In which I ramble on about the holiday I took last year…
I left Norway as the first snows of winter finally arrived after a long, miserable, and very wet autumn, and oh boy, was I ever ready for a holiday. Landing in Santiago to dry heat in which the distant mountains shimmered was just the tonic my weary soul needed. Sunshine, warmth, all the hustle and bustle of a big city.
Now a confession: I don’t speak Spanish. Not one word. I took two years of Spanish in secondary school, umpteen years ago, no chance of remembering that now! Armed with only a phrase book, the city map on my phone (thanks openstreetmap!) and a really good line in meaningful gestures and miming stuff, I set out to find my hostel.
The hostel turned out to be gorgeous. Big backyard, pool, the works. It was too early to check in, so I left my luggage and went exploring. I just walked aimlessly that first day. I didn’t know where I was or what i should try to see, I just tried to get a feel for the place.
Confession nr 2: Of course I got a really bad sunburn, jet lagged me didn’t think to get the sunscreen out of my bag before I went walkabout. That was stupid. I know better!
I only had a couple of days in Santiago. One of them I booked onto an organised tour of a winery, which was really nice, we biked around in the sunshine between the vines & tried some very fine wine.
The other I tried to see some of the museums and a bit of the city. I also took the funicular railway up Cerro San Christobal to admire the view of the city and the distant mountains (and in the hope of finding some breeze to dispel the heat – no such luck!) then walked down through the forest.
Confession nr 3: I didn’t eat out at all in Santiago, I know, i know, terrible missed opportunity. But the shyness that stemmed from my total language useless got the better of me here. I also wasted a lot of mental energy worry about whether I would be able to buy a bus ticket to Pucon; of course that worked out fine, lots of nodding & smiling & pointing at the computer screen. At least bus-ticket-selling dude thought my lack of Spanish was hilarious rather than insulting!
The overnight bus was about as horrible as one might expect, but dawn came with the promise of a release from sweaty bus hell into fresh air, lush green landscape passing outside the windows. Pucon was nice and cool at 8am. Again I planned to leave my bag at the hostel and go walk around… slightly confused when the hostel owner greeted me with a huge hug… all becomes clear when it transpires that its his birthday & he’s already on the sauce! He decides that we must be cousins (both our surnames mean the same thing in our respective languages), I am plied with coffee (declining to have it adulterated with whiskey) and introduced to a revolving cast of guests, friends and employees. Somehow I am so happy to be among talkative people that I am still on the terrace there at lunch time, listening to the traveling tales of others who are on far greater adventures than my own, having taken years off to ‘do’ South America and what-not. Sometimes its the people that make a place, and Pucon was definitely like that for me, I walked right into a party that went on all week and it was just what I needed!
Pucon is also a totally gorgeous place, with a volcano visible from the main street, and every possible adventure sport on offer. I decided not to sign up to climb the volcano on this trip – he had his head in the clouds until my last day and reports from those who did sign up to go were of cancelled trips or turning back due to bad weather, so it just didn’t seem like the right time. I did visit the national park Huerquehue, and hike the peak San Sebastian, getting a wonderful view of the famous lakes and encountering only one other couple, despite how jam packed the bus was to get up there! I also went for an afternoons riding (thought I better remind myself how that felt before getting on a horse for 10 days!) which was lovely.
From Pucon I took the bus to Puerto Varas, another town where you can see volcanoes from the end of the street.
Again I took a small, overcrowded bus to a national park – Vicente Perez Rosales national park, the oldest in Chile. Here I took a hot hot walk from Petrohue through the sand to a viewpoint in the foothills of Volcan Osorno (if a volcano can be said to have foothills!). I met some more nice people on this hike, so had someone to have dinner with that evening, including my first Pisco Sours (the classic drink of Chile).
The next day saw me at the airport in Puerto Montt, waiting for my plane south to Punta Arenas and the next stage of my adventure…