We came, we saw, we conquered…almost. Pucón was a whirlwind weekend that started with a 12, yes 12, hour bus drive down to el Sur de Chile. But not to fret, it was double decker. They served us a desayuno in the morning wrapped up in a brown paper bag. Everyone was given a blanket and pillow. There was a movie. There were business men talking on their cellphones, us crazy travel tour groups, the old ladies gossiping, the moms with small children, etc. Bus travel, I’m learning, is Chile’s version of U.S. air travel. It’s inexpensive, efficient and well-run.
Plus, something different. When we arrived in Valparaiso, men climbed aboard and sold candies, sandwiches, drinks. This is the same with the micros here. Picture 1940’s newsies yelling out today’s headlines, or at least, that’s what imagine. I’ve always been taught that street food is dangerous, but I often watch others buying it, enjoying the sweet caramels. I don’t see the danger, I only see a man trying to make a living.
My friend bought some food, ate it. He was fine.
So on a long bus ride, you have a few options: talk for hours with your friends, or sleep. I picked the later. Upon waking, we had emerged in a land covered in green foliage, mountains and adventurers ready for the next trek.
There was a hitchhiking couple (I’m inferring) holding signs. They were going to Santiago: A Santiago. That’s an extra 1.5 hours past Viña del Mar.
The outdoor apparel/adventure stores outnumbered the eateries.
We unloaded and walked to our habitaciónes. My friend and I were put in the same bed. Cozy. Each room had only one key. A literal key. Our room was in a house with an external door that my friend and I were apparently incapable of opening. But we only dropped our stuff and left because thanks to my inability to read ahead, I didn’t realize we had a full day of sightseeing ahead.
We loaded mini-buses. We had a Pucón-native as our tour guide who showed us all of the sights. For more or less eight hours. We attended a Mapuche once and learned about their struggle to keep their identity, land in Chile.
After teatime, we continued on. Explored the region, experiencing and discovering just how beautiful nature is. For me, it was awe-inspiring. I’ve always read National Geographic, Matador Network, Traveller and honestly any travel magazine I could get my hand on. I would let my eyes go lame staring at the picture, dreaming of the day that I would be able to come and experience Chile. Experience South America.
Well, suddenly those pictures were real life.
Fast forward to that night, the whole group was exhausted after eight hours of sightseeing. Many had signed-up for rafting in the morning, but I just wanted to enjoy the town and possibly hike in National Park.
Saturday turned out to be rainy, so I bummed around with my friend. We cooked a big meal for some of our friends, we talked, used the Wi-Fi to upload photos, gossiped. Oh, and I climbed a tree and a roof.
Small anecdote: My friend had a migraine. She needed darkness, but there was a large skylight. So, we found a solution. I channeled my inner…monkey (yogi perhaps?) and climbed a tree and then roof in the rain. My friends and I were giggling and laughing the whole time, hoping the owner of the habitciones did not see us. But I succeeded and my friend recuperated.
But we had to prepare: on Sunday, we would climb Volcan Villarrica.
We had a 5 a.m. wake up call. All climbers had tried on their equipment and packed their bags before hand. We’d packed food, snacks, water. We were climbing this volcano. By the way, it’s active.
At 6 a.m., the group was gathering at the front of the tour company’s door. It was dark, empty. Chilean time. No te preocupes. In time, we all went in, one by one, and picked up our boots, bags, and super-stylish orange and blue outfits.
It was a 30-ish minute drive to the volcano.
Everything was in Spanish, by the way. At that time in the morning, I was only catching about a quarter of what I usually do, which is not much. My mind was working in a series of nods, thumbs ups, and “sí”‘s. (Smile and wave, boys) Espera, I told one of the guides, no tengo…mi…mi…I pointed at my shins. I was missing my shinguards. ¿Mi proteccion?
He smiled and patted my head: no importa. ¿Estás fria?
Just like that. The topic changed. Most of the time, I’m learning, everything is alright. Just relax.
We started out the hike and quickly broke into three groups: muy lento, lento, y normal. Somehow, I ended up in the normal group at the beginning.
Before I signed-up to climb a volcano, I was warned: everyone can climb it, but it’s mind over power. Seriously.
By the first stop, I believed it. I remember thinking why didn’t I eat more than part of an avocado for breakfast, stupid. This was no easy feat. But at the same time it wasn’t impossible.
All you needed was a positive attitude and a sonríe – smile. I kept thinking: it really is just mind over power. As a child, whenever I had wanted to give up on something, my dad had always told me “just one step at time,” or “one day at a time, Phoebs, it’s better to do something slowly than to give up.” Which is totally true.
One of the most amazing things during the first 1-2 hours was the sunrise. Seeing the sun rise while climbing to la cima del mundo is an incredible feeling.
As we started the real ascent, the terrain became steep and rugged. Our guides were casually walking up, in minimal clothing. We later found out that, like going for a jog, this is a part of their daily routine. Think about that for a second.
As we continued to climb, many of us chatted, laughed, cursed at the difficulty, and mostly turned to steady hush of breaths and pants. I remember looking up and seeing the edge of ice justo más allá. We had stopped for a quick water break and snack. The wind was treacherous.
As we sat and hung out, one of our guides talked, rapidly, on a radio. I tried to listen. Nada. We found out very soon. The wind was too strong to continue on. My friend looked confused and panic stricken, “Wait, how are we going to get down?”
A guide joked that we would still slide just the same as if we were on the ice. No, but really.
We walked down. We collected rocks. We took pictures with our guides.
We were so close, but still, so far away. I honestly vow to return and conquer Volcan Villarrica. Until next time.
el Sur de Chile – South of Chile
desayuno – breakfast
habitaciónes – rooms
No te preocupes – Don’t worry
No tengo – I don’t have
No importa – It’s not important, nevermind
¿Estás fria? – Are you cold?
(muy) lento – (very) slow
La cima del mundo – On top of the world
Justo más allá – just beyond
Nada – Nothing