I took my first overnight bus of the trip from Valparaiso into Pucon, a 12-hour trip per their schedule. The buses aren't so bad; I had pretty much an airport seat that reclines a little bit more. And then right as the bus is about to depart, a mom and her newborn baby sit down in the seat next to me. I was ecstatic. But believe it or not, that baby slept silently the 2 hours until the family got off mid trip. Kudos to those parents. The bad side is when they got off, another family got on and sat the row in front of me. And that damn baby must have had a fear of the dark, because it cries for every ounce of nighttime (like when people sleep), but come sunrise, it quieted down again. Like some sort of sick joke.
I say I'm solo traveling, and technically that's true, but in the hostel world you're seldom alone. And in Patagonia, people typically either go from south to north or vice versa, taking similar paths. So, I've met several friends that we've kind of hopped around together on similar schedules. Marta and Thomas are two friends I met in Valparaiso who came down to Pucon with me and stayed in the same hostel, Chili Kiwi. The best-located hostel I've stayed at yet, it was right on the lake front in the heart of downtown. I only planned to stay in Pucon for 2 days, as the main thing to do was climb the volcano and get in another hike. The one tricky part about the volcano is that you need good weather to be allowed to trek. When it's cloudy, rainy, and/or windy, visibility drops and it becomes dangerous. So of course, the 2 days after I arrived were predicted to be rainy. At that point, I either had to decide to leave without doing the volcano or extend my stay. I chose the latter, removing Valdivia and Chiloe from my itinerary. My list of places to visit has already changed twice and will probably continue to change. Flexibility is the plus of not booking far in advance; the downside is lack of hostel availability. So halfway through my trip in Pucon, I had to switch to a different (non-lakeside) hostel, where my friends Tal and Ishai were already staying.
But in the two rainy days, we were still able to get some hiking in. We went to the national park for their “3-hour hike” and finished about 6 hours later, but it wasn’t too difficult outside of the footing becoming slippery due to rain. It stayed cloudy most of the time but we still were able to see a few waterfalls and get in some exercise. A highlight had to be listening to everyone sing Disney songs in different languages. Just thinking about “Bear Necessities” in German still makes me laugh. This was also the moment when I realized trekking in my year old running shoes wasn't going to cut it. Actually found some hiking shoes that weren't outrageous at the North Face store in town. I'll just have to settle with wearing last year's model. Ugh.
And finally, on day 4 in Pucon, we could summit the volcano, and it was well worth the wait. It started with meeting at 6 AM to get geared up and drive to the mountain to arrive by 7:30. The sky was clear and the sun was out. The climb went from about 1400 meters and 2800 meters straight uphill. I heard it compared to climbing stairs for 4 hours straight. They gave the option of cutting out an hour of the climb by taking a ski lift for about $15 USD. I turned down the opportunity because I paid to hike and I was going to hike. The sick part of it was: that entire first hour you're hiking on loose rock and gravel right underneath the ski lift. A passing reminder of missed opportunities with each passing chair. As we reached the top, we put on gas masks as the air is pretty toxic up there. The government only allows hikers to spend 10 minutes at the peak. I got as close as I comfortably could and was able to see lava, which is hit or miss on this hike as well. And then the real fun began...we got to sled most the way back down, either on our ass or this little plastic sled, using our ice pick as an oar. Awesome time. For someone who doesn't trek a ton, it was pretty difficult for me, which makes it that much more rewarding I suppose. I do wonder how anyone truly likes ice climbing. Like...I get it if you like the challenge, the validation at the end of the route, the views along the way, etc. But there's no way someone actually likes methodically plodding up a glacier. Or maybe I'm just too much of a city boy. Regardless...so glad I stayed and did it, and got the one day where it was perfect (the net day, people's trips got cancelled an hour from the top due to lack of visibility, so they didn't even get the satisfaction). I then spent the next two lazy days in Puerto Varas, a nice vacation town on the lake. I just relaxed (and ate) a bit here, and arrived to a rainy Bariloche this afternoon.