After a surprisingly restful 8-hour bus ride through the night, we arrived in the tiny city of Pucón, tucked away in the south of Chile at the base of the enormous Villarica volcano. Climate-wise, it makes sense to think of Chile as an upside-down version of California: Cali’s dusty southern San Bernardino region corresponds to Chile’s northern Antofagasta desert region, which means that the southern lakes region of Chile corresponds to rainy northern California (Chile’s a bit longer than Cali, so a more appropriate comparison might be to the Seattle region. Either way the point is rain. Lots of rain).
The ever-present cloud ceiling of the area didn’t afford us much of a view of the beautiful, perfectly conical volcano, but of course we got just enough sunshine (15 seconds for the entire weekend) to catch a fleeting glimpse of that vista. Just long enough for us to understand the beauty of which we would have otherwise been so blissfully ignorant.
Unfortunately, the annoyingly uncooperative weather also rained all over our plans to summit and sled down the volcano, so we were forced to improvise the majority of our weekend on the fly. So off we set, bussing up the foothills to mountainous Huerquehue national park. Arriving in the mid-afternoon with only 3 hours before the final bus left back to Pucón, we were notified by park rangers that we were not to go farther than the closest lake, one mile away. They told us that we’d need at least 5 hours to make it out to and back from the next-closest lake.
After moseying out of sight of the rangers’ office, we took off at a sprint. We stopped twice for water, twice to snap pictures, and once to take it reeaaal slow past a descending group of young German lady hikers (very casually of course). Even having climbed 4.5 miles of Andes foothill as fast as possible, we didn’t make it to the supposedly unreachable lakes until 10 minutes after our “time-half-up” (otherwise know as the turn-around-now-or-most-likely-be-stranded) alarm went off. Of course by this point it had already started raining heavily, occasionally booming thunder, but we refused to be defeated. We stubbornly spent a peaceful few minutes sitting silently in the rain, soaking up the solitude and serenity of that dark lake cupped by the surrounding mountains. Then another harsh alarm jumpstarted us back into action—we hitched up our bags, turned around and started sprinting back down the mountain. Not daring to take time even for water, we paused only to recover from the occasional muddy faceplant. And of course we had to slow it down to smoothly saunter past our German ladyfriends. Huffing and puffing, we finally made it back to the already-loaded bus, clambered aboard, and immediately passed out—exhausted, but content.
The next day proved to be more of the same, cramming a 35 five mile bike ride that we supposedly need “at least six hours to do” into just 4 sopping-wet hours (complete with another 5 minutes of power-tourism at our destination). Although I have to admit we did cheat a bit, riding the final 5 miles back to town with our bikes in the bed of a friendly Chilean’s pickup truck—it was lucky we did. We made it back to our hostel with just enough time to grab a towel and head back out for “hydrospeed” which—despite my initial misgivings of what was essentially white water rafting with a small kickboard serving as the somewhat less-padded replacement for the raft—turned out to be amazing, offering us fantastic Jurassic-park-like views of mist-wreathed mountains as we floated between the rapids.
After the ridiculously busy days exploring and nights enjoying the company of our array of foreign hostel-mates, we bussed out of Pucón for Valdivia, a riverside fishing city overrun with giant playful sea lions. After another quick session of power-tourism we made a pit stop at the Kuntzman Brewery for a column (yeah, a column) of some of the best… soda… I’ve ever had, and then we loaded back up for another overnight bus ride, getting back home to Santiago just in time for the start of Monday morning classes.
The Unreachable Lake
Bike ride’s Bridge to Nowhere
Ojos de Caburgua
Hungry Sea Lion