Monday, January 30, 2006

Pucon - a party town!!!

Arrive in sunny Pucon at around 7:30AM. Known as the adventure travel and tourist base of the Lake District in Chile, Pucon (with a population of 21,000) has so much to do its hard deciding what you can fit in while you are here!!! As everyone says, its the most convenient place to do it all...climb a volcano, raft or kayak, soak in the hot springs, trek in the amazing national parks nearby, eat well and parteeeeee!!!!! Hmmnn.. all sounds good to us!!! So first order of business, we find our hostel, descriptively named "Hostel Backpackers".....! Well known, and recommended to us by quite a few people, due in large part to the owner Claudio, being one of the best volcano guides in the town (and quite a nice wee man too, although for some reason, whenever people got a bit out of hand and noisy of an evening after mucho vino or cerveza (or even white Russians - but more on that later!), he would always wag his finger at me to keep the noise down!! I mean, seriously i that loud?????

We head out to explore the town.. interesting as it is very cute, if a tad touristy,.....but not in a traditional Chilean or even South American way. The easiest way to describe it would be that it looks like a Swiss ski resort with beautiful chalets dotted all over, lots of chocolate and cheese shops and tons of companies selling every high octane adventure you might be looking for!!! The biggest draw of the town is Volcan Villerica....a 2,847m high active (yes that would be lava spewing, sulphur gas spurting...ACTIVE) volcano that you walk up through knee high snow, essentially along the side of the volcano, until you get to the crater at the top! There are also tons of lake side beaches to choose from, with volcanic black ash sand....jam packed with Chilean tourists on their summer holidays!! Ahh, the choices - its a tough life!!! Back at the ranch, we sit and make chit chat with some new... yes you guessed it, new found friends! Hezi from Israel (nice guy but as we would say at home, a powerful talker!) He was traveling with his dad, Menachin, a very hip and active dad indeed who was out canopying through the forest, as we chatted! Also a star girl .. Victoria (aka Tory) Snowball from Oz. Not only do we LOVE her name, she is just a brilliant girl. Super smart.. she has been studying medicine in Edinburgh for a year and is now traveling on her own at the tender age of 22 all over Europe and South America! And Barak, another Israeli traveling for 7 weeks in Chile and Argentina. We all went out for dinner and had a grand ole' time ......

Jan 31st. Snowball, Dominique and I head out this morning on the 8:30am bus to Parque Nacional Huerquehue. This giant park, with over 12,500 hectares of protected rivers, waterfalls, alpine lakes and araucaria forests, is really beautiful and well worth the visit. We had an incredibly hot day, with the bluest skies and really amazing scenery. There are many lakes within the park; we visited Lagos Verde, Chico and Toro. Saw tons of waterfalls and amazing trees and plants,, a beautiful place to hang out for the day....7 hours later we were a wee bit knackered so headed back to town to sort out our volcano trip for the next day (yes, no surprise im a bit nervous about it!!). Decided to be real budget travelers tonight so bought dinner in the supermarket and cooked in the hostel! Only happens now and then so not bad... although we both agree, we prefer the dining experience whenever possible!!!

Feb 1st. This is the big day! Get up at 6am for our trek to Volcan Villarica! Meet our guide Pedro - what a lovely guy! Very funny ....the rest of our group is great too! We have Camillo and Daniel, brothers from Columbia now living in LA and their cousin, Lorena, and 2 Germans and a lovely guy from Brazil whose name keeps escaping me, so we will call him "Brazil". At the beginning of the volcano, you can be sane and take the 15 minute chair lift, OR you can be hard core and mad as a hatter and decide to walk the hour long steep climb through volcanic rock...yup, that would be my intrepid friend Dominique and the 2 Germans! Its strange...the further away the volcano is, the more impressive and scary it looks. Closer up and it actually looks quite do-able!! Essentially, you walk along the side of the volcano, which is pretty steep,, and you could slide down it i suppose if you are not being careful! So obviously in order to concentrate this meant i couldnt talk, look around me AND hike, so i concentrated on the hiking part! It was incredibly beautiful! Even though we were walking in the snow, it was so hot with clear blue skies and baking sun; the snow was blinding white and you definitely needed your sunglasses! News flash...and this is a first for me.. the hike was really quite easy... you just walked along with your ice pick (in case you did start to slide, Pedro showed us how to use it to stop ourselves going over the edge! Phew - good to know!) and zig-zagged your way to the top!And the views when you arrived....were incredible! Looking down into the valley where the town was, or into the mouth of the volcano....seeing the lava splashing upwards towards us... amazing, impressive; like nothing i had ever seen before!!!

