20 Dec 2011

Pucón - Climbing a smoking volcano


From Bariloche the bus (x2) ride back over the mountains into Chile to Pucón is relatively easy and a trip full of yet more contrasts.

As we climbed on the Argentinian side of the mountains the amount of volcanic ash on the ground increased to the point where the side of the road was so covered in the mound of cleared ash it looked like it had been snow ploughed off the road just as if we were in the middle of the ski season. There were few animals in the fields which was fortunate as there was nothing to eat other than dust - everything was covered in at least a foot of ash.

And then we started to drop down the other side of the hills, the Chilean side, the leeward side, where there is no ash at all. Within minutes the landscape changed to lush green pine forest, then a bit further on rich pasture and beautiful deciduous trees which apart from the odd Chilean bird giving the game away could have been the Surrey countryside on a sunny day.

Pucón sits on the shore of Lake Villarrica surrounded by hills with one of the most active volcanoes in Chile (Villarrica)  looming in the background. With a local population of about 30,000 but a summer (Jan/Feb) influx of 10 times that, including the President and it seems most national politicians, Pucón is the place to be and be seen.

You can literally do any activity you can think of from sun bathing on the beach (grey volcanic sand/ash) to climbing the volcano, white water rafting, kayaking, water/jet skiing, drinking, eating, trekking, mountain biking etc etc

We were here to climb the volcano, we got lucky with the weather and made it to the top. Yet again it was a first in many ways for us, climbing about 1400 metres on snow and ice to the final height of 2847 metres and then peering into the smoking crater. Having watched ‘Journey to the Centre of the Earth’ recently (on some bus at some point – to be missed if at all possible) there was no lack of imaginative and slightly tangential thought staring into the mouth of another world, until the smoke blew our way and choked us back to wondering about the imminent descent...

The choice of method to get back down was between skis, snow board or bottoms. We both chose to slide all of the way on our bums, for which we had been provided with full waterproofs and a plastic tray to sit on - it was great fun!

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