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Travelogue 6, the final travelogue of the series, tells of our magnificent trek around Volcan Villarica and on to Volcan Lanin. Finally we make our way up to Temuco and then on to Santiago before exiting stage right...
sad but true - this is the last edition of the princess grump travellogues. time is up and the return to attental is inevitable. as soon as we have the pictures developed, you shall receive an invitation for an informal gathering to celebrate the occasion
what we've been up to? read the latest tale:
we leave puerto varas and have a wonderful 6 hours bus ride up north to pucon. the weather can't be more dramatic - we get the whole spec from hailstorms to blasting sunshine. the road leads through osorno to valdivia, which looks very pleasant and so far everybody we've meet has been raving about it.
we are moving into the araucania region,
which extends northwards from
the snows of volcano villarica to
rio biobio. like the lake district
which shares many of its typical features, the araucania is extremely
volcaniclly active and offers many thermal springs, mountain lakes and
the area is the heartland of the araucanian indians (mapuches)who relied heavily on the edible nuts of the araucaria pine for food. these glorious trees still grow throughout the region where they are protected by natural parks and reserves. the english named the tree monkey puzzles because of its very unusual appearance.
early evening we arrive in pucon, a tourist resort, which lies on the eastern shore of lago villarica directly below volcano villarica (as you may have already noticed name invention is a very strong attitude here) the town attracts all kind of tourists - covering very well-to-do chilean upper class holidaymakers as well as humble backpackers as us. it is buzzing with activity, one outdoor adventure company next to the other, offering rafting, volcano ascents, and all kind of other adrenalin kick-offs.
we grab a snack and get on a bus to find a place a further 30 minutes into the countryside where we want to stay. kila leufu is a backpackers run by a mapuche family - it is a kind of eco-agro tourism. you can milk the cows, bake bread, learn about the ways of the mapuches and more. margot, one of the daughters is married with an austrian guy, peter. they are the main motor behind the place, offering also fishing, horseriding and trekking.
we arrive pretty late and crash out in a room. next morning we meet peter and have a wonderful breakfast with homemade bread, real coffee and muesli. the place is a real jewel - very friendly and heartful people. we want to get off early next morning to embark on a seven day trek, but sure enough return afterwards.
the plan is to ascend volcano villarica (2850m) on the first day. for this stage we have to book a guided tour as it is not allowed to do the trip unguided and requires ice axe as well as crampons. we choose a company and arrange to bring our full packs with us and leave them in the bus as our trek starts, where the descent will end. the trek is a combination of two hikes, one around the volcano villarica and then a traverse towards volcano lanin - so it covers about 80km, mostly above the treeline in 6-7 days. we get all the food for seven days, that is the most we've ever packed in - the packs are very heavy, but no discussions about the amount this time, i learned the lesson
next morning six o'clock we stand at the road to hitch a ride or get a bus to pucon. we meet our guide pedro and the seven other members of the group. it is a bit messy 'cause pedro forgot the keys for the office and is frantically phoning on his handy to solve this little hold-up. finally we get the gear out - jalal and me decided to walk in our own boots as i don't want to run risk of ruining my feet in one of their snowboots. we receive additional hats, gloves and pants with an reinforced bottom, which puzzles me a bit.
we get all in the minibus to drive to the top of the ski resort, where the ascent of the summit starts. once up there at the skilift we see four other van with groups like us, planning to do exactly the same. it is funny to watch that all the different companies have a different color code - so you can easily identify your unit, very smart indeed.
what we hadn't considered when booking, is the fact that for most people this is their physical activity highlight of the year - meaning they are in no shape to do this. later i read in our lonely planet book about a company, which divides the group in different fitness levels and now i can understand why. pedro is great in incorporating all kind of levels with stopping every four steps and chatting, singing, getting his banderas sorted etc. - with giggles we create a new idiom: "doing a pedro". actually the three london lads, the swiss girl and us two (the physically enabled part of the group) have quite a bit of fun.
it is a glorious day, no cloud in the blue sky and the volcano puffing away on the top - we climb up with the ice axe through the snow and have outrageous views. after 4 hours we reach the puffing summit and peak into the crater, where somewhere deep down hot magma is sending up all the fumes, which come out in the sky. it is quite impressive.
when time is up and we are ready for the descent, the riddle of the reinforced bottom on the pants gets solved - did i ever dream of sliding down a volcano for more than 1000m on my butt? no i didn't, but reality is often more innovative than any dream. astonished i see the ice canals (like on tele, with high walls), formed by other descending tour-butts before - and off we go - down in breathtaking speed on the bum, trying to control speed with the ice-axe. on one stage of the slide i see jalal tumbling and turning over on his belly, racing down, holding his axe above his head and looking pretty surprised - it is hilarious.
