Friday, November 28, 2014

Chile IV - Chasing Volcanoes (around Pucon)

Postcard from Pucon
I arrived in Pucon in the dark - how could I resist a hostel named La Princessa Insolente. When I woke up I was amazed to find a volcano smoking gently at the end of the street.
Pucon is a small resort town in the Lakes District, around 860 km and 16 hours from Valparaiso. It  not only has a volcano but a huge lake and is is surrounded by national parks. It is very popular with Chileans and other tourists alike.

In no time at all, I found myself shuffled onto a mini bus heading to the base of the volcano and the beginner ski slopes. As I left the bus I was handed this flat plastic thing shaped almost like a frying pan with a handle sticking out at one end. The others grabbed ski gear and snowboards and we all looked like Michelin men in the borrowed clothing.
As it happened I may have had the best deal of all. Most of the other passengers were still stuck at the ski lift or the ticket booth for the entire two hours we spent there, while I had fun tentatively sliding then hurtling down the children's toboggan run on my "frying pan." I'm not sure if my children would have been proud of me or embarrassed. It certainly wouldn't have hurt to corral one or two of the children so I'd have an excuse for being there -there were several parents and grandparents on the slope, but at least I didn't knock any of them over.

Toboggan run
Other hostellers were going white water rafting the next day, but as a friend of a friend said, "It's a bit like having a series of motor bike accidents over and over again." Besides, I have an aversion to getting wet, so I thought I might try horse riding to one of the many waterfalls, but that was another one of those things where they had to have a minimum number of people before they would do the tour. Instead, I went by mini bus to one of the National Parks where I did a little walking and saw a spectacular waterfall on foot. My waterfall shots are very disappointing. They all look really drab and you can't tell how high they were, or how beautiful the surroundings were. In fact, except for the volcanoes it was a lot like our west coast - superb reflections on the lake, ferns and mosses and even many similar species - Northofagus - the deciduous beech, myrtles and one that looked and smelled exactly like our sassafrass (Tepa) but didn't taste the same. Ours tastes like spearmint chewing gum and the bushmen use it so stop themselves getting thirsty in the bush.  As one of my sons said, " I bet the ranger was amazed to see you sampling their trees."
These are the temperate rainforest plants (now rare) and one of the proofs that the Southern continents were once joined as Gondwana 85 million years ago.

Beautiful lakes, waterfalls and vegetation just like Tasmania, except for the active volcanoes

It looked just like the West Coast
 There were also more Blue Gums in plantations (our floral emblem) than we have left in the whole of our state.

Chile does of course have a few species of its own - the Auracaria or monkey puzzle tree for example,  (not unlike the Norfolk pine), which is Chile's national tree. There is also a kind of bamboo -like plant although it's solid and not hollow inside like bamboo. No doubt there are many more, but it looked so like home, especially with the wattles in bloom along the way and small farms beseiged by blackberry, gorse and wild roses, just like they are here, that I was almost homesick. I was a little slow getting back to the bus stop for the last bus back to town - stopped to have a coffee at a little stand, but luckily three friendly women who were visiting the area, asked me if I would like a lift back up in the car for the last kilometre or so up hill. Very nice timing.

The next day I dragged myself to the bus stop for the early morning bus to Puerto Varas. Unfortunately it had either already left or there were no seats left and the next one wasn't leaving until four thirty. It was beautiful mild weather - not bad for a winter's day and there were still quite a few waterfalls in the area that I hadn't seen, so off I went on another mini bus again, hoping to see some of these.
I waited a while at a bus shelter on the Argentina road, but since no buses seemed to be forthcoming, I eventually stuck my thumb out. There were few cars and most were crowded, but a lovely couple gave me a lift  to the turn -off. Unfortunately, although the falls looked very close on my map, there were still ten kilometres to go from here. I would have walked it, but I was a bit worried about missing the afternoon bus so I walked but stuck out my thumb. Luckily a young Argentinian couple Lucas and Tamara and their dog Beepa who were going to the same place gave me a lift and we enjoyed the beautiful La Chine Falls together. Please note, you have to pay at all waterfalls in Chile.  This was in a kind of amphitheatre with several smaller falls as well. The young man in charge told me how to find the other ones, so I set off for the Salto Leon Fall, a few kilometres further on. Once again someone gave me a lift - a family in a red twin cab who squeezed me in the back with the children. We parted company at the Falls and I cheerily waved them goodbye.

Salto La Chine - one of several falls in a lovely setting

Since Lucas and Tamara planned to stay longer I started walking again. There were no cars now and I didn't dare detour to the third waterfall as I wasn't sure how far off the road it was. After about three or four kilometres with no cars in sight, lo and behold the red twin cab appeared although this time I had to ride in tray at the back. It was a bit bumpy, but as the old  German saying goes " besser schlecht gefahren als gut gelaufen." (Roughly translated, this means "better to have ridden badly than to have walked well)." I was certainly glad to see them. I had no sooner stepped out of their vehicle than another one pulled up and asked me if I needed a lift back to town which I really did by then.

The massive Salto Leon

I got absolutely drenched taking this picture!

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