Hello friends! First and formally, I would like to let you all know that Volcan Calbuco is in no way negatively influencing the time I have here in Chile; if anything, I secretly/not so secretly wish I was there to see these eruptions happening because it’s just so damn cool. Although I clearly haven’t been able to get down to Puerto Montt to see Calbuco, this past Wednesday, I packed up my backpacking bag and grabbed the overnight bus to Pucón in southern Chile. Pucón has currently been in the news because of the recent eruption of its volcano, Volcan Villarrica, which happened in March. Villarrica is pretty tame at this point in time, so there was no danger in going to Pucón this past week.
A few days before leaving for Pucón, I had been planning on going to Parque Nacional Huerquehue and just camping out for the weekend until I saw the weather report for the Pucón area. A plethora of rain was predicted for two of the three days that I planned to be there, which meant that unfortunately (and fortunately) camping wouldn’t be the best option for shelter. I ended up contacting the hostel that Danny and Steffi stayed at when they ventured to Pucón in March: the Pucón Kayak Hostel. I was really lucky to get a room there, especially since the hostel was closing down for the winter/rainy season. One of the guys that works at the hostel, Willie, was really helpful with setting everything up and helping me get to my hiking destinations. Thanks to him, I got a pretty sweet deal for staying there considering that the place was shutting down, but because I thought it was super generous for all that he did for me, I ended up helping him pack up the hostel during my last day in Pucón. Despite the fact that the hostel was closing down, I’d say all in all the service was/is A+ awesome, and the people working there are super friendly and great (shout out to Willie — coolest dude ever).
I arrived in Pucón Thursday morning, and found my way to the Pucón Kayak Hostel shortly after catching the local bus heading to Caburgua. After meeting Willie and discussing plans of my stay, we decided to spend the afternoon hiking in El Cañi, a natural reserve about 21ish kms from Pucón. Willie drove us to the entrance of the reserve, where we paid the $4.000 entrance fee, and then he drove us to a different entrance of the reserve that cut off a lot of the hike so that we could spend more time at the top admiring the view. El Cañi is a temperate rainforest (as is much of the region of Pucón, also know as the Araucana Region) filled with the ancient araucaria (araucaria araucana) trees of Chile, making much of the landscape look as though it’s directly from the Carboniferous geological time period. The hike wasn’t terribly difficult or exhausting, which gave me many opportunities to admire the landscape and converse with Willie. The summit of the hike left us with an incredible view of the regional volcanoes, including Villarrica, and many of the lakes of the region.
The return hike to the car was another difficulty; at the beginning of the hike, Willie and I had to do a little scouting to find the ‘secret’ trail to the summit. When we weren’t able to find the beginning of the trail from where we were parked, we took a longer route that intersected the secret trail. Getting down, we also had difficulties finding the end/beginning of the secret trail, and ended up having to hop a few barbed wire fences (that was a sight to see). Any other person, and that might not have been considered a thrilling hike, but I thought it was a fun adventure, exploring some of the unmarked territory of El Cañi. Our hike left us hungry and covered in the ashes of Volcan Calbuco (which had blown over to Pucón in the course of the past week). We headed back to the hostel, showered up, and hit the town up for some satisfying food at the local gringo bar called Latitude 39.
Knowing that Friday would be full of rain, I called it an early night and crashed after devouring a burger (yes, beef) with my favorite topping (mushrooms), fries, some soup and a glorious pint of beer. Upon the darkening of the night, the silhouette of Villarrica disappeared, but the frothing lava and small plume of smoke could still be seen in the black sky. At the time, the best words I had for that sight were “It’s soooo coooooool.”
Indeed, Friday was full of rain. For the most part, I was ready to take it on, and probably a little too determined to do what I had set out to do from Santiago, which was to hike the famous trail of Parque Nacional Huerquehue, Los Lagos. Based on the description of the trail that I read online, it sounded as though it was a pleasant walk in the woods passing by a plethora of lakes. I couldn’t really picture exactly what the hike would be like, but it sounded pretty pleasing to me. I chose to do the big circuit, which consisted of viewing 5 lakes, reaching an elevation of over 5,000 feet, and hiking about 12.9 ish kms. From the ranger station and back, the circuit is actually more like 17 kms, but Willie dropped me off at the trail head and I only had to hike back to the ranger station, so the hike for me was more like 15 kms.
Prepped with my rain jacket, under-armor, and rain cover for my bag, I felt invincible walking into the forest alone (having checked in with the park rangers, of course). I was instantly amazed by the size of the ancient trees, and the canopy that they created in combination with the vines and other draping plants of the forest. My first reaction was “It’s like I’m in a tropical rain forest except it’s chilly” (which later turned to “it’s like I’m in a tropical rain forest except it’s fucking cold”). The rain helped add to the feeling of being in a tropical rain forest. For the whole hike, I walked in silence, listening only to the rain hitting the forest floor or the canopy of the trees. It was incredibly peaceful, and gave me a lot of time to think and process many things that I hadn’t been able to process for a long time. I felt at ease, probably the most at ease that I’ve ever been since I’ve been abroad, even as my rain jacket slowly began to fail me and the cold started to get to my body. It was one of the first times in a long time that I truly felt happy with where I was and with what I was doing.
Around mid hike, the combination of cold and wetness began to get to me. I was only able to stop for a quick snack for five or so minutes before I had to start going again, because my body would tense up with the lack of movement. Some parts of the downhills of the hike were a little muddy, and I had to use my handy bamboo walking stick to navigate my way down without sliding down on my butt. I think that’s when I started to feel a little bit of fear, when the thought of possibly not making it back in one piece crept into my mind. Of course, when it did, my rational mind barked “that’s ridiculous, you’re going to be fine, you always have been.” Thank god for rationality. I don’t know if it was the cold or due to my athletic ability or whatnot, but I managed the hike in less than 5 hours, making it back to the ranger station as a wet trekker in need of a hot shower.
After the cold hike of natural beauty and a major self discovery, I was pretty worn out, and again called it an early night after destroying a good amount of my food supply in attempts to make up for the energy spent during the day. The next day, I got up late and packed my things before offering Willie some help with cleaning up the hostel property for the closing of the season. We spent a few hours organizing kayaking gear, and then cooked up some eggs in the kitchen and hung out chatting for the rest of the afternoon and into the early evening. My bus back to Santiago was to leave Pucón at 22:30 in the evening, so we just drove back into town, grabbed some pizza and drinks at a place called Pizza Cala, and then Willie dropped me off at the bus terminal for my long ride back to Santiago. It was sad departing my new friend, but there’s always a chance that we’ll see each other bumping around Chile in the future!
In all seriousness, Pucón is the real deal for you naturalists who just want to be in the wild all the time. I only visited two of the many wilderness opportunities that one could encounter in the region, and they have me emotionally attached to the place. It may just be one of the most beautiful places I’ve visited in the world, filled with a vast landscape of ancient biology and thrilling adventure (oh, I guess I didn’t mention that kayaking is really popular in Pucón too — when I return in the distant future, maybe I’ll give it a go). Even in the cooler, wet season, getting out in the area is the perfect get away from the business of ordinary life of a bored university student seeking a new experience.