Pucón - um, sweet, where next? Valparaiso is where

Trip Start Jan 26, 2007
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Trip End Feb 06, 2008


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Flag of Chile  ,
Monday, March 12, 2007

Two cities last week. Took an overnight bus to Pucón in the Lake district of Southern Chile. Planned to stay for three days before returning to Santiago for a weekend at the Zegers' beach house to the north. Pucón is known to be a beautiful little town to hang out in, a tourist hotspot in the summer. I was not too impressed with Pucón. To be sure, the town is small, and to be sure, there is a 3000m volcano that rises behind the town and away from the lake on which the town sits. But, as evidenced by the fact that about 50% of the stores, restaurants, and tourist agencies are either named Volcán or reference Volcán somewhere on their facade, there is not much else in Pucón.

There is a casino. Unfortunately I was not able to enter the casino because I had a backpack on. I walked through the quiet rusty streets to the black sand beaches which were more like gravel and ash, and above the gravel and ash beaches, perched on the overlooking knoll at the beach end, were gaudy COCA COLA ZERO!! and VOLCÁN!!! billboards. I walked down the streets past the tourist agencies. A hike up to the top of the active volcano sounds awesome and I almost did it. However, it cost $80US, which is about the same as a 3 day trek around the most desolate salt flats in Bolivia, or a 4 day hike in the massive mountain ranges in Peru. I saved my money.

Pucón has a marina, at which I sat for a while. Pucón also has some dyed wood flowers which are very convincing. I thought they were exotic flower bouquets and wondered about where and how they were farmed. Then I examined them closer. They are dyed wood, shaved and sculpted and glued to faux-stalks. It's kind of like Pucón - impressive, but not in the way I expected, and perhaps in a way that left me feeling kind of empty inside.

Pucón was not altogether a bad place. The surrounding mountains are very beautiful and very protected. My second day in Pucón, after researching the departing buses for later, was spent hiking, basically alone, in a nearby national park. There were about 8 other people on the bus when we arrived at 10am. I busted very extremely up the mountain so that I could do the 18k loop and make it back for the 230 bus, so that I could leave Pucón. Thus, I was all alone in a national park, as the other 8 folks kind of ambled their way up. This is my hiking style, about which many of my friends have said, 'you idiot, hiking is for enjoyment.' Well, who needs friends anyway? Losers. Just kidding. But it felt great all over to push to that kind of isolation and strenuous exercise. I was reminded of Desolation Wilderness up near Lake Tahoe - not because the park was similar in the least, but just because that place is very special. I realized that more than ever while galavanting about in Huerquehue Parque Nacional, which is beautiful, but not otherworldly. More like very forested hills or small mountains, sometimes similar to California, other times a bit more equatorial.

Caught the bus up to Santiago for an early Thursday morning arrival. The plan was to catch a quick bus to Valparaiso and spend the day there, since I only got to explore it for a few hours with Emilio the previous weekend. Made it to Valpo and made it to my cool little hostel up on Cerro Concepción, which is probably the nicest area in Valpo, or at least the area that is very often seen as 'typical' Valparaiso.

There are ascensors in Valparaiso, which are very old elevators at extreme angles to help people ascend the bluffs that overlook the port. The most touristy ones recently experienced a fare increase (one way) from 200 to 500 pesos, or approx. $0.40 to $1.00. As a result, there is a massive grassroots propaganda campaign to convince Valparaisans and tourists alike to boycott the ascensors, citing an extremely unfair price increase. I agreed and hiked around the Cerro while navigating the city.

The city is filled with amazing artistic graffiti. Some incorporate silver or glass or mirrors. Some are just stunningly vivid or mind-bending. Most stairways (due to the hills, there are many) have impromptu colorings of the stair faces and graffitis on the walls, so that from below each staircase is a veritable rainbow of colors and ideas. From above, most of them look like grey stairways.

Walked around, very slowly after 10mi of hiking the day before. I was sore, and my hip flexor was feeling it. Was a great day. Crashed around 10 or 11 and got a bus the next morning back to Santiago after walking probably a solid 7 miles in Valpo, just around the streets and hills.

