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Pucon – from bad to worse to terrible

Our luck’s run dry :-(

rain 10 °C

Pucon was never on our itinerary. I definitely had never heard of Villirica Volcano before a few weeks ago. Ever since we began hearing descriptions from other travellers about the challenging 5 hour uphill accent and short but hilarious descent sliding down on mats I was hooked. Convincing Mike took slightly longer than I thought it would but in the end we were both as excited as each other: climbing an active volcano. Awesome! And climbing with ice picks and crampons would add a new dimension to our walking. Despite the fact that several people who we had spoken to hadn’t actually seen molten lava bubbling away when they peered over the edge –we were certain we would. We were equally certain that we wouldn’t get the chairlift at the beginning; walking the entire way.

Our primary concern was the weather. Mother Nature had been a bit grumpy lately but we didn’t let her get the upper hand in Bariloche and we had all fingers and toes crossed for a similar outcome for Pucon. We would have 3 chances to get up the Mountain: Friday, Saturday and Sunday. The 5 day forecast had Friday and Sunday looking decidedly average, so all hopes were pinned on Saturday – sunshine predicted. Happy days – worth the time and expense of the detour there we thought.

After a 13 hour bus trip from Bariloche we arrived in Pucon to rain. No surprise there – it had rained non-stop for the entire 13 hour trip. This was all right though as we knew the days before and after our attempted ascent would be wet. Our hostel had been recommended to us by an Irish girl we had met and when we arrived found it was run by a Kiwi. Awesome! The hostel has its own tourist outfit providing its own excursions, equipment and guides etc. Dave (the Kiwi) has been in Chile for 3 years and knows his stuff.

This is where the story goes from worse to terrible. Unbeknown to us, while we were on the bus watching the rain pelt against the windows four tourists were in trouble up on the mountain. By the time we had arrived at the hostel one had been pronounced dead, two injured but safe, and the other one still missing. No one really knows what happened because climbing the volcano just isn’t that dangerous. One thing for sure is that the weather wasn’t good enough for anybody to be on the mountain in the first place. Visibility was apparently less than 3 meters so unfortunately and very obviously safety measures had been ignored. And not just from one dodgy company but two. It would take another 2 days before the missing man was found, unfortunately not alive. The frustrating thing for us is that on Saturday we did get the good weather we needed. We walked around town in stunning sunshine in a daze hoping they would find the man and thus re-open the mountain. We maintained only a slim chance that the good weather would hold though.

With our hands tied we decided we should probably make some other plans. We had thought about doing some more walking in the National Park nearby and although this would have been lovely – we think we have done just about enough walking recently so wanted to try out something a bit different. So on Saturday night we ventured out to the “termas los pozones” or hot springs and soaked in the steaming hot natural rock pools for a few hours. On the drive out there we were sitting up front with the driver; him not being able to speak much English and us not much Spanish. He insisted on talking the whole time but we did learn quite a few things: that there are 30 different “termas” in the area, that he has 3 children and 1 grand-daughter and he originates from Santiago. His name is Rodrigo – a great Spanish name.

The next day we were booked to go Canyoning – a mixture of abseiling down waterfalls, rock jumping and swimming down rapids. It sounded like fun and if it was going to rain all day may as well embrace it and get in there. Heavy rain overnight ruined our fun though – the canyoning being cancelled due to dangerously high water levels. Shit balls! But at least safety was put first – a fact that Dave insists is first and foremost for all his tour dealings. The two tour companies involved will no doubt lose their licences but this is small consolation for the tragedy that unfolded.

So instead of going canyoning what did we do? Watch football with Spanish commentary; Mike at least was mildly consoled. And me? I wrote this blog and helped two British girls plan their tour of New Zealand.

Pucon is a lovely little town. The mountains and lake that surrounded it are indeed picturesque, and of course the Volcano that towers over the town is ever dominant. For us though Pucon has been moved to the “list of places that need re-visiting” – the lure of that bloody volcano isn’t going to diminish any time soon I fear. On this trip we simply don’t have the time to hang about so Santiago here we come. The forecast there is a rather warm 29 degrees C.


Posted by Mike.Keely 08:50 Archived in Chile

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Sad to hear about the folks who went up the mountain and didn't heed the warnings. Pity about the rain, but now heading to warmer days.
Tener cuidado – Take care
Love mum xx

by Jenny Barnett

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