What a lava-ly day!

Trip Start Oct 29, 2003
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Trip End Ongoing


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Flag of Chile  ,
Tuesday, March 27, 2007

At the hostel in Santiago I met Brummie Mike (an alcoholic primary school teacher on a 3 month South American oddysey to see how much Chilean wine he can drink) and Lesbian Vegetarian Jo (on a year out from work who lived round the corner from me in London) and it turned out we were all headed to Pucón on the overnight bus, albeit each on a different bus leaving from a different station at different times with me leaving last at 11:45pm.
One thing the Chileans do quite well is run great bus companies. I opted for the semi-cama service - literally half-bed - which had big comfy seats which would not look out of place at the pointy end of an aircraft. It was too bad the fat snoring Chileño next to me made it that bit harder to go to sleep.

But sleep I did and awoke a couple of hours out of Pucón when my neighbour got off the bus. I met up with Mike and Jo at the hostel and wandered around the pleasant town perched on the edge of Lake Lacar. The big draw for the region is white water rafting and the imposing active Villarrica volcano that quietly puffs away over 9,000 feet above. It is one of the most active volcanoes in the area erupting regularly over the past couple of hundred years with the last major one in 1984. The hostel runs daily trips to the crater and so myself and Jo signed up to go the next day. Brummie Mike declined citing torn ankle ligaments but I thought it was because the early morning start would interfere with his vino recovery programme from the night before.

At 4:30am we rolled out with four other idiots and two guides, complete with climbing boots, crampons, hats, gloves, sunglasses, sarnies, water and ice axes. It was still dark when the bus dropped us off about 1,300 metres below the crater so by headlamps we began the long trek through the volcanic scree until we reached the edge of the glacier, stopping only to watch a fantastic sunrise over the mountains. Then it was on with the crampons and out with ice axes as we slowly made our way up the steep glacier. It was bloody hard work and at times I doubted whether I would make it to the top as the last bit looked extremely steep from below. In fact Jo didn't make it as the ice proved too much and she had to turn back with one of the guides.

Legs screaming and on the verge of cramping I finally made it to the top after about five hours. Peering into the crater I saw lava bubbling and gurgling around but couldn't stay long on the edge as the wafts of sulphur gas were not too pleasant. The weather was perfect and the views from the top were incredible - including five or six other volcanoes. The descent was quicker but quite hard. The sun was out and had made the snow and ice soft and slippery so had to be careful not to fall. Of course I ended up falling anyway but by digging in with the ice axe it wasn't too far.

Utterly exhausted I made it back to the hostel and a delicious welcoming Snickers - something I had spent an inordinate amount of time thinking about over the previous few hours. That night Jo and I joined Mike in his wine quest and plotted our next move. Looks like we'll pop over the border into Argentina and celebrate the 25th anniversary of the Falklands War on April 2nd - Malvinas Day as it's called there or More Vino Day if you're Brummie Mike.
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