‘An Alternative Guide To’… Pucón

– Tinedawl, Table & Western (2012b)

Sometimes, 2 weeks is just far too long between holidays. The Saturday after getting back from Mendoza was spent with me and my two travel buddies sitting in our favourite Café Mélba eating poached eggs from heaven, drinking proper coffee, sifting through the ‘Lonely Planet Guide to Chile’ and planning our next adventure… a long weekend in Pucón. Located some 487 miles south of Santiago (that’s 783km to my European audience 😛 ) and a resultant 11-hour (but oh-so-cheap!) bus ride away, Pucón is known for being another touristy gateway to nature, having volcanoes, hot springs, lakes and parks all within a stone’s throw. Delightful.

T T & W’s Travel Tip #1: Pucón is famous for its incredible volcano views. Bearing this in mind, pick the soggiest, cloudiest weekend to go in order to minimise the viewing experience. You don’t want to end up taking such views for granted.

We stayed in the Tree House Hostel (yes, it had an actual tree house) and essentially had the run of the place to ourselves. Being out of season meant that we had a ‘private’ living room complete with wood-burning stove, kitchen and bathroom for only the price of a bunk-bed. Evenings were spent sitting around, drinking tea/coffee and eating crisps, and playing card games, and accidentally putting the fire in the wood-burning stove out. Only very occasionally would someone else wander in, only for them to skulk sheepishly out after being thrown a filthy look from Roger for encroaching on our turf. The hostel was very centralised, and so we had a plethora of cafés and restaurants to choose from each day. For our daily breakfast, we would go into the hostel next door – Hostería École – as they had a vegetarian restaurant that well suited our Roger, and would yet again get tanked up on poached eggs, fried potatoes and good coffee before deciding (or not) what to do (or not) that day. On the first day, sleepy after our overnight bus ride, we decided to just spend the afternoon wandering the streets and looking at our surroundings. In particular, we wanted to try and spot Villarrica in the distance…

Pucón is towered over by the cartoon-esque volcano, Villarrica, which is the major aim for many tourists heading to this town. Very much still active, you have the great opportunity to ascend the 2900m to the rim of the crater and watch lava swirling around inside it, being one of only five volcanoes in the world where you can do such a thing. On a clear day from the town, you can see the smoke being puffed out from the top, and very occasionally you can even see the glow of the lava on a clear, dark night. Naturally, just the mere mention of such majestic sights meant that our entire weekend was spent in low, wet cloud so that we couldn’t see nothin’. In fact, I was starting to believe that this volcano had been Photoshopped into people’s images, until it suddenly decided to clear up on – you guessed it – the morning we left Pucón to go back to Santiago. And it is incredible to look at! I think I’ll be going back in the summer time to climb it myself…

Lovely shot as we pulled out of the bus station..

So instead, we just decided to carry on with a little walk around the lake there. We accidentally created our own pack by being adored by several stray dogs who decided to accompany us on our wanderings, so we must have looked a bit of a strange sight. At any rate, the lake was very pretty and allowed us to do something between coffee breaks (despite the fact we couldn’t walk all the way around as the roads either side are private and our dog-army didn’t deter the man at the gate… I hate how they always seem to privitise a load of nature in Chile, we had this problem in La Serena when we wanted to visit some of the many beaches! So not fair!).

Martha with one of our mandatory dog companions

Big and pretty

Speaking of coffee breaks…

T T & W’s Travel tip #2: Don’t be surprised if you go to a café and find one single blueberry in your muffin. A ‘blueberry’ muffin is what you ordered after all, not a ‘bluerries’ (pl.) muffin.

We found a lovely little café-come-bakery in the town centre where we returned to a couple of times – a plethora of different cakes and coffees were available and it would have been rude not to try them all. With wooden furniture and paneling and a huge open fire inside, it felt very cosy on a chilly day. Our first trip there for coffee and cake had mixed results. Roger ordered cheesecake. Here is a picture of Roger’s cheesecake:

A brick of cheesecake!

I ordered a blueberry muffin. Here is a picture of my blueberry muffin:

This would never have happened in Mendoza.

Putting aside the fact that it was lighter than air and kind of hard because it had every droplet of moisture sucked out of it already, it was in possession of one, lone blueberry. One! And it was a terrible blueberry at that! Much of the weekend following this event was spent in shock, resulting in periodic mumblings whilst swaying back and forth, scratching my head and shivering at the memory of such a god-awful baked product. I’ll never understand it, and won’t pretend to. Still, the place managed to redeem itself with other cakes it had on offer, which we bought three huge slabs of and spent one glorious evening gorging ourselves on back at the hostel whilst engaging in erudite conversastion (M: “I was a child progidy!” R: “Well, you evidently grew out of that!”) But seriously… One blueberry?!

