocky beach and other relaxing places all with amazing views of the huge volcano that is always lurking behind the city. Volcan Villarica is an active volcano that reaches 2847 meters at its zenith. It appears to be a perfectly symmetrical cone and has a uniform ring of snow on most of its upper half. We booked a trip to climb to the top of this smoking mountain with one of the many agencies in the area
. The cost to climb with a guide, transportation, and proper equipment ranged from 30,000 to 50,000 pesos. We ended up going with a 30,000 peso trip through the informacion center on the main street. They told us there would be about 6 or 8 people and three guides, but when we showed up on the day of the hike it turned out we were in a group of 12 hikers. We got geared up with jackets, ice picks, crampons for our shoes, gloves, and all sorts of others things to strap onto us to keep snow out and help for the final decent when we slide down the mountain. I rented some shoes because mine were not adequate and they ended up being ski boots basically, which made the hike more difficult than it needed to be and left my feet and ankles in a bad state. We drove to the base of the mountain and got of the van. At this point we were at 1400 meters above sea level and there is an optional ski lift to take you up the first rocky area so you can start your hike at 1800 meters. We decided to save the 5,000 pesos ($10) each and walk the first part which added an extra 90 minutes to the hike. The hike up the mountain was difficult in the upper parts, where there was only ice to climb on. Our spiky boots and ice picks were essential to make sure we didn't slip and slide down the side of the mountain. IT was a bit scary because if you did fall and somehow lost your ice pick you would slide for a while and end in a place that would not be good for you or the integrity of your bones. After about 5 hours of continuous uphill climbing, and very limited breaks, we made it to the smoking top of the volcano almost 3000 meters above sea level. You can only stay at the top for a couple of minutes as the sulfuric smoke is hot and the air is deprived of oxygen. So as quickly as we arrived it was time to come down. This was the fun part. There are little tracks carved out in the ice to put your butt into and slide down the decline. We did this in about 7 or 8 separate sections, some of which provided extreme speeds and beautiful views. This part was one of the most fun things I have ever done. Go Volcano!!!