Tuesday, July 07, 2015

Pucón, Chile

We spent a week in February in Pucon, Chile, with friends.  Pucon is a lovely town, very touristy and busy in town in February, but surrounded by awesome national parks, including Volcan Villarica and Parque Nacional Huerquehue.  Miguel, Cecila and family were amazing hosts, putting us up in their home, letting us play with Ray (the dog) and showing us around the region.

Our first day, we went out to a thermal spa.  Our friends recommended a couple and in the end, we went to Termas Huife.  It's a spa on the side of a creek with several warm outdoor pools as well as an indoor pool with jets.  We weren't big fans of the indoor pool as it was too hot, but the outdoor pools were great and there was enough shade for us to eat on lounge chairs outside.  

Our second full day, we took our very small rent-a-car to a trail head for the Rio Turbio in the national park.  We found the road to the trail head and headed up the gravel road for a number of kilometers.  Our maps were less than perfect, and our car had very low clearance.  A few kilometers in, we stopped at a farm and asked a farmer chopping wood for directions.  His directions were a bit unclear, but while we were chatting an Chilean family with two kids and a big pick-up truck came up behind us, looking for the same trail head.   Not far from the farm, the road was too wash-boarded out for our car, and the other family kindly picked us up and took us a couple more kilometers in, until they didn't want to go any farther either.  We parked at a clearing with a sheppard's hut and several burros, and started walking uphill from there.  We walked a couple K along the logging road, past an old logging station, but never got to the lookout, which was supposed to look over the Rio Turbio and have views of Volcan Villarica.  We never had more than peek-a-boo views of the volcano, but we saw tons of old trees, lots of witch's hair lichen, and enjoyed walking with  new-found friends.
Maeve collected quite a bit of witch's hair and made herself a wig once we got home.  Very stylish.

Another day we went up to Volcan Villarica.  You can drive quite a ways up the cinder cone, where there is a ski slope with lots of chairlifts in winter.  In summer it's just lots of pumice.  The mountain was smoking off and on the whole time we were there, so you weren't allowed to climb the summit, which otherwise is a long day's hike.  Two weeks after we left, there was a nice eruption.  Luckily, our friends had already left and nobody in Pucon was hurt.

We spent a lot of time on the cinder cone, a lot of it throwing rocks downhill to see how far they would go.  Silas had a great time.  I'd never been on a cinder cone before.  It's very stark & lovely.  Amazing that the winter ski resort is up there, but I suppose it's easier to maintain above the tree line.

Another day we went to Caburga, which has a lovely beach with tons of amenities.  You could swim, rent all manner of water equipment & boats, and there were plenty of ambulatory salesmen with food, drinks, & toys.  The kids had a great time in the sand and in the water.  Mike and I even got a swim in.

On the way back to Pucon from Caburga, we stopped at Ojos de Caburga, an attraction on the river Caburga.  There were a lot of pools and falls in the river.   The kids, including Martin, enjoyed wading out of the sun.  We had to pay to get in, and then it was a short walk to the first pools and then a little walking around the complex.  It was full of tourists wading around, swimming, cutting illegally through very reinforced safety fences with small children to get to other swimming holes, etc. 

I don't have photos, but there was a pool in the housing development we were staying in.  It was great - almost every late afternoon we went swimming.  The water in the pool was in the sun, but still quite cold. Silas came out shivering every day.

Our longest hike of the trip was in national park Huerquehue.  We hiked a version of Los Lagos route which passed by several viewpoints of Volcan Villarica as well as waterfalls and Lakes where we could wade.  The forest there is amazing, it's full of Araucaria trees, the weird indigenous pine-like trees, as well as the native Nothofagus species we'd seen elsewhere in Patagonia.

View of Volcan Villarica from Huerquehue Park.

Baby Arauraria in the foreground.  One of the lakes, Verde, Chico or Toro.   The scenery was all like this - walking in woods around lakes.    This was perhaps our best hike in Patagonia. 

The park was awesome, and we made it in our little low-clearance rent-a car, although we did park in the parking lot and all smush into Cecelia's SUV for the last couple of kilometers track up to the trail head.  Next time note to self - if we're going to go into parks on washed-out dirt roads, we should get a car with higher clearance. 

From Pucon, we took an overnight sleeper bus to Santiago to catch our flight to Buenos Aires.  That bus was great.  We were on the second story, and had seats that reclined all the way back with footrests that popped up so we had a little bed.   We got into Santiago pretty early in the Am to the main bus station, and had about 4 hours before we needed to take the bus to the airport.  It took a while to figure out where we could check our luggage and how & when to buy the tickets to the airport, and then we took off to see a little of the city.

Then we had our worst experience of the trip.  Our taxi driver ripped us off, first by not taking us the direct route where we wanted to go and then by taking too much money and not giving us change.  We didn't actually loose much money, but it was an unfortunate downer.   There wasn't too much to do in the couple of hours we had in Santiago first thing in the morning, but we'd happened to hit the time & day they had the changing of the guard in front of La Moneda palace.  The square was a great place for the kids to run around, and we had a good spot on the barricades to see the mounted units & band marching in and out.

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