T T & W’s Travel tip #3: If you see a sign saying very clearly “waterfall this way” pointing up one of two roads, don’t believe it. Pucón is sneaky, and just wants you to walk aimlessly for 2 hours because it can. 

The girls who were staying in our hostel when we first arrived told us about a ‘secret waterfall’ that they had walked to – Salto el Claro – and told us it was well-worth a trip, being able to walk directly there from the centre of Pucón. So having been told the name of the road to turn off on to, we set off to try and locate said waterfall. We were told that it would probably take us about 30mins to walk to this turn-off, and so by the time we were pushing an hour and were still walking straight, we decided to go 3G and check the GPS on my phone to see where we were. Naturally, we’d walked straight past it about 15mins previously, so we did an about-turn and headed back a bit. We hit a dirt road and walk for a while in a straight line. Eventually, we come to a fork in the road and a sign post. There was nothing pointing towards the road bearing round to the left, but the road going straight on, however, had a couple of clear signs: One saying “Canopy” (that’s a zip-line to you and me), and one saying “Salto el Claro.” With no doubt in our minds as to what way to go, we trundled forward. And forward. And up. And around. And up a bit more… Until we pretty much ran out of path on top of a hill and ended up on what seemed to be a cross between a cheesy holiday park from the 1960s and a construction site, surrounded by pretty fields and what would had offered us a nice mountain view had the rainclouds not been present. Very baffled, we accosted the only person who made himself visible to us (an 8-ft tall bloke in fetching overalls) to ask him if he knew where we were meant to go. Needless to say, we were not in the right place – how silly and naiive of us to think that a sign saying “what you want is this way” is in fact going to present us with what we want that way! – and he told us where he thought we were meant to have turned (the other road at the fork, of course!), that it would probably take a while, and that if we decided to go now we’d best take a torch (it was about 4pm at this point and the clouds were getting heavier). So after cowering under a spindly tree as it started to spit with rain and knowing we had a… *shudder*… decision to make, we headed back down, and around, and down, and forward, until we hit the fork in the road again. After standing at the signpost contemplating what the best way to chop it up for firewood would be, we decided to head back to town and have another crack at waterfall hunting the next day when we had more daylight and more of a clue where to go. This decision did not disappoint, and meant that we then had time for some dinner and to buy some amazing cake for when we returned from a different trip…

T T & W’s Travel tip #4: After complaining about it being cold outside, go to one of the hot springs and complain it’s too hot. Variety is the spice of life!

We were picked up from our hostel at 8pm that evening to be driven to another highlight of the Pucón region – the natural hot springs. A night time dip in 40 degree water whilst it’s 5 degrees outside at night time sounded like fun to us! So we were thrown into a minibus with some other travelers (engaging in the usual conversation of: “Oh, you’re an astrologer! How amazing!” “…You’re a moron, incredible!”) who, lo and behold, had a hand-drawn map with proper instructions on how to find the waterfall. Even better, it even had the same fork in the road we came unstuck at, including a picture of a signpost with a giant ‘X’ through it and a note saying “DO NOT FOLLOW THE SIGN!” Right-o, thanks for the warning… (although this irritated us slightly, as surely if the sign has been pointing the wrong way for so long that there can be maps in circulation telling you not to follow it, why someone hasn’t thought to actually move it so it IS pointing in the right direction?! Like I say, I reckon there’s someone hiding in the bushes just having a  laugh at the silly foreigners getting lost). So we gratefully accepted.

We arrived at the hot springs after about 30mins. There were about six different pools of seemingly increasing temperature seperated a little distance and accessible by gravel paths between them and interspersed with small changing/locker rooms. The only lighting available were something resembling those horrible orange street lights we get back in the UK, but you could hear a river roaring on the other side of an embankment next to the pools. So, we stumble down the huge flight of stone steps, and walk down to the bottom of the springs to get changed. Once in our swimming gear, we legged it from the changing rooms into one of the pools (it was a little chilly!) to find that the pool we picked was the coldest there and was nothing more than a tepid bath. So after about 40 seconds in there, we decided to run further up to one of the hotter pools. One major hint if you should go to a hot spring… Bring flip-flops!! Stones on cold, bare feet cause pain! The people swanning around with flip-flops and dressing gowns were obviously professional hot-springers, and no doubt took delight in our various cries of horror (except from Martha… Turns out growing up in the countryside has made her springy like a wild Scottish haggis running around on the rocks. Hardcore.). We eventually came across one of the hotter springs where several people were quietly steaming themselves. Roger and Martha got in fairly sharpish and breathed giant sighs of relief. I followed and stopped about 2 steps down – it was a HOT hot spring! It was like stepping onto the surface of the sun, and I was torn between wanting to become a human icicle outside or witness the skin melt off my body inside. So I stood in one place just shouting “Ow!” at the other two for a little while, hopping from one foot to the other, before gingerly making my way down little by little. I eventually adapted, but couldn’t stay submerged for more than a few minutes at a time. And so we would perch precariously on the surrounding rocks and have a sip of the cheeky vino tinto that Martha and I snuck in to the place, swigging it out of a coke bottle like two truly classy ladies (well, it was classy wine… came in a 1.5 litre bottle, and cost us under CLP $2000).

