Sunday, December 31, 2006
We explored the lava caves of Villarrica on New Years Eve day! It was great to get out for fresh air after being in bed two days.
It was raining at midnight as Pucon celebrated the New Year. The town was crowded, the streets lined with parked cars, as crowds gathered at the beach along Lake Villarrica for fireworks and partying. The party lasted all night; at 6 a.m. I awoke to small groups singing loudly in the streets as they stumbled home to recover from the celebration!
January 2nd, we packed up and left Pucon by bus. My energy level was still pretty low but it was so good to be on the mend and back on the road. Pucon was a great place to be for the holidays!
Thursday, December 28, 2006
The sun rises, highlighting the town, the mountain, and the maze of ever-present power lines.
After being bused to the ski area on its flank, the mountain was still promising us a glorious day culminating in a mystical experience when we climbed to its vapor-shrouded summit! We started out with a short walk uphill from the lodge to a chair lift that would speed us past the first hour's ascent.
What rapidly became evident was that using the lift avoided the first part of the ascent, but not the first hour. As a team of five fussed the diesel-driven lift into action, a large crowd of other climbers amassed. The photo above shows only the first third of the queue!
On reaching the top of the lift, the view back over the area was stunning. Pucon is just visible centrally in the picture, in the valley east of the lake.
Our guide enforced a rather slow but steady pace with regular stops for rest and water. We felt fortunate to be in a smaller group, as we watched the switchback zig-zag of other tours headed up the slope. We were definitely not alone on the mountain!! The larger groups ran to twenty or more, all inching up the mountain single file behind their guide, hoping to summit on the first good day after a week of clouds and rain.
About 2/3rds of the way up, we stopped to eat and lace on our crampons for the steeper, icier sections above. Our guide checked the weather conditions by radio, talked with other guides, and came back to say we'd head up to the next ledge and check again. By this time, a layer of cloud had simply materialized out of nowhere, hiding the summit and extending to shadow our previously-sunny vista.
We headed up, feeling very secure in our crampons. One of our group had opted to stay behind at the lunch stop, and another turned back after the first ten minutes, so we were able to pick up the pace a bit. After another 30 minutes of steady progress, we were beginning to be enveloped in the clouds and noted a gusty wind with light rain. All this seemed quite tame compared to weather we had skied in numerous times, but Joachin, our guide, stopped and said we'd best turn back. He felt that, with the wet, wind, and cold, we should not attempt the summit. I was very disappointed, but not being familiar the mountain or the language, I regretfully turned around with everyone else. I suppose that, without lift poles and tree verges to follow, getting stuck in a white-out on this mountain might not make for as easy a descent as when skiing.
We were pretty sure some of the groups who had started much earlier than us had probably summitted, but we noted all the groups around us also turning around. As unfamiliar hikers began descending in thicker, wetter, snow that clumped around the teeth of crampons, some would lose their footing and (purposefully or not) slide down the mountain. It certainly was an easier descent. The rest of us had to pick our route carefully to avoid the thicker snow, or stop frequently to tap the snow out of the crampons when they began losing their purchase on the mountain. The seated descent was certainly not popular with the guides, who volubly pointed out that sliding with sharp crampons to the fore was simply asking to lacerate a fellow hiker or, worse yet, catch a point, twisting a knee or hip beyond its designed limits. It became increasingly evident to us that the range of hikers was broad, including those with little experience on snow, ice, mountainsides, perhaps even in the out-of-doors. However, the guides did their job, accommodating for the safety of weakest links.
Disappointment soon gave way to excitement as we reached a point where our guide allowed us to shed our crampons and glissade down the mountain on our patooties! Under the influence of gravity, our three hour ascent yielded a much faster descent.
Rauol, Joachin, Rodrigo and Daniella pose happily at the bottom of the snowline.
All in all, it was a very safe and fun day, and I felt our guide had most likely done his best to accommodate the scope of experience and ability in our group. The views were amazing, but the one into the crater still teases me. If there is a next time, perhaps we'll rent the few pieces of gear we're missing, hire a private guide, and (for perhaps the same cost) make the true summit!
Wednesday, December 27, 2006
After leaving the paved road encircling the mountain, the first section of the "real" drive seemed vaguely Swiss, passing among sheep and dairy farms. At times, we shared the road with the livestock.
Our pace was slow and relaxed, as were the spectators of our progress.
Patchy sunlight gave way to clouds and fitful drizzle, which progressed to steady rain as we arrived at our destination.