we have great fun and are down at the bus in no time. the others disappear back to pucon, probably into their hotelrooms or the pub, while jalal and me heave our packs on and set out for the next stage.
we plan to walk at least a couple of hours into the trek and find a place to settle for the night. a slight disadvantage is that we couldn't fill up our water and now running short. not so pleasant when walking through lavafields in the still burning hot sun. all the streams are dry and we can't find even a tickle of snowmelt water, so we start to ration the rest of our supply. after 2.5 hours we arrive at a small coigue forest, which offers us a superb site, hidden away from the path. there is a stream close by but when we get there the water is milky with carrying all that glacial dust and we decide not to use it.
we have just enough water left to cook our meal and half a cup of tea in the morning. so feeling quite dehydrated we are off early to find a spring mentioned in our book. after an hour we arrive at the canyon with a lovely clear source of water and have good breakfast with lots of tea.
the path leads us mainly through lavafields, culminating in crossing what
is called the valle de fuego.
every drop of water is sweated out
immediately - it is burning hot and there is hardly any shelter. finally
we find shade in a little lenga forest at
rio nilfe and have a delicious
lunch and an afternoon snooze. lazily we watch huge lizards and wait for
the main heat to pass.
we continue until estero traico, a permanent glacier-fed stream flowing through a deep trench and offering us a wonderful site for the night. we have a refreshing splash in one of its natural pools and sit by its side under the stary nightskies. i am delighted
the next morning we set off climbing through more lava fields to have our tea-break under high araucaria trees. these trees are wonderful. the path leads us on to the top of a valley and then drops down steeply to the banks of rio pichillaneahue, where we stop for our lunch. after crossing the raging torrent on a log (arghhh) a climb up the other side is waiting for us. sweatwet we reach an old 4wd track to continue down to a campsite run by conaf close to their guarderia at chinay. after 2.5 days we have already completed the first trek around the volcano villarica and are eager to move into the traverse towards volcano lanin.
the campsite at chinay provides nothing but shelter under trees. we set
out to find another stream to dip in and get more water. there is nobody
around and actually we have not seen anybody since we left our guided
tour. the trees are full of birds which sing their songs for our
next morning we pass the guard and have a little chat about the trek. there are slight changes to the path and we are facing a possible 10 hour walk.
first we need to climb 1600m up, which is quite an energy killer - hot, tiresome. the trail is rough, the pack is heavy and not much shade. as usual it is blue sky and sunshine. finally we arrive on the ridge and curl up in the shade of some bushes to rest and get some breath back. then we slowly walk the whole cordillera el mocho. after a couple of hours the ridge drops below the treeline through lenga forest and leads in a zigzag down to a saddle and up the other side above the treeline into wide plains with snowfields, waterfalls gushing out of rocks, alpine grass tussocks - you get the picture after more or less crawling up yet another ridge (9 hours later) we finally get the first glimpse of laguna azul. it lies in a deep trough whose outlet stream was dammed by a large lava flow. happy to have accomplished the mission of the day, we climb down to the sandy shore where it looks like good camping.
the first sight greeting me on arrival is of garbage bags, piled up neatly in one place. what do people think? a garbage truck comes for pick-up every monday? the second sign of so called civilization is toilet paper flying around or hanging like flags on bushes and trees. why do women think that their little wipies disintegrate in 24 hours (i seem to remember that it takes up to 8 months). i just can't come to terms with the fact that humans seem to spoil nature most of the time. it is really depressing for me to encounter this.
we climb further over rocks and lava and arrive at a scenic (and not soiled) spot on the banks at the outlet of the lake. we set up camp on a lot of knobbly grassy tussocks, which has quite a waterbed-effect. the water is just the right temperature for another refreshing evening splash.
next morning we heading over a broad band of lava to climb over a crest and more open plains. after 1.5 hour we arrive at laguna blanca, a small turquoise lake lying just above 1600m. we have lunch and after a noisy bunch of israelis disappeared i can't resist to have a dip in the icecold pool - how wonderful to be on top of the world in freezing cold water. we continue southwards and cross into argentinia and out again. no border posts up here, just easy country hopping.
to avoid the israeli bunch we decide to camp before laguna abutardas. in the first sheltered greenery after a stony pass we find a magnificent site with breathtaking views of rugged mountain tops and the majestic volcano lanin (3747m). there we stay for the night in solitude and silence.
