This morning we headed off from lovely Bariloche. It was a long drive of almost 12 hours to arrive at Pucon. This would be our last day in Argentina for this trip as we head back to Chile for the last time. Our journey this morning took us through Villa la Angostura to the Nahuel Huapi National Park along the Seven Lakes Drive. The drive was very picturesque and once again no ash came our way. There was also no wind so the lakes were like glass. There were reflections of the mountains in each lake.
The surprise to us was the amount of ash lying around in the park. It was everywhere from roof tops to thick layers on the ground between the plants. The national park workers have started to attempt cleaning up certain areas but it is very difficult. It is surprising that things continue to grow and flower but they do.
The lakes drive took most of the morning. We stopped just before the border at a remote little town where you sat under a hut and they cooked empanadas fresh, so we had some carne (meat) and jamon (ham) and queso (cheese) ones, followed by cherries. (At least we haven’t missed the cherry season being over here).
After lunch we entered the Lanin National Park and on our left was the extinct Lanin Volcano, it looked stunning with its snow covered peak.
Driving through the park we also noticed an usual tree which is called a “Monkey Puzzle Tree”. It was in flower and had big orange type flowers all over them. It is actually related to the Norfolk Pine.
We proceeded to the Argentinian border thinking it would be quick and easy. Wrong. We could not work out what the guard was telling us but something was happening in Pucon tomorrow and there were hundreds of people coming to Pucon. So the border crossing took a couple of hours to leave Argentina. Then we had the Chile border to deal with. Fortunately they were much more organised and it did not take anywhere near as long. They did ask us to unload our luggage and put it through the x-ray machine though.
We arrived in Pucon at 7.30pm. Pucon's location is by a lake and a volcano. It’s quite stable weather in the summer makes it a popular destination for tourists. It offers variety activities for tourists, including trekking, hot springs and guided ascents of Villarrica Volcano.
On the drive in we could see this magnificent volcano that looks like it is on the edge of the town, it is still active and apparently you can see it glowing at night. Driving through town we saw the evacuation sign which shows the evacuation route should the volcano erupt and the town needs to evacuate. The next challenge was getting to the hotel as several roads had been blocked off as tomorrow there is a big Ironman competition in town. Our hotel is right next to the change point for the triathlon. We eventually found our way around and before getting our bags off the bus we headed to a travel company as Shane had decided to climb the Villarrica Volcano. (not me).
Once this was all sorted out for tomorrow we headed off to a pasta place for tea. They made their pasta behind a window and you could go and watch. I had the house specialty which was 3 different pastas. It was very nice.
The town was abuzz with so many people walking the streets. There were also lots of men in their tight bike shorts. There were bands playing on the streets. We headed back to the hotel so Shane could have a good night’s sleep for the big climb tomorrow.
This morning we got up at 6am so Shane could get ready, have breakfast and head off for his climb. So I walked him to the corner and watched him walk off quite excitedly for his adventure.
As the Ironman was on today there was not much else happening so I could not do any optional activities. I went back to bed for a few more hours and then had a walk around town to watch some of the competition. I found out that the competition is the historic Agrosuper Ironman 70.3. Apparently it is one of the most scenic courses in the Ironman 70.3 series. There is a 1.9 kilometre swim in the Villarica Lake, then a 90 km bike ride with a majestic view of the Villarica Volcano followed by a 3 lap run through the city. There are competitors from all over the world and I did hear Australia called too.
Shane had not returned by 11am so the climb was obviously going ahead. (sometimes when they get to the volcano if the conditions are not right they will cancel the trip).
We have a great view of the volcano from our hotel. You can see it steaming away.
Villarrica is one of Chile’s most active volcanoes (except the the one causing all of the destruction and is only one of five volcanoes in the world to have an active lava lake within its crater. I bet Shane is thinking about the volcano in Banos Ecuador that errupted last year while we were there and had to be evacuated. I reckon he will be praying right now for it not to errupt while he is on top of it.
Shane returned safe and sound later in the day and has put together a summary of his day on the volcano.
