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Entries about volcanoes

Pucón: climbing Chile's most active volcano

View Getting to know Chile on Rebecca Heller's travel map.

My next stop was Pucón. My bus arrived a little late, so when I got to the hostel, the first thing the staff asked was did I want to climb volcano Villarrica the following day, and if so I needed to sign up right then. This had been recommended by people I'd met, so when I was advised that this could be my only day to climb, I signed myself up.

The 6.30am safety briefing was fairly intense, I started to wonder if perhaps I should have thought this through a little. They provide you with ice boots and a backpack full of gear for the climb, including an ice pick. It had been a while since I studied geography and I hadn't really considered that climbing a volcano meant climbing on ice, something I'm definitely not used to!

When you arrive at the volcano you have the choice to take the chair lift or walk, I followed advice from other travellers to get the ski lift and conserve energy for later. I'm pretty glad I did that as I did need a lot of energy for the next bit of the climb!

Walking on ice is very hard work and I was in all honesty nervous when walking on the ice, but the views at each rest point make it worthwhile. It's spectacular and we had a clear day so we could see far and wide. I might have had a little slip once on the way up, but otherwise made it up there slowly but surely.

When you get near the top, we split into smaller groups as not everyone can be at the summit at once. You're not allowed to spend too much time up there since Villarrica is an active volcano, to be precise it's the most active volcano in Chile, and so there are poisonous fumes up there. Thankfully, the levels of dangerous gases were deemed low enough that I did not need to wear the gas mask up there. We were lucky enough to see some real life lava from the crater, it's apparently rare, and before we knew it, we were being herded back down to prepare for the descent.

They've really taken advantage of the fact that ice is slippery and dug chutes or slides in the ice, making this the most fun and also the quickest way to get down an icy volcano. I may have constantly been slowing myself down with the ice pick, but it was pretty funny.

I was also glad to make it to the bottom though. I had a great experience, and am really glad I didn't overthink it before I signed up, otherwise I may not have actually done it and that would have been a crying shame!

Pucón itself is super small and extremely touristy so I went out of town on the next two days. I went for a day hike in the national park on the Sendero Tres Lagos with two girls who did the volcano climb with me, and to some hot springs with a group from my hostel. Both were relaxing days following a tiring volcano climb!

The day of the hot springs was lovely until my journey back. I had allowed 4 hours to leave the hot springs, travel for an hour and have 2 hours to eat and get ready for my bus up to Valparaiso.

Unfortunately, there's one road in and out of Pucón and most of Chile seemed to be driving on it that evening. I was convinced I was going to miss my bus, and the journey back took nearly 4 hours. When we finally arrived in Pucón, I had 15 minutes to make it back to my hostel, pick up my bags and leg it to the bus station which was about 10 minutes away. I made it with about 3 minutes to spare! Unfortunately I had not had time to make my food and I was on a 12 hour overnight bus journey so dinner consisted of nuts and raisins, but I had made my bus!

Posted by Rebecca Heller 16:28 Archived in Chile Tagged springs volcanoes Comments (0)

The journey through Chile: Puerto Varas and Valdivia

View Getting to know Chile on Rebecca Heller's travel map.

I hadn't really planned much of my journey through Chile. I just knew I had three weeks to get from Bariloche, Argentina into Santiago de Chile, and that I wanted to travel up the Chilean side.

I took recommendations from my new Chilean friends and other travellers and ended up loving my stops on the way. My first stop across the border was Puerto Varas.

Puerto Varas
I had been advised to stay here rather than bigger Puerto Montt (the port to pick up a Patagonia cruise that takes you to the end of the world!). It was a pretty town, full of Chileans on holiday, which felt like a seaside town, although the beaches were on lakes, not the sea. The lake is the perfect spot to catch the beautiful view of the snow capped Osorno volcano.

I stayed for two nights in a small family run hostel called Compass del Sur. On the first evening I wandered into town following my dinner and ended up at the main plaza where there was a free concert for the Feria de las Rosas.

Now I didn't know who was playing, but it seemed as though the whole of Puerto Varas had come out to see this free concert, and they clearly knew the artists since men, women, boys and girls were singing along, the only ones present but not joining in were tourists (that would be me) and the babies in their parents' arms, headphones on.

I later found out it was Nene Malo on stage, an Argentinian singer, famous all around Latin America.

I also went rafting in Puerto Varas (it was much cheaper than in Bariloche). We went in two rafts down a grade 3/4 river. We were unable to go the full way that the company used to go since the roads are still blocked from a volcanic eruption last year. If we had continued as before, apparently we'd have to raft for 8 hours more to reach a point where the roads were accessible again. So instead, we stopped for a chance to jump into the river.

Now I'm not particularly scared of heights, but jumping off them into fast moving water is rather contrary to my nature so I initially chickened out of jumping. I did eventually pluck up the courage to take the plunge, and it was actually pretty fun, and not that high up. As a well done treat I did purchase an ice cream back in Puerto Varas, from a place recommended by the hostel, guide books and the long long queue of people.

I was planning to skip Valdivia altogether but the friends I made in Bariloche suggested I really should stop if I could. I'm really pleased I stopped in, although I was only there for 24 hours, I really liked the vibe in this city.

