I had been eyeing the cars on the ferry for a little while, trying to figure out if I should ask anyone for a ride, when the window of the car closest to me, a big and new-looking car, opens and a woman leans over from the passenger seat. I had already dismissed that car as what I could see of the backseat through the blackened windows was that it looked pretty full.
“You are not from Chile are you?” she asks me in Spanish, and I shake my head. “No I’m from Norway”. After a short conversation about where I’m from and my travels she presents me to her grown kids in the backseats, there are four of them, two girls and two boys between the ages of 18-24 – a family from Santiago on summer vacation. They take their eyes off of their smartphones for a second and smiles and say hello to me.
The sun is rising just as the minibus halts at the ski center, painting the sky in various tones of pink and orange. We’re about 1800 meters above sea level and already the views are quite breathtaking, but we have about a thousand meters to ascend by foot to reach the crater and the summit. In the distance we can see the outlines of a huge mountain, or maybe another volcano, through the morning mist. We are about to ask one of the guides about it when we realize that it’s neither a volcano nor a mountain, there’s not really even morning mist, it’s simply the shadow cast off the Villarica volcano, the one we are standing at. We enjoy the sunrise for a bit before heading towards the ski lift, where we can choose to pay a lot of money and save an hour of steep ascent, or hike up. We choose the latter. What’s an hour’s hike against all the avocadoes you can buy for 7000 pesos?
Active volcanoes, beautiful national parks, more adrenaline activities than my wallet could ever afford. Pucón is another one of those places, like Cochamó, that I had no plans of visiting – that I hadn’t even heard about before my travels – but that I ended up loving. Truth be told I hadn’t really done a lot of research for places to visit in Chile as my initial plan was to spend most of my time in neighboring Argentina, and then just drop over the border a couple of times to visit places like Torres del Paine, Santiago and Valparaiso. Luckily chance wanted it otherwise, as most of my favorite places in South America up until now have been in Chile.
Some places the road is almost like a corridor. Steep walls – partly covered in bright green moss – rise on both sides of the narrow path. It has been used to transport cattle and smuggle goods between Argentina and Chile – hoofs digging the path deeper and deeper into the soft ground – for over a century. Some places the forest is so thick only a trickle of light passes through, giving an impression of dusk even though it’s still a couple of hours away. I can only imagine how suppressing the darkness will be when the sun actually sets – it’s something I definitely don’t want to experience, so I hasten my pace, almost running at times, while trying to avoid the deep muddy poodles on my way.
The Yosemite of South America, without the crowds, a climbers paradise, great treks and a path that gets extremely muddy after rain. Cochamó valley was just mentioned with a few sentences in my Lonely Planet, but it triggered my curiosity. It seemed like a place I had to go and now rather than later, before the crowds discover it, or before the whole valley is dammed up for electricity, as some people wants to do. By the time I reached Puerto Varas, a town just a couple of hours away from the trailhead leading into the valley, it had rained constantly for a week and I wasn’t so sure anymore. Extreme amounts of mud and paths turned into rivers didn’t sound very tempting. Read More
When I caught a glimpse of the red and white arrow painted on to the rocks in front of me I felt a wave of relief, finally back on track. At first I thought it pointed towards the top, Cerro Lopez here we come, but then I noticed the white text below it: “R. Lopez” it said. Last time I checked Cerro (mountain) started with a c, so it could be no other than the way back to Refugio Lopez. So that was the way we were supposed to have come!
The last half hour or so we had struggled up a steep moraine, with small loose stones constantly slipping away from under our feet, it was even worse than my climb up to Mount Ngauruhoe in New Zealand last year. It’s definitely one of the most complicated descents I have done, and I have traversed quite a few moraines in my life. I was so afraid of losing my footing that I ended up climbing up through a narrow slip in the solid rocks next to the moraine. I had stopped more than once to look at the path behind me, contemplating on how the hell I was supposed to get back down again. Getting up is one thing, going down, especially when you have more or less been climbing at parts, is a completely different story.
“It used to be all green here” one of the Argentinian guys said. I was hitchhiking with Antonella to Villa la Angostura and as soon we had checked in to our hostel we were invited on a little trek in the surrounding areas by some of the other guests there. After going a bit of up, and then a bit more up and down and up and down in a forest, the trees cleared up and we reached the end of the valley. The mountains were rising in front of us, it was sand everywhere, with some green tufts sticking up here and there, and a river snaking around the sandbanks. As a green valley it must have been beautiful, but it was hard to imagine what it used to look like.