Pucon is a lovely little town, all wood houses and lush gardens, resting on the black banks of a lake, with the stunning Villarica volcano dominating the background with its constantly smoking cone and glacier.
We arrived early in the morning, before the town had properly woken up. We sat for a bit, drinking instant coffee and eating microwaved cheese sandwiches from a small shop, while we waited for the town to wake up enough for me to go looking for accomodation.
By noon, I had explored what felt like the entire town, and had found some options - not as expensive as we had feared, but not as cheap as we'd hoped. We ended up at Hospedaje Gonzales, spending half our daily budget on half a cabin in the back, with no keys to the front gate and no hot water to bathe without asking permission first. It was cosy enough, but the restrictions, and the price, grated.
The first day was spent napping and wandering around. We found a tour operator and booked an expensive hike up the volcano, for day two.
The hike started with a gathering in the Aguaventura office at 6.30 am, putting on mountain boots and packing our backpacks. Half the group piled into a big white van, towing our packs in a trailer behind. The other half milled about a bit, until three taxis showed up. Apparently the driver of the other van had had a bit too much to drink the night before...
Our ascent up the mountain started at the ski resort on its slopes, riding a chairlift up to 1800m. Then we put on some protective clothing, listened to poorly presented instructions on how to use our ice-picks (I repeated and demonstrated the main points to Ewelina afterwards), and began to climb.
It was a pretty slow, easy hike. Due to the van/taxi snafu, our group was one of the last, so there were about a hundred tourists ahead of us, helpfully compacting a path through the snow - and sending the occaisional stone rolling our way. There were quite a few stops on the way, so many in fact that I was a bit impatient at the slow pace, I was barely working hard enough to stay warm. But the view was amazing, so there was no risk of boredom. As we climbed higher, we began to smell hints of sulfer, and the guides began to prepare us for disappointment, as apparently the direction of the wind meant fumes and gasses might prevent us from reaching the top.
Sure enough, at 2440m we stopped and sat on a pile of black rocks for almost an hour before our guide announced that we would have to turn back, the fumes above were too bad to continue and the weather wasn't changing. We reluctantly swallowed our disappointment, and a big lump of jealousy as well: many of the less cautious groups ahead of us had forged onward and we could see people approaching the peak. Without knowing more about the risks, we couldn't decide whether to be disappointed or relieved to be turning back.
The trip down was much faster, lots of fun. We had put on all our protective clothing, including a thick ass-protector. Then we sat on bum-shaped pieces of plastic and careened down the slopes, using our ice-picks as breaks. Whee!
Overall, it was a great experience, which we totally enjoyed. We would have been happier if we had reached the top - the mountain seemed to be mocking us for the rest of our stay in Pucon - but we were glad we went. Ewelina wants to do more mountaineering in the near future...
The next day we slept in, eventually getting up to go buy bus tickets onward for the day after and book a tour to nearby thermal baths for the evening. After that we had a cheap but satisfying lunch at one of the places on our street and changed into our bathing clothes before heading to the beach.
The weather had changed though, and it wasn't really sunny enough for sitting by the water. We rented a bicycle-boat and paddled around the lake for half an hour, but that was it.
The high point of our day came that evening, as we piled into a van with four young Chileans on vacation, heading for the Los Pozones baths.
The baths were wonderful. We tried six different primitive pools made of rough stone, full of naturally warm water. The baths were next to a boisterous river and surrounded by forest. The sky was clear, and by the time we arrived it was already dark, as it got darker still our view of the stars became really quite amazing.
The first thing I noticed about the sky, was that Orion was upside-down - we are finally far enough South for the change to be very noticable. The we saw satellites zipping around, and finally the Milky Way and more stars than we could count. It was just perfect.
The two hours passed quickly, we ran out of beer and reluctantly had to leave the water and ride back to town. Ewelina, who hadn't wanted to leave only moments earlier, fell asleep almost instantly and slept all the way back with her head in my lap. That was nice too.
The next morning we packed up our things and got on a bus to Valdivia.