This is not real life. Cachai?

Posted by on March 26, 2013

I feel as if every blogpost I write opens with a reminder of how long I’ve been here/a countdown of the time I have left. But only because I absolutely cannot believe that time is flying by so quickly! As of yesterday, I’ve been in sweet, sunny Santiago for a whole month. A month?! I feel like I just arrived! Either way, I now know how important it is to take advantage of my time here, and do everything possible! Hence the trip I took this weekend to Pucón.

Like a cool kid, I managed to not have classes on Friday (HOLLA). So on Thursday night, Phoebe, Elizabeth, Martha and I were on our way to Pucón via an overnight bus. We arrived in the cute little town of Pucón at 9 the next morning, and set out to find our hostel, with the help of a random hostel owner who tried to convince us to stay at her own hostel. After checking in, we decided to go on a horseback ride and explore the Mapuche (Chilean indigenous people) countryside. The trail we followed, after traveling through a shallow river and narrow spaces in the forest, stopped on the side of a mountain, with an awesome view of the whole town of Pucón. Getting to this location was a challenge though, seeing as my horse loved to stop and eat…all the time. I found myself constantly yelling, “camina!” and “que no comas!!!” The latter was the most popular phrase of the day.

When we returned to the Mapuche ranch where we started, a feast was waiting for us. And by feast, I mean empanadas (de queso y pino), sopapilla, pebre (pico de gallo), mole, some kind of thing made from trigo (wheat) with some marmelada to put on top, and also a drink made from the same trigo stuff… Needless to say, it was absolutely delicious. We then headed to Lago Villarrica which was just down the road from our hostel. After a quick trip to the grocery store to get lunch food and snacks for our hike the next day, we returned to el lago to watch the sunset, which was amazing by the way. The mountains around the lake were just incredible. After our eyes were satisfied, it was time to satisfy our tummies. We dined at Club 77, and had these humongous hamburgers, with delicious avocado on top. A little fella, aka a dog, joined us at our outside table as we watched the Chile v. Peru game through the window of the restaurant. He was so cute, I just wanted to love him and take him home! One of the most interesting things we witnessed though was a wedding procession down the street. Bernardo O’Higgins is THE street in Pucón. It has all the restaurants, tourism agencies and stores you could think of. As we were just about to walk home, we heard all these horns honking. What the heck is going on? We then realized that the first car was decorated and the bride and groom were sitting in the back. Then about 15 cars followed behind them, with their flashers on and honking profusely. It was such an interesting thing to watch, as the cars drove up and down the street. When we got back to our hostel, we were greeted by some Israeli friends. Apparently Pucón is a huge stop for Israelis traveling in South America. So we had some friendly company as we made our sandwiches for the next day. Also, fun fact: all the signs in our hostel were in Hebrew, English and Spanish.

Now for Saturday. Bright and early, at 6:45, we stumbled out to the back shed to meet Gina, our hostel owner. (Our hostel had a tourism agency within it and we decided to book our courageous hike to the top of volcán Villarrica with them, which in hindsight was an awful decision, just because other companies offered it for less). We piled into a van with 7 other eager hikers, including 2 girls from the Czech and 1 guy and his parents from the Netherlands and of course some pololos. When we reached our starting point, a beautiful sunrise was there to greet us. What the perfect start to our day! We started the hike, and when we got to the ski lift, totally took advantage of it, although it cost extra. It was either 7.000 pesos and saving your energy or 1 hour of hiking through boring terrain and wasting precious energy. We went with saving energy.

Volcán Villarrica is no joke. The hike was one of the most difficult, if not the most difficult, I have ever gone on. It dominates the skyline of Pucón, all 2800 meters of its glory. The hike could be divided into 3 parts: rock, glacier, and then rock again. The first portion took about an hour and a half, the glacier about 2 and a half, and the last rock part about 30 minutes. Even though this may seem super cray, have no worries. We had 3 guias that helped us along the way; one of them, Pablo, stuck with us and encouraged us the whole time (if by encourage, you mean screaming “vamos!” at us 50 million times). Through our spanglish conversations, we became fast friends. Can you say nuevo mejor amigo? We looked to him for help especially when we started hiking the ring of ice that was around the volcano. He helped us put on our crampons and told us when we needed to wear gloves, etc. Basically told us how to hike this monstrous volcano as safely as possible.

