Travelling in the lap of luxury. Salon Cama is the way to travel!
But anyway, it's been quite a time. We packed and repacked and made a large stack of dross for Mark and Arriene to babysit. Then a very crowded metro ride brought us to our TurBus. In terms of methods of travel, this has got to be about the most comfy I have ever been part of. And unexpectedly so as well. We'd splurged for the 'Salon Cama' bus which features these huge fully-reclining seats and footrests. There are three staff types, one of whom drives, one sleeps and the last plays steward. We were served dinner (on a bus!?!?) which was okay and then everyone played bingo. Extremely strange. I guess it's in leiu of the in-flight movie.
When I awoke from a very comfy and restful sleep (despite the sweltering bit) it was about 5am and I could see the usual assortment of jagged peaks on the eastern horizon. But this time the fractal pre-dawn profile was broken by these huge, geometrically perfect cones snipped off at jaunty angles on top. At length, the one we were aimed for got more and more detailed revealing snowfields and slight imperfections along its slopes. Everyone (or at least us gringos) was simply astonished. The bus dropped us at Villarrica (not Pucon, the eco-tourism capital I had hoped to get to.) and we staggered around in the late morning light figuring things out. This is not my forte. The town is crammed with cabanas and hospitajes which all look the same to me.
Eventually, we found what looked like a tourist bureau but was in fact Politur Adventure Corp and a wonderful woman who spoke excellant English. The volcano trek is $40 each and includes pretty much everything. Very reassuring. She also pointed us toward The Traveller, a wonderfully pan-ethnic diner in which I had a much-needed Cristal beer (not bad to my untrained senses) and a wonderful Curasco (broiled very thin steak on a thick bun). Our waitress spoke no English but we quizzed her pretty efficiently on places to stay and things to do. With her help, we found the real tourism office and were pointed (again, en espanol) toward this hostel which is entirely great and run by Beat (pronounced BAY-aht), and Claudia Zbinden, a Swiss couple and their young daughter. A private 2-bed room is $11,000/night payable when we leave. Perfect for what we want to do!
The rest of the day was frittered away gawking at the volcano and the lake and resting up for tomorrow's exertions. The lake is beautiful and features several different types of lava/pumice as well as bird species unknown to me. A lovely jagged set of mountains can be seen to the north and east. dominating the view, when not shrouded in clouds, is Volcan Villarrica with its amazingly regular geometry. At 2842m, it towers 2622m over the lake and small, tourist-driven town. To the north, orignally mistaken for a cloud, looms the twin-peaked Volcan Lliamay, much taller and steeper with a huge caldera disrupting the top.
Anyway, the Torre Suize is a boistrous place full of neighbors and pets and various stuff. Dinner was prepared and consumed in parallel with 2 Dutch women who turned back 400 m shy of the summit. I hope for better luck myself.
Well, it's 10:30 now and Beat is supposedly prepping breakfast at 6 for our 6:30 (that's a.m., folks!) departure. Time for bed... to dream of lava and such.
Volcan Villarrica! One of the more symetric and active volcanoes in the area. The last erruption was in 1984-5 though smoke and rumbling happens on a daily basis.
Lago Villarrica and Volcan Lliama (that little white cloud-looking thing is actually a very large, very active volcano) looking north.
I'd been waiting days for this picture.
A young monkey-puzzle tree.
We spent three great nights at the Torre Suiza, a hostel run by a Swiss couple who bicycled around the world and ended up in Villarrica.
...but we get to pose and look buff anyway before heading back to base camp.
Ojos del Caburgua. Fascinating circular, dark blue pool with waterfalls feeding it on all sides and water seaping through the rocks. Really amazing water and dense forest. Very cold no doubt.
There was another falls near where we had parked (presumably #1, but I don't know) and a sign lead off to the other side of the river advertising #2. #1 was very tall, but otherwise fairly pedestrian and we lacked the energy to get to the second.
Tres Saltos was, as advertised, three waterfalls on the same river. This is the third and most photogenic. I waded out into the river to take a couple of these pics.
The day worked out well after all. We felt like we'd finally seen some things and were content. Nelson was awesome and a grand time was had by all, particularly Nelson who got paid handsomely to ferry around a pair of gringos and hang out in the hot baths with various scantily clad foriegners for free.
We climbed back up the steps feeling like well-cooked noodles and Nelson brought us home. We hit The Traveller again for a celebratory dinner of ravioli and gado-gado. Our watress was glad to see us and, in another Adventura en Espanol, ended up bringing us four pisco sours, three of which I had to drink myself. The fourth was fed to a British-Aussie woman and her German and Chilean-Aussie friends. A high, drunken time was had by all. By ten I was staggering home and was put to bed.
After a bunch of valiant driving, we were ejected from the bus at the town of Paillaco. 'Town' may be too strong a word, perhaps 'intersection' would be better. Gorgeous weather and wild flowers by the acre amongst the cows and farms. It felt great to be out finally really on our own and away from everything. There was great ambiguity as to the bus's return schedule. We resigned ourselves to hitching and otherwise making do.
The first two or so major switchbacks were find to hike up. The road wound through steep fields climbing the side of the abrupt valley. Spectacular views of wild roses and the other face (and southern peak) of the volcano. Great bedding of different colors and hardnesses of sediment as well. But the sun was hot and there was no shade or wind. Fortunately, I'd opted for shorts, but Amy was suffering along in jeans. The hill topped out and we came in sight of a tall, pyramidal rocky peak covered in snow. Nearer peaks were covered in tall trees with white trunks and umbrella-like canopies. supposedly these are the arauncaria trees which make the park famous, yet they (admittedly, from a distance) bore no resemblance to those seen in town. Our Monkey Puzzle Puzzle began.
