Pucon: Seven Lakes and an Active Volcano
We’d arrived fresh from Chiles European portal into a Latin American reflection of South Lake Tahoe.
After grabbing our packs from the underbelly of the bus, we began the short walk from the terminal to the hostel.
Much like home, Pucon's a small place that's a gateway to larger adventures.
It made sense to find out that a fellow Kiwi had set up a lake front hostel in a town where you can go white water rafting, horse riding, hiking, or trek to waterfalls any day of the week.
We found Chili Kiwi across the road from Pucons' surrounding lake, Lake Villarica. The undeniable presence of one of Chilis' most active volcanoes followed us all the way to the hostels wooden gate.
At over 2,500m high, a view of Villarica Volcano is everywhere in Pucon.
It's last eruption in 2015 raised an alert for up to 10 kilometres around The Lake District - climbing its snow capped peak is Pucons prize excursion.
We signed up to go the next day.
The hike up Villarica began as all hikes in South America do, before sunrise.
We arrived at the meeting point with the rest of our crew, while the guides unpacked everything we needed to take up with us, plus everything we needed to slide our way back down.
Loaded with supplies, including some curious gear I'd never seen before, we drove to the base of Villarica. We'd dressed in every wooly llama accessory we owned, then added the the ski pants, snowboots, and jackets we’d been provided with.
45 minutes later, we were standing at the base of Villarica. Steam was pouring from the top of its snowy peak. The sun had risen into a blue sky, so we piled on the sunscreen, slung on our packs, then headed for the chairlift.
When we reached the first ascent, the weather had turned into one of those days where the air’s sharp against your face, and sharper inside your lungs.
We began the climb by zig zagging our way through snow that went from a solid foundation to ankle deep pockets.
It was a steady uphill climb that got challenging in a few places. We made regular stops so everyone in the team could catch a breath or three, crack open a few bananas, slug back some water, then carry on.
The further we climbed, the more we were rewarded with wide open views stretching out over Lake Villarica.
It was a steady hike up until it reached near vertical at the top. The weather held out for us for the entire climb. We didn't need the crampons we'd been provided with, and in the end, the only time we pulled out the gas masks was to take a selfie.
Neither tears from some of the group, or trips from others that resulted in chunks of snow melting down the back of their pants, could stop us from reaching the top.
The last one hundred metres or so required us to dig a little bit deeper, but it was an effort worth every step.
At the top, we stood on the outer rim of the volcano, surrounded by the ash that was mingling with the steam in the air.
There was lava running over black volcanic rock in rivets, then bubbling up out of the volcano in spurts. Even so often, it would burp up from the belly of the volcano, then fly across the air in a quick, fiery arc that lost trajectory fast, before landing into the ash with a plop.
It was awesome.
It took about a third of the time to make our way back down.
Back at the hostel, we'd each been given a piece of round plastic to keep in our packs. Removing our seated sleighs, we attached them underneath our seats nappy style, then lined up like we were in Cool Runnings at the top of rivets the guides had dug into the snow.
Some of the group were outta sight straight away, flying down the side of the volcano, gaining air a few times then landing back in the grooves to skid to a stop at the base.
Others fell over somewhere down the line, got back up, continued, fell over again, then arrived at the bottom sideways.
The last few stragglers caught such a whopping amount of snow between their legs they ploughed themselves to a stop forcing the guides, who'd whipped out pairs of skis from their packs, to dig them out and push them the rest of the way down.
Still, by the time we'd all reached the base and piled into the car, we were back back by the fireside at Chili Kiwi within a couple of hours.
The next day, I stumbled out of bed like a baby giraffe taking it's first wobbly steps, to ask at reception for an excursion on the lighter side.
We were told Parque Huerquehue was an easy, beautiful hike across seven lakes.
Sounded quite nice after summiting a 2,847m high active volcano in the snow.
There's no denying Parque Huerquehue's a beautiful hike.
The lakes were pristine, clear, glossy surfaced - like something out of a fairy tale.
The path wound through green wooded forests, across meadows where wild flowers grew in knee high grass, past waterfalls falling into rivers running over smooth, shiny rocks, before it emerged onto a wide open lake, underneath a cloudless blue sky, where boulders warmed by the heat of the sun lay at the waters edge.
The thing was, our legs were rather stubborn from the events of the day before, and Parque Huerquehue is huge.
By the time our rubbery legs made it to the final lake, we had to high tail it back, flying past every serene stop along the way, to get to the entrance in time for the last bus out of the park.
We arrived there sweaty, dishevelled and gasping for more air than at the top of Villarica the day before, but we made the last bus.
After two packed days in Pucon, we were ready for an excursion of a different kind.
It’s always five o’clock somewhere, especially in Mendoza.