Two people exploring the world, seeking adventure & unique experiences.
Where to camp and hike next?
We were due to be in Pucon in the coming week to meet up with a friend coming from overseas. We were eager to test our tent and sleeping bags in some Spring type conditions to see if it would hold up to the pressure of Southern Chile and Argentina. We decided to do this at National Park Conguillo around 10 hours south of Santiago.
There was an overnight bus from Santiago to the town of Curacautin on the Northern side of the park. We would arrive around 7am to an almost dead town. The local gas station didn’t even open until 7.30am for Rodora to get her fix of coffee. The tourist office opened around 8.30am at which point we found out the national park was still snowed in and we wouldn’t easily be able to venture into it. We were suggested the nearby option of Reserva Nacional Malalcahuello Nalcas to which we caught a 30 minute bus and told it to was closed for camping. Apparently there was a Puma (yes of the big cat variety) that was causing trouble and therefore we weren’t really allowed to enter. We did a short hike to a viewpoint of a snowy volcano and returned back to the main road.
It was only 12pm, so we still had one more option of travelling to Lake Icalma where there was apparently some nice camping right on the lake. The highlight of this journey was passing through the one way converted railway tunnel of “Tunel las Raices” at 4,527m long it is apparently the longest in South America. We would arrive into the town of Lonquimay where we would then wait for our next bus to Icalma.
We arrived at the lake at around 6pm where it was already starting to get a little dark, cold and windy. We spoke to a store owner who told us the bad news that there were no buses on the weekends and the only way out was to hitchhike or go back to where we came from the next day. This town was definitely a summer only vacation spot as there was almost no one around. There was a lot of camping next to the lake, except it had long been shut up for winter. We thought it was time to try our luck and we squatted on a deserted campground on the edge of the lake. The views were great, but in the back of our minds we were wondering if someone would come knocking on our tent door asking for money at some point during the night. This would never happen though.
Hitchhiking to Melipeuco
We woke to a cool morning and the desire to hitchhike towards the southern gateway town to Conguillo of Melipeuco. We somehow got amazingly lucky with stopping the first car to go past us who was willing to give us a lift. The trip was around 60km along some very scenic but rough roads. Our Spanish skills got us far enough along in conversation to explain what we were up to. They told us that in Summer the lake was jammed full of tourists.
Upon arriving to Melipeuco, we stopped in at the tourist office to see if we could get into the park from this side. The story was much the same as what we heard the previous day. No one really knew if camping was officially available. No official transport existed. They even suggested hitchhiking as the best option. The other option was a private taxi at the cost of $50+. With the weather forecast for rain and closing in fast we decided our patience or desire wasn’t high enough to continue this journey. It was time to get on a bus to Temuco and onwards to Pucon a day early.
We had tried to organise a hostel in Pucon in advance of our friend arriving. On our arrival at 5pm there was no one answering the door, so as seems to be the case of recent times, we took the recommendation of a fellow traveller and landed at Hostal Pucon Sur Backpackers. We got really lucky by landing a 4 bed dorm room with just the two of us for 7,000 pesos ($12ea). The place itself is only around 4 months old and run by a couple of Brazilians (Junior and Bel). They were amazingly helpful the whole time of our stay (3 nights) and just about the most perfect hosts you could hope for. The breakfast was simply stunning with fresh baked bread, tea/coffee/juice, cereal and even hot dogs.
Our first day trip was hiking and getting on an 8.30am bus (3,600 pesos / $6 return ea). The park access only cost 1,500 pesos ($2.50 ea) and there was a group of about 10 of us all signing in and getting a brief description of conditions. The basic story seemed to be that the “Los Lagos” trail was ok for a while, but eventually got wet and muddy at some scenic lakes before snow covered the trail to go further into the park. Having arrived at the park at around 9.15am, we were aiming for the 2.10pm or 5.10pm return bus to town depending on hiking time and conditions.
It wasn’t long until we saw our first greenish lake and had some small water features. About 1 hour into the trail we were at our first major waterfall as it tried its best to throw water all over the camera.
We were then gifted with our first viewpoint over a lake. Little did we know that the clouds in the background were covering the impressive Villarrica Volcano that we would see later.
Another 30 minutes of walking and we were at the second major waterfall of Trufulco.
Continuing into the park the trails did get muddier but the views continued to get better. There was some mirror like lakes to enjoy taking some photos of.
We chose a lunch spot at Laguna el Toro and enjoyed the blue water and snow capped mountains in the background.
Toby ventured through the 500 metres of snow and fallen trees to get to Laguna Verde. The views probably weren’t worth the effort, but you never know if you never go.
We quickly turned back realising we could get to the 2pm bus if we moved quickly. The pace was like that of running away from molten lava. We stopped only briefly to enjoy the unclouded view of Volcano Villarrica from the viewpoint.
We returned to the hostel where Rodora was yet again making friends with the animals.
Nancy arrives in Chile
The next morning would see the arrival of our friend Nancy on her first ever backpacking trip. We would teach her some of our broken Spanish skills along with our backpacking savvy for not taking taxis, walking a lot and generally being quite active. Nancy arrived in at around 8am on an overnight bus direct from Santiago. After a quick breakfast we went to the supermarket for supplies for the day out.
Tick the box – Snowboarding on an active Volcano
No better way than to push Nancy into the melting pot as we chose to do a day of skiing/snowboarding on the active Volcano Villarrica. It was the last week of the season and it was a near perfect blue bird day for being on the snow. We would get picked up from our hostel and taken to the local store to get equipped with out gear. The bonus of being end of season was the whole day only cost 30,000 pesos ($50ea) for transport, gear rental and lift tickets. The downside to being end of season is there was only one major ski lift open and the runs got slushy towards the end of the day. The view of the volcano was really quite good from this lift as you can see from the photo below.
It had been the best part of 18 months since we were both last on our Snowboards in Mont Tremblant, Quebec, Canada. Standing on some not so great rental boards in not so great conditions we were both wondering if our travel insurance would pay out if anything went wrong at this point. The first run was certainly a bit rough but it’s like riding a bike and you’re soon back into the groove of things. The views from the top really were quite amazing and it helped that it was blue and clear for as far as the eye could see.
Nancy could even manage a big smile on her face at the end of her day of skiing.
Plenty more to explore. Keep following the blog and our Flickr account for updates. http://www.flickr.com/photos/toraadventure/