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.
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.
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.