Chile & Argentina - Up a Volcano, Through the Lakes, Toward the New Year

The view from our tiny wooden capsule room. Volcan Villarrica was beautiful to watch over the course of three days, changing as quickly as the sun and clouds would, and letting out steam whenever she cared to. She is one of the most active volcanos in Chile, and the day after we took this photo, we hiked to the top.

The view from our tiny wooden capsule room. Volcan Villarrica was beautiful to watch over the course of three days, changing as quickly as the sun and clouds would, and letting out steam whenever she cared to. She is one of the most active volcanos in Chile, and the day after we took this photo, we hiked to the top.

El Ten Eleven - Transitions

Pucón, Chile

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.

Around the mountain town of Pucón, Chile.

Around the mountain town of Pucón, Chile.

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.

Slow and steady wins the race. After over 4 hours hiking uphill, our treat was to slide down almost 2.5km of snow in snow pants and with a small plastic disc. Madie was laughing the whole way down!

Slow and steady wins the race. After over 4 hours hiking uphill, our treat was to slide down almost 2.5km of snow in snow pants and with a small plastic disc. Madie was laughing the whole way down!

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.

Summer sun on the lake in San Martín de los Andes.

Summer sun on the lake in San Martín de los Andes.

Bariloche, Argentina

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.

Our unforgettable New Year’s view in Bariloche, Argentina.

Our unforgettable New Year’s view in Bariloche, Argentina.

Grateful to have spent the holiday in such a warm place, and in the company of friends, old and new.

Grateful to have spent the holiday in such a warm place, and in the company of friends, old and new.

Ringing in the New Year.

Ringing in the New Year.

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. 

Happy to celebrate the New Year with friends who will meet you on this side of the world, even on a whim.

Happy to celebrate the New Year with friends who will meet you on this side of the world, even on a whim.