The facility boasts 17 slate baths ranging from "hot tub" to "swimming pool" size scattered along a quarter mile wooden boardwalk that crisscrosses a mountain stream. As may be evident from our photos, the name, "Geometric Thermals", was taken from the builder's design. It was most pleasing to the eye. For the bold, some pools bordered on scalding. For the boldest, there were the bracing natural waterfalls. (Not quite the plunge through sea ice that Ginger experienced in Finland, but quite shivery enough for us.)
We spent the entire day relaxing in the rain in our own personal hot tub. (No one else wanted to join us... Have we maybe been on the road just a bit too long???) Note the prolific foliage and the flowered vine climbing the tree trunk. It was so beautiful, it appeared, if not fake, at least carefully trained. However, having seen similar displays on our subsequent hikes, we can assure you it was not.
This hot spring was something I will never forget -- remote, natural, elegant, and as night fell, romantically candlelit.
Tuesday, December 26, 2006
This is the main park, quite close to the beach and looking toward the volcano.
City Hall decorated for Christmas with the "green light" signaling all is usual for the volcano. As we've driven out of town and around the volcano Pucon doesn't resemble any of the surrounding towns and we wonder how this came about. The easiest way to describe it would be Pucon resembles a US town while the surrounding towns have a Malaysian look and feel.
We've never seen so many powerlines! I've even given up trying to take pictures with out powerlines running through them. Here is an example of looking down mainstreet in Pucon. Case seems to think they don't bother taking down old power lines....they just add new ones. All through out Chile we've commented on all the powerlines.
The city sits right on the lake Villarrica and has a black sand beach.
Our hostel La Tetera. Every morning downstairs they serve one of the best breakfasts in town. Our favorite is their musli, very tasty and very filling.
I have a few pictures to show one of the typical surrounding towns and when the blogger is in a better mood maybe it will let me upload those pictures!!
Monday, December 25, 2006
Our second present, sent to cheer us, was a Christmas email from one of my patients containing a pointer to one of those frivolous but fun Web creations. We enjoyed it so much, we're sharing it with you: Santa & the Reindeer bring you "White Christmas". (Hope the link stays working...)
Our final present was a rafting trip down the lower Rio Trancura on Christmas afternoon. If there had been a dry bag along to stow our camera, we would be sharing with you some action shots of our group, furiously paddling on command from our guide, as we dove, rose and twisted over and between boulders on the swirling waters.
The rafting group above was made up of four brothers from Norway plus their girl friends. We didn't get shots of our fellow-paddlers, a family from Athens, Greece. The husband was an affable Greek gent, while his wife is Chilean. They brought with them their son, who looked to be in his tweens, and had all the awkward shyness of that age. (We were told of a four-year-old daughter, also, but she obviously did not come on the rafting excursion.) As so often happens, we monolingual Americanos were humbled by this family's fluency in English, Spanish, Greek, and French!
Both boats completed the journey, upright and with crew on board, through the "Class III" rapids -- or in my interpretation, a few who0p-de-doo's breaking up more relaxing "Class I" sections. (For reference, Class I is flat water, and Class VI is anything that looks like Niagra Falls. We're not planning to do any of the latter...)
Sunday, December 24, 2006
The rain abated, but the clouds still hide the volcano, occasionally lifting enough to give little peeks at the lower slopes. On the ride up, we saw old lava flows, now channels for snow melt.
The view back over Lake Villarica doesn’t quite show the town of Pucon, but you can see the sizeable (~1 x 0.4 km) peninsula that bisects the town waterfront. We’d tried to walk out there yesterday, but were prevented by forbidding private guard stations barring the two roads. Today, our driver told us that the whole peninsula is owned by one person, and contains a golf & tennis club, plus some condos. (Or at least, I think that’s what he said.)
Every once in a while, you get little reminders that tourism is still a developing industry here. After a rather bouncy ride up the volcanic slopes, we reached the entry to the cave complex only to find it closed and posted with a sign, “Closed. We’ll be back December 27. Merry Christmas.” This was a little disappointing, but it was still a fun outing. Before heading back, we took a short walk to photograph the wildflowers growing on the lava rock near the snowline. The tour company will take us back up there later this week. With luck, this time they’ll call and make sure the place is open first.
Today is nine months exactly since we were married!
