Ness is happily snoozing, not bothered about rooftop breakfast (soft pillow wins), so I’m on my own for huevos fritos on the rooftop of the Carrera. The sun is bright and low over the Andes and I have a good half hour enjoying breakfast and the views. The taxi driver to the airport is very friendly and entertaining, fluent in English which is nice. He tells us the best pisco brand is Alto del Carmen. Also tells us about lots of other things, all I remember is the bit about the bus-strike backfiring (the strike had the immediate effect of reducing pollution levels).
We’re in good time for our flight and grab a drink at the cafeteria at the far end of the terminal hall, right by our gate, 26, which I consider a lucky coincidence – but Ness had of course noticed in advance! We managed to get good seats on the plane, forward of the wing on the side overlooking the Andes. The scenery is new to us now, no longer the brown of the northern half of the country but a patchwork of roads and fields. The snow-capped Andes are close by on our left. Clouds obscure the view for part of the way and especially when we near Temuco, but we do get the odd glimpse of the new countryside. It’s green and lush, with clear signs of agriculture and cultivation but to a much lesser extent than in the lands immediately south of Santiago. Reminiscent of northern parts of Britain. No, in fact it is totally reminiscent of England and I even pointed it out to Ness. The green fields are separated by hedgerows (they look like that from up here). The clouds are very low and the final view remains hidden until we are well into our approach to the runway, clouds flicking past until we’re finally below them. Temuco airport is small, as expected. Hertz office is one of several offices in a long cabin outside. We pick up our new, as yet unnamed Basher. A grey Chevy, equivalent to the Toyota Hi-Lux. Cup-holders, cushioned arm-rest, CD player, a bit sophisticated. Ness is the first to make acquaintance and drives us to Pucón, and gets stopped by two carabiñeros for speeding. We pick up farmer Pancho a bit outside Villarica. I do my best to converse with him and manage to understand something about his Czech friend Pedro (!) who is over here looking to buy a piece of land to farm. We drop him off in Villarica and he helps us on our way to Pucon, on route 199, following the southern side of the lago. It really is very green here, with many wooden buildings dotted here and there, and many different types of trees.
Our hotel, Antumalal, lies on the lake shore a short distance (2km) before Pucon town itself. It is accessed by a narrow cobbled road which rounds a small wooded hill. The hotel lies behind this, a piece of 1950’s avant-garde architecture. It is designed to be at one modern, linear, and at the same time blend in totally with the environment it occupies. Trees surround and blend in with the building. We have room “1” although there are no numbers or locks on the doors. Instead our names are placed on the door. Pictures in the reception show that royalty and celebrities used to visit, probably in Antumalal’s heyday as an architectural …er… new thing. It includes Boudewijn and Fabioloa, Queen Elizabeth II and Prince Philip, and various others. Our room, at the end of the long corridor, is fantastic, with a wall-to-wall window looking out over the gardens and lake. It is simply furnished, in similar 50’s avant-garde style, with its own open fire, already prepared so all we have to do is put a match to the kindling. There is tons of space on little shelves in the cupboard, with a “fridge light” which keeps me occupied for a few minutes.
After unpacking we head for the lounge and have a drink overlooking the lake. Then we drive into Pucón to explore the place. Usual grid system layout. It’s smaller than I imagined it but big enough to provide variety. After a first tour we park speedy-basher on Fresia. Tourist office is in the municipalidad but they’re not very helpful and say “try the bookshop”. I want to buy the local trekking map and spot a book with “23 trekking tours in central Chile”. Trying to find a bookshop is a challenge. The bookshop on O’Higgins is cerrado (closed) and there is no other bookshop. We stop for a coffee/hot chocolate/sandwich (cerdo con pepperoncini…) at the Patagonia Café. Then we try again. Bookshop now says abierto (open) but the door is locked. Before the coffee we did find another libreria but it only sold stationery. Got frustrated trying to explain what I was looking for: a book, a bookshop, “una tienda con muchos libros”. Anyhow, while we’re hovering near the bookshop the owner comes running back and re-opens the shop. “Yes, this is bookshop. No, we don’t have the book you’re looking for. Try such-and-such agency.” Such-and-such agency say “try the tourist office.” Full circle. Back at the tourist office I ask where exactly can I buy this book and map. Should have known, the map can be obtained at Agua + Nieue tour operator, the book at the Tetera travellers café. Ness has a bout of travellers tummy and we have to make a pitstop. Maps are a successful buy and we also manage to buy the book. Back at the hotel I discover that it only covers the bit of Chile between Santiago and just north of Temuco, i.e. no kin’ use to us whatsoever!
Before going out for dinner we have some help from Christian at the hotel reception in planning our days here. I’m keen to climb the volcano Villarica, and we can also do horse-riding and rafting. Ness isn’t set on the volcano climb but happy for me to do it. Christian sends us to Politur in town to make the booking. I try on the kit I’ll need, plastic snow shoes, over-trousers, etc. and label them with my name. Then we amble a bit and go for dinner at a Spanish restaurant, no seafood tonight! Fabado bean and sausage stew is very tasty, if a little lacking in the sausage department. Early start for me tomorrow – it didn’t strike me that Ness would effectively be totally on her own in a foreign country and start worrying about what could happen if she were to go “off piste” with the car, but Ness promises to be sensible and stick to touring around. We go to sleep in our snug room. Should be a couple of good days ahead!