El Ten Eleven - Transitions
Valdivia treated us to a Christmas dinner and German-Californian family. It’s time to leave again and cross the Andes for the second time. We hop on a bus to Pucón, a mountain town on the Chilean side of the range. It’s pretty, neat - maybe too neat - just like Tahoe or the Swiss Alps, with the obligatory chocolate shop at every corner. Villarrica, one of the world’s most active volcanos, paints the perfect picture overlooking town - the most volcano-looking volcano, with a superb cone shape, its top tier covered in snow, and a thin line of smoke slowly climbing up.
Madie and I prepare our dinner at the hostel, debating for too long whether we should climb the peak. Everyone there recommends it, and so does the Malbec, so after an early breakfast the next morning, we hop on a small shuttle to the base of a ski resort. We get dressed, put on heavy boots and start climbing, first in dirt, then snow. One slow step at a time. Plant the ice axe, lodge your left foot into the snow, lodge the right one, and repeat - for five long hours. Someone forgot to tell us a volcano only gets steeper the higher you climb. We start zig-zagging. The walk is long and arduous, and the air starts getting thin as we approach 2,800 meters. But looking over to the valley we see the (literally) breathtaking sight of the Andes. In a couple days, we will cross them again, amongst the many lakes of the Lagos Provincia region. But for now, we keep climbing, one step at a time.
The top is cold, windy, and gas masks are required for the occasional sulfur cloud blowing our way. I remember Kawah Ijen and my sore throat the following day. Madie peeks at the crater and sees lava spurting out. A short lunch just below the ridge and it’s already time to come down for the best part of our trek. We’re provided small plastic sleds. Madie will giggle for the next 45 minutes. Who can say they sled down a volcano?
San MartÍn de los Andes, Argentina
With little else to offer on a small budget, we leave Pucón and embark on a ride to San Martín de los Andes, a quaint town on the Argentinian side of the Andes. The dramatic scenery keeps us awake for the few hours of the ride. Tall trees only seen in this region (of which we’ll never know the name) make up the large forest, completely uninhabited. Another border crossing, this one ending on a dirt road of kilometers and long fields of bare trees. We arrive in San Martín de los Andes, with ice cream for lunch at a local chocolate shop. Our dinner at a parrilla brings us back to Argentina, to misplaced ‘shhs’ and perfect beef.
In the morning we make our way to Bariloche, finding a new hostel where Tonya awaits us. Another dear friend, Adrian, joins us there and suddenly we’re in good company for New Year’s Eve, happy to exchange travel stories and gossip with them. Tonya’s friend invites us to a small refuge nestled against a lake, with mesmerizing views of the region.
We spend a private New Year’s Eve with Tonya and Adrian, a few more folks (a businessman, an artist, a journalist, and two builder and fishermen brothers), and three dogs. New and old friends mingle, with the help of wine and BBQ lamb. We’re all so close, if only for one night. The next day’s hike reveals more of the lake district and how beautiful this place truly is.