Days 91-93: Santiago to Pucon

Trip Start Oct 15, 2013
Trip End Ongoing

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Flag of Chile  , Lake District,
Wednesday, January 15, 2014

The next leg of our trip we will be with a group of about 30 people and a tour guide (with Tucan Travel) travelling through Patagonia, up through Argentina and ending in Rio de Janeiro for Carnival. To make travelling Patagonia possible we signed up for a budget tour, meaning we will be spending 40 nights camping (9 other nights in hostels). Though we are not looking forward to the camping so much, we are excited to meet our group and hopefully have friends to grab beers and hang out with for 49 days. We are also so excited to see Patagonia which has been a place we've both really wanted to see for a long time.

We met our group on our last night in Santiago and all went out for supper and some drinks. Most people are in their 20's and are from English speaking countries. We were happy to see everyone is laid back and fun.

We started the long journey to the Lake District of Chile called Pucon on Sunday morning. We arrived around 5 pm. The town is beautiful and feels just like a Swiss ski town, with many pubs, cafes, and chocolatiers. Overlooking Pucon is the beautiful snowcapped Volcano Villarrica. The town is bordered on all sides by large lakes and mountains.

Our first few hours in town we explored the beach and grabbed some pints at a beach bar with some other people on the tour. We then headed back to the campsite to have supper with everyone. Since meals when we camp are included in the tour it means we all have to take turns cleaning and cooking. We assumed our meals would be basic hot dogs and hamburgers but our first supper was burritos with lots of toppings to choose from. It turns out our tour leader (who does the shopping and meal planning) loves cooking so has many creative ideas for group meals. That night we all put 6 dollars in for a huge pot of punch to celebrate a girl's birthday. The extra money from the punch goes to a charity which the tour guide started called 'Legs for the Legless' to help buy prosthetic limbs for amputees in Bolivia. We spent the night hanging around the campsite, drinking and getting to know everyone a little better.

Our second day in Pucon, Matt and I explored the town then spent time at the beach swimming. We wanted to take it easy to be ready for our Volcano Villarrica trek the next morning.

On Tuesday morning we got picked up by the trek guides to head to the volcano base 40 minutes away. When we arrived we had the option to save 1.5 hours of hiking by taking a chair lift for 16 dollars each. We both thought the money would be much better saved for beers following the trek. Plus we felt it was cheating a bit to take a chair lift. Within 20 minutes I was already feeling the pain in my legs pretty bad. We were trekking on loose ash which was making it hard at times to keep your balance. Once we got to the snow (about 1/3 the way up) it was a lot easier to trek on. We were both excited to be in snow after not seeing any since last winter and seeing lots of snow pictures from back home. The views were amazing as well!

It took 5 hours to reach the summit. We had water and snack breaks on the way up, usually in a rocky area or on the side of the steep incline where the guide would have to use an ice axe on the snow to create a flat spot for us. We were looking forward to getting to the top and just sit but after we saw the crater we were both too excited. Seeing the smoke coming out of it was the coolest thing I've ever seen. It reminded me of all the volcanos you made as a kid for science projects. The sulphur was pretty strong up there so we had to cover our mouths and nose most of the time.

After taking many pictures at the top we then started to descend. The clever trek guides figured the best way to get trekkers down is by letting gravity do its job by sledding down through these paths they carve. You control your speed using your ice axe. We were all terrified to try but it was actually the funnest thing, and surprisingly not scary at all once you get going. Some of the paths they even add in bumps and curves to make it seem like a waterslide. Most of the sledding was done simply on your bum (they gave us snow pants) and when it got flatter we used sleds (about 1.5 foot diameter plastic circle). I wish I was able to take more pictures or a video to share and be able to remember the experience better, but there isn't much chance my phone would have survived the trip down the snowy mountain if I had it out.

At the end of the trek we were greeted by a local selling cold beers for 2 dollars each. All the trekkers grabbed one and sat around to sip on the much needed drink and enjoy the view of Volcano Villarica.

Pucon is not part of Patagonia but being only 8 hours away the landscape is stunning. We are excited for all the hiking and treks over the next few weeks to see the landscape and to hopefully get our buts in shape.
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