It was a quick walk to meet my guide to conduct final preparations for my volcano ascent. It was a nice cool morning but cloud obscured our view of the volcano from Pucon. Our guides handed out backpacks, waterproof pants and jackets and gloves; I was ready to go and tame this active volcano.
It was a 45 minute drive to the refuge where we would start our assent, on the way I had a chat with an Australian couple from Sydney that were part of this 5 person volcano attack group. They had been back packing around South America since May 2011 and are due to head home in 3 months.
Arriving at the refuge I got really excited noting that there was no cloud on the volcano and the chairlift was working which will take at least an hour off our assent well worth the 6000 chilean pesos (12 dollars).
Jumping off the chairlift, after a 15 minute ride, I threw my helmet on in case rocks started falling from the sky.
I also opened my sunscreen which turned into a mini volcano spurting everywhere. After cleaning up we started our 3 hour trek over ice and rock. The assent to the top, from the chairlift was about another 1200 metres but would be more like 3500 metres as we zig zagged our way up through the snow and ice.
I found out quickly not to get lazy as I missed my footing and nearly slid back down the volcano, I really wanted to get to the top and then slide back down. At times I got quite apprehensive and unsure of my footing especially with my muscles burning and feet getting wet and cold, it seems my waterproof boots are no longer waterproof, I was thinking ‘why am I doing this’ and ‘how the hell am I going to slide safely down these near vertical slopes’.
Finally, I got the top where the warm rocks started drying and warming my feet. Wow, I am standing right next to the spout at the top of an active volcano. I could hear the volcano hissing and growling and see steam puffing out. With adrenalin pumping and the realisation of how close to death I could be, I edged as close as I dared for a look into the monster’s mouth and a photo opportunity, I did not hang around the edge for long.
Walking around the top I could see in the distance another of Chile’s active volcanos that has been spewing out ash and creating problems for Bariloche in Argentina, and taking in the magnificent Vista of the Andes, I felt re-invigorated and privileged.
Another group of trekkers soon arrived and we decided to start our descent. Putting on our waterproof pants, jackets, gloves and what can only be described as a nappy and a small piece of plastic we prepared for a quick ride down on our backsides. Once our guide had showed us how to control our speed and stop using our ice picks, I set off. Slowly at first then with confidence and bravado my speed increased. It was a good thing each of the slides was short as nothing stopped me from getting a wet and very cold bum on the ice and snow. It was terrific fun though.
Arriving at the chairlift I was dismayed to see that it had stopped, turns out it was a one way trip and we had to walk down to the refuge and catch our ride back to Pucon. Overall it was a tiring, exhilarating day for me, but well worth the effort.
We had a later start this morning, so after breakfast we went for a short walk and took a picture of one of the cities volcano evacuation route signs. I suppose there has to be plans to get out if you live at the bottom of an active volcano. We stopped for a quick carne (meat) empanada; this was a traditional one as it contained meat, egg, sultanas and an olive, very nice.
Next we headed off in Esperanza to the Huerquehue National Park for a short trek (I’m sure our excellent driver Tony got slightly geographically embarrassed).
This short trek was about 3 hours including a fairly hefty uphill section; this was just what Shane needed after going up the volcano yesterday (not). Our route took us around a peaceful lake and up to a beautiful waterfall.
We were also lucky enough to see our first woodpecker. It was much smaller than we had thought.
There also these little skinks that were green and blue, they just sat and posed on the trees.
We finished off the day with a drive to the Los Pozones hot springs which included a short stint of four wheel driving in Esperanza. The hot springs had lots of different pools which all varied in temperature. So we got our tog’s out and settled in for a couple of hours moving between the pools, from hot to warm to cool pools (not necessarily in that order).
Once we had soaked our worn bodies and Shane’s tired muscles we headed back up to Esperanza and got out some chairs, vino (wine), cheese, meats, olives and desserts and sat around for another hour or so eating, drinking and having good old chat until dark.
These hot springs are a popular spot and stay open until 3am each morning, cars were still arriving when we left around 9.30pm. This was another great day including adventure and relaxation.