Sunday, November 22, 2009

Welcome to Jasper! Er, I mean Pucon, Chile!

A few hours into our bus ride down the Panamerican highway south of Santiago, something occurred to me. Ever since leaving home to start college, I have always moved with my compass set south. I first started in baby steps: 1 year in Grande Prairie, a bigger step to Calgary, and then even ventured a little further south into Okotoks. Now with this grand move that Pete and I are embarking on, I am getting closer to one of my ultimate life goals: I want to live where there are palm trees.

A few hours into our bus ride...and we ran out of palm trees! I think we have now, officially, gone too far south!

An 11 hour bus journey south of Santiago landed us in Pucon, Chile, reputably the most touristy place in southern Chile. Immediately we were struck with Pucon's similarities to Jasper: lush evergreens everywhere, constant smell of campfire, hotels and restaurants built to a "rustic cabin" standard. One major difference, however...a snow covered, smouldering volcano in the background!

This small city of 20,000 has it all: a black sand beach, a casino, good restaurants, and enough outdoor activities to keep visitors busy for a week! However, with only a couple of days booked in Pucon, we had to make the most of our time.
Day one was an early rise so that we could scour the tour agencies for ideas on what to do first. We booked ourselves into a white water rafting trip for later that afternoon on the Class IV rapids at Rio Trancura. I have been looking forward to this for some time...while I regularly will turn down opportunities for many other extreme sports, this is what I lovvve! To my mother's extreme dismay, of course (which is why I only tell her about these trips AFTER I do them).

These rapids were easily the most intense that Pete and I have ever done. Right off the bat, about 10 seconds after we got into the raft, we got our first mouth full of water as we plunged head first into a gigantic rapid (Pete and I were placed in the front of the raft, as the most experienced rafters. Eep!) After that first rapid, Pete and I looked at each other and laughed, both having the exact same thought in our heads: if Jason Stannard were here, he would be swimming solo already (sorry Jay, you know it's true!)

That was not the last time we would be drenched head to toe. Over and over we plunged into what seemed like a neverending stream of rapids, trying to catch our breath while frantically paddling to hit the next wave in the right direction. When we finally had some calm in the water, the guide encouraged us to join him in a game. We noticed that the boat in front of us had everyone out and in the cold river, so we could guess what the game was about!

We all stood on the side of the rafts and jumped. Or moved side to side. Trying to rock the boat until someone fell off. I faltered a little, and because I was standing right beside Pete, I pushed on him a little for support. Over he went, into the freezing water! I did feel a little bad, but it was awfully funny. He has now declared that in any sort of precarious position (on mountains, volcanoes, etc.) he will refuse to stand beside me for fear of his own life. I kinda don't blame him.

We didn't go much further before everyone was forced out of the boat to walk a short distance on the river's banks. A short section of river was deemed impassable, and thus we had to wait for our guides to float the boats past the section while holding onto a rope from shore. At this point, my legs were a little wobbly from all the action and walking on the wet rocks of the shore probably wasn't much safer then being in the boat! But, we made it, and back into the boat for the next set of rapids that they guide told us was "muy interesente", or "very interesting". Nice choice of words.

Got beat up again by some HUGE rapids, but were lucky enough to stay in our boat while we watched a tall German guy in the boat in front of us get knocked off. The safety kayaker picked him up soon enough, but that incident was enough to make us all paddle a little harder when told to.

Shortly after, our ride was over, and we were all forced out of the boat to swim to shore. SO COLD! And as per usual on these trips, the extortionist photographer sold us a few pictures at an extortionist price. But of course, we had to purchase them, at least just to freak out Mom a little...


Saturday was to be a little less extreme...or so we thought. While many people we have met here were setting out to climb the nearby Volcan Villarrica, we decided that we would take an easier route. Or so we thought.

An hour bus ride out of town took us to Parque Nacional Huerquehue, for what was advertised as an "easy" 14 km hike. If this hike was to be "easy", I would hate to see what their "medium" or "hard" hikes were. 14 km hikes I can handle...but the majority of it was either straight uphill or straight downhill. And in mud. I slipped numerous times, believe I sprained my left thumb, and earned a few fresh bruises in other places.

All of the agony would have been tolerable had the scenery been as rewarding as expected. However, we were vastly underwhelmed. Along the way we saw two waterfalls and three lakes - all of which paled in comparison to the type of things we have seen in our own backyard in Canada when we went on similar treks. AND, there was snow. Again another indication of: woah! We have indeed gone too far south!

We kind of wished that we had booked in a little longer in Pucon as there is so much more to do, but instead we continue making quick work of Chile with another bus ride this afternoon to Valdivia for one night, and then onto Puerto Varas for two. For the first time since we've started these travels, we have to stick to a schedule and be in Puerto Natales by December 1st for a kayak trip.

And where is Puerto Natales, you may ask? Very far south. Apparently, we haven't learned anything!

For those of you that don't have a map handy to follow us, I found one of Chile that includes most of our stops: San Pedro de Atacama, Arica, Valparaiso, Santiago and Pucon. Up next: Valdivia, Puerto Varas, Castro, Punta Arenas and Puerto Natales!

1 comment:

  1. Amazing pictures. I just come to your blog and found something which make my mood....thanks. Keep rocking.
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