Written 27 Jan, 29 Jan
I only decided to go to Pucon because Marcel mentioned that he would be there for the New Year, and I didn’t have any other plans. In the end, I’m really glad I decided to go, because it turned out to be quite the adventure. To put it simply, if Bariloche was the highlight of my trip so far, Pucon was the most exciting.
I arrived in Pucon from Puerto Montt in the afternoon and checked myself into the hostel Marcel was staying at. Hostel Arauco – not a very fancy hostel, but it was very cheap (7000 pesos a night) and the lady who runs it was absolutely adorable. She didn’t speak any English, but she definitely understood it and always had a smart comment for whatever we said.
I didn’t do much that day, just wandered around the town checking out the various excursions being offered. One of the most common/popular ones was the climb to the summit of Mt Villarica, one of the most active volcanoes in Chile. Pucon has a great view of the volcano, but it was just my luck – the first five days I was in Pucon (let me assure you I didn’t intend to stay that long, but I’ll explain that in a bit), I didn’t see the volcano at all. Neither did I take any pictures, because who wants pictures of fog and mist and clouds, right?
Day 2 in Pucon was cold and dreary. As usual, I had no idea what I was doing, so I tagged along with Marcel to wander around the town for a bit and check out some excursions. Marcel was really into going bodyrafting (they called it hidrospeed) and although I was rather concerned about how expensive it was, he eventually managed to convince me to sign up to go for it the next day as well. After that, we went to sit by the lake for a bit, before calling it a day.
Last day of 2013. A time for reflections, and looking back on the year and reminiscing. OR. A time to go bodyrafting! We turned up on time at 11am at the excursion office only to be told that they didn’t have a guide for us to go then, but that we could go at 3pm. What a waste of waking up early! We left the place in disgust, only to stumble upon another tour agency (Pucon Tours) offering bodyrafting AND the climb to the summit of the volcano at a much cheaper price. We quickly switched allegiances and went get provisions to tide us over the new year vacations.
Bodyrafting turned out to be really fun. We has these floats to cling on to as we paddled down the river. We were given wet suits and flippers but after two minutes in the freezing cold river, I thought gloves would have helped a lot.
It was a lot of fun, especially since the river was pretty tame, and it was quite enjoyable being in the river after I lost feeling in my fingers. After we got out of the water though, I had a fair amount of trouble putting my clothes back on because my fingers refused to function properly. After that, it was back to the main town to prepare for the evening festivities! Marcel and I made a simple dinner before heading to the lake to usher in 2014 by watching the fireworks! So pretty, and it felt like it went on forever. Great start to 2014 (:
It ended there however – when I woke up in the morning, it was cold and rainy, so I ended up spending the entire day in bed, enjoying the warmth under the covers. It was an absolutely lovely way to spend the first day of the year. Anyway, everything in town was closed, and I didn’t want to tire myself out before the climb to the summit of Mt Villarica the next day. We woke up at 5ish the next morning and headed over to the tour office at 6, only to find that they were postponing the excursion to the next day due to poor weather. -_- such a disappointment, but even if we had gone up, we wouldn’t have made it to the top. So it was back to bed for a couple more hours, before I headed out to the Cañi Sanctuary.
It was a three hour hike to the top, but it was a steep ascent for most of the way, so I kept stopping to take pictures.
I met a fellow trekker (I think his name was Martin) midway through the hike and we continued hiking together.
He told me about these prehistoric Araucaria trees which were pretty cool
The view at the top was pretty incredible, and worth the trek. It was also nice that it was relatively quiet, being one of the less popular attractions in Pucón.
After the hike down, it was back to the city, and early to bed to wake up at 5am again the next morning. Thankfully, our efforts at waking up early weren’t wasted, because this time, we managed to set off to the volcano. It was quite a sight at base camp, not just because of the gorgeous view, but because over a hundred people were waiting to make the ascent with various tour groups.
