The weather cleared enough for me to leave the B&B. But not before I was served an excellent breakfast. It’s between seasons at the moment here. There is a very active hiking/mountaineering scene in Pucon in the summer and I’m sitting less than 3 miles from a chair lift that takes skiers up great slopes. But right now…there is a lot of maintenance going on. A number of things closed. I’ve eaten twice now at Pizza Cala, across the street from Oma Cafe. Pizza Cala is advertised as “quiet”. Indeed. It has been very quiet when I’ve been there. But excellent. If you’re in town, you should go. Lunch at Pizza Cala, dinner at Oma and breakfast here at the Bambu Lodge.
My point is, I’m the only guest here at the moment. So I think I got more food than normal. I’ve written before about the difference in portion size between Chile (and Argentina) and the United States. Portion sizes in Chile are entirely reasonable. No one is going to starve. Indeed, they’ll thrive. And, yet, if you’re used to the United States, they’re small. Not so this morning. A basketful of bread, a muffin, banana, ham, cheese, mini pot of coffee, pot of hot tea.
I was very happy.
They maintained a fire that I was able to sit next to and one of the staff, I think the husband of the cook, kept it stoked. It was an odd experience having two people wait only on you. Made me wish I had worn a better t-shirt (it was the green Natural Bridges one, Mary).
And then I was off to see what the sort of decent weather would bring. It brought cold but little wind and just a very small amount of rain. It was, in short, an excellent day. I hiked the “Mirador Los Crateres Trail” which is in Villarica National Park. The trailhead turned out to be about 5 miles from the Lodge and I was on the trail by 10:30. The trail leads to several old craters that were once volcanic vents. Mirador comes from the fact that there are several spots with stunning views. To spoil the outcome, I never once saw the summit of Volcan Villarica. It was shrouded in clouds throughout the day. For the first on- third of the hike, so was I.
Despite not being able to see the volcano, you know the trail is on one. Pretty much all of the trail was on hardened lava. I got lost once and walked up an old flow to a dead end. It was a nice side trip even if I was kicking lava stones every other step. One nice thing about the trail, something I like in ascents, is that it goes through several different climatic zones. For a while we were in think forest with rich lichen. At times, it was nothing but dead lava flows. And then there were the lava flows that had vegetation embedded in them.
The hike is a little over two and a half miles from the parking lot to the craters. At that point, an option is to come down the lava flow. I thought about it but weather was in and out and I wasn’t absolutely sure where I was going. I knew if I retraced my steps I’d be back at the car in less than an hour. Quite a few others took that route and then did, in fact, beat me down. Even though I move pretty quick on downhills (it was about 40 minutes back for me).
My Dad, being a wise man, was constantly counseling me to wear warmer clothes or take a jacket when I was growing up. Being a normal sort of boy, I paid no attention whatsoever. This culminated in a memorable night my freshman year of college. Oklahoma State was playing Wichita State in Stillwater with both teams highly ranked. We vaguely knew a couple of the players so Dad came up. It was a mid-April night and I remember it being pretty warm at the beginning of the game, 7:30 say. Dad told me I needed more clothes. I was in a t-shirt and shorts. Of course I was in t-shirts and shorts. My general opinion, not shared by many people around me, is that this is my best look. In any case, it was a slugfest. Both teams had aluminum bats and no pitching. Three hours later the game was half over and I was freezing my ass off. Dad, realizing I was now a grown man able to make his own stupid decisions would just look at me occasionally and laugh. I remember this as a great day in my evolution as it was that day I realized that he knew what he was talking about in regards to warm clothes (and many other things). It was also the day I realized it never hurts to bring more clothes than you need.
I have, of course, been caught without enough clothes again but not because I don’t think I need them. It happens when you get a bad forecast or simply forget to pack something. Today was such a day. I threw in a hat and gloves when I packed in Santiago and I took them with me on the hike. I had with me a heavy sweatshirt and a rain jacket. What I didn’t have was heavy enough pants. And the plant life, which is at about thigh level for me was wet. Once I got to the top I was well and truly cold.