The hot hot spring. Picture taken by Roger as my attempt just resulted in a picture of mist, and I didn’t want to be mistaken for a gorilla.

After a fair while in this pool, gazing up at what would have been a lovely star-filled sky in the summer, we went for one last attempt in a cooler pool. So once again, we ran the path-of-pain to reach it (“it’s like heaven interspersed with little bits of hell!”, cried Roger), and spent the remainder of the time being silly and having water-fights with each other before getting changed and heading back up to the bus after a lovely 2 hours.

T T & W’s Travel tip #5: Upon your second attempt to find aforementioned waterall, be sure to go in the heaviest rain imaginable. There’s nothing like being cold and wet to make you appreciate going to see something cold and wet.

We lost our map at breakfast time. Epic fail. We went into our vegetarian restaurant with it, managed to leave without it somehow. Luckily we had been admiring it and laughing about how simple it would be now that we had the magic map in our hands, and so between us we managed to piece together fragmented information to come up with the route. And somehow we managed it without getting lost once! It took us around two hours to walk to the turn-off for the falls themselves, in what can only be described as the Welsh countryside. From the moment we left the hostel to the moment we got back to town, it poured with rain. And I mean poured. We were all completely drenched within five minutes, but being British we refused to let that deter us, whether our clothes stuck to us and we lost feeling in our limbs or not! Looking at the photos out of context, you would certainly not place us in Chile. It amazes me how you can see ‘familiar’ scenery literally on the other side of the planet. But it’s one main reason I adore the South – yes, it’s a little soggy, but that’s what makes it so lush and green and pretty, in stark contrast to the arid deserts of the North.

Could we look any more British?!

Misty mountains

Having reached the turning point for the falls, we left poor recovering Roger safely under a tree and Martha and I marched forwards and down a path that was trecherous in the mud created by all the rainfall – a steep climb down, swinging off tree roots, stepping in muddy puddles up to your ankles… Martha ‘wild haggis’ Tabor naturally went sprinting off down ahead as I wobbled my way down like a concussed donkey. We turned one particular corner, and were suddenly greeted by the roar of the cascading water, although it was still out of sight. A little further down, and just in between the trees, we caught our first glimpse of the waterfall. And what a sight! 80m tall, and tumbling down into a pool that led into a river with amazing force. I think all the rain just added to the atmosphere of the place (although it made it very difficult to take a decent photograph), although I can imagine it’s beautiful down there on a clear, sunny day.

“Cascada” in Spanish, pretty name

Splash!

So after we stood gawking at it for a little while, we started our muddy, steep climb back up again to see if Roger had escaped. But he was waiting for us like a good little curly-haired labradoodle, and we set off on the return journey back to town. And of course it stopped raining the closer we got. But we were rewarded for our dedication when we got back to the hostel to find that our fire had been re-stoked, we had massive cake in the fridge, some of our classy red wine left, and Roger even kindly cooked us veggie shepherd’s pie for dinner to round off a truly British-feeling afternoon. A lovely day followed by a lovely evening, and a good way to finish off our long weekend before getting the bus back the next morning. 🙂

Drying off. It’s no fun being a human waterfall!

So the next morning we piled back onto the bus for another epic 11-hour journey back to the city. A sad moment, as it was to be Martha’s last trip with us before she went back to Scotland to start her 4th year Undergrad at St Andrew’s. I’m still trying to convince her to come back in January… 😉

My next jaunt will be back to Vina del Mar for a mini Chile-based conference, which I am looking forward to… Without a tsunami escapade this time!! So as ever, there will be much more to report in the future. In the meantime, it’s back to work to try and get my next paper out before Christmas… Sometimes I forget that I’m meant to be doing astronomy amidst these trips! 😉

Hasta la proxima,

Amy
-x-

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