Chile - Pucon and the Bio Bio
Europe - Germany, Belgium, and France
Nepal - Around Manaslu
Australia - Driving around Southern Australia
Australia - Olympics
Australia - Great Barrier Reef
Thailand - Bangkok
Vietnam - Central and South
Vietnam - North
Egypt - Along the Nile
Egypt - Touring and diving
Israel and Jordan
Brief return to the USA
Ecuador - Quito and surroundings
Ecuador - Galapagos Islands
Ecuador - Quito and the jungle
Peru - Machu Picchu and Lima
Peru - Cusco and the Sacred Valley
Zimbabwe and South Africa - Vic Falls and Blyde River Canyon
South Africa - Motorcycle trip
Argentina - Buenos Aires and Iguazu Falls
Argentina - Bariloche and San Martin de los Andes
Chile - Exploring the Lake Region
Chile - Pucon and the Bio Bio
Argentina - El Calafate and El Chalten
Chile - Puerto Natales and Torres del Paine
Argentina - Rio Gallegos and Ushuaia
Chile - Santiago and Punta Arenas
Guatemala and Honduras - Rio Dulce and Copan
Guatemala - Coban and Spanish school
Guatemala - Tikal and Spanish school
Guatemala - Antigua and Spanish school
At the hostal in Punta Arenas, we were greeted with a huge, delicious breakfast at 7:00 am. It was great! It was not possible to eat all of the food that they prepared for us.
On reflection, the Hostal de la Avenida is a wonderful place to stay. It borders between a bed and breakfast and a 2 star hotel. The building is a large house, with most of the rooms off of the garden. The rooms are cozy and warm, the bathrooms modern, and offer many small amenities. The management has thought of the details. The bathrooms not only have shampoo, but toothbrushes and toothpaste. The minibar is well stocked, and with reasonable prices. On the bedside tables are fresh apples (with knife and napkin) and hard candy. It was great to feel so comfortable.
The taxi picked us up promptly and took us to the airport. LanChile runs a tight ship and the line moved quickly. The agent told us that there was no room on the 8:30 flight, but to wait for 5 minutes.
A few minutes later, she called us up and gave us seats! We paid the US$8pp airport tax and boarded the plane, elated. Unbelievably, the plane was barely 60% full! We have no idea why the 2 offices and the airport initially told us no seats were available. The travel book mentioned going to the airport for extra seats and it was correct.
At the airport we researched renting a car, but decided that now is not the time since we want to spend one week in Pucon and won't need it then. So, we hopped on an ETM bus, paid $.40 each and went into town. At the bus station we learned that we have to go to Valdivia to reach Pucon, which means 2 more buses.
The guidebook mentioned a great travel agency, Travellers, so we headed there. It was not quite as we had imagined, but that did have information on the Cruces de Lagos to get to Bariloche, as well as a brochure for a cool horsepacking trip by Campo Aventura. We decided to talk about these, and headed next door to lunch.
Louisa ordered a mixed dish that sounded terrific, and it was huge, although not very flavorful. We then headed to the phone center to take care of some travel arrangements. Unfortunately, their computer was very slow, so we spent over an hour there.
We then returned to Travellers and bought our tickets for Bariloche and signed up for a 3 day Campo Aventura trip later in the week. The afternoon was gettin late, so we caught a local bus back to the terminal. There we found that there's only one bus direct to Pucon, but there were several to Valdivia, from which we could catch another to Pucon. We bought a ticket for the next bus - a mistake, we found out later - and went across the street to buy some provisions at the supermarket.
Once we got on our way, we discovered our mistake - we had accidentally taken a local, which stopped at nearly every fruit stand between Puerto Montt and Valdivia. The 200km journey took almost 4 hours. By the time we got there, there were no more buses to Pucon, so we started looking for lodging. Fortunately for us, we found a decent hosteria a block from the bus station, dropped our packs and went to dinner. After a good seafood dinner down by the Rio Calle Calle, we headed to bed.
