We met Shell at the bus stop at around 20:30; the cheapest bus was not until 23:00 so we waited around chatting, playing cards, wondering around until it was time to board the bus. In my humble opinion the bus which took us to Pucon was one of the worse, or actually probably the worse we have had to date. It wasn't all that bad but it didn't live up to some of the others. It semt that Condor - the bus company had gone for quantity over quality. We were at the back in seats 55 and 56 of the upper tier of the bus, we were disappointed with the amount of leg room, no seat pouch, and the seats didn't recline too far back. They had started playing a movie way too early. It was mega warm. And we were right next to the toilet so anyone who needed a late night deposit would wake me up with the clattering of the doors. But I did manage to get some sleep, listen to Oasis and make a start on Sir Alex Ferguson's second autobiography so it wasn't all bad news until the end when I realised I had left my hat on the bus! Massive school boy error. Still I've been excited about coming to Pucon since the second day into our trip. Why was I so excited? Well because Johnny the Australian we made friends with in Buenos told me about a Volcano you could climb up and then sledge down. Volcanos for me are like waterfalls, I have a bit of a soft spot for them I love Dante's Peak and I enjoy things volcano related. Now ninety-four days into our trip we were on our way. The only drawback to this would be the cold weather we would encounter but that would just be a minor annoyance in what would be a great trip.
My hat loss wasn't too bad though as when we were off the bus we realised that the cold weather we had been dreading was nothing more than a really good English winter's day. Infact I think the people of Britain would pay good money to have winter days like this particular day in Pucon. We said our goodbyes to Shell who was off to a pre booked hostel where as we went with a woman touting for business at the bus terminal. She had offered us a room that was cheaper than anything we had spotted online. We were well impressed Emalafquen Hostel when we arrived and shown into a Butlins style chalet. It was so good we had to make sure that it was the cheap price she had touted us. It was like we had our own little room with a kitchen, living area, our twin room, bathroom and then another three bed room which wasn't occupied. The beds had several layers, probably too many mine no fewer than five covers to ensure warmth during the night, and it was nice to be out of a single bed and into well just short of a double bed. It was darn comfy too but we managed to motivate ourselves get ready, shower and head out to find the best volcano trip deal. All the volcano trips were the same price it was just a case of choosing which was more professional, better people etc we ended up deciding to go with a company called Volcan Villarriea. They semt really professional, had insurance certificates which apparently some lack, were friendly chaps and perhaps the thing that swung it for me was that the jackets, pants they issued were Orange. We strolled around the beautiful little town, I obtained a new hat which was better than my first and I think cheaper. We got supplies from the supermarket including the smallest mandarins I have ever seen and a beer we would drink at the summit and then made our way back to the hostel. We chilled out that afternoon making the most of the chalet type accommodation we were living in. I wrote my blogs feeling like Colin Firth in Love Actually with a log fire burning away as I wrote away into the keyboard. Instead of an attractive French girl though I just had bushy haired Earl. Not wanting to be cooped up in doors all afternoon and night I went for a wonder, the town was fairly small and my walk took me to another supermarket, in this particular store, on the first aisle I found Cadbury's chocolate, this made me think I'd be able to find some other British items, like Baked Beans which I was craving as if I was a a pregnant woman. There would be no other English products though and I was forced once again to wait for a tomatoey sauce based bean treat. The coldness was ripe, I couldn't quite see my breath but it wouldn't be long before I did so I made my way bac to the hostel passing two decent looing bars Mamas & Tapas and Black Forrest, we wouldn't be going tonight as the trip to climb the Volcano started at an unearthly hour but I made a mental note of them for the following night.
Back in the chalet and the warmth of the log fire I began to prepare dinner, this would be mash, peas, carrot, some cheap meat and gravy. Due to me being a little impatient my mash potato was pretty lumpy but the meal came together quite well. I then set up the laptop and we watched the film Noah not going mental because of the Volcano trip the following day. It was a pretty average film to be honest and disappointed me.
