Volcanoes, lakes and hot springs, these are a few of my favourite things
26.01.2010 - 03.02.2010 15 °C
Pucon and the Lakes District
January 26 - February 3 (9 days)
Well, after finally leaving our adopted city of Vina del Mar, we had an eventful bus trip south to Pucon, in the heart of the Lakes District.
The buses here make our Grey Hounds and Fire Fly Expresses look outdated! Chilean buses have fully reclining seats that turn into a “semi-bed” (or you can take a full sleeper bus with a complete bed). We were immediately lulled into a sense of security and comfort that ended abruptly about 3 hours after departure in the Santiago bus terminal. As our bus was reversing out with new passengers aboard, another bus was reversing at the same time and they somehow slammed into each other (well, given the general chaos at the bus terminals it wasn’t such a surprise!). The bus window on the opposite side of the aisle to Ben and I shattered, but the glass panel remained in place. To our surprise the driver continued to drive and we sped down the highway at 100km / hour. Ben and I asked if it was safe, and we were told that we were going to the bus depot to transfer to a new bus, and not to worry. However a short 20 minutes later there was an almighty explosion as the shattered window gave way and glass exploded everywhere. By a miracle the 3 little children who were seated near the window were untouched by the glass, and Ben and I were fine, just a little shaken by the suddenness and volume of the explosion. We all transferred to a new bus, and continued our journey without event. The strange thing was the way it was accepted so calmly by all, even the father of the 3 children who had only just escaped flying shards of glass. In his words: “These things happen”. Ah, the Chilean way of going with the flow!
As soon as we arrived in Pucon we fell in love! The town looks like it belongs in a movie set! Beautiful log cabins lined the streets, with open aired cafes full of glamorous people sipping espressos and chubby kids eating “helado” (ice-cream). Adventure tourism shops are everywhere, and there is no shortage of thrill seekers or tourists wanting some outdoor action. The tourist dollar means prices are high, so much so that a hot chocolate cost aussie $5. The centre piece of the movie-set town is the Villa Rica volcano that sits majestically in the back drop, snow capped and mighty. Beautiful Pucon itself is a lake town, set on a magnificent lake of dazzling blue calm water where mountains meet the water’s edge. The lake beaches have black, volcanic sand and are very popular with Chilean tourists who are quite happy to pay $5 for a beach umbrella to give a bit of shade. Ben and I thought it was a much better idea to spend our $5 on a beer at the beach cafe, where they not only provided shade and a view of the lake beach, but also live music that was fantastic!
So, the highlights of Pucon in a nutshell;
• Thermal Springs (Los Pozone in Rio Liucura Valley). WOW! Nothing beats soaking under a star studded midnight sky in hot thermal springs!
• Bike riding; We rented bikes for the day and rode up up UP UP and UP to a waterfall 5 km out of town. It should have been an indicator that it wasn’t a clever idea to bike ride when the locals pointed and laughed!! I pushed mine up most of the hill, but to Ben’s credit he was able to ride up most of the way. Sweat sweat and more sweat! But a stunning waterfall with a 95 metre drop.
• Hired a car; After physically exhausting ourselves with the bike ride we decided to hire a car and drive around the lakes and waterfalls instead! We visited Lake Carburga to see “Blanca Playa” which is known for its white sand. Haha! I think the locals must sit and take photos of expectant tourists, waiting to be dazzled by the white sand, only to find a murky mud like sand instead! So glad we had the car so we could drive straight out again! From there we visited more spectacular waterfalls and lakes. The area is really just so beautiful, and reminded us a bit of New Zealand.
• Music Festival; We met up with a great bunch of people (all Couch Surfers) and spent a night at a music festival. The night was meant to start at 9. Ben and I got there at 10:30, worried we were a bit late. But in true Chilean time the first band didn’t start until after 11! We boogied away to a rocky mix of jazz and reggae. Lots of fun!
• National Park Huequeque; This is a national park well known for its beautiful mountains and lakes. We did a 14 km day hike through lusciously dense pine tree forest, although a torturous hill! Again we just kept going up up UP, until it reached the point where it really wasn’t much fun anymore and we wondered how high the hill climbed! When we did get to the top it was well worth it- a pristine mountain lake awaited. It was way too cold for me to jump in, but Ben stripped off and swum out to the cliffs that came down to meet the lake. It was such a beautiful park and worth the aching body to explore it!
• Climbing Volcano Villa Rica; Our alarm went off at 5am, and tempted as we were to kill the alarm and go back to sleep we managed to drag ourselves out of bed, put on our hired climbing gear, and stumble onto the mini-bus that took us to the base of the volcano. We had chosen the perfect day to climb, as there was neither wind nor clouds to threaten our ascent. The first 2 hours of the climb were fun. The panoramic views of the Villa Rica national park and the Lakes District were breath taking. The snow was luscious and pure white (except for where walkers had been and it was dirty looking). In parts the snow was soft and our boots sunk in, but as we got higher the snow became icier and we had to use the snow picks to dig in to secure our route. As 2 hours turned into 3, and then 4 the layers came off slowly as our bodies got warmer and warmer (and sorer and sorer in my case!). We reached the crater after 4 ½ hours of climbing and while everyone else ran to get pictures of the volcano crater I collapsed in a relieved heap! Then came the wind gusts which blew toxic volcanic fumes over us all. Black gas passed over and through everyone and all the asthmatics (including me) started to wheeze and cough, and reach for our ventolins! Not quite the romantic crater moment I had envisioned! Just as I was thinking “It doesn’t matter this is amazing! Incredible!” my contact blinked out of my eye, leaving me half blind on a craters edge! At that point I just had to laugh and eat a lot of chocolate!!! The crater itself wasn’t full of red lava like the movies, but was a dusty ash, with black volcanic sand and toxic gas. The view from the top was worth the sore muscles and sulphuric air. The decent down only took an hour, as we slid down the snow and ice on pieces of canvas like toboggan sleds! It was by far the most fun part of the day, and Ben and I had competitions to see who could get the most speed going down the mountain (I won of course.......really... cough cough!)
And that is some of our highlights of Pucon!
Following Pucon we caught a bus to Puerto Montt, a not-so-inviting port town that had only one highlight for us: the boarding of the Navimag ferry, a 4 day cruise along the south coast of Chile. We would never have been able to afford this cruise had we not been given it for an engagement pressie, and let's just say - having just come off the cruise - it was a pressie to remember.
So much so we'd like to dedicate our next blog to it.
So ... stay tuned!
Chelle and Ben