But when we got to the top, oh man. I would say it’s absolutely incredible, but I feel like you wouldn’t believe me. Everything here is absolutely incredible. But this. This was far beyond anything I’ve ever seen. You could see mountains for days, lakes on every side, even the 2 neighboring volcanos, Llaima (which is on the border of Chile and Argentina) and the other, which I cannot remember. We even got to peek into the crater. It was amazing. You could see the layers of all the different sediments…green for sulfur, red for iron…it was literally the coolest.

By far, sliding down was the best part of the hike. It made the 4+ hours of hiking worth it. The glacier part of the volcano we struggled up earlier? Slid down the whole thing in 20 minutes. It was SO fun. At this point, Pablo kept telling us to bend our knees and keep our ankles together, because if you did not, a visit to the hospital would probably be needed. Being rescued and carried down on a backboard would not be fun, and we saw this firsthand. Apparently there was some guy who was taking pictures and stepped back too far and fell and broke his ankle? I don’t know the whole story, but I do know that 7 guides carried him down the volcano, and we ended up following them. We went down a different way than we came up, and the steps I took felt like I was ice skating but in dirt. It was the weirdest thing. Also on our descent, we encountered clouds moving in for the rain expected later that night.

Just as anyone else would get into a hot tub after a long day of physical activity, we found some hot springs to do the same. Besides the hot springs that have been turned into spas, there are Las Termas Geométricas and Los Pozones, which are natural. Every tour company we talked to tried to persuade us that Geométricas was the way to go, but Los Pozones was cheaper, and it was natural. It was such a good choice. There were 5 pools; we didn’t try all of them. We had heard that the last was the warmest, so when we got off the bus and walked into the chilly weather outside, we practically ran to the hot spring. And boy oh boy was it maravilloso. There we met two sisters, one of whom is currently living in Santiago, and more Israelis (told you they all come here).

On Sunday morning, we woke up to the rain pattering outside our windows. It felt so nice to sleep in, whereas the day before we were up before the sun was! After cleaning our room in the hostel, we ventured to ask Gina if we could leave our things there for the day as we explored the town some more. She was SO nice and let us do exactly that, even though our bus back to Santiago wasn’t until 10 that night. We decided to set out to find los Ojos del Caburgua, which consists of waterfalls. It’s not as near as rigorous as the previous waterfall hikes I’ve attempted to go on. Ojos del Caburgua is just a really nice place to have a picnic, and take lovely pictures of course. After we missed our bus stop the first time, we drudged through the drizzling rain and found them! The water there was absolutely phenomenal. It was the brightest, clearest blue I’ve ever seen. Like it looked so fake, as if it belonged on a putt-putt course.

After we successfully found the waterfalls, we set out to find La Creperia, a fabulous restaurant with delicious crepes. We are the only people dining there for a while, but that didn’t stop us from ordering hot chocolate and manjar frutilla crepes. (My mouth is watering at the name of it.) The waitress brought out our food and we started to partake in what would be the best, warmest meal ever, after walking around in the chilly rain. The first two bites of my crepe were fantastic. And then tragedy struck.

Somehow, silverware and plates clashed and would not move. The plate with Martha’s hot chocolate ended up being the first to move, and emptied all its contents atop my huge crepe. I was heartstruck. My crepe and Martha’s hot chocolate were ruined. Thank goodness it didn’t burn me. The waitress kindly brought out a mop and cleaned everything up, including taking my hot chocolate-covered crepe away (which I tried a bite of…and wasn’t bad at all…definitely edible). So there I sat, watching Phoebe, Elizabeth and Martha devour their crepes while I sipped on my hot chocolate. And waited. And waited. And waited. No new crepe for me.

Life lesson: in Chile, if you spill something on your food, don’t expect them to bring you another for free. That’s totally American to think such a thing. They will only bring you another plate of food if it’s their fault, like if the chef messes up when cooking your food. So needless to say, I was starving the rest of the afternoon until we bought empanadas before our bus ride back. Coming back to Santiago was pretty boring, besides the man sitting across from us who blasted some Defying Gravity. And sang all the words. Love him.

During our activities this weekend, we kept repeating the phrase, “this is not real life. Cachai?” I cannot believe we hiked a volcano/glacier/survived to tell it. I cannot believe that I’ve been able to go to such amazing places. I cannot believe that I can study during the week and then travel to some of the most unique places in this world. I have definitely caught the travel bug, and am eager to go wherever, whenever. I only have 102 days left here!! Let’s get to adventuring.

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