The day was finally upon us, it was like Christmas, it was time to climb the most active volcano in South America. We put on our many layers, picked up our pre prepared day bag and made our way to the meeting point. They got us equipped with our equipment a jacket, trousers, mountain boots, hat, gloves, ice pick, sledge and spikes for our shoes. The orange and black colours in my opinion made us look like a cross between Astronauts, Convicts and Extreme Weather Explorers. A group of five of us Earl, Myself, An Australian dude called Dan, sounded like my friend Ben Robinson and grew up in the small town of Innisfail where I did my Banana farming, there was also two Brazilians one from Fortaleza, we didn't get to know too much about him as he retreated really early. Which was weird coz he didn't look that unfit, and wasn't the sort of guy you'd see and be like 's*** man that guy doesn't have a chance of making.' The other Brazilian was from Sao Paulo and lived near Vila Madelena where we partied a lot during the World Cup. His name was something girly like Alessandria but I will be able to confirm that when he adds me on Facebook. Then there was our tour guide, a nice chap called Alejandro, we had some good chats and he had some solid banter telling other groups I was a Liverpool, Arsenal fan or any other of Man Utd's rivals. Going up was tough; I struggled with the first part. The first thing that struck me was how heavy the boots were, the second was that I had on far too many layers. My bottom half consisted of trainer socks, football socks, boxers, shorts, shorts and the trousers they gave us. My top half was t-shirt, swedes t-shirt, hoody then jacket. I was boiling. My next realisation came then and it was that my natural fitness lactated about four minutes max as I realised my fitness has plummeted like Portsmouth FC. My hammies and calf's were tight. But I was soldiering on. I became Captain Morale for the group, but it was mainly intended for me as I began to sing any song I could think of my playlist included the likes of Arctic Monkeys - When the Sun Goes Down, If You Leave Me Now, and Look How Far We Made It. I also come out with some cracking quotes such as 'come on lads you've done bigger girls than this' I think I was probably annoying people more and going a bit delusional myself. At our random stopping points it was good to take in the views, we were high above a sea of clouds and snow. I could use many descriptions to describe our scenes; it was like we were in an expedition movie / documentary, in the North Pole ready to see Santa and of course being in the Game of Thrones especially with Alejandro's constant comments of the wind is coming. Oh yeah I didn't tell you because we were trying to climb the volcano in winter, it was 50/50 if we would make it, firstly we had to make sure the top of the volcano was not too icy and then we had to see how wind and clouds were, our best chance was getting up there before 2pm, a 6 hour walk! It may sound very achievable the snow and steepness of the hill made this a challenge of the highest order, in truth it is probably the most difficult activity I've took part in. We trudged on over the slippery slopes Alejandro leading the way with Earl and Dan in close proximity. The Brazilian was lagging behind most of the time, not the Fortaleza guy he was gone by the time we had reached the end of the ski lifts. The other with a girly name, I held on, encourage him and so also I could take a breather. We got to the glacier and was ready for the two hour trek up the icy spectacle, in truth I've have never seen Ice look so amazing, it sparkled in the sunlight and when you passed one of the many deep cracks in the ice, the ice was a stunning blue like a clear night sky, I've never seen ice that colour, well apart from maybe a bubble-gum flavoured ice pop when I was kid. The Brazilian continued to lag, I tried to motivate him the best I could. But the others went on at a speed he couldn't keep up with, eventually he retired, he had had enough, I tried to persuade him to keep going, we were only 200 meters from the top but he was done in, so I waited with him until Alejandro came back. Alejandro disappointed me by leaving one of the group struggling, that's why I decided to stay I didn't want him being on his own on the steep snow slope. When Alejandro came back he explained he had passed Dan and Earl on to another group and we were to go back down. I was gutted, I really wanted to reach the top, I hate failure and hate the feeling of letting people down especially myself. I might not of made it anyway due to a culmination of far too many alcoholic beverages over my past two and a half years travelling, my little fitness deserting me, eating my gummy worms too early, it not being Summer in Pucon, eating too much Assado or too much in general, turning thirty, hating snow, Not eating the orange flavoured chocolate bar I have craved for so long, not doing my stretches, maybe it was because a who fears losing has already lost, or a mixture of all the reasons just give, or maybe it is something entirely different but the way I see it is that I failed because I was being a good guy. Earl said when I spoke to him after the walk the other group seemed better as they put the slow folks at the front, so they could motivate them, I think this is a good idea but if we had done that I'm not sure that anyone one from our group would have made the summit and at least this way Earl and Dan got to experience the summit. With the summit only 200 meters away, I had to accept defeat and failure. I may have not reached the summit on this occasion but I promise you blog readers that I climb and reach the summit of another volcano, either here in Pucon or anywhere in the world. Anyway with my fate decided I decided to crack open my beer I was planning to save for the summit. Something that Earl would be tasked to do on his own at the summit. So for the first time ever in my blog here is some guest writing from Mr Earl Alexander Johnson who will tell you all about the summit.
Howdy. At the time I didn't feel like attempting the last 200 metres myself but I'm glad I plodded on. When Dan and I wandered ahead, Adi and the Brazilian seemed to disappear behind the approaching clouds and the only option I gave myself was to carry on. We were told by one of the guides that the last stretch was at a 50-60 degree incline and the ache in my calves and ankles couldn't deny it. My only slight fear was my lack of faith in my shoe spikes: stamping into snow is safe enough but into ice, on a steep hill? Memories of walking to work in winter through Asda car park and falling flat on my arse unfortunately sprung to mind. Anyway I ploughed through up to the summit, giving a fellow climber a motivational pat on the back as I went. I finally reached the top but the rest happened too quickly. We were told we only had a couple of minutes for photos then we had to head back down before the wind got too strong. To remind you: 50 degree incline & ice… but now DOWNHILL. My glasses were iced up and I couldn't find my footing so they had to go in my pocket. I had to go to the front of the line because the guide thought I couldn't come downhill but once the glasses were off I was leading the pack. As soon as we got off the treacherous, steep ice it was smooth sailing from there onwards. The clouds started to clear and after a few more painful minutes I was reunited with the rest of my group that didn't make it to the top. Also did I mention that from the moment I left Adi to the moment we met again we had no break other than the 2 minutes on the summit? No? That was fun… Right now I think I'll tackle the beer I was supposed to drink at the summit, back to you Adi.