The only other time I remember being cold in Chile is on top of Monte Tarn. That hardly counts. It was on top of a mountain and within hailing distance of Antarctica. On Villarica today, it was a more realistic cold. The sort of cold that says, “Hey, it’s fall now and you’re at a little bit of altitude. Check it out: snow!” Yes, I touched snow today.
I’ll add some pictures so you have the idea. It was a great hike and I highly recommend it to anyone. I’m sure it’s phenomenal when it’s sunny. It was pretty great with bad weather.
The hike also made me wonder how much of a chameleon I am with accents. Mary says I change tone when I visit Oklahoma. Today, a German couple mistook me for an Englishman based on how I spoke Spanish to them. It just so happens that the person I hear speak Spanish the most here is an Englishman. I spent a few minutes talking to the Germans. He just finished a MS in chemistry so we had a bit in common. The next person I encountered, a Chilean, then thought I was a German! What the hell? After that I ran into another Chilean family who thought I was Chilean and proceeded to fire questions at me. I slowed her down and was able to tell her about the rest of the hike and talk about the area a bit. Finally, I ran into two Americans. Er, people from the United States. I was standing on an outlook and heard them stop down the trail a ways and talk about the amazing view. I was able to tell them to come just a bit further. We talked for awhile and then parted.
The next guy I saw knew I was American.
So, now my theory is that my Spanish accent is so undeveloped that it adopts whoever I talked to last. We’ll see.
After finishing the hike, I gassed up the car and drove through the national park. I came face to face with Volcan Lanin but it, too, was enveloped in cloud. It is an impressive looking mountain even so.
And then I accidentally drove through border patrol. As in “through”. There were no gates and nothing said, “Pare!” so I didn’t stop. But, of course, they assume you’re bright enough to stop when there are big signs saying they’re border control and that you’re about to cross an international border. I did another three point turn and pulled in.
Folks, when you’re in a foreign country and you screw up in front of law enforcement here is what you do: act very, very stupid. And very nice. I apologized and told them that I didn’t want to leave Chile. But the first guy I talked to hadn’t seen me blow through the exit side. He only knew I was, apparently, coming from Argentina and saying I don’t want to leave Chile. And probably seeming a little nervous. And he didn’t speak a lick of English. We went back and forth for what seemed a long time. Eventually, the guy who I had blown past came over and he spoke excellent English. He asked me what the problem was and I apologized again and told him that the border took me by surprise. The post is actually about three miles short of the border and I’d planned to turn around. So I never actually crossed the border but I did go through border control.
Finally, the two officers agreed I was just a garden variety idiot and released me. I expressed my gratitude. Probably in an American accent. Upon my return, the B&B had put a bottle of beer and selection of cheeses in my room. Seriously, come stay here folks. (Inevitably people will wonder how much this room costs when I talk about it this way. You have google so you can find out but let’s put it this way: less than the LaGuardia Super 8 which I have also stayed at.)
So, with that, pictures:
One of several long dormant vents at the end of the trail. The peak of Villarica is pretty much centered in this image I think. But hidden by clouds.
Looking back the way I came in . The shorter mountains in the background ring the eastern edge of Lake Villarica and Pucon.
This is near the eastern edge of the national park. The water is Lake Quilleihue.
Volcan Lanin in cloud. Most of Lanin, including its peak, is in Argentina.
I uploaded these out of order and can’t seem to fix it. This is along the trail.
The trail goes along the right side of this lava tube. I couldn’t see light but it looks as if the tube extends about 70m. I’m sure by now it’s blocked but a small person who isn’t claustrophobic could check it out.
Postscript: I was warned by the innkeepers that the internet is much slower at night than in the mornings. Indeed, I was unable to upload this last night but seems to be fine this morning. I guess there is finite bandwidth to the area and everyone watching videos gums up the works.
I have seen the peak. I saw it last night around 10pm in moonlight which was very nice. And it’s visible this morning, in and out of passing clouds. Hopefully I will have a picture of it later today.