Trip Start Jan 29, 2007
Trip End Jun 02, 2007

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Flag of Chile  ,
Monday, May 14, 2007

Hello, my name is Sandro and I climb volcanoes.
Well, not so much "volcanoes" as volcanO... and not as definitive as "climb", we really didn't even make it to the top... but my name IS Sandro.
The city of Pucon is situated on a peninsula overlooking Lake Villarica at the foot of a volcano of the same name. As such, it is chock-full of great outdoor activities year-round including all sorts of water sports, skiing, hiking, and mountain biking. On top of all the regular stuff, there's not-so-traditional activities such as canyoning, canopy, and something called HidroSpeed - which, from a conversation we overheard, consists of holding on to a specialized foam board with handles as it is pulled by a jet ski over a series of ramps and jumps in the lake.
We have the extraordinary fortune that my uncle and his family own a house in this natural outdoor playground, and we took as much advantage of the activities as we could. Sam, Jose, and I started off by participating in a 6 km canyoning adventure - an activity I had never really heard of before, but I promise to do again at the very next opportunity. It consists of setting off through a river canyon in a wet suit and neoprene jacket carrying rappelling equipment. In our excursion, there were three different waterfalls we had to rappel down and a couple of sections where you had to let the river current take you down some natural water slides.
The next day, we started the day off with something called 'Canopy'. I assumed this consisted of a series of ropes and platforms rigged up high in the trees, allowing you to rise above the trees, facilitating a unique view of the forest at canopy level. I've got to watch less Animal Planet and more ESPN2, 'cause that's not at all what goes on in canopy. There ARE platforms and cables rigged up high in the trees, but the objective is to rig yourself to the cables connecting the platforms and ride the zip-line as fast as you can to the next checkpoint. One of the six segments we rode down was a 1 km-long cable that (from pretty rough calculations) has you zipping down as fast as 80 kmph. I'm not saying the beautiful vistas weren't there, all I'm saying is that I was too busy worrying about how the brakes worked - seeing as the brake system consisted of a leather glove. Taking advantage of region's volcanic nature, we decided to treat our muscles to a nice dip in one of Pucon's many natural hot springs.
To further drive our ailing muscles into the ground, Sam, Jose and I decided to climb the Villarica Volcano (the fourth most active volcano in the world) - measuring 2847 m. 300 people attempt to climb the volcano during the summer months, with about half of the people turning back before reaching the top. Some of this meagre success rate is due to the fact that people underestimate the rigorous climb, but having now attempted the climb I would attribute a large portion of the failures to unpredictable environmental factors. The volcano is not friendly, and it does not want you to climb it. Even during the summer months, you have to go up with crampons and ice axes to conquer the glacial snows, as well as full wind-breaking winter gear to repel the "pinguinera" - the high-speed wind current that ultimately kept our expedition from reaching the crater. On the upside, we were shown how to use our ice axe as a hand brake for using as we slid down on our rumps in 30 minutes what had taken 4 hours to climb. The exhilaration of the ride down certainly made up for the disappointment of not making it all the way up.
In essence, you could probably spend your whole life in the Lakes Region of Chile (like my uncle has) before you run out of things to do. When we come back, and we'd be crazy not to, I think we'll try the HidroSpeed craziness and certainly attempt to make it to the crater of the volcano again. This is all, of course, when we're not riding my uncle's new UNIMOG up through the hills to try and make it to the new plot of land he just bought. I would try and explain how difficult it is to make it there, but once you look at the pictures and see what a UNIMOG actually is, you'll understand.
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