From base camp, we had the option to take a ski lift up some distance to save ourselves an hour of walking, which was a pretty fun experience in itself.
The hike up from there was entirely over snow and ice (not to mention freezing cold), so we strapped on our crampons, geared up with our ice picks and put on our gloves and jackets and set off.
It was slow going, with 24 in our group, so we kept stopping every 10 meters or so.
Eventually though, the group split into several factions depending on their pace. It was smooth going from then on, with breaks every now and then to rest and eat some snacks for energy.
After climbing for about 3hours, the wind suddenly picked up and we couldn’t advance any further because the snow had frozen over, making it impossible to walk, and there was also the danger of being blown off the volcano because of the strong winds. So we sat at a little rest point, trying not to freeze and hoping the wind would die down soon.
It did, and we managed to continue hiking up the ridiculously steep volcano after waiting about 45 minutes. By this time, there were only 7 of us left in the group, the rest having fallen turned back for various reasons. It was a really steep incline, about 70 degrees, and we were going quite slowly, when I almost died.
I was second last in the group, and we were all walking along the same trail. The thing about snow and ice is that it can look quite solid, until you step in it and realize it’s become almost nothing but water. Which is something that happens when a bunch of people step in a patch of snow. So. 200m short of the summit (roughly 2700m above sea level), I stepped in a patch of loose snow, and started sliding down the side of the volcano. In the event that something like that happens, we had been told to dig our ice picks into the snow to stop the slide, but I somehow managed to lose my ice pick when I fell, and I started sliding down the side of the volcano. I slid 10-15m down, all the while thinking that I was going to die, but luckily, the guide was almost directly below me, and he managed to catch me. We continued sliding down another 5m or so before he stopped our fall, barely 100m short of the edge of a cliff on the volcano.
It was, in short, the most terrifying few seconds of my life, and if the guide hadn’t caught me, I would not be alive today. I don’t know what guardian angels I have but I owe a huge debt to whatever forces of the universe that kept me alive. They say when you’re about to die your life flashes before your eyes, but I didn’t experience anything of the sort. As I was falling, and my body was desperately trying to cling to something to stop the fall, all my brain was telling me was that if this really was the end, it would be a good way to die – at least I was doing something that I really wanted to do, instead of being miserable that I was stuck in some boring job somewhere.
I wasn’t injured from the fall, just slightly shaken up, but the guide refused to let me continue to the summit, for the safety of the whole team. So while the other 6 continued to the top, I was left with my life-saving guide to head back down. It turned out to be an awesome turn of events, because we were supposed to slide down the ice on the volcano on our butts, but while everyone else had to walk down some more dangerous sections because the guides couldn’t watch over everyone, because I had my own private guide, he let me slide down almost the entirety of the volcano, even pulling me along as he ski/slid down. It was supremely fun, and I had a really nice time talking to him about travelling and life and death and all sorts of other things.
Something he told me really resonated with me – that you should live your life in such a way that every day is a good day to die, and if you make it out alive, then all the better for you. Which is something I think a lot of us often forget, so it was a good wake up call for me. It’s something a lot of people have said – that if at the end of the day, you look back at what you did and feel like you wouldn’t have been happy to die, the next day, you gotta do something different. It’s all up to us, and sometimes we forget that we exist in cages of our own making, not in cages others have put us in. It may seem difficult, terrifying or even wrong to open our cages and fly fly flyyy away, but once you do, you realize that it wasn’t so difficult, that the outside isn’t so terrifying and that the only thing you can do wrong is not to live your life exactly how you want to. I’m glad I’ve opened my cage and flown away, and perhaps one day I will return, but that time is not now.
But, I digress. In any case, that was the end of the Pucon adventure, because when we reached the town again, I packed up my stuff and set off for the next city – Concepción.
P.S. Apologies for the excessively long-winded post. Props (and maybe a postcard!) if you actually read all that 😉 Haha this is how I bribe people to comment on my posts!