Saturday, December 23, 2006
We learned quite a lot at church, despite not being gifted with quite the tongues we needed to follow the sermon. First of all, it was apparent that the church here is growing -- from the inside. Kids were evident everywhere! Furthermore, their role was not limited to sitting down ... or quiet ... or still! For example, Sabbath School was underway when we arrived, and was led by two lads of perhaps 10 and 11.
Also, we learned that churches may not be so dependent upon musical instruments in the future. Any child who can master a remote (what child hasn't?) can operate the DVD that plays the accompaniment tracks. We enjoyed singing, karaoke style, the Spanish words to worship songs we'd learned in the U.S. (Of course, occasionally, we'd get to sing the first part of the next song, until the kid with the remote woke up and stopped it. Or there'd be a couple minutes delay while the kid figured out which DVD to load for the next song. Bottom line -- the one with the remote runs the show!)
Even the sermon, was highlighted by the occasional child wandering across the platform, sometimes even stopping to wave, with the parent eventually following and casually intercepting the "rug-rat" when it looked like the pastor might be up-staged. There was one child who, having demonstrated to the entire congregation the superb health of his lungs, was finally removed from the premises. Until then, the pastor just had to tune his own pipes to match!The pastor wasn't quite a match for that one kid, but what he lacked in capacity he made up for in endurance. I understood maybe a dozen words of the sermon, and found myself beginning to contemplate my own little walkabout on stage. Anything to relieve the boredom! Case caught only the occasional phrase, too, and thinks perhaps the pastor had an accent. (OK, I can recognize an excuse when I hear one!) Still, it was a fun experience, and we were very impressed by the culture's family emphasis which, as we have described, really becomes evident in church! And it wasn't over when church was over. Several members of the congregation wished us "Feliz Sabado", a couple English-speaking ones chatted with us for quite a while, and we were issued multiple invitations to return for the children's Christmas play that evening.
By the early afternoon, having spent the last 48 hours indoors (one way or the other), we were beginning to feel a bit claustrophobic in our previously 'cozy' 10x 12 hostel room. So, we ventured out in the rain for a walk along the lake, where we were joined by yet another friendly pooch. This has been a reccuring theme of our various walks within in Chile.
It seems that each city or locale is blessed with a full complement of "free public-access pooches". As far as we can tell, it's sort of like shopping carts at the grocery store, or perhaps those forward-thinking cities like Portland, where they have a number of city-owned bicycles left out for public use. Only here, the pooch picks you up, rather than you feeling the need and picking him up. According to our guidebook (and I quote), "Chile, with its heavy Catholic influences, isn't inclined to cut the balls off anything." (Apparently, the family emphasis extends to the dogs, too.) The friendliest ones followed us for miles around town, variously heeling, running ahead, sniffing, marking their territory, posing with us for pictures, or running off after a distracting scent or bird. The small town dogs of Pucon seem very happy and well fed, their need for human companionship satisfied by whoever happens to come along and accept their presence. However, in the cities like Valparaiso, we felt the numbers were disproportionate to the space. More specifically, the numbers were distinctly disproportionate to the amount of non-sealed surface area, making it necessary to step carefully to avoid frequent "landmines" (if you get my drift) decorating surfaces otherwise intended for walking and/or driving.
Our search for fine chocolate, initiated on Case's birthday almost 10 days ago, ended in Pucon when we happened across a wonderful chocolateria. (Yes, that's what it's known as in Spanish, and the word fits quite well.) After an agonizing process of decision-making (Case assures me that his command of Spanish includes the phrase, "Give me two of everything, please."), we came away well stocked! Case's "drug of choice" is now amply supplied ... although I did notice that he told the proprietress that we'd be back manana!
And my addiction, well ... I, in my minimalist style, had packed "all-in-one" hiking/ running/walking/camping/churching/dining shoes, only to discover on the cruise ship treadmills that I had sacrificed way too much! Unfortunately, the shoes were completely inadequate for running. (They're still holding up to the other purposes, though!) Initially, I determined to make do with what I had, and made adjustments (read: reductions) in my running regimen to try and fit the shoes. (Note to self: When purchasing articles of clothing, insist that they fit self. Under no circumstances attempt to fit self to article.) Finally, this behavior caught up with me, as I've become increasingly "antsy". Everything came to a head while we spent the last three days of rain in our 'cozy' room. (Poor Case could only watch as I began climbing the walls!)
It wasn't hard to make a diagnosis, nor to prescribe the cure. I needed to run, and in order to do that, I needed running shoes NOW! Concerned that I would have to sacrifice for a less-than-ideal pair in a foreign country, I vowed never again to travel without my favorite running shoes! (I warned you that I have it bad!)