I stayed in the cool hostel my friends recommended called Aires Buenos. Although it was a Monday when I arrived, and most state run museums are closed on Mondays, I decided to visit the various islands there. First I went to see the fort, then walked back to the port to catch the ferry over to Isla Corral. By this point is was getting a little late and chilly so I just visited the old fort, watched the historical reenactment and hopped back on the ferry. It's a shame I didn't explore more, but I do think I got a good taste of what's there.

I met fun people at the hostel and a small group of us went for a nighttime stroll to some recommended bars. Being a Monday night, it was not a crazy evening, but it was nice to meet some interesting characters and exchange travel stories, tips and tricks.

The next day I had a few life admin missions to complete before I went exploring further. I had realised as I left Puerto Varas that I no longer had my raincoat. I'm still not 100% sure where I left it, but I have a feeling it ended up somewhere in no man's land between the Argentinian and Chilean borders. Chilean border control check absolutely every piece of luggage so it likely got lost in the moving of bags.

So the next morning I set off to find a new rain coat. It turns out, that whilst Chile is cheaper than the UK in many aspects, food, transport, adventure activities and more, it is not cheaper for clothes, especially not outdoorsy clothes. There is an abundance of shops with rain coats costing a mere £80 or so, so I landed up purchasing a fetching fluorescent yellow get up that was on sale!

My second big task was to find somewhere to fix my hiking boots. It seems that landed both feet in a river is not so good for hiking boots - see the post named 'Hiking the W at Torres del Paine' for more details on that incident! After a fair bit of asking around, I found a small little shoe repairs place who charged me only £4 to sew the sole back to the boot, which seemed like a much better plan than £90-£200 on a new pair!

After that I was able to go for a wander, back onto one of the islands for a trip to the botanical gardens which is on the university campus. I also visited the museum of contemporary art for a bit of culture. I didn't spend much time in the city, but I liked this environmentally-aware, cool, student city that felt like people lived and grew up there, rather than being there simply for work.

Posted by Rebecca Heller 16:12 Archived in Chile Tagged islands volcanoes Comments (0)

My week in Bolivia

View Getting to know Chile & Exploring Patagonia & Into Argentina & A week in Bolivia on Rebecca Heller's travel map.

I arrived in La Paz with my tour group, pretty tired after 3 weeks on the go. We went for a short walking tour and when we got back to the hotel, Simon was waiting for me there.

Simon and I spent the next morning perusing the extensive Witches Market with Sean. You see near enough the same thing in every shop, for near enough the same price, and whilst haggling is a thing there, it turns out Simon and I are not that good at it. When you convert the savings we made it probably comes to all of about £5. If you want all the typical souvenirs though, this is the place to come!

We decided not to stay an extra night in La Paz and head to Uyuni that night since we didn't have all the time in the world, so off to the bus station we went.

It turns out the buses in Bolivia are not as nice or comfy as the ones in Peru but it was cheap so that made up for it. We arrived at Uyuni at an unsociable 4am and found ourselves in a cafe with other weary travellers, waiting for the travel agencies to open.

We had been advised that it was cheaper to book directly in Uyuni, rather than La Paz, and the best way to find a company was to ask for recommendations. Guide books and online advice all said it was best to pay a little more for the safety and quality of the tour and in the end we followed a recommendation to book the three day tour with Red Planet.

I don't know if it was cheaper in the end as this tour was pretty prices compared to the others, but it came highly recommended and ran in English. It also turned out to be the same tour as Doriano was on (Doriano was part of my previous tour group) so that was added fun!

I think it was totally worth the effort to pay a little extra, as we had a fun comprehensive tour that included the Salt Flats themselves, the Cactus Island, stays in a salt hotel, a hotel with hot springs for a midnight dip. They catered well for vegetarian and gluten free so I wasn't hungry - what more can you ask for?!

The only thing I really knew about this part of Bolivia was the salt desert where you take fun perspective photos (which we took lots of!), so the rest was a bonus. The landscape is spectacular, and by doing a three day tour I saw way more than I was expecting. We saw mountains, volcanoes, lakes (including a red lake), flamingos and more.

I also met people who had already been to places I was planning to visit in Patagonia and so I got a lot of good information and advice, especially about hiking in the Torres del Paine national park in Chile (all the advice was super helpful, as I'll explain in a later post!).

The only negative thing was that Simon wasn't feeling well, so we had him dosed up on medicine so that he could still enjoy the tour.

We decided to get a bus straight to the border with Argentina, rather than stay in Uyuni. We wanted to get to Buenos Aires sooner rather than later, so we endured nearly 48 hours on buses. We put up with the border crossing, which was the most inefficient system I'd seen and was a little soul destroying (don't try and attempt it in a hurry!). Thankfully, the drive through northern Argentina is beautiful and it wasn't as uncomfortable as it could have been.

I have a feeling I missed some other exciting and interesting parts of Bolivia by rushing through, but time did not allow plenty of stops this time. Oh well, it's just somewhere I'll have to come back to!

Posted by Rebecca Heller 08:25 Archived in Bolivia Tagged desert volcanoes mountain tour salt uyuni Comments (0)

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