Cheers Earl, as he said they didn't have much time up there so they soon caught us up at the art where we started to sledge down. Before that I was like Bambi on Ice on the descent and also I must have lost weight on the journey up as my pantaloons kept falling down. Our sledge was nothing more than what semt like a thin circular chopping board. Though it was heaps of fun, I would describe my performance on the sledge like a three year old playing Mario Kart. I was spinning, flipping, going off track and at one point ended up doing a very elegant Robin Van Persie Swan Dive (Like the goal he scored against Spain in the World Cup) I also clattered my ankle several times and did worry that I might do a Glen Waterhouse and shatter my ankle against an obstacle. Luckily I didn't. But in general it only made my desire for a go-pro camera. I went from being the second going down the slope to last due to my antics, but it would be fair to say that going down the hill was a lot quicker and more fun than the aching, slow, grafting walk to the top. Despite not getting to the summit I think the trip was totally worth it, but let me advise you guys, go there in Pocun's summer, you are 99% guaranteed to get to the summit and there is no rush to get to the top, also the snow doesn't start until the glacier, creating a much easier walk. Once we were back at base and in the bus home we swapped details with Dan and the Brazilian with the girls name and planned to arrange to have a few bevvies that night. First though we would all retreat to our hostel for a well-earned rest, shower and food, well first things first I had to go for a pee after not having one all day.
The problem with the meet up was that our hostel was suffering from a lack of Wi-Fi. So I conjured up a plan, we would rest, shower, eat, have some Johnny Walker and cokes and then turn up to Dan's hostel seen as though we knew where it was. What could wrong? Nothing. Infact things got better as after I watched the movie The Chaperone staring WWE wrestler Triple H the Wi-Fi had returned. So we ate rice, steak and carrots, had a shower and then headed off to Mamas & Tapas to meet Christian loving Australian Dan Joy. We had a pleasant beverage discussing our travels, his hometown Innisfail, his religion, the World Cup ad all matter of things, he was a decent guy but he had to be off has he had to be up early to catch a bus to his next destination, Earl was also sleepy so headed off back to the hostel to sleep leaving me to venture to another bar called the Black Forrest for a beverage, it was a really nice bar and I enjoyed a pint there.
The next morning we woke up with many aches, strains, pains and even sunburn. But we got our stuff together and checked out, luckily for us the hostel were really nice and said we could use the room until we had to leave. I noticed a sign for a two hour free walking tour of Pucon, I didn't think there would be much to see as the town just had one main road. But as I noticed the tour at 11 and it started at 11 we missed out as they had already left the meeting spot near the lake and were nowhere to be seen. We did notice a sign for a museum though so decided to go there, unfortunately our £1.50 entry was a complete waste of money as the museum was only the size of an average sized living room. The museum contained artefacts of Mapuche history including jewellery, masks, statues. While I found the few exhibits to be somewhat interesting, I wanted more. We were lucky that the guy working on this particular day understood a little English and was able to answer a couple of questions and tell us a few things about the Mapuche people. The next job on the agenda was to sort a bus out to go to our next destination - Santa Cruz. We soon discovered that we would be unable to get a direct bus to Santa Cruz so had to find another alternative. After trying to find buses to a few other places like San Fernando we discovered our best bet would be to go to Santiago and then come back on ourselves and go to Santa Cruz, it wasn't ideal but it would be fine. We then had a stroll around town, visiting yet another supermarket and once again I thought my luck would be in in finding some baked beans as there was an American, Mexican and Oriental section, this led me to believe there might be an English section but there wasn't, so I was out of luck again. I did however find one of my favourite alcoholic beverages - Jim Beam with Honey. It was the first time I had seen the bourbon based beverage since Australia. I'd normally snap it up straight away but my issue was I already had a bottle of Johnny Walker in my bag and I didn't want to fill my bag too much. But this was Jim Beam with Honey; screw it I decided to buy some before I caught the bus. After our stroll around the small town of Pucon we went back to the hostel and ate lunch. The rest of the afternoon I spent sorting out this year's Dream Team, whilst Earl read his book until it was time to shoot off. Next Stop - Santa Cruz
So until next time stay safe and take care