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Written on: Sunday January 27th, 2008

A journal entry from: Kevin and Julie's RTW

Location: Pucon, Chile


Author: Julie




We left the underwhelming town of Chillán this morning on a bus to Temuco. Our final destination was to be Pucon in the Lakes District but there were no direct buses. We drove through the Bio-Bio region which is known as the heart of Chile's rich agricultural region. It is also in an area of frequent seismic activity, suffering from devastating earthquakes throughout its history; the last, in 1939, left over 30,000 dead and mobilized international help. We passed by fields of fruits trees, as well as vineyards, corn stalks, potato plants and other vegetables we couldn?t identify.


We arrived at the lovely Temuco bus station which gave us a taste of what the Lakes District would be like with its large wooden beam structure. The landscape had changed in the last half hour to look more like our area of Canada with large forests of deciduous trees (mostly poplar). We were entertained during our one hour wait by the presence of a playful puppy that belonged to one of the bus station employees. He was a real sweetheart and had caught the attention of a little boy. The boy would get the puppy excited then would take off running hopping he would be chased but the game must have been going on for a long time as the puppy would chase for a few seconds then have to lay down to take a break. The chasing and playing took them closer to us till the puppy was hanging out with us and ignoring the little boy. He actually climbed into Kevin?s lap without any prompting and quickly fell asleep. The boy realising the game was over came to talk to us for a while. We practiced our grade school Spanish and he tried the few English words he knew. He was a smart, funny little guy and he had us laughing all the time at his playfulness. It was driving the boy nuts that the puppy was asleep and didn?t want to play anymore. When the bus arrived, Kevin put the puppy down who never stirred and we walked to the bus. The boy returned to his mother who was working one of the stalls. He waved good-bye to us and the moment the bus pulled out of the station he went back to the sleeping puppy and tried to wake him to play once again. Not sure how successful he was.


We arrived in the lovely, touristy city of Pucon in the mid-afternoon with no accommodations booked. This could have been a problem since it is a very popular summer vacation spot for Chileans and foreigners alike. Pucón is a major centre of adventure tourism in Chile. During the summer, tourist are privileged to enjoy the attractions in this natural surrounding; hiking, rafting, horse back riding, bird watching, and fishing.  A volcano, several lakes, beautiful forests and thermal baths are destinations which bring tourist all year round. In the winter and spring months it is possible to go skiing or snowboarding on the trails of the Villarrica volcano.


Leaving the bus station we were approached by a woman and once more luck proved to be on our side. She had a house in which she rented rooms for really reasonable prices. She didn?t live in the house herself, it was to be shared by the renters only. It was only a couple of blocks from the main street with all the restaurants and travel agencies. We walked with her to check it out and found a small house with a living room, kitchen/dining room, three small bedrooms, a bathroom with stand-up shower and a small yard with a clothesline. The two front facing rooms were already occupied but the back room was still free for us. We would later meet the two German girls and two Chilean guys who were the occupants. We dropped our bags on the bed and told her we would take it.


The temperature was really hitting its peak for the day and we were sweating. The area had been experiencing a heat wave for the past week with temperatures staying in the mid-30s. We spent the remainder of the day walking around the little Disney-esq town with lots of high-end clothing stores, trendy restaurants, and BMW and Mercedes-Benz cars in the parking lots of gorgeous condominium buildings. We stopped at the local grocery store to take advantage of the kitchen we had and to avoid spending a lot more money then we would like in the fancy restaurants along the main drag. We bought various ingredients with the plan of making food for the next three days. Each teller had a line of at least 10 people waiting to pay and have their groceries bagged.


That evening, over a great meal of pasta and garlic bread, we made the acquaintance of Karin and Catherine from Germany. They had just spent the day climbing the volcano Villarica that looms over the town with its perfect cylindrical snow-capped cone. They had many recommendations about which travel agency to visit since they had spent the previous day comparing prices. After having done the climb, they realised that each travel agency follows the same path and includes the same equipment. There was no difference once on the mountain, the only difference was in the fanciness of the travel agency offices.