the next day brings deep clouds - i already forgot how they look like when we arrive at laguna aburtardas everybody has left and we have our little tea-break. two park guards on horses show up and collect garbage and toilet papers left by trekkers- the sight of it makes me feel ashamed and we move on.
the path heads now gently down through more beautiful lenga forest to meet a mallin (chileanian for SWAMP). well, am i glad that it didn't rain much - this is swamp city. i mean with a bit more rain in the last days, we would have probably waded through it up to our knees or higher. there are no markings which indicates where to go - exciting 40 minutes later we are back on firm grounds - puhhh. this sinking stuff still sends me into sweats. after dropping down into a pleasant coigue forest (another type of southern beerch tree) with lots of flowers and birds we reach an old foottrack, which brings us to the end of the trek near puesco.
puesco is little more than a cluster of houses serving nearby border post and conaf station. we meet a couple of bored custom officers and explain that we are not coming from argentinia but from a trek. we must look it as we are just waved through without further enquiries other than about the weather. our book tells that there is nice camping at the conaf - the conaf guard says no more camping possible
so after being not too impressed with the place we decide to try and hitch a hike with one of the passing cars, as they all have to pass the kila leufu on their way up to pucon - that is the only road. not a lot of traffic - the second car passing is a posh green salon car and jalal thinks no need to try but i do and the car stops. all excited we get into the car and meet the owners, a nice middle-class, middle-aged couple from santiago on their holiday. we immediately get on well, chatting in a wild mix of spanish and english. halfway down the valley i realise that i left my beloved walking sticks leaning on the post up at puesco - tragic but what to do?
the couple stops at a mapuche culture house in curarrehue, which is pretty new and displays handicrafts in little shops and some of the music and history of the people. it is very interesting and the man surprises me with a handmade wolly hat. he bought one for his wife and one for me. i can't not believe it - this couple not only picked us up after a seven day trek, standing at the side of the road but also now giving me a present.... so much friendliness.
they drop us at kila leufu and we have a very warm goodbye with heartful thanks. at kila leufu the family was already wondering how we were doing and are happy to see us back healthy. we camp in their nice garden as we want to use every opportunity to be outside. in the evening we get together at the fireplace and there are 8 other guests around. it is a great atmosphere and a good bunch of people. the three english lads and an american couple are planning a half-day horse riding trek with peter the next morning. spontaneously i decide to join them to fulfill my long wish of experiencing the world from horseback. i send jalal off to do the laundry.
apart from that, peter and margot are phoning to puesco and finally a customs officer secures my sticks (yupiie) and promises to send them down with the next police car - magic works its way. so next morning i am delighted to sit on a horse in true gaucho fashion on a little leather seat with sheep skin and leather stirr-ups. i am thrilled. we ride through backcountry mapuche areas, have a picnic at a lakeside and up a ridge with awesome views. my horse beny and me are one unit and get on well. i am glowing the whole evening with my new experience and we have all together a great meal around the fireplace.
next morning everybody is leaving in different directions. we also want to move on to temuco, but the sticks are not back yet. peter offers to drive up there on his bike and get them while we go to pucon to arrange our bus and do some more laundry. pucon has a big party that morning - 115 years birthday - and they have a parade of every company, car (even the garbage truck) and person in town. it is a great fiesta with loud music and the whole lot. when we return to kila leufu late afternoon my sticks are in front of the tent. we pack up and say goodbye to the people and the place - sigh! i am very grateful for all the hospitality, warmth and helpfulness showered on me.
two hours later we arrive in temuco, our last stop before returning to santiago. temuco is the largest city in araucania with a population of about 220 000. it is the main centre of the mapuche culture - over half of the population is of mapuche origin. the town has big fruits, vegetables and handicrafts markets. we spent the whole next day wandering markets, browsing through the museum and shops, sitting in parks and writing travellogues. at eleven pm we pick up the night bus to santiago and arrive in the capital early morning hours .
now i am sitting in an internet cafe in barrio brasil and write these last lines to you. tomorrow morning we take off to frankfurt - thanks to our airmiles in business class (if they let us in)
beloved friends, thank you so much for your time sharing this marvellous trip with me. we are sure to come back here for more - this country has so much to offer and we haven't even touched the argentinian part of patagonia yet and there is the whole north to be discovered. i can fully recommend a trip to chile, even if your main interest is not slogging up and down mountains tops. i hope i could give you a little insight into this beautiful part of the world.
lots of love
from ajara (aka princess grump) and jalal