From Valparaíso, our original plans were to travel to Talca to visit at least a part of Chilean wine country. However, en route to book a bus south, we ran into an exuberant hostel owner who decided to chat us up about all of the roads less travelled in Chile. Within moments, our already sketchy plans were tossed up a bit more, and we were sitting reconfiguring our final weeks in Chile while camped out in the Santiago bus station.Suddenly, we were no longer searching for a direct bus to Talca, we were hoofing it to the train station to book a train to Temuco where we would then catch a bus to Pucon!
With a five hour "layover" in the heat of Santiago, we tossed our packs in luggage storage and headed off to Barrio Brasil to find some dinner. After a quick subway ride and a walk, we discovered what appeared to be theme-restaurant row. Every restaurant was whatever you pictured to be over-the-top for its genre. We selected the 10,000 Leagues Under the Sea theme for some pretty average seafood at an above average price.
The train ride proved to be a nice change of pace from the usual mode of transport, although equally expensive. From there we disembarked, boarded a bus, and headed off on the final leg of our 24-hour journey. Our entrance into the X-Region of Chile reminded us a lot of a New England lakes town. Pucon was a tourist-laden town, full of "international" restaurants, ritzy stores, ski resort style condo buildings, and tour agencies. This craziness was made up for by the beautiful glacial-water Lago Villarica and views of Volcan Villarica. Our two days there were spent relaxing on a black sand beach with our rented lounge chairs and umbrellas and hiking up Volcan Villarica, an active volcano.
The hike up Volcan Villarica commenced at the tour agency at 5am, with a start on the mountain right around sunrise. Because we were with a tour, we didn´t really get to enjoy the best part of the hike - watching the contrast of the smoke rising from the volcano against the changing colors of the sky. The hike itself was pretty plug-and-chug, excepting the interruptions of climbing up some pretty unstable volcanic rock and strapping on crampons for the final zig-zag to the summit.After seeing the live volcanic activity on the Big Island in Hawaii, we were a bit disappointed that there was no actual lava to see. Apparently, the last time you could see lava was in 2005 - although according to the patterns of eruptions, Villarica is due for an eruption this year!Although we were a little disappointed, we were certainly glad that we didn´t see that much lava! The highlight of the hike was the descent…after donning "butt-protectors", we sat down in the carved-out paths in the snow and completed almost our entire descent in snow-slides…what a treat!