AMONG CHILEAN VOLCANOES

Updated: Apr 15


After so much sea and desert I was already beginning to miss the forest and its mountains or volcanoes. I was in Santiago and had exactly 10 days to get to Puerto Montt without a plane, about a thousand kilometers to the south. From Santiago de Chile I took a night bus to Temuco on a 680 km journey. And from Temuco another shorter bus left me in Pucón, one of the best prepared cities for tourism in Chile, since it is surrounded by great attractions. Among these is the Villarrica volcano, considered the most active in South America.

That morning, I had just arrived at the hostel and met María Belén, an Argentinian woman who had also just arrived and was about to visit a waterfall that was not very far from Pucón. Without a moment's hesitation, I prepared myself and went with her. To get to the not very well known waterfall, we understood that we had to take a collective minibus that passes by the path and from there walk uphill for an hour. But since it was not signposted anywhere, that hour became three. We could not find the real path, so we were guided by the sound of the river until we finally found it. Known as the Salto del Claro, this is a 90-meter waterfall, one of the highest waterfalls in Chile.

I had to keep going down south to reach Puerto Montt in 10 days, but there are so many things to see around Pucón that I decided to stay two more days. The next visit I had in mind was the Huerquehue National Park, a protected area full of forest, lakes, rivers, waterfalls and mountains. Once again, María Belén joined my adventure. Or I joined hers. To get to the park the best way is to take a collective bus that leaves you at the entrance of the trails, but due to setbacks we lost that bus and had to take another one that left us in Caburgua, a town overlooking the Llaima volcano that is 20 kilometers from the park entrance. Unaware of such a distance, we got ready to hitch-hike. Luckily, a truck took us in its trailer and we shortened the distance by half. After an hour walking along the unpaved road, another car stopped and left us 2 km away from the park. After the delay, we realized that we only had 4 hours to do a 7-km route. There are several hiking possibilities in the park, but they all reach what is really worth seeing: the lakes. We had to get to the first lake at least and even then we would not be back in time. Therefore, we decided to do it at our own pace and we would see how we would get back. After an incredible ascent through waterfalls, mud and snow, especially snow, we reached the high area of the mountain with the frozen lakes. The return was much faster downhill, with some ass falls included. Our only hope was to be able to get into one of the cars parked at the entrance. It was already late and we had things to do in Pucon. When we arrived at the parking lot we saw that there was only one car left, the same one we saw that was full on the way there. But when one is fucked up luck always appears somewhere, don't ask me where from. At that moment a boy appeared with his car, which left us directly at the bus stop in Caburgua. Return solved.

Another place I was recommended near Pucón was the Coñaripe geothermal springs at night. Coñaripe is a town south of Pucón, on the other side of the volcano. But the hot springs are 20 km away from the town. My idea was to hitchhike there and camp with my tent somewhere nearby. I was so lucky that I was picked up by Erwin, a family man who had just bought a piece of land at the Trelehueno Mountain in order to build wooden cabins for booking. After talking to him, he introduced me to his wife Carolina along with their two children, 5 and 8 years old, and showed me all his lands with a view to Villarrica (smoking as always), surrounded by araucarias and peace. Afterwards I was offered to sleep in his daughter Fernanda's room and Erwin took me to the hot springs with his car. I didn't know how to thank so much for their love and hospitality.

The feeling of getting into a thermal pool at more than 40 degrees surrounded by incredible vegetation and natural waterfalls of icy water was amazing. In spite of being at night, the illumination along the wooden walkways and the stars made the bath even more magical. On the way back, Erwin picked me up again and took me back to his cabin. It had been clear for several days and the sky was spectacular. Before going to sleep, I could not help taking a night photo with the most representative araucaria in the area.

I had to keep going down south. My next stop was in Neltume, another town at the entrance of Huilo Huilo Biological Reserve. In Huilo Huilo there are also hundreds of tourist attractions, as the volcano Mocho-Choshuenco born several rivers with spectacular waterfalls. The first and most popular is the Salto Huilo Huilo (photo). Other spectacular waterfalls are Salto del Puma and Salto de la Leona. Here begins the famous Seven Lakes Circuit, which crosses Argentina and reaches Bariloche. But I had a very tight time and would not make it to Puerto Montt in time. So I headed west. Again I hitchhiked to Panguipulli just on September 18, the National Day. That day it wasn't easy to find accommodation, but I contacted the owners of Hostal Nahuel, Luis and Kate, an incredible young entrepreneurial couple with a desire to take on several projects. They showed me the festivities and took me to the ramadas, stands with typical Chilean food and live music with traditional chilean dances.

The next day I took two buses that left me much further south, in the fishing town of Puerto Varas. This town is located on one of the largest lakes in South America: Lake Llanquihue, 860 km2. Besides having this gigantic water pond, on the other side of the lake you can see two amazing volcanoes. The most striking for its great size and majesty is the Osorno Volcano. Closer and of lesser altitude (2000 meters) is the Calbuco volcano, which had its last eruption only two years ago. Quite a few people had already told me about Saltos del Petrohue, other spectacular waterfalls very close to the Osorno Volcano. And from Puerto Varas, buses leave every day to Petrohue. I got on one and took the opportunity to see the waterfalls and go on a 4-hour hiking tour in the Vicente Pérez Rosales National Park, next to Lago de Todos los Santos, another wonder in southern Chile.

I returned to Puerto Varas and from there to Puerto Montt on another public transport. My days in the south of Chile were over and my desire to continue south was growing. But knowing that I would return to Patagonia reassured me. It was time to say goodbye to Chile for a while and get to know northern Argentina.

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