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Petrified in Pucón

After saying a fond farewell to Tumuñan Lodge, I made my way back to Santiago and the hotel where I was to meet my tour group. I know people can be somewhat snooty about organised tours but Patagonia is so vast and remote that attempting to cover the distance I wanted in the little time I had, meant that this was really my only viable option. Never knowing who you could end up sharing a room with, I knocked on my hotel room door with some trepidation. But I was met by Caroline, a thirty year old from London, who jumped at the suggestion of a quick drink before meeting the rest of the group, and I knew we'd get on just fine.

The following day 17 of us, plus my newly returned rucksack, boarded our truck 'Peggy' - basically a yellow box on wheels kitted out with fridge and music system, and not a lot else. It was a full day's drive to our first destination of Pucón, stopping off for lunch at the side of the road by the waterfalls of Salto del Laja, where we also tried the local delicacy of Charqui - a kind of jerky made from horse meat, which was not actually as unpleasant as you'd think! Arriving in Pucón later that day, we were greeted by the beautiful lake Lago Villarrica, surrounded by mountains and presided over by the active, snow-capped volcano of the same name. Full of alpine lodges, chocolate shops and bavarian beer houses, you'd think you'd arrived in the Swiss Alps, not Southern Chile. And so obviously the first thing we did was try a beer. Or two. And some pisco sours. And maybe some more beer. Which inevitably resulted in a few of us doing ludicrous karaoke in the quietest of local bars at three o'clock in the morning...

Moving on from the excellent hospitality, the main attraction in Pucón is climbing Volcán Villarrica. Standing at 2847m and having briefly erupted in March this year, this is one of Chile's most active volcanoes. Kitted out with crampons and ice picks, we set off at 6am to conquer the summit (after a day's recovery obviously, I'm not totally insane). Now traditionally you are supposed to start the ascent from the top of the ski lift but this wasn't working so we had 1800m of gruelling uphill before we even reached the snow. And then I had a panic attack.

It turns out that what I had prior to assumed was a minor dislike of heights is actually a very real and physically debilitating terror. I looked down and all I could see was impending death. Frustrated and petrified in equal measure, I burst into tears halfway up a bloody volcano, not able to go up or down. Our mountain guide, however, was extraordinarily patient with me and managed to coax me up to 2200m. Each icy step was an intense internal struggle, convinced I was going to slide all the way to my doom at any moment. Which is kind of ironic, because the only way to get off the mountain is to do just that. You are given what I can only describe as a giant plastic spoon to use as a sledge and it's you versus the volcano! After my first slide ended with me face first in the snow under another bloody rucksack (3-0), I realised I wasn't actually going to die on this volcano and began to enjoy myself. Four hours of sweat and tears up, one hour of eeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeee down! Although I didn't make it to the summit, I am damn proud of how far I did get, considering how ridiculously scared I was.

Back on horizontal ground, we treated ourselves to a celebratory beer before a relaxing evening in the local hot springs of Los Pozones, ready for another day's drive across the border to Bariloche...






Posted by christinahicks 10:25

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