The puffing volcano, my ice axe and me.

Trip Start Oct 06, 2004
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Thursday, May 5, 2005

Pucon, Chile. Now we're talking. The small city with a population of about 21,000 is probably Chile's most famous adventure travel destination. And rightly so I guess. It got lots of adrenaline activities for the intrepid traveller, like rafting, kayaking, volcano climbing, canyoning, rappelling, mountain biking, horse trekking, skiing, fly fishing etc. You name it. It also got a pretty decent nightlife, at least in the high season, as well as a good casino if you are desperate to win back some of the money you surely overspent on your RTW travel budget (more or less unavoidable in expensive Chile).

I'm in Pucon mainly to try and hike/climb the active Villarrica volcano (2847m). It's an awesome snow-capped volcano with a sulfur smoky summit. The hike is a "must-do" for most backpackers visiting this part of Chile.

After a five hours bus ride or so from Valdivia, I arrive in Pucon on a Sunday evening. At the hostel I meet two Australian girls who plan to hike the volcano the next day. But I am too tired to join them next morning for the extremely early start. Something I regret the next day when I see the awesome volcano puffing below a perfect blue sky. The girls are teasing me when they get back. They had a wonderful day, apparently one of the highlights of their trip. They also tell me that the forecast for tomorrow is rain. I kick myself again. I have time to wait a few days, but I don't want to hang around forever waiting for decent enough weather to climb it. So I buy a bus ticket to Santiago for Thursday evening, as it gives me three days to wait for the next blue sky. Hopefully that should be enough time to climb the volcano, do some other activities as well as try and impress the girls at the hostel where I'm staying. I'm the only guy staying at the place, together with something like 10 or 12 girls. Gives me flashbacks to the Swedish-Brazilian volleyball team back in Bariloche. I think I'll enjoy Pucon. The next morning it's all rain, so I stay inside the whole day playing drinking games with the girls. Weather wise it's probably one of the worst on the whole trip, but I'm not complaining. Wednesday is also cold and rainy, and the climb is cancelled again. So I join three of the girls at the hostel as well as a guy from the UK who just arrived, for a rafting trip down Rio Trancura, in class III and IV rapids. The water is freezing cold, but I am pretty excited. It's my first rafting trip ever (as I rather don't want to count the bamboo floating trip I once did in Thailand or the class I rafting trip I did with five-year-olds in Cody, Wyoming). It turns out to be a great trip. Some of the rapids are truly spectacular, if not directly scary. It's great fun, and we top it all off by jumping from a five meter high cliff into the roaring and freezing cascades.

It's early Thursday morning. My last day in Pucon. Outside I once again find rain. A bit disappointed I walk down to the tour company to check if the climbing tour is cancelled for the third day in a row. To my big surprise they tell me it's not cancelled. They expect the weather to be better at a higher altitude. Me and a bunch of other guys set off for the mountain. When we reach the foot of the volcano, it's all spectacular clouds below us, but the volcano is all clear. Finally I get to find out what ice axes and crampons are all about. Yeehaa! For me it's a perfect day. The weather is outstanding, the volcano is more active than normal and I feel pretty fit. Many of the other guys are struggling a bit, some even turn back, but I am flying up the mountain. Guess all the hiking lately has paid off. We reach the summit and crater at the top after four-five hours of walking. We are only allowed five to ten minutes at the top because of the activity and sulfur. We see spectacular lava and rocks shooting into the air from just a few meters distance. And then suddenly, when we are about to leave the summit, a gigantic fountain of lava is released. About 50 meters into the air. Indescribable. It's the goosebumps all over again. It's time to go back down, and how do you get back down from an active volcano? Well you slide down the snow on your ass, and then you stand up and surf the rest on loose lava rock. What a day, another highlight for sure. Chile, you impress me now!
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