Next stop on the bus was Pucon, known as adventure tourism capital of Chile. The town instantly had a ski resort feel to it and our hostel had a welcoming chalet charm. Dominating the horizon here is Mt Villarrica, a perfect snow-capped cone volcano with a reputation of being the most active in South America, apparently it errupts regularly. This volcano doubles up a ski resort in the winter. I was ridiculously excited about climbing this volcano as it promised something none of the volcanoes have ... lava! Real bubbling red hot magma. We begin the climb by cheating, a ski lift takes us that little bit higher taking at least an hour off the climb. After, a three hour uphill trek takes us up over ash, granite and snow as we head to the summit. We each had an ice pick to help our balance and were shown how to use it should we slip and fall down the side of the steep volcano. These came in much more useful on the descent however. Once at the top we dropped our packs and skipped to the edge of the crater expecting to see the giant lava lake pictured on all the postcards.
Then out of the blue a bit of action and we saw the rocky filling spurt out a little lava. It lasted seconds but it was amazing. We were lucky to see it aswell as when the other crowds made it to the top we were all overwhelmed by the toxic sulphur clouds and nobody could see a thing. More concerning was the fact nobody could breathe though. The views were spectacular, the pictures tell that story.
Coming down the volcano even beat the lava as the higlight of the trip. For all the way down the volcano some kind souls (tour agencies looking to make more money) have built narrow human channels, very similar to a bobsled run, and we were kitted up in waterproof gear and sent sliding down them. I cant think of a better way to say .. it was soooooo fun! The most fun I imagine you can have on two cheeks. These things were steep and you could get up some serious speed. This of course comes hand in hand with crashing into other people, being thrown of course and, if you are me, somehow hitting yourself in the knee full whack with your ice pick. Ouch. We had been given full instruction of how to use them as a brake but most the time I was so out of control I didn't have a clue what was going on. I dont think anyone did. Some of the runs got pretty scary! Brilliant fun.
We 'hopped off'the bus in Pucon and spent a whole week here eager to check out some of the other activities. It rained for the next few days and we used this as a perfect excuse to not do anything for a few days. It was really novel to just relax and be in one place. We soon got tired of this of course and booked ourselves in for some white water rafting on a Grade 4 river. Having both been down a few rapids before, we agreed that we had not seen them quite like these. They were mean rapids. Everybody else in the boat was Spanish, embarrassingly enough all the instruction was soon in English as he would shout commands and I would do the wrong thing or not have a clue what he was on about. Everyone else knew enough English but we felt pretty stupid. Even after instruction it was highly amusing to get to a rapid and all of us completey lose the plot and just focus on trying to stay in the boat. At one point we had to walk around a rapid as it was too dangerous for us ammeteurs and the only way back to the boat was to jump of a 20ft rock back into the water at the bottom of the rapid. Didn't sign up for that bit! The whole thing was a total adrenalin rush, particularly for me as little Stally was the only person to fall out of the boat. I'm pretty sure I was bounced out of it and it was a very fast, scary and rocky rapid. Luckily I grabbed the guides oar and bounced along for a bit at the back of the raft trying very hard not to drown or hit any rocks until he pulled me back in. It shook me up quite a bit. I would say my life flashed before my eyes but I didn't get that sensation, I was too busy bricking it. Once safe, I was glad for the little extra adventure and I think everyone was a bit jealous! If you cant spot me on the rafting video its because i'm sitting on the instructors lap having just been pulled from the water!
This entry is turning out to be a little long so to be brief - another day we went to the next town along, Villarrica, where we had a lovely picnic and would have had spectacular views of the volcano from across a beautiful lake but the clouds were hiding it. Another day we went to a near by National Park where we did a days hike which offered more views of the volcano, lakes, waterfalls, forest and more uphill than we bargained for. A bit jealous at the end of our walk when another couple asked if we had seen the Tarantulas on the path! - We must have missed them. I think I speak for both of us when I say it was worthwile to stop here for a week and we both had a great time. Better go - Dom is cooking dinner!