You see, I wear ADIDAS Supernova Control, size 9.5 Nothing else works, and it isn't like you can just take a prescription down to Sav-On and ask for them, either. (Did I mention that I'm a little OCD about this?) In what I can only describe as a godsend, the first sports store we saw was emblazoned with the ADIDAS logo, and there were just the shoes I wanted on the display shelf. (In fact, it was the preceding model, which I prefer anyway.) We took them home as my Christmas present, and Case came along for my much needed run!
I'm breathing easier now. (So, for that matter, is Case -- and, when it comes to that, perhaps even the walls of our room!!!)
Friday, December 22, 2006
It became a trip planning day, and we spent our time poring over schedules for buses and flights, and looking through books for interesting places to stay along the way. After a while, the effort of deciphering Spanish websites created an appetite (or perhaps just a need for a change), and we decided to try the highly recommend ¡ecole! restaurant next door.
Our first impression....Wow! Well done! We liked the "home kitchen" ambiance and taste! It's the kind of place where you can really eat after a full day of energenic play: good presentation, hearty food, and (most importantly) enough of it. What a find! The traveller's tip is to get the cheapest item on the menu ($2 for a small salad) and see if they'll serve it with their standard basket of homemade bread (5 warm, thick-cut slices), butter, and salsa. You could live on that stuff -- we're convinced. (And we're in the process of demonstrating it...) We don't quite know why they deliver salsa with the bread, but we're starting to think the two taste pretty good together. And the FOOD....where do I start! I (Jolene) had a salad with chips, black beans, cheese, lettus, tomatoe, avacado and olives. It looked medium sized, but it was very filling and in the end it was definately a meal sized salad. Case had stir-fried vegetables over brown rice served with a fresh side salad!
And the menu isn't just one or two items -- there is such a variety that we found it hard to choose. We both feel we'll be eating there many times over the next week.
Still no sight of the fabled volcano that (so they tell us) looms over the town. The clouds have been hanging so low that, without a map, we wouldn't know which direction to look for it!
Thursday, December 21, 2006
Once again, we were pleased and delighted with our hostel, La Tetera, chosen via guidebook, Internet, and a lot of guessing about what all those descriptions and scrunched graphics might have to say about a real stay here. We have a small, warm, tidy room for $24 dollars per person per night, which includes the town's best breakfast (our favorite meal!).
Red ripe cherries hang just out of reach outside our window. Our window also overlooks the hostel ¡ecole! next door. The guidebook says it includes an excellent & inexpensive vegetarian (salmon is a vegetable, right?) restaurant. (We'll see...) A quick stroll past several of the town's many tourist offices and adventure companies confirms that there is no end of outdoors adventure to be had here. So we feel very comfortable and prepared to celebrate Christmas and New Years here in Pucon before continuing south on January 2nd.
We were intrigued by the many evidencies of the town's volcanic activity warning system. Somewhere, somehow, someone or something monitors the pulse of the volcano 24/7, displaying its status via a horizontal "stop light" on the town hall (yes, we are currently under the green light). Changes are signaled by a warning siren as well. The detailed escape plan directs residents of different areas to a safe zone if the volcano should change its mood.
Per our guide book: “The volcano has experienced repeated catastrophic eruptions over the centuries, most recent as 1971, when a 4km-wide fracture opened, releasing massive lava flows that destroyed the small township of Conaripe and only just spared Pucon. Smaller eruptions are even more common – such as in Septemberr 1996, when Vocan Villarrica shot out columns of thick gaseous smoke that covered its northwest slopes in a fine layer of ash.” (Lonely Planet, Trekking in the Patagonian Andes, 2003)
If this weather ever changes, maybe we'll get to see this volcano that we've learned (and heard) so much about. (Word is we can even climb it!)
This morning, we combined our intelligence -- fortified by two cups of coffee and a rather rusty degree in electrical engineering (Case) and two of hot chocolate plus a large bowl of European muesli (Jolene) -- and laser-focused it on the problem of why we weren’t getting any comments.
What we found is that the rest of you were all well ahead of us. Our apologies to those of you who have left comments and wondered what ever happened to them. We have now discovered your long-neglected efforts sequestered in a section of the blogger control structure that we hadn’t previously noticed, and your comments are now visible in our blog.
Thanks for all your contributions! We’ve enjoyed the (delayed) feedback.
