Well, we got as far south as the northern end of Patagonia - the Lakes District. It is absolutely gorgeous, cold and mountainous, and it reminded us of a European Alpine region. One major difference about Pucón, though, is that it is overlooked by an active volcano which is constantly smoking! Here is the view of Volcán Villarica from outside our hostel:
Naturally, we decided that the thing to do was to climb to the top of this sulphurous mountain, so we did! It was an early start (6am), and we met our guide and got our gear together for the hike. The volcano is covered with snow, so we needed actual snow mountaineering gear and layers of windproof clothing. There were about 12 of us in our group, and four really lovely guides who made the whole day fantastic. We got a ski-lift up the first bit of the hill (it cuts out a boring hour of walking over gravel), and then started zig-zagging up the steep slope. The trek was reasonably tough, but we stopped regularly to catch our breath so it wasn´t too hard. We got to the snow line pretty quickly, and even near the beggining the views were incredible!
Here´s Stu at our first rest stop, with the Lake District stretching out behind:
The view up towards the volcano. It was really windy all along this snowy ridge - I was genuinely worried I was going to be blown sideways down the slope on several occasions!:
More volcano views:
As we progressed, the slope got steeper and snowier, and we had to go slowly to keep our footing. We had ice picks to steady ourselves and to dig into the snow if we slipped (the blustery wind and ice nearly blew me over a few times, but no one actually tumbled down)! After four hours of uphill shuffling, we reached the summit. The hot, smoking crater belches burning, sulphurous smoke that gets in your eyes and throat and makes you cough! It smells like eggs and burning. We couldn´t see any lava; even when I peered as far as I could down into the crater, the smoke obscured any sight of the magma. Nevertheless, we felt an awesome sense of achievement to have got to the top of a real, active volcano.
At the summit, with the smoking crater behind us:
The view from the top, with more mountains in the distance:
After a break for lunch out of the way of the smelly volcano smoke, we headed back down to earth. This is where it got really fun, because the quickest way down is to slide down the snowy mountain-side on your bum! We had plastic trays to sit on to make us go faster, and used our ice picks to control our speed and stop. It was brilliant fun, and as you can imagine it was much faster on the way down!
Here we are, nearly at the bottom of the mountain:
Back at our hostel, the whole group had a few beers and relaxed after an exhausting day. We were in a hostel called The Tree House, and here I am having a nice sit down in a hammock under the tree house itself:
Being a volcanic area, Pucón also boasts some nearby hot springs, and what better way to rest our weary muscles after a day´s trekking than to sit in a massive natural hot tub? So a group of us headed out and spent the evening in lovely hot rock pools with a glass of Chilean red wine.
We spent one more day pottering about Pucón, and then spent an entire day on buses getting to Bariloche, which is just over the border in Argentina. The border crossing was a bit tedious, but actually pretty straightforward, and the buses here are really comfy. I will update you all on our days in Bariloche as soon as I can find a computer that will let me upload more photos...