Pucon - "Adventure Capital of Chile"

Trip Start Jan 19, 2008
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Trip End May 01, 2008


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Thursday, February 7, 2008

As it turned out we managed to waste our 6 hours in Puerto Montt without too much trouble. A long internet session and a very good lunch (chips covered with: slices of avocado, small chunks of beef grilled to perfection and lots of cheese) washed down with a few beers - the time flew by. The 6 hour coach ride to Pucon passed quickly aided by a conversation with a couple of girls from Edinburgh on their gap year- their plan is to find a random orphanage in Bolivia and offer to help out, plus a couple of in-flight movies. Watching Evan Almighty with spanish subtitles but with the English for the Blind audio track was a little surreal, and we both agree Rowan Atkinson has really sold himself out after forcing ourselves to watch a new Mr Bean movie).

Again, our tactic of wandering around the bus station looking gringo and useless worked a treat and we found ourselves in a lovely little 3 bedroom self contained apartment sharing our living space with a couple of American girls on holiday from their college year learning spanish in Santiago and a English welsh pair who are over here doing missionary work. The chap, a welsh guy used to work in I.T. until one day god spoke to him. Matt managed to keep a straight face (despite having polished off a bottle of wine) and only hopes a similar experience isn't in store for him...

Pucon is a full-up Chillean holiday destination and offers everything under the sun. The town is by a lake with the Villarica Volcano looming large 10 miles to the South. The beach isn't up to much, consisting of gravel instead of sand, but we're planning to hire a kayak and do some windsurfing, swimming and sunbathing. First order of business was to book our tours and we've already done an evening of rafting of grade 3 rapids. We chose the easier of the two routes (the other being grade 4) but it was plenty fun enough. We struggled a bit as pretty much everyone here is from South America and therefore fluent in Spanish and the guides and tours are geared towards Spanish as pretty much the only language but at the end of the day the only words we needed to know were Forward, Stop and Backwards (and duck...).

After our troop of 10 embarassingly got stuck on a big rock not more than 50 metres from the start, taking a good 5 minutes of heaving, jumping and getting helpfully bumped by other rafts, we had a great time, engaging in lots of splashing wars with the other rafts. Matt nearly fell out twice, and then eventually did, albeit on purpose. At one point the river got deep and so the water was pretty gentle and we were encouraged to take a dip and float down with the boat. Both Matt and Kat were keen, but after Kat saw Matt's shivering face (he went in first) she decided better of it - smart girl :)

Pucon itself is a lovely little town. Very touristy and quite pricey, but similar to El Calafate (ski lodge type buildings etc - well, it is a ski resort in the winter...) Lots of Santiagons come here for summer holidays so we're pushing it trying to do it justice in 3 or 4 days.

Today we took on the major attraction of the area and attempted to climb the 2800m volcano. The rest of the resort is only 300m above sea level and therefore it looks pretty imposing from the ground. Arriving at the tour office in Pucon at 7 in the morning, we were soon kitted out with everything we might need, including crampons for the way up (although in the event they weren't used) and a bum protector (more on this later). Kat was very brave even attempting to climb the Volcano, given the problem with her feet (no, not the smell - the other problem...)

We jumped into the minibus along with our 4 other climbers and 2 guides and headed up towards the slopes. Matt was very proud having secured the cheapest tour available in Pucon although our confidence was dented on the way to the slopes when the back door of the minibus opened and the fire extinguisher rolled down the hill. Once reacquired, and the back door locked, we carried on our way.

For an extra 5 GBP each we saved 600 metres of climbing by taking a ski lift up to 1700m (Kat's first ski-lift) and then the fun really started. After being handed our ice axes and being given the emergency stop demonstration (in case of unintended uncontrolled sliding down a mountain) we proceeded to climb the ice all the way up to within 100 metres of the summit.

From the slopes of the Villarica we could make out, 100km in the distance, the smouldering and very much still active volcano in Llaima and the views in general were pretty spectacular.

By this point, Kat's brave and uncompaining assault on the summit had to come to a close as her foot had completely seized up and the easier walking on ice was replaced by a tricky 20 minute scramble up the remaining 100m of ascent. Matt continued up to the summit, wheazing heavily, partly due to the effort but mostly to do with the noxious gases being pumped out by the volcano.

Coming down was a lot more fun and easier than going up as most of our time we were on our bums sliding down the ice. We've uploaded a little video of Kat but it doesn't do justice to the speed and lack of control we experienced for most of the kilometre drop (and about 3km of sliding). We've got to thank our guides for helping Kat down as when she wasn't sliding (for example when we had to cross a lava hill) she was finding it very hard going.

On the way back in the bus we got some final fun for free when the aforementioned fire extinuisher went off in the back of the minibus causing all passengers to dive their heads towards the nearest window to escape being suffocated by the carbon dioxide released...

Kat's now resting her foot at home which is why Matt was able to sneak in the comment about her feet (not true of course...) and also the unflattering photo he uploaded!

Depending on Kat's foot we might do some horseriding tomorrow, and/or go on an aerial slide through a forest (3km of sliding!) and finally maybe round the day off with a trip to the thermal pools... Now Matt's off to do some shopping to make Kat a nice and very deserved dinner.
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