Returned to the Zegers house in Las Condes, a wonderful home base. I am so grateful to their family. Fernando had lots of work to do, so he did not accompany us to their home in Zapallar, about 2h north of the city on the coast.

Zapallar is a quiet beach town, where many wealthy Santiagans have vacation homes. A few (more than a very few) commute on weekends using helicopters, and as such have built heli-pads on the hills that drop sharply to rocky, bouldery shores. The Zapallar coastline is craggy, extremely rocky, and meets violently with the open swells of the Pacific. There are peaceful inlets where the deep-blue water turns azure and turquoise and the massive ocean swells diminish to friendly beach breaks or gentle rollers that splash against rocks and paint the turquoise with quiet-ish whitewater churn. The city municipality has built rock walkways along the shore for walking.

Sharon's friend and 8yr old friend's son were in town as well, so we, and Emilia, the 6yr old, went for a walk along the shore. My Sierra camp instincts kicked in and I was pretty much doing the job of a Menehune counselor most of the day. It was fun and tiring. At night I was hoping to sit near the rocks (not too close to the shore) and watch the sunset as massive swells thundered and roiled and crashed into the bouldery shore. The swells weren't very big, but I still had a relaxing time down there at dusk. The grumbling of the waves can be felt in the rock, and big thundering crashes shake the house ever so slightly. There is a calmness to the sea and a surprising violence when it meets with this shore. It is something amazing to just sit and watch the seemingly eternal battle of matters unfold before you, and to know that not a human on this earth could navigate those waters just meters away and live to tell the tale. Sometimes big sets will roll in and engulf the rocky area with tons of heavy whitewater spray. There are tidal pools quite far up the hills, far enough so that you get a little afraid of how big these waves have gotten, maybe yesterday, maybe a few minutes ago. All in all an awesome place to hang out for a few days.

I read Sophie's World and was disappointed. Great first 200 pages, summarizing early western philosophy up until around the middle ages. Then, the author kind of cops out and leans back into the plotline, for fear of boring the reader, I guess. Cursory summaries of 20th century progress. Basically ends the discussion (quite positively, unfortunately) at Freud, and then jumps into a cursory overview of the Big Bang theory. I also read The Sun Also Rises, which I am noticing has slightly affected my blogging style. What a depressing book, and how well written. But very taxing - Hemingway requires you always to read between the lines, and his lines are pretty simple, so there's often a fair amount of 'wait-a-minutes' and 'what-the-hells.'

I travel to La Paz, Bolivia on a 7am flight on Monday morning. This means I get picked up at 340am, in about 4 hours. I will try to acclimatize for a day, and then perhaps buy some cheap warm shells and waterproof pants for the coldness of the mountains, and then perhaps go quickly to Uyuni and begin my explorations of the salt flats.
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Comments

nater5blades
nater5blades on

Favorite quote:
'From above, most of them look like grey stairways.'

gdadamson
gdadamson on

Off to the last South American leg
Wonderful to hear from you. Sounds as though you have had a varied and interesting time in Chile. You must be in awesome shape. I am glad you enjoyed visiting Fernando and Sharon's home at the beach. I have been there twice and it has a special place in my heart. Have a great trip to Bolivia. Just watch where you go hiking! All is well here. LD

aussiemum
aussiemum on

Listening and day dreaming
Your blog is very therapeutic! I love your descriptions of the ocean and the personality of Valpo and its graffitis. I ma so glad that you even have time to read and think and wrap your mind around all sorts of things...
You will find yourself in a whole new world tomorrow. Very much more primative I believe. There should be lots od Alpacas showing up soon :) Aunt Carolyn will be envious when you get to Peru!
By now you must be beginnning to see that the world is a pretty amazing place.
Take care.
M x

windella
windella on

From Downunder
Hi Eric - great to hear of your South American travels - it sounds like a fabulous place - I hope to visit someday - the world is such an interesting place and you never know what tomorrow will bring !!!
You paint such a wonderful picture with your writing - I feel as if I am two steps behind you !!
Cheers for now - Emerys

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