We got up and had the usual continental breakfast, and then trooped back to the bus station for the 9am bus to Pucon. Once again we stopped for schoolchildren by the side of the road, and finally rolled in around 12:30. We loaded up and looked at the map, only to discover the tourist office was completely the other side of town. Disappointed, we shouldred our mochillos and headed across town. 5 minutes later we were there - it's not exactly a big town.
We started by looking for a place to stay. Armed with a list of apart-hotels and hosterias from the tourist office, we stopped by the nearest - and most expensive - first, right in the center of town. One look at the modern and tastefully decorated suite with kitchen and we dropped our bags. So much for comparison shopping. We did get the low-season price, which actually made it quite reasonably priced.
We then began shopping for adventurous things to do. Climbing the active Volcan Villarica was an obvious option we wanted to explore. Every agency does these trips, so no problem there. Also, Tom had been wanting to raft the Bio Bio river since reading an article about it years ago, so we went to rafting agencies. Because of the end of the season, none seemed to have trips going, although the Futaleufu seemed like a viable alternative. Finally, by chance, we walked by one with a sign and found that they are running their last trip in 2 days, and it sounded great.
We also discovered a company runnung 4x4 tours around Volcan Villarica where you drive yourself, and the guide drives ahead - you keep in touch via radio. This also sounded great, so we adjourned to lunch to discuss and decide our itinerary.
La Tetera is a cozy hostel that advertises "real coffee and tea", so we stopped for a sandwich there. Louisa ordered a Chai Tea, but was disappointed that it was mostly hot milk. During lunch we decided to try to do the 4x4 tour tomorrow, then the Bio Bio, and save the volcano for the following week. So, we spent the afternoon doing laundry, signing up for things, and buying groceries for dinner.
One thing we didn't realize was that Pucon is a beach town. Because it was a gorgeous day and the sun was still high at 5pm, we walked down to the black sand beach on the shores of Lago Villarica. Lots of people were sunning, swimming, and boating in rented kayaks, sailboats, and jetskis. We joined in and relxed on the warm beach for about an hour. At that moment we decided we *really* liked this town.
Finally, we headed back to our hotel to cook dinner. We had a fantastic feast of pork chops with apples, steamed green beans, and a giant salad. Yes, lots and lots of fresh vegetables which have not been available in southern Patagonia. We even made pudding for dessert - no instant down here, just the cooked kind. Then we lay in bed and learned some Spanish by watching "The Man with One Red Shoe" and reading the subtitles.
Pucon, and the lake district in general, has a very different feel from southern Patagonia. Puerto Natales, for example, is a frontier town, dusty and makeshift from lack of finished materials. Pucon, by contrast, is clean and bright, with painted trim and smooth sidewalks. The differences are often subtle - Pucon public bathrooms are supplied with paper and towels, for example. And the stores are different, with the lake district having a more conventional separation of goods, while stores in Patagonia seem to sell nearly everything they can get their hands on.
In short, Patagonia is oriented towards backpackers and younger travelers looking for adventure, with the exception of a very few high-luxury places. The lake district has much greater variety and is more accommodating for families and older travelers - it's much easier to get around, find things, etc. Both are wonderful places, as long as your expectations are set properly.
We got going a little early to make some calls and send some emails - we're trying to plan 6 months in Asia while we're traveling, which is somewhat more difficult than when at home. We then went to start our 4x4 trip around Volcan Villarica. We were happy to find that we were the only 2 signed up for the trip, so we had a crew-cab pickup (which must be the official car of Patagonia) with the guide in the back seat.
Sergio (our guide) only spoke Spanish, so the entire day was great practice for us. During the trip we found out that he was studying forestry at a univerity in Temuco, so he was a fountain of information about the local parks and trees.
We drove a bit on gravel roads, and after an hour or so switched to 4L for the very rough road into Parque Nacional Villarica. At the entrance we saw a grey fox that was quite bashful. We continued on to a trail through strange araucaria pines up to a ridge from which we were supposed to see 3 volcanoes. Alas, the weather didn't cooperate, and low clouds prevented us from seeing much, although there were some more interesting araucarias shaped by the ever-present wind.
