Early start for my volcano walk, big adventure! I hadn’t slept so well and am feeling a bit groggy this morning. I pack my bag and leave Ness to have a lie-in and go to wait at reception. The hotel have left me a packed lunch, part of which serves as breakfast. Half an hour late a van (empty) turns up to take me into town. There are about thirty people going, all kitted out with their Politur-provided rucksacks, snow boots, etc. I pick up my gear and start to get ready, not feeling very sociable yet so avoid conversation. Many look like seasoned trekkers or far younger than me, but there are a few older ones too, phew! The drivers/guides are in a hurry and I have no time to get my rucksack packed properly. I’m bundled into a van which is already nearly full, all of them a lot younger than me and in various groups on backpacker trips. An Aussie girl asks me whether I’ve got the gloves, hat and gaiters, which I haven’t and ask the guide whether I can have some “geysers” but he understands. The plan is to head into the park, check the weather conditions and then decide. I’m still not feeling totally awake and opt out of conversation, as do most of the others except for the Canadian guy opposite me and the Aussie girl next to him, who are showing off to each other and the rest how extreme their travels have been. It’s boring and mundane and most of their stories amount to being ripped off by tour guides. They are going for bargain basement trips so clearly can’t expect too much. We enter the park and start to see patches of icy snow here and there. The general opinion seems to be that the weather won’t improve and the walk would therefore be in miserable cloud rather than getting the grand views.
We reach the point where we have to decide. While we’re talking (I have switched to sociable mode by this time) we take pictures. When the guide comes back he asks each of us in turn, all say “nay” and he runs off to join another group who are going for it. The guides only get paid if the walk goes ahead. Another driver takes us back down. Eight people, out of the thirty in total, are doing the walk, the rest are heading back. The fact that the cable-lift was closed due to bad weather, adding extra climbing to our trip, was another factor against going for it. As we descend, and the clouds disappear, I wonder whether I shouldn’t have gone for it after all and rapidly conclude I’m doing the right thing. The walk would have been even more arduous and probably in the company of some real trekkers with no option to bail out.
I hope Ness will still be in the hotel by the time I get back. I manage to contact her by phone from Politur and join Ness at breakfast in the hotel. Plan B is worked on over coffee. The volcanic caves is something we fancy seeing and happy to fill the rest of the day with whatever comes along.
The drive to the cuevas takes us back into the national park along the same route I went on this morning. A JCB is rebuilding some sections of the road and we have abit of fun getting through the sand and rocks. The cuevas themselves are on private land, not part of the PN. A large wooden building with the cafeteria is where we can pay for access. Inside three lads are playing backgammon by the log fire. It all looks very snug up here. It’s Tito’s turn to guide the tour. He gets changed, then takes us through an illustrated tour about volcanoes, tectonic plates, types of eruption, and how volcanic tunnels are created. After the tour Tito and I talk for a few minutes, sharing a few gulps of the pisco sour out of the hipflask while Ness makes a pit stop. He has only been here for less than a year, having escaped the hustle and bustle of Santiago. The caves themselves are a tunnel carved out by the hot lava as it flows downhill. He tells us about the different types of formations, and so on. At the end of the tunnel he turns off the lights to demonstrate the total darkness that normally exists here. We have a coffee back at the cafeteria before heading back to Pucón.
The JCB has cleared up the road by now so it’s an easier ride back. In Pucón we park by the blue-painted Gran Hotel and go for a walk along the lake beach and summer houses. The scene reminds me of Holland in its densely packed beach-houses. The houses are mostly boarded up at the moment; the summer season is still a month or so away. One house is named “De Hut”, owner Otto Guldenschwager. Before returning to our hotel we stop by Pucón’s Bernie, a small bust by the lake-side. We spend the rest of the afternoon and evening in the hotel, having a siesta, and intending to have dinner in town. While we’re having a drink in the hotel before going out I start to get traveller’s tummy and a bit later am back in our room for the rest of the night. Ness has dinner at the hotel restaurant before coming to bed. B*gger, I hope this isn’t going to be a repeat of how I felt in Tours in January (dodgy guts kept me in bed for a whole day). We have booked a horse-ride for the day after tomorrow, and tomorrow might be better spent taking it easy. At the end of the day I’m relieved at how it has turned out – the volcano walk would have been miserable and arduous, Volcan Villarica has been in clouds all day, and my energy levels have dropped significantly from this morning. The walk would have knackered me out for at least a day or two, spoiling things for both of us.