18.08.2013 - 25.09.2013 10 °C
Pucon (18th August - 22nd August)
Pucon is one of the more touristy towns in the Chilean Lakes District. It is situated on the banks of Lake Villarica with the Villarica volcano looming over the town. Given it was such a beautiful day when we got off our nightbus we decided to walk to a waterfall in the afternoon however for the first time I can remember on our trip we got lost and never made it there having walked out of town the wrong side - it had to happen eventually!!
The next day it was 2 for the price of 1 for skiing on the volcano so we deceided to take advantage of that offer. The snow was perfect but the weather was miserable and at points we could hardly see 5m in front of us. Moreover it was bitterly cold to the point that Alice gave up skiing at one point to try and warm up. Due to a lack of public transport, we had our first hitchhiking experience getting back to town. Two Chilean brothers picked us up within 5 minutes and thankfully my Spanish was good enough that we could have a bit of a conversation - they even dropped us off directly outside the hire shop even though it was out their way!
The next day we took a bus to the Huerquehue national park and did a short walk into the mountains to see the 3 lakes. It was a beautiful scenery and as it had snowed overnight we were walking on a thin layer of snow which was also covering the trees. This made navigation difficult at times as we were the first people up there and snow covered the paths. We also got to see some monkey puzzle trees which I had never seen before.
While we were in Pucon we were keen to climb the volcano (2850m above sea level) but the weather wasn't good enough for the first three days so instead we went for a walk to see some waterfalls and other lakes.
Finally, on our 4th day the weather was judged good enough to attempt the volcano. The guide came to brief us the night before and picked us up at 0630 the next day. He provided all the equipment and we went to the bottom of the ski field to start our ascent. The first hour was relatively easy as we walked up the side of the ski piste. At the top of the ski piste it then became slightly harder as the wind picked up and made it more challenging. The wind was blowing all the fresh snow across us so we were walking on almost ice - despite this the guide didn't think we needed crampons! Eventually after we asked him 3 or 4 times for crampons he stopped us where we were (on a steep ridge with drops either side) and got us to put them on. To say the least, our guide didn't fill us with much confidence. It got easier with crampons and we climbed to the top of the chairlift for a break. The wind had picked up and blown all the fresh snow away so we would be walking on pure ice - at this point the guide said we had to go back as it wasn't safe. Although we were both bitterly disappointed to have to turn back the guide didn't fill us with confidence and the other people in our group weren't the fittest / most adventurous of people. On the way down we slid on our bum as much as we could which was great fun. Given we now had the afternoon free we eventually made it to the 85m waterfall we missed on the first day. On the way back we hitchhiked in the most unroadworthy car I have ever been in - the windscreen had about 80 cracks, no number plates, exhaust hanging off etc etc but we made it back to town safely and it saved us an hour walk!
Puerto Varas (23rd August - 25th August)
In the morning we took a 6 hour bus to Puerto Varas, further south into Chile but not quite Patagonia. In the afternoon we explored the town, situated on a lake again with a view of two volcanoes on the other side - very picturesque.
The next day we took a bus to a national park and did a walk along the side of the Osorno volcano. It was very pretty. On the way back we stopped at some impressive waterfalls before getting a bus back to town.
As it was marathon day in town on the Sunday we hired bikes and did a 64km cycle ride to the small town of Frutillar. The track started off beside an old railway track and was not fun as it was so bumpy and narrow but soon we were on quiet country roads cycling beside the lake. At Frutillar we stopped for kuchen (German for cake). The town had a lot of German immigrants and we had two slices of amazing cake before cycling back. At night we got a bus north to Santiago. We had considered going further south into Patagonia but with it being winter and the distance / cost involved we decided not to, and to spend more time exploring warmer Northern Chile...