Saturday, August 25, 2012

Last stop, Pucón

Pucón, the final destination on our tour of southern Chile (and a bit of Argentine Patagonia).  It's a popular vacation spot for Chileans, and why not?  With a beautiful lake, a snowcapped volcano on the horizon  -complete with a visible fumarole billowing from its cone - and surrounded by forest, rivers and hot springs, it's got a lot to offer.  Plus, it's only about eight hours from Santiago.

Rather than coming from our home in Santiago, however, we took the long way around, having come straight from San Martín de los Andes in Argentina. On the way we were afforded a view of yet another snowcapped mountain, not to be confused with the one pictured above.  In the foreground is a group of prehistoric-looking monkey puzzle trees, also known as the Araucaria, Chile's national tree.

It was another long ride, and a steady ascent up the Argentine side of the Cordillera de los Andes, until the border defined by the continental divide.  Then came the ear-popping descent on the other side, through a river valley bottoming out at the lake region of Pucón itself.

As had been the case with all of our previous stops throughout the south of Chile, we were in direct competition with every other vacationer making their way around the southern regions of the country.  In order to avoid getting stuck without a ride or a place to stay, we had settled into a successful routine of buying departing bus tickets from each town as soon as we arrived there, and making hotel reservations even further in advance.

Pucón's proximity to Santiago, though, and it being one of the last weekends of summer vacation for most schools and universities, foiled our ordinary system. Every hotel I tried to call was already booked more than a week in advance, so we had no choice but show up and try our luck.  Fortunately, though, we weren't put out for long.  A few blocks from the bus station was a new hostel, with roughed-in rooms still smelling of fresh-cut, unfinished lumber.  Having just opened for business, it was nowhere to be found on any list online or in print, and so walk-up clients like us were their only income.  Nonetheless, it was a full house during most of our stay.

Easily explained by views like this and the many adventure sports that come with them, we arrived in Pucón to discover that every ticket on every bus leaving town for the next week was already sold.  It looked like a nice place, but a week in town was more than we bargained for.  Again, however, we were in luck, as there was one exception: two first-class tickets on an overnight bus, in four days.  They weren't cheap, but they would put us back home right when we wanted to be there, and we'd have plush seats that folded down into beds, complete with pillows and blankets for the night's ride.  It was an offer we couldn't refuse.

With all the hard work out of the way, we could now set our minds at ease and get down to the real business of being here.  The first stop was the lake, and its black sand beaches, with the backdrop of wooded mountains, under a cloudless sky.  Ah, Chile!

We haven't been to any town in Chile that hasn't featured some playgrounds for kids, either.

The next day we woke up early to visit Huerquehue national park.  One of the first features we came upon was Tinquilco lake, a long slender body of water with a camping area and even a couple of rowboats.

El lago Tinquilco, y el volcán Villarica, from a privileged vantage.

A candid glimpse of a human animal, in its natural element.

On the third day we visited a resort called Peumayén, several kilometers away from Pucón.  It offers hot springs like these along a river, as well as a more developed bath house up the hill.

There was also a trampoline, and a friend.

With a rustic restaurant as well, it was a fine place to spend the day, have a soak, eat lunch, and otherwise enjoy some time outside in the mild southern Summer.

Picking blackberries while waiting for the bus back to town.

The last day we spent in Pucón.  The weather wasn't looking very good, but we couldn't resist the opportunity to take a boat tour on the lake.

Keeping warm, and out of the rain.

The weather sure changes fast around here.  Also featured in this photo is some of Pucón's more exclusive real estate.  Apparently there's a private golf course on the other side of the hill.

It was the end of the day, and the end of our trip.  Soon we'd get on the last of countless buses we'd taken throughout our extended trip around some of the most beautiful countryside I've seen.  Of the many towns we'd visited, Pucón was perhaps our favorite.  A great place to mark the end of a vacation I'll never forget.