Not long after leaving the park we stopped for lunch at a private campo administered by a man named Max, and owned by his uncle. First, we saw them butchering a cow. Then we went around a bend and saw an amazing waterfall. Sergio took a picture of us right where we ate. To make the place even more amazing, there was a private hot spring nearby, so we soaked for an hour or so while they fired up the "asado" (bbq). We found out they have 200 acres including the waterfall and hot spring, and a house powered by a hydroelectric generator - truly a special place.
We were amazed by the lunch. We started with chorizo sausage sandiwches, called "chorepan". Then we moved on to the main course, huge steaks. And, huge pork chops. And more sausage and hot dogs. And potatoes. We had at least 3 times as much food as we needed. And we ate almost all of it.
In the afternoon we drove a lot, heading down through Conaripe and back on to some gravel roads. We saw some of the damage done by the huge eruptions of Villarica in '71 and '84, including a lava river. Many of the roads were lined with blackberry bushes bursting with ripe fruit - Tom enjoyed picking and eating them.
We got back to Pucon a bit weary at 6pm, and bought some chicken for dinner. Then we headed to the rafting agency for a meeting and got all the info for the Bio Bio tomorrow. Finally, we headed back to cook dinner.
We told ApartHotel del Volcan that we were returning in 3 days and asked if we could leave a bag. They called us a few minutes later and said that we could leave whatever we wanted in the room! Because of low season, the place was empty, so they said they'd just keep the room for us. We packed what we needed for rafting, and left the rest unpacked in the closets. We love this place!
We woke a little late and hurried to finish packing, and were disappointed that breakfast was 20 minutes late. Finally we called the front deak, and were told that the daylight savings change was last night - we have an extra hour! Whew. We relaxed and finished up everything, and then met the minivan to the Bio Bio.
After a bit of a hassle paying and a quick trip to the ATM we were off. We stopped in Temuco to buy food and a few other things. During the "half hour stop" that took nearly 2 hours we both called home to check in - it's great to hear familiar voices.
On the way to Lonquimay we went through the longest tunnel in South America. It's a bit scary because it's just an old railroad tunnel with the rails covered in gravel. This makes it narrow (one-way traffic controlled), dark, and wet - there's water pouring out of the ceiling in places. And at 4km long, it takes 8-9 minutes to go through even at a frightening pace.
Finally we reached the putin around 5pm, and they immediately set up ham and cheese sandwiches, because we hadn't had any lunch. If we hadn't brought sandwiches from our leftover chicken, we would have been very grumpy. By the time we got everything in the water it was after 6, and we had 3 hrs to our campsite.
At first it was fun. We were in an oar raft with Guillo our guide and Jamie and Paul from Alabama. We took off with almost no instruction - Guillo's english was limited to "forward" and "back paddle" - but we went through a few riffles and enjoyed a bit of exercise. Guillo even brought out a box of wine to share, which at the time seemed OK since we were just paddling along.
Then the time change started working against us. Instead of dark at 8:30, it got really dark at 7:30. There were grey clouds in the sky, and we had frequent cold rain showers. Guillo told us "only 30 minutes more", so we paddled on.
At 8pm we had been paddling by Braille seemingly for ever, because the crescent moon wasn't giving us anything through the dark clouds. Guillo still said "20 minutes", and we were losing faith in him fast. The 3 Slovenian guys in kayaks were furious at the stupidity of kayaking in the dark, and exhibited an impressive command of english swear words. One finally gave up and came into the raft, putting his kayak in, too. Tom limited his outbursts to sarcastic comments about the beauty of the scenery that we couldn't see.
We were fortunate that none of the rapids were difficult, although we did bounce off a few rocks in the dark. Finally, around 8:30, we saw the headlights of the vans at the takeout, and pulled the rafts up. We quickly set up the tent and got into drier clothing to huddle around the fire, drinking hot cocoa.
