Pucon has the reputation of being the Queenstown of South America, so after several weeks of leisurely stumbling round the vineyards of Argentina and pottering around the seaside towns of central Chile, it was time to get back to some action!
After a fairly noisy overnight bus from Santiago to Pucon, we checked into the gorgeous Hostel Donde German (thanks Laura for the recommendation, think luxury ski lodge meets Laura Ashley) and started to book some activities.
PS – this was the view from our bedroom… certainly beats the brick wall we had in La Paz!
Day 1 – Climbing Volcan Villarrica
We could see the Volvan Villarrica gently puffing smoke and steam from our hostel and knew that Laura hadn’t been able to climb due to bad weather – so decided it was time to take on the challenge. The volcano hadn’t gone off for a while but after our tour company told us they would “of course” provide gas masks, we did a couple of checks of the Volcano Alert Traffic lights on the tourist office – it was showing a consistent green.
We started at 6.45 the morning with a mini bus ride to the start point just as the sun came up over the volcano – thankfully, the weather looked as though it wasn’t going to stop us. We were provided with ice boots, ice axes and gaiters, and given a rucksack full of crampons, hard hat, over-layers and a sledge.
The slopes range from 45 to 60 degrees so you have to hike slowly, carefully kicking your feet into the groove left by the guide, in a zig zag up the mountain. It was totally knackering which thankfully stopped it being scary – there was no question of looking down, up or around – you just focused on where your feet would go. Lots of stops later (including an amusing lunch stop where someone dropped some cheese on the slope and then watched it bound off at high speed – no news later of a death by chedder so we assume it didn’t hit anyone) we made it to the top of the volcano, where if the wind caught just the wrong direction you got a face-full of steam mixed with stinking sulphur – lovely! (Now we know why they provided gas masks)
It was about minus 5 here so we put on our extra layers and took some shots of the crater and the surrounding views – we were well above the clouds here so we had an amazing view of the Andes and another 3 volcanos poking out above the clouds with the occasional glimpse of the lakes below.
Getting down was much, much quicker and much more fun. We had to put on a “Nappy” – a clip on pad that goes on your butt to allow you to slide down the mountain, using the ice axe as a brake. Once we were out of the wind, we could use the small sledge (effectively a plastic frying pan tied between your legs) which allowed us to go much faster. Really funny – Wayne managed a gnarly 360 (vertically and horizontally) with everyone watching and I gained some excellent air (until I landed straight on my coccyx– fortunately there was plenty of ice on hand to soothe the pain). By the time we got to the bottom we were soaked, bruised and thoroughly exhilarated.
Day 2 – Thermal Springs
We spent the day slowly wandering the streets and beaches of Pucon (with the obligatory half cow for lunch) and then in the evening, in an attempt to soothe away the strains of the volcano climb, we booked a trip to the hot springs. This is a night trip to the Pozone hot springs an hour out of town. There are 5 pools that feed into each other down the hill, each with a slightly lower temperature and we were lucky, we were the only 5 people using the pools – one each! With the air temp a chilly 10 degrees – we quickly changed and spent a lovely evening pool hopping and gazing at the blanket of stars above us.
Fantastically relaxing – until you had to get out into the night air at 11pm and get changed – Baltic! If changing you clothes in the cold ever becomes an Olympic sport we are both potential gold medal winners.
Day 3 – Parque Nacional Huerquehue
People from our hostel all raved about the 3 lakes trek at the National park so we too hopped on a local bus for an hours ride the gate at the Park, expecting an easy stroll around three beautiful lakes. What we didn’t realise was that the lakes were high up in the mountains and therefore spent a fairly strenuous few hours dragging our tired legs along the Los Largos route through dense lenga forests, deep snow and sticky mud. Three hours later we made it to the gorgeous ice fed lakes and sat happily on a log next to Lago El Toro eating lunch having realised that it was well worth the pain. There are 3 lakes in this area and they are all crystal clear, and surrounded with snow-covered peaks with crashing waterfalls. It’s easy to run out of superlatives of exactly how beautiful this area is – and a real shame we didn’t have longer to explore, but we needed to get to Puerto Montt – All aboard the Navimag!