Monday, August 19, 2013

A Weekend in Pucón

Hey everyone! I know that it's been a little bit, but I hadn't really done anything super exciting/worthy of an entirely new post... until this weekend! I finally did a bit of traveling through Chile, and now I have stories to tell you (: Just to warn you, though, this will be a semi-long post, considering that I have to cover the events of four days. But there are pictures to reward you for reading, I assure you!

The lake next to Pucón
We didn't have classes last week Thursday or Friday for the religious holiday Asunción de la Virgen, so my fellow Grand Valley study abroad students and I planned a long weekend trip to the touristy city of Pucón, Chile. On Wednesday afternoon we took a 6-hour bus ride from Chillán to Pucón, and arrived in the city around 10:30 pm. We had been planning to ask directions to the hostel --- El Hostal Wohlenberg, for anyone interested in staying in Pucón --- once we got to the bus terminal in Pucón, but to our dismay we discovered that there was no one around who knew where the hostel was. And none of us had had the foresight to look up directions from the bus station to the hostel prior to the trip. Whoops. Since it's not exactly the smartest thing for tourists to wander around an unfamiliar city in the dark whilst carrying luggage, we called the hostel owner, Eric, to ask for directions.
We can see the mountains! 

We discovered that he is a super nice person, as he came to pick us up from the terminal in his own car, and also brought us back to the station on Sunday. Upon our arrival to the hostel, we settled into our respective rooms (James was the only guy in the group, so he got a room all to himself) and relaxed a little, and we also began to plan the rest of our weekend.

It was gray and rainy on Thursday when we woke, so we went on a walk to explore the city a little, taking in everything from the volcano alert system to the street musicians. Despite the overcast sky, it was amazing to see the misty mountains so close to the town, and I was struck by the sheer beauty of the area. Joined by four stray dogs who temporarily adopted us, we walked down to a huge lake bordered by a black-sand beach and just enjoyed the scenery. Afterwards, we traveled to Los Polzones, a cluster of termas, or natural  outdoor hot springs, in the foothills of the Andes. The pools had a wide range of temperatures ranging from absolutely freezing to hot tub sans bubbles. Because it was drizzling and a little cool, the springs felt absolutely wonderful, and we had a blast testing them all out --- even the bone-chilling one.
This was the really cold one - no one's in it!
The termas were right next to a river. Beautiful
Gail, fearless mountaineer
Bright and early Friday morning we traveled to el Volcán Villarrica, the active volcano near Pucón that we could see from our hostel's deck. We planned to hike up the volcano with a guide. I will admit that I was very nervous about this; I'm not the outdoorsy type at all, and hiking is not exactly my idea of fun. Honestly, the whole climb was a significant struggle, and I'm very grateful for the wonderful ladies from GV who were with me and encouraged me the whole way, helping me to push myself farther than I ever thought I'd go. I'll spare you the details, but I was very glad when the other girls expressed similar sentiments to return down the volcano about a quarter of the way up. Our guide, Patricia, was absolutely wonderful to us and gave us a lot of patience and encouragement.

First we had to essentially walk down the snowy slopes with claw-like contraptions strapped to our feet; this was particularly scary as you're walking down an icy, 60-degree slope and one slip can cause you to tumble hundreds of feet before stopping in a relatively flat portion; I'm sure I was not the only one fervently praying to God for safety during the descent. This was very slow going, and we were all excited when Patricia showed us a new way to descend: using little circular sleds, we could slide down the volcano, which was extremely fun (much cooler than Minneapolis Hill could ever be, my Yooper friends)! Upon returning to the lodge where we waited for the rest of the group, we discovered that our companion James was one of the two people from the group to reach the top of the volcano --- yay James! He took my camera up with him, so we've got photos as proof of his amazing feat, and we're very proud of him (:
The view from the top of the volcano, courtesy of James

The volcano's top

After this extreme excursion, we were all extremely sore and tired, and fully expected to relax for all of Saturday. Wrong! We ended up meandering though the touristy shops in Pucón during the morning, and in the afternoon we went with a young couple from Colorado to Cañi National Park, which features nature trails up the side of a mountain... which meant more hiking. Surprisingly, the hiking wasn't quite as terrible as I'd thought it was (I think it actually loosened up my sore muscles from the previous day's trek), but while James headed up the mountain with the Coloradans, we ladies found a beautiful view about a quarter of the way up the mountain and just stayed there, enjoying the spectacular surroundings. Once we'd all returned to Pucón and had eaten, we went out for a final night on the town with fellow foreigners. I will say that one fantastic part of Pucón was that since it's a tourist town attracting visitors from all over the world, we were not the only gringos in the area, and therefore we received less stares than what we usually get here in Chillán.

We climbed that volcano!
Once we'd said goodbye to Eric and his fantastic dog Mack, we boarded the bus and were homeward bound. The trip was made significantly less tedious than the first because immediately in front of me sat a little girl of about three years who needed entertainment. James made it his personal goal to become her friend, and we all had a great time watching his attempts and providing ideas on how to keep her entertained. Although this was all very well and good, I cannot express how happy I was to return to my house here in Chillán and see my host family once again. Even though it was an awesome weekend, it's good to be home. Thanks to everyone for reading! Sending my love and thanks to you all!


At the termas!
The view from our vantage point in Cañi

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