Tortillo cooked up a huge asado (bbq) for dinner, starting with homemade corn soup and finishing with more chorizo, steak, and chicken than we could eat. By the time dinner was ready it was 11pm, so we gorged and went straight to bed. The rain fell hard all night, so everything was damp, but we slept well nonetheless.
We packed up camp, then waited and waited for the guides. They were cooking lunch and seemed to be busy, but camp was not breaking down. Then they started to drink wine annd fill up bottles for the trip down river.
One of the other travellers was Graz, from New Zealand. He is a world white water rafting champion and spends about half the year in a kayak. He was one of our safety kayaks for the trip. He gave us a safety briefing since the Chileans were not. He was also frankly astonished by the unprofessional (in his opinion) conduct of the guides - he couldn't believe they were drinking wine before and during the rafting, much less the dangerous paddling after dark last night. He took his job seriously, which made us much more comfortable.
Finally everything was ready, and we left - at noon. The guides said that we supposedly had 7 hours on the water which had us a little curious since we only had 7.5 hours of daylight left, and that didn't count lunch.
We ran some fun little rapids, but the going was slow in some spots. Miguel was in our boat today along with the boys from Alabama, Jamie and Paul.
Gio (short for Rodrigo) kept getting stuck on rocks and drinking wine in the boat. The other raft full of guides and girlfriends was slow and consumed lots of wine. At one point, they suggested that we pile the two rafts on top of each other. We did this until we got very stuck on a rock. Gio and one of the visiting guides were not quite sure how they were going to get us off without swimming. This seemed to sober them up, so we unpiled into two rafts again.
The day was very, very cold, with gray skies and a spattering of rain off and on. When we unpiled the raft Gio noticed that Louisa was still shivering. For some reason this time he reacted by forcing here to put on his fleece and jacket and to drink hot tea. Louisa shared the hot tea with Tom which helped warm him up, too.
At 3:30pm, starving and cold, we stopped for lunch. While the guides made lunch, the rafters built a gigatic fire to warm up. This made us all feel better. Louisa got a little close however and scorched her hair.
Lunch was the ever-present ham and cheese sandwiches with an unusual veggie potato salad. The latter consisted of cauliflower, carrots potatoes and beets (with or without mayonnaise) and turned out to be quite delicious.
The afternoon was a little better, sice the weather improved. It stopped raining, and was slightly warmer, but was still gray.
The two guys from Alabama were nice enough, but stopped paddling whenever they felt like it. Louisa mentioned to them that it is necessary to paddle to propel the raft. They acted a little disgruntled that a Northern girl was instructing them, but they paddled a bit more frequently and steadily.
We reached camp around 6:30, which miraculously was before dark. The vans were not there, but we had everything with us, so this was not a major problem, except for the guides who were out of wine.
We pitched our tents on the sand, which meant that sand got in everything. We spread stuff out to dry a bit, but with sundown the dew soaked everything again. Fortunately, the guides had started two large fires, one to cook on, and another just for warmth, so we took our sleeping bags over there to dry and warm them. It worked so well we dried some clothes, too.
Dinner was soup and pasta with cream sauce - not bad. Later in the evening, the clouds broke, and we saw the southern cross for the first time. Very cool! Around 11pm the vans arrived with the wine, but after strongly suggesting an earlier start tomorrow, we just went to bed.
First we had to ferry the gear across the river and bucket brigade it all up the hill into the vans. At this point, Tom had given the camera to Max, the driver, to carry across the river, but his van had a flat, so we never got it back in the raft. So, we have no pictures of the Nirreco Canyon and the class 5 rapids - bummer!
We went wth Tortillo in the oar raft, just the 2 of us and him. This suited us, because we liked him better than Guillo, and we were a little frustrated with the other paddlers. We did have the video cameraman in our boat, too but his battery died on the first, so he was just dead weight.
