Villarica & Pucón

Posted by on Jan 20, 2014

Villarica & Pucón

T his was another ‘CAUC activity’, one of the last if not the last for the semester. The outline was something of an organised, activity-filled dash around the Araucanía region in the south of Chile. Both Villarica and Pucón are lakeside towns, happily situated in the rolling greenery characteristic to southern Chile and both offer spectacular views of the Andes and in particular the tall, snow-capped, faintly smoking cone of the Villarica volcano.

After a 10 hour overnight bus ride from Santiago in which no one slept well, we were blinking in the cold morning light of the bus station in Villarica, waiting for our guide to arrive. Once he did we were whisked off to the Villarica campus of the Universidad Católica for a breakfast and a tour before piling into another bus bound for the Villarica national park. Despite the lower level of functionality that comes as a result of little or no sleep, the view of the volcano and surrounding bush and countryside was refreshing after months in Santiago. The south of Chile is great for all things outdoors with its lakes, forests, mountains and ocean all nearby.

Araucaria trees soared above the Coihues littering the ground with their spiky leaves and kernels of seeds, the piñones, or ‘nuts’ along the path. Every now and again the snow-capped cone of the Villarica Volcano came into view among the trunks, a fierce white under the late morning sun. Our guide informed us of the names, cultural and gastronomic significance of the flora and fauna along the path to the indigenous people of the region before the arrival of the Spanish.

The primary indigenous influence in Chile and particularly in the south of the country was of ethnic origin Mapuche – traditionally a sedentary people with a developed cosmology and complex social hierarchy based around family and regional groupings. The most prominent of the languages spoken by the different Mapuche groupings was ‘Mapudungún’ which has been written and preserved as a cultural heritage of Chile and is the subject of ongoing study and analysis in academic circles. The language is still spoken in Mapuche communities. Many toponyms and labels for flora and fauna in Chile are native words of Mapudungún although the influence of Mapudungún in spoken Chilean Spanish is minimal resulting from Chile’s later colonisation by the Spanish coming down from the north and primarily Quechua speaking regions of Peru. The Mapuche were also present in Bariloche in Argentina on the other side of the Andes although that particular grouping was almost completely exterminated by General Alejo Julio Argentino Roca who subsequently had a statue erected in his honour.

After our trek we were shown a Ruka, a traditional Mapuche dwelling constructed wood and cane for the walls and topped by a lofty thatched ceiling. A permanent fixture of such dwellings was the fire in the centre which was kept permanently alight. We stayed that night in a Ruka owned and run by the university although this one boasted electricity, hot water, catering and comfortable rooms arranged in a two-tired circle above the central dining area. Hazy with tiredness and full of two dinners I crashed and slept 9 hours as though it were 10 minutes.

 

 

The next day we were shipped off to Pucón where we were to spend the remainder of our trip doing activities and including climbing that beautiful volcano. We were in no hurry Friday morning, and arrived some time in the early afternoon. We were taken to nearby lake and a series of beautiful lagoons before the final destination for the day….thermal pools! Friday was the tough life but somehow necessary after a busy and sleep deprived Thursday.

 

When Saturday morning arrived and we were kitted and carted off to the base of the ski lifts where we were to begin the trek to the top. Soon we hit the snow line and continued in a single-file zigzag fashion up the white slope, tramping along in our awesome snow boots and snow-trousers armed with ice-picks and all the gear. Unfortunately the weather was deteriorating and reaching the summit of that bright white cone looked increasingly less likely. Our suspicions were confirmed when, in the middle of the slope and surrounded cloud and wind we were told that this was a far as we were going to be able to go, that it was time to eat something, have a group photo and begin the descent. This part was always meant to be fun as one of the items many of us had carried up in our packs was a plastic mini-sled to sit on and slide down the slope. Just make sure you carry your ice-pick correctly or not reaching the summit will be the least of your regrets. The descent was a blast – but the activity as a whole was rather expensive making it unfortunate we didn’t get to the top. When we arrived back in Pucón the rain had followed us and this was to have bearings on the other activities that would be available. Of the five or so, only three remained so instead of ‘Canyoning’ through river gorges in a wetsuit I hired a bike with Paul from Germany and Angélica from México and we made our own tour along winding dirt roads  to some waterfalls on the lower slopes of the volcano. The weather was undecided but in the end changed for the better offering beautiful views of the surrounding nature – somewhat the clearer after the rain. From what I heard of those who did the river-rafting and hydrospeed (think rafting except where your half submerged in the water while you cling to a boat-shaped board and slide down the river), I think we chose well.

 

There was also a disco visit scheduled for Saturday night, but after the massive shared asado (roast), in which everyone chipped in an equal part for an enormous feast of meat and alcohol of which the vegetarians ate and drank little – basically the socialised subsidising of a meat and alcohol orgy for the carnivorous males – I felt tired and decided on a nap before the outing. Four hours later I woke to the sounds of a passionate and energetic activity taking place about a foot away through a rather thin wall. Ear-plugs don’t help if the pathway of the sound is bedpost-wall-bedpost-ear although my room mate seemed to remain completely oblivious. Then again his bed was against the far wall.

After Sundays bike riding outing it was back to the hostel and onto the bus for another all nighter to Santiago. A whirlwind trip which isn’t my style of travel, but certainly a lot of fun and a great opportunity to see another pocket of the beautiful and picturesque south of Chile.

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