THEN the best bit. It took us nearly 3 hours to reach the summit and less than 1 hour to get down. HOW i hear you ask???? Well, we literally slid down the mountain on our bums...through these little snow tunnels. It was absolutely FANTASTIC!! So exhilarating and fast and exciting..Loved it! But i got into trouble a wee bit when i went a little too fast, and left my ice pick half way up the mountain as i sped downwards...hmmn Pedro was not amused....but all ended well and it was just brilliant! And ALL of us had completely frozen, numb bums!!! So of course we had to celebrate as a gang with a wee cerveza or two, once we got back into town! Tiptoed back to the ranch a wee while later to meet up with Snowball and Barak as we were going to the Termas Los Pozones, with 6 natural hot stone springs that evening (yes, as i have said on a number of intrepid travelers... we just go, go, go.....). Off we went at 9pm, in the dark, to sit in these natural and beautiful hot springs. There were so many stars out that night, the skies twinkled so brightly there wasnt much need for outdoor lighting. It was quite an experience, especially after such an exhilarating day, to sit in the springs, relaxing in the dark and enjoying the beautiful evening!!

Feb 2nd. My super active friend decided to go mountain biking with our friend, Brazil. I, on the other hand, finally gave in and decided to do nothing today! Well, not really. Snowball and I went to see about paragliding but apparantly they dont do it in Pucon, even tho' a lady in the tourist office convinced me they did! Oh well! We headed down to the beach hot hot! Met up with Dom later that day after her intrepid ride to the "Playa Blanca" miles and miles away, which to her chagrin, was not white at all! New amigos in the hostel - Mickey and Guy from Israel, Al from Ireland, Gabriella from New York (one of the funniest girls i have met on my travels ....a doll and fellow foodie; we are going to meet up when we get back from our prospective travels and go restaurant hopping together -- yah!) and Jamie from Boston! The boys decided to host a "White Russian" evening which we were all cordially invited to! Great laugh especially when Al decided to showcase his Irish dancing skills to the gang.. quite an accomplishment after mucho Russo Blancos!!! Al .. i have the video if you ever need it!!! More fun was required so we headed off to a local club just outside of town...danced the night away, well, until morning really as we all got home around 5ish! Good times except yet again, i almost got ejected from the club for requesting Madonna too many times! What is wrong with this country! I need to hear my girl sing!!! Oh well.....

Feb 3rd and 4th. Lots of pottering these days.. kind of strange not to be running around or have specific plans for once, but Dominique explained to me this is called "relaxing", so hey, i went with the flow!! Didnt quite get around to having a massage on the beach (see pic!)..bummer!! Had some fun times sitting at the beach bar watching the beautiful people .....because this is such a huge holiday destination for Chilenos themselves, never mind us gringo tourists, there are many companies touting their wares, especially drinks companies e.g. Yellow Dog (the Chilean version of Red Bull), given out by gorgeous women dressed in the modern day equivalent of the teeny, weeny yellow, polka dot bikini! Didnt see any boys in equally teeny weeny outfits but hey, this is South America so what do you expect!!! We also met a lovely couple, Mike and Di from New Zealand and Australia respectively, who had just arrived at Backpackers! Not only did we have a great giggle with them; we also bought their cute wee two man (or in our case two complete non-camper girls) tent from them, as they had already "done" the W Trek so didnt need it anymore! What luck, and Mike was a star and walked us through exactly how to put it up .. 'cos of course we didn't have a clue (and we are off to camp for 5 days soon.. hmmmm we might have to practise a bit first!). So that was brilliant.. you should see the size of it! It's tiny (we joked that Dominiique and I would be very good friends at the end of the trek!!) and it's so light... technology today, amazing!!! So as we say goodbye to Pucon,I would say this is definitely a fun town, with tons of outdoors adventures to choose from, and tons of bars and clubs for party time....thoroughly enjoyed our visit here ........But now we are off, making our way to Patagonia in the very south of the country for the piece de resistance of the trip - the W Trek!! Here we come!!!!


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