The rapids started quickly. We ran a few fun class 3's with big waves, and then reached the first harder one: Jug Buster. Although it's not class 5, they always scout it. There is a new dam going in on the Bio Bio, and the site is just below Jug Buster. The rapid changes shape frequently because of the blasting and excavation work being done on the dam. The dam is expected to be finished in 2 years, although work is halted at the moment due to a protest by the native Mapuche who will be displaced. We are lucky to run this river before the new dam goes in. Today, Jug Buster was just one big drop with a turn - no problem for us.
The next big rapid was "Lost Jack", a long and roaring class 5 with several technical moves. This rapid starts below one of the coolest waterfalls we've seen - Nirreco Falls - that drops at least 80ft off a volcanic cliff directly into the river. We scouted the rapid for quite a while, and watched the kayakers go through on a small line the rafts couldn't follow.
Tortillo showed us the line, and pointed out where we'd need to backpaddle hard to get around a rock and take the right side. With excitement and not a litte trepidation, we set out, the first raft through. We ran it perfectly until the hard backpaddle, where the river decided that we'd go left, not right. At this point, Tortillo shouted "New plan!" and we headed towards a big drop into a dangerous hole. We paddled hard through the hole, but got stuck in it for a few seconds that seemed like hours - we "high sided" and manage to ride it out finally. After a few more drops, we eddied out and Tortillo climbed back up the bank to tell the other guides what happened. Every other raft ran the same line, but they were prepared for the hole, and managed it without too much difficulty. A great ride!
Next rapid was Milky Way, which we shot through with no problems and lots of adrenaline. Lava Sur consists of a line of huge waves, making it a long Class V. The ride was intensely fun. Each wave shot us up in the air. The rapid ended by shooting us towards a big wall. Tortillo hit it straight on which turned us in the right direction and we paddled like fiends to get out of the way before the next wave hit. Again, we were the first raft through, so we eddied out, let out a few "Yahoos!!!", and watched the next rafts come through.
Gio guided the next raft of paying guests, Miguel, the Alabama boys, an the 3 men from Slovenia. Guillo got thrown from the boat as they shot over the waves, so custom dictates that he buys the beer at the end of the day. As it turns out, he was the only swimmer of the trip. The last raft, of other river guides and their girfriends/boyfriends, made it through without trouble.
There was a big wave at the bottom of this one, so we tried some raft surfing - that's exciting! We caught the eddy next to the wave, and then paddled like crazy to get onto the wave. For a few seconds we balanced on top, and then were swept away downriver. We tried again, with the same result - great fun!
Then we ran Cyclops, which has a big whirlpool at the end. We ran it straight through, as did Guillo, but the last raft got stuck in the hole. We laughed as they circled around several times before succeeding in paddling out.
The final big one is Last Laugh, which has some nice drops and then a huge final hole. All the rafts enjoyed this one, and then tried surfing the huge wave at the end. We did well surfing this time, actually catching the wave and staying on top for a little while. One of our attempts almost flipped the raft, though, and Tom saved Louisa from swimming by grabbing her foot.
The rest of the rapids were fun, and we reached the takeout almost too soon at about 2:30. Lunch was a bit weak - rice with tuna - but dry clothes were heavenly. We took out next to the Termas del Avellano, which were very hot - almost too hot to get into. We then loaded everything, and headed out in the minivans.
We stopped in Los Angeles to let Miguel out - he was heading up to Santiago - and we ran into folks from the other van. Seems that they had 2 flats, and needed some help. While waiting at the gas station, we bought some avellanos (local nuts, sort of) from a young hustler there. Finally we got on our way again.
We were dropped off at Hotel Oriente in Temuco right around 10pm, as stores were closing. We said our goodbyes, checked in (empty, but decent), and found a local hamburger joint for some dinner. Then we hit the sack, exhausted.
Te travel agent quoted us a great price for South Arica, but only to/from Santiag. She shared with us that most agencies can only sell tickets that originate in Chile. Interesting. So, we called Amex travel in the states and bought tickets. We are on our way!
As usual for us in a city of any size, we headed to an internet cafe This one actually hada decent connection, so we wrote to lots of friends and family, and researched future segments of our trip.