The next day we woke up with the intention of booking a climb up mount Villarica. We stopped at a couple of travel agencies to do our own fact gathering. There was a 10,000 Chilean pesos difference from one to another. We finally decided on booking with Limay Tours which had the most basic office but also the most people waiting to book for the next day. It catered mostly to young Israelis, who were on a tour of South America after spending 2 (for women) or 3 (for men) years in the army. At the age of 18, every single Israeli receives a letter telling them to present themselves at one barrack or another for basic training. After approximately 3 months, training is complete and they are assigned to a specialised job within the army. We were becoming apt at knowing which nationality a traveller was before speaking with them, there are some stereotypes that usually prove true. I?m just generalising but we?ve been right more often than wrong. For Germans, we look at their backpacking equipment, they usually have really nice stuff and they tend to be tall. The Dutch are usually really, really tall and fair. The French tend to have a more eclectic style of dressing and tend to be slim. Americans are identifiable by their direct smile and openness. As for the Israelis, they tend to be younger with long thick hair, in response to having to shave their heads every 3 weeks for the past 3 years. Their service time pays them peanuts, so once released they worked as many hours as they can for 6 months before heading off to cheap South East Asia or to South America. This makes them very aware of the value of money and places (ie restaurants, hostel, and travel agencies) that cater to them tend to be cheaper with equivalent service. It works out to the advantage of businesses though since they have lower prices but they get more people booking with them. They tend to travel in small groups and will pass along any information on the best places to eat, sleep, and book with any other group they meet. This makes for a strong travel network which enjoys their trip until the money runs out. We?ve avoided talking politics with them because we feel that they left their country for a while to get away from the politics they lived with each day of their service. They have been some of the nicest people with an incredible amount of ?joie-de-vive?. A supper in a shared kitchen with them makes me feel like its Christmas with everyone talking over everyone, amazing food being cooked, music playing, people singing. It?s always a fantastic time.


With our booking for tomorrow we had the remainder of the day to enjoy the black volcanic sands of Lake Villarica. The weather report for the day had the temperature rising to 35C. We returned to our room, grabbed our beach clothes and walked the five minutes to the shore. It was packed tight with sunbathers. We settled on the patio of a small restaurant for a beer and to people watch for a while. Beside us were men with dozens of beach parasols and beach chairs for rent. Walking amongst the crowd were people selling fruit juices, water and soft drinks, others were selling ice cream and fruit treats, and then there were my favourite: men loaded from head to toe with water toys. From the back you couldn?t see them at all, it looked like a large pack of plastic toys floating around, with a disembodied voice yelling out their names and prices. Our expensive beer finished, we spotted a small spot amidst the mass of bodies and plunk our travel towels down to mark our little territory. The sand was unbelievably hot and people ran by us as they tried to get to the water. Trying to be frugal we said no to the multiple offers of a parasol and beach chair. Within 15 minutes we were both boiling so Kevin headed off to cool off in the water, while I stayed behind to watch out stuff. He started out walking gingerly around the laid out bodies but by the time he reached the water he was hot-footing it. He spent a while in the water and returned much refreshed. He warned me the water was cold but I was so hot that I couldn?t wait to get in there. I put my foot out on the sand and was sure that a layer of skin had boiled off. I ran all the way saying ?ouch, ouch, ouch? till I was able to drop my feet into the freezing cold water. The lake was fed by glacial waters so it was a huge shock from the 35C to the water temperature. Only a few feet away from where I was, a spring was emptying into the lake. I spent about 10 minutes soaking in the cold waters while dodging the kids that were zooming around, the parents that were chasing them, the lovers that were intertwined and didn?t notice anyone but themselves, and others like me who sighed with relief when finally arriving at the water?s edge. We spent a couple of hours at the beach before the heat had sapped our energies and we returned to our room for a cooling shower and a nap. In the early evening, once the heat had dissipated a bit, we went for a walk towards the north end of town. We found a very quiet area with condominiums, tennis courts, jungle gyms for kids, a small bay with large expensive boats and small restaurants with patios light by white LED lights. I felt a vibe very similar to Tremblant in the summer. It was very nice and relaxing. We ended our evening by packing our daybags for next day?s adventure up a volcano.