Monday, April 23, 2012


Located halfway between Pucon and Santiago, Chillan is a quiet, untouristy town. I headed up there to visit Casa Ursulina, where a new friend works with local women.


I arrived in the afternoon when classes were in full swing. Today's schedule included painting, weaving, and crocheting. The idea behind these classes is to provide local women with marketable or enjoyable skills and to give them a support network. The rooms were packed with women busily working, checking out each other's work, and chatting.


South America is generally mildly obsessed with Simon Bolivar but in Chile, it's Bernardo O'Higgins who steals the spotlight. O'Higgins was born in Chillan and a block long mural recalls highlights of his life.

His mother and sister buried in a nearby tomb.


We went for a long walk through town to see Old Chillan. An earthquake had destroyed the town decades prior so the government's response was to move the residents and start Chillan all over again. As is often the case, it took the government awhile to get around to rebuilding. In the meantime, locals had rebuilt much of the town and also started the new town, hence Old Chillan is next door to (new) Chillan.


As the previous church hadn't withstood the earthquake, the new one was designed to be stronger and reinforced. From the outside, its unusual shape makes it looks modern in a dated way.


And while the interior is equally unusual, the scale and simplicity of the arches made me feel like I was inside of a whale's ribs. It inspired a sense of awe.


We went to the market to pick up ingredients for an upcoming cooking class. The produce was incredibly fresh as this area is known for its agriculture. It had the standard fare, as well as something I had never seen before: baby kiwis. I picked up a kilo and we tried to figure out how to eat them. Peel them? Eat them whole? Each baby kiwi was the size of a large grape and the inside was identical to its full sized version, the only difference being the skin wasn't fuzzy. Once I got the hang of eating them whole, they disappeared in no time, which is when I realized I had forgotten to take a picture! Oops.


It was a short stay in Chillan but it was great to spend a little time somewhere free of tourists. In fact, I was the only foreigner on the bus to Santiago and when I was waiting to collect my backpack, a local assumed I was also Chilean and asked me for directions! I'm often mistaken for Latina but usually for a Brazilian or Argentine. I was pleased that a local thought I was Chilean!


Sunday, April 22, 2012

Pucon miscellaneous

It's always a great feeling when you realize you don't have to do something you don't want to do. I had a bus ticket for Buenos Aires but after a night of, um, celebrating our volcano summit and thinking about all of the places in Chile I still wanted to visit, I ran down the street to the bus company and refunded my ticket with minutes to spare. I happily spent another day in Pucon and made plans for my next stop.


In the meantime, here are a few miscellaneous Pucon memories.


El Refugio Hostel was great and I loved getting to stay in a dome tent!


An attempt to hike to Ojos de Caburga was thwarted by a sudden and heavy downpour. Fortunately, we managed to take this shot of me crossing the Delaware before the rains came.


On my second hike to Salto el Claro, I was able to cross off one item from my to do list for the year. There are no photos of this event but there was definitely a witness who was kind enough to hold a towel open for me as I ran out of the ice cold water. (Haha! Thanks again!)


Pucon's picturesque lake was busy with visitors, including hungry dogs and fake lifeguards.


I found a great tree to climb...and then realized I had no one with me to take the photo.


A sunny afternoon was put to good use sipping on terremotos and beer at a sidewalk cafe.


Until I saw this sign, I hadn't realized the town had such unique parking regulations.


When the clouds finally parted after a week, I caught my first glimpse of the volcano that was the entire reason for me lingering in Pucon.


The clouds then reappeard, but only to create a vivid sunset.

I loved my time here and the people that I met. Goodbye Pucon! I hope to be back someday.


Volcan Villarrica (finally!)

It took a week for the weather to cooperate so I could climb Volcan Villarrica, but today was the day and it did not disappoint!


As we drove to the volcano, it put on a fantastic show for us. The sky was still black and dotted with stars. We could see steam rising from the crater. It was flame orange in color from the lava churning below. It was dramatic and beautiful, just the thing to get everyone excited in the pre-dawn hours.


Volcan Villarrica is 2,847 meters. The hike starts at 1,400 meters and the first portion is so steep that you can take a chairlift to cut off an hour of uphill hiking. I was keen to hike the whole distance so I skipped the chairlift, as did the majority of the my group. We were about twenty hikers plus a few guides. It was definitely a big group but we were mostly from the same hostel and we generally moved at a steady enough pace that our size didn't matter.


We traveled in single file most of the way up. This made conversations difficult so one Canadian started posing riddles. This kept us engaged in the moments when we weren't looking around to take in the view.


As we began the climb and the sun started to rise, there was a bizarre diagonal line on the horizon. No one could figure out what it was until it finally occurred to someone that it was the volcano's shadow!


The terrain changed from loose gravel to snow/ice as we gained elevation so we took a break to put on our crampons before carrying on. The hiking boots were heavy to begin with so the crampons didn't do me any favors, but I was too happy with the novelty of wearing spikey shoes up a volcano to let gravity wear me down.


With breaks, it took about four hours and twenty minutes to reach the summit. It was definitely busy up there between the twenty plus in my group and all of the other trekking companies with a week's backlog of climbers but there was plenty of gorgeous scenery to go around. It was a clear and sunny day, no clouds to obstruct the views. I ate my lunch with my legs dangling over the side and staring at Lanin, another nearby volcano at approximately 3,749 meters. Not bad!


I started to walk around the crater but the sulphur gases burned my throat in no time after walking in one direction so I headed back to indulge in silly photos.


I didn't want to leave the views behind, but our guides said we would be able to slide down parts of the volcano, so that's all it took to convince me! Everyone had a plastic sheet to sit on for the sections that were less icy. To brake, we used our ice axes. A few sections were a little slow and traffic would pile up but we generally slide along at a consistent speed. Occasionally, one area would've particularly icy and I went absolutely flying down the volcano! Once of twice I ended up in a small pile of bodies at the bottom of a slide.


Circling above us were two condors. Their wing spans were undeniably massive. They swooped in lower and I wondered if they were trying to establish who was the weakest of the group and might make a tasty lunch!

Once we had discarded our crampons, we ended up running down the volcano due to its pitch and the loose dirt and gravel that constantly gave way beneath our feet.


Back in the van, most everyone passed out, but we found our energy again that night to celebrate with a BBQ and plenty of Chilean wine.