After a dellicious lunch at a small local restaurant, we rented a crew cab 4x4 pick-up truck. We headed to Pucon via dirt roads. To get started we wandered through a small village next to Pucon since all signs directed us to Route 5, the "major highway."
After a short while driving trough the beatiful countryside, the road turned amazinglyy muddy. Tom manuveured it well, and succeeded in covering the entire truck in lots of mud.
On one back road, we picked up Louisa's first hitchiker, a 50 year old lady with shopping bags. She hopped in the back cab and road for 10 minutes. This started a trend, and by the end of the trip we had given lifts to 6 people.
The roads were lined with blackberry bushes bursting with fruit. After rmuch resistance, we caved in and picked a bunch of juicy berries (moras). It struck us as odd that the locals did not pick the berries, but the bushes were full and the markets do not seem to sell them.
Once in Pucon we signed up with Sol y Nieve to ascend Volcano Villaricca tomorrow. They were very helpful and informative. No trips had gone for the past 5 days due to rain, so we left with our fingers crossed hoping for sun.
Back in our cozy room, we cooked a huge chicken stew for dinner. We bought so many ingredients, that we had 2 pots going simultaneously that we rotated between the strong and weak burner. For our first stew it was pretty good. We definitely need some tips, though.
Usually there is an option to take a ski lift up part of the way, and we were set to pay the $6 each. However, in the lightning storm earlier in the week, the lift's engine went out. So, we had to make the 45 minute climb straight up. We were surprised, but the trek was not as hard as we thought it might be.
After a short break we continued up for another hour when we stopped for a snack. Richard, the guide, did not think that we needed our crampons yet so we headed out. We barely got 10 yards when he had us turn around The closest rock patch happened to be in a very exposed spot, so we sat in the wind while the group put on crampons. It turns out that one of Louisa's was missing a screw. Richard did not have a fix it kit with screws for the crampons, so he tied it together with a shoe string.
The rest of the climb (2.5 hours) was on ice and snow. This slowed the group down a little. After awhile, Louisa's shoestring broke and Richard did not have any other ideas, so she kept on goiong with only one crampon. This worked for awhile, but she got tired very quickly since she was kicking out holds for her shoes. At one slip the exhaustion showed, so we took a break. Tom insisted on switching crampons, so he resized his and continued with only one.
At 2:15 or so we finally reached the summit! It was an exhausting climb, but marvelous once we summitted. The day was cloudy, which meant that we did not have a view of the valley and lake, but it was beautiful since it looked as if we had reached the top of the world. Later on it started to clear giving us a view of Lake Villarica.
We put on our gas masks and peered over the crater. The sides were smoking creating an etheral effecct. The magic was in the center where the molten lava was brewing. We could see the red lava move through the hole, but every 30 seconds or so, it would make a loud rushing noise and send lava shooting high into the air. What a amazing sight!
The trip down appeared that it was going to take awhile in the extensive ice and snow, but oddly, Richard did not want us to put our crampons on again and we started down. Louisa slipped at one point and but self-arrested with her ice axe. A short while later she slipped again, although this time lost her ice axe. Richarrd came running after her and caught her after 25 feet. Then he gave everyone a safety briefing on how to hold the ice axe properly.
It seemed that it might be a log trip down, but they have built lng ice slides down the side of the volcano. You shoot down the side of the volcano as if you were a toboggan! Ater the first slide you have the option of "skiing" down on your feet, or taking more slides. By the time that we reache the snow line our stomachs ached from laughter.
Another couple on the trip were from Quebec, Canada. They were in Chile for the world white water rafting hampionships on the Futalefeu River. During the past week we have met many of the competitors in the competition: Graz from New Zealand, the Sol y Nieve team from Chile and the couple from Canada.
The rest of the hike down was about 45 minutes andd went quickly. We were tired by the time we returned to the hotel and were very happy to have leftover stew for dinner and watch cable TV from bed.
Revised: Wed Feb 13 11:37:55 2008 on