We had no idea what we would do or where we would go in Chile, until we met a guy called Peter in Mendoza who made a suggestion that we could not pass up. Climbing a volcano has got to be right up there on anyone's bucket list, so when this was mentioned we knew it was for us! Pucon would be our destination and the setting for our most extreme emotional-roller-coaster ride so far!
Our first thoughts when we arrived were not of getting to our pre-booked hostel, or where the best tour company was to climb the volcano. No, our first thoughts were of a different variety completely!! During the previous week or so Faye had begun to notice a few bites on her face and arms which she initially put down to insects, or possibly mozzies. But as time went on they continued to increase, so she started to fear the worst... bed-bugs!!! I wasn't convinced at first but after maybe 4 or 5 days I began to show signs as well, so the inevitable search on Google ensued and the patterns we were seeing online were exactly the same as we had on our bodies - worst fears confirmed!! Now if you don't know anything about BB's then let me just say this... If there was a nuclear explosion that wiped out all the species on earth, there's still a chance that 2 things may survive - cockroaches and bed-bugs!!!
Faye was completely freaked out by this because she spent an entire evening reading all about them and it wasn't pretty that's for sure! I was wise and kept well clear of the iPad and awaited instructions from my extremely rattled other half as to the best course of action. The plan was clear - we had to get to Pucon and find a laundrette, then instruct them to wash everything that could be washed at 60 degrees - this included all the rucksacks (6 in total), shoes, wash bags and of course every stitch of clothing we owned! It then had to be tumble dried on the highest setting, so we were also fearful of some serious shrinkage to add to our woes!
So let me set the scene: With just our crappiest clothes on our backs and bin liners bought, we set about separating everything we owned into 3 bin liners. 1: Things to wash 2: Things to clean with baby-wipes (electrical stuff which couldn't washed). 3: Things which sadly weren't worth the risk and would need to be chucked! Whilst this in itself was a difficult enough undertaking - kissing goodbye to things you've held dear for many years - this was nothing compared to dismantling Faye's rucksack!! If you've ever seen "The Krypton Factor" then you'll know what I mean. This thing had a rigid frame that NASA scientists would have struggled to take apart. It took the pair of us nearly half an hour to figure it out!! Bear in mind that this was all taking place in the street outside the laundrette, so as you can imagine, the looks we received were pretty disturbing not to mention those coming from the ladies behind the counter. Who knows what they were thinking. A mixture I'm sure of god awful fear as to whether we'd brought something as dreadful as radioactive waste into their shop, and shear delight at knowing how extortionate the final bill would be!! So with marigolds and face masks donned the ladies piled our revolting possessions into numbered baskets and then set about adding up the bill. With the exchange rate as it was the final tally was a little over £100 which to us seemed like a drop in the ocean... but only if it worked of course. So with our pockets nearly emptied of all remaining cash we divvied up the 2 remaining jobs. Faye took wiping down the rest of our things with baby wipes, and I took trying to find a very cheap outfit each which we could change into once we were clean. Oh, and I also needed to find a cheap holdall we could use to carry our remaining stuff into the hostel that evening so to protect what little dignity we had remaining!! So Faye got leggings and dungarees (a fine little number I might add) and I got the saddest shorts and T shirt you've ever seen. I look liked John Travolta at the end of Pulp Fiction. It wasn't pretty!! So after the most emotional day we've had so far we strolled into our hostel like nothing had happened and went straight to our room to wash our bodies and change into said clothing. Job done! All we had to do now was hope and pray that our efforts would not be in vain and await the next day for our clothing (well, life) to be cleaned.
With our clothes returned and a few casualties to mourn (my jeans were now so tight I went purple if I left them on too long), we set about booking our climb up the volcano. After advise from a German girl we found a company we were happy with and awoke early the next morning to begin our climb. The journey started with an hour drive, then on to a short chair-lift ride to the base of the snow covered slopes. We immediately strapped on our crampons and after a short lecture from Claudio - our extremely witty guide - we were on our way. By now we were already much higher than the town so we had 2 very early drop-outs. A couple of Brazilians girls were just not up to the task and decided they did not want to continue any further. A wise decision as this ride was about to get a whole lot bumpier! The pace was fairly slow and both myself and Faye were very comfortable. I'd made the mistake however of not eating enough on our second stop (you'd thought I'd have learnt by now), so my strength began to diminish very quickly. I told Claudio but he said not to worry as we would be stopping soon at a rocky outcrop above which didn't seem that far, so I pressed on. Another hour passed before we reached them so I was ready to eat my own head once we stopped! Luckily we'd made sandwiches so nothing so extreme was necessary. I really thought it would be plain sailing once I filled my belly but I was sorely mistaken. The face became much steeper, the snow got deeper, and the wind picked up to 65mph. A lethal concoction! So nothing other than shear pigheadedness got us to the top of that damn volcano. That and the promise of vino tinto once we arrived. 5 hours of hell was all worth it though once we peered over the edge of that crater! Don't get me wrong, I'm not comparing our endeavour to climbing Mt Everest, but I now get why those "crazies" do it! The feeling was immense. The overwhelming sensation of exhilaration and satisfaction was something we'll both cherish forever - amazing how things can change in such a short amount of time!
We spent about 30 minutes at the top congratulating ourselves and toasting our success. Plus of course taking the well-earned snap shots of us standing with our arms aloft with Pucon as the backdrop. Then it was time to face the decent!!! But this was not to be a mind numbing 3 hour walk down with nothing other than pain as our friend. No, this was to be the best part of the journey, the "pies de resistance." We had been given a very small plastic sled which we stored in our pack on the way up, so it was now time to set it free - To use it as our means of transport all the way to bottom! How cool is that? To climb a volcano then slide all the way back down it on your backside... AWESOME! So after another lecture from Claudio on using your ice-pick as a break (which judging by the carnage that ensued some listened more intently than others) we were away! It was all very tentative at first but as we continued and Claudio repeated his instructions we all got the hang of it and were finally flying along at breakneck speeds. All of us were roaring with laughter as we tore down the slopes and we didn't stop until we reached the end of the snow! To go up almost 3000m in 5 hours and decent in 10 minute was brilliant and both myself and Faye agreed it was the highlight of the trip thus far!
We can not say enough good things about that amazing day and Pucon as a whole really. It's a beautiful little town with a huge lake and beach on one side with an amazing view of the Villarrica volcano on the other. Faye spent a lovely day hiking in the surrounding mountains with our now very good friends Ella and David; an extremely lovely Aussie couple who had both me and Faye in stitches. I of course spent that day doing techie stuff! There's also paragliding, white water rafting, kayaking, or just spending a lazy day on the beach. It certainly isn't cheap though. This place is equivalent to The Hamptons in the States and with lots of bling and expensive cars it's not a place you could stay for long without some serious cash. We loved it though. It was cool and had character and along with the great people we met at our hostel "El Refugio" (especially the twins Lizzy and Eve) we had a really great time. But with so much time taken up in Argentina we needed to move on to our next destination. So with time not on our side, Northern Chile here we come....