Before long (though it certainly felt long!) we dropped into a valley ringed by mountains with the lovely Lago Tinquilco at the bottom. Lunch was eaten at a hostel at the downstream end of the lake. It was hotter than either of us expected and beverage supplies were running low. I tried to buy something from the hostel, but couldn't figure out how much a Coke was. I think they said $1300. Perhaps part of this is the deposite but I don't want to take that chance.
One kilometer farther and we finally came to the Park entrance. Spirits improved instantly and immensely. We talked to a charming park ranger who looked quite a lot like Michael Palin (but spoke Spanish which was seemed strange at the time). We learned from him that there was a bus that left from the park itself at 7:30 (or maybe 7:00). He quoted the time in am/pm because he "liked English time better and because we were Americans". Entrance fees were paid and maps examined. It was 4 pm so we could spend 3 hrs in the park.
Hiking up the 8 km of steep dirt road from Paillaco to the Park entrance station. Looks sort of like West Virginia except with volcanoes.
Views of Vn. Villarrica from the road. It was hot and dusty and I was glad to be wearing shorts.
Dangerous Curves! Amy was not so glad to be in jeans.
Finally, a picture of a Bandurria, aka Buff-Necked Ibis. These birds are great and make the most god-awful honking ruckus when they fly. Two web sites: 1, 2
Lago Tinquilico at the entrance to P.N. Huerquehue.
The temperature was suddenly much better and life was improving. I had my little CONAF ticket and was immensely proud of it. We worked to get here! Never the less, time was pressing, so we pressed on into the Park.
First stop was on the Sendero Tinquilco leading down by the lake through dense groves of bamboo (except apparently it isn't bamboo) and these strange rusty colored trees with spiralling branches. They were cool and smooth to the touch. Two lizards and some fine lake views were seen. The steep valley walls were dominated by large deciduous trees and at the ridge tops, we could see tall, white-barked umbrella trees in silhuette. Were these the famed Arauncaria Pines?
A quartet of turkeys greeted our return to the road and we continued on passing out of the park and past a Refugio. I'd seen these on the maps and assumed they were like backpacking shelters in the US. But they were in fact much more like the Torre Suiza and have menus posted (in two languages) at the trailside advertising "Coffee" and "Real Coffee".
Soon the trail started heading up in earnest and went from mostly cut over fields littered with huge, bleached tree trunks to open, moist forest with absolutely gargantuan trees and low ground covering trees as an understory. The whole place reminded me most strongly of Muir Woods, and I don't think it was entirely the fault of the monumental, buttressed trees. A number of irridescent beetles about 3 cm in length were seen as well. Amy admitted that, except for the antennae, they were rather pretty.
No one seemed to know exactly where the waterfall was. According to the poorly memorized map, it wasn't far up the trail, but we kept climbing up wide, loose dirt (young) trail and all the obvious side-trails reintersected again. Amy stopped at the Cacada de Nido de las Aguillas Guarderia (empty save for a Chilean flag and a stapler) while I pushed on a little farther. Sure enough, in about 100 yards I found a steep trail with ten switchbacks through rainforest to the valley floor and an impressive, if unoriginal cascade. Probably a hundred foot drop along smooth rock angled just this side of vertical into a log-choked pool. Spray everywhere. Kodak moment. Move on.
Craving water and having run out long since, we retraced our steps exploring the marvels of dehydration. Despite going downhill, it seemed to take forever going back out. We skipped the bamboo laden Sendero for the shorter road and were tortured by the steep, loose gravel of its boringness. At long last we limped into the Guarderia area and boarded the waiting minibus. Turns out it left at 7:00, not 7:30 and we had arrived litterally, not a moment too soon! Truimphantly, amidst a bunch of backpack-toting French and Germans, we retraced our 7 km of steps from Paillaco from the glorious vantage of a bus seat. More valiant driving and we were dropped in Pucon.
Ah for hydration and dinner! Pucon is a very different town from Villarrica and I much prefer the latter. Sure, the cloudless view of the volcano is better close up, but it's not Chile, it's North Conway/Gatlinburg/Jackson Hole all rolled into one. Your standard basecamp town filled with designer clothing and the people (mostly foriegn) who wear it. The serendipity of staying in Villarrica was commented on more than a few times.
Empanadas were consumed and they were delightful. As we sat outside, who should come by but the well-built German couple who shared the baths with us yesterday. They'd just climbed the volcano successfully and were headed for dinner. They mentioned the wonders of Puerto Varas to the south.
Artesenals were shopped at and finally we turned for home. Unfortunately, the last bus to Vill. was at 22:00, this being Sunday, and it was now shortly after. But a last, unofficial bus left at 23:00 and we were fortunate enough to make it. Home and to bed.
Bamboo-like Quila or Colique on the Sendero Tinquilico
A fence of unneccessary sturdiness around the Refugio Tinquilico. The menu outside (in Enlish and Spanish) listed both Coffee ($300) and Real Coffee ($500).
We saw several of these very colorful beetles.
The hike up featured a lot of these huge trees. Some of the stumps must have been 12' across.
We'd been looking for Cascada de Nido de las Aguillas, but I think we went too far. This is some random waterfall. Impressive though unoriginal.
The vegetated slopes of the mountains in the park. The white bits are snow, the grey bits are rock, and the tall, umbrella-like trees are Arucanias (we think).