Postscript for the unenlightened (like we were):
For those of you who are wondering how to view these comments from the rest of our family and friend – and who might want to leave your own – you will now notice at the end of each posting a little “hot zone” saying “COMMENTS” that you can click on. Just click on it.
Also, if you want to see the comments displayed with the posting, just click on the date/time of the posting. This will bring up a web page showing just that posting, with the comments printed after it.
Wednesday, December 20, 2006
I’d been mumbling about it for days, but every time we passed a barber or salon, I’d make some excuse:
“Looks too busy in there right now.”
“Tomorrow, maybe. We have plenty of time.”
“Do they do guys’ hair? Looks pretty airy-fairy in there.”
Finally, I worked myself into the mood – or maybe into a corner.
So, after stashing our packs for later pick-up, we ambled along the street until we saw a salon and ducked inside. The hairdresser was just finishing a chat with her last customer – but in German! So we had three languages in common – two which she spoke fluently (Spanish & German), and one in which she could only form broken phrases, and only after much effort (English). Unfortunately, my German and Spanish are only about as fluent as her English, but Jolene says we chattered away through the whole process of my haircut.
She told me she had lived in Germany for 10 years, returning to Chile about 13 years ago. I never found out why she went, or what she did there. However, there is a sizeable German population in Chile, especially in the Lake District, where we were going next, so it looks like there’s a bit of continuous exchange between the countries.
Anyway, haircut done, we ambled back to the arts & culinary district near our hostel to dine on some truly fine Italian food. There being no rush, we dawdled over lunch, took some photos of the Valparaiso harbor from our vantage point on the trattoria balcony, and then wandered the cobblestoned streets of the neighborhood.
As the sun slanted to the northwest, the comfortable daytime temperatures gave way to cool breezes and chilly shadows, so we returned to a favorite spot from the night before. Officially, it is known as “the Color Café”, but we think of it as “The Pirate’s Place”. We had eaten dinner there, but forgot to bring the camera, so we were eager to return and preserve our memories in pictures.
Unfortunately, we were too timid to ask The Pirate for a photo op, so all we have is one blurry, “clandestine” photo and our descriptions. But he is a Real Pirate. We’re absolutely sure! (Anything else just wouldn’t suit our romantic ideals.) Here’s his story, and we’re sticking to it:
The Pirate is husky, about 5’10”, with swarthy complexion, a couple tattoos, wiry black hair and beard, and a patch over his left eye. He lost that eye a few years back, and decided to quit piracy after. Unlike some pirates, he could read the handwriting on the wall: First you lose an eye, next goes a leg, then a hand, and pretty soon every 8-year-old kid on the street is screwing his face into a set scowl, swaggering up to you, and trying something like this:
“Arrrrrrrrr!!! Captain Hook, I see! Me name’s Percy -- ‘Percy the Pestilence’ I’m known round here as. Perhaps you’ve heard o’ me? No? Aye, well, ya’ should ‘a’. Next time yer headin’ out for a bit o’ pillagin’ and burnin’ you jus’ take me along, and I’ll show yer scurvy crew what real piratin’ is all about! Arrrrrrrr!!!”
So he got off his ship in Valparaiso, hung up his cutlass, bought the café, painted the outside deep purple, festooned the interior with all varieties of flotsam and jetsam from his travels, and told his woman she’d better to learn how to cook.
Ordering is a bit intimidating. After you’ve been seated in his café and had about 30 seconds to decipher the menu, The Pirate stumps up to the table, pulls up a chair, props his crossed arms on the table, leans in, and grunts, “Well? What’ll it be?” (or its Spanish equivalent).
All the same, my stumbling Spanish netted us a tasty meal of bread, tomato-mozarella-cucumber salad, potato-leek soup, and stuffed peppers. I failed to find “grog” on the drink menu, so I settled for a terrific, piping-hot mug of thick, minty chocolate sludge. (I believe this is the drink pirate moms give their sons until about age eight, when they’re old enough to switch to grog. But I could be wrong.)
The pirate does have a soft spot or two. For one thing, every pretty 20-something girl who drops by gets chatted up, is then escorted outside for a cigarette break and a further chat, and receives a hearty smooch on the cheek before departure. (I think he felt stymied by the fact that Jolene doesn’t speak Spanish or enjoy smoking.)
Also, the Pirate likes poetry. He’s posted quite a lot of it on the café walls, much of which is written in praise of him and/or his café. Two female students were drinking tea and laboring over their poetry composition when we arrived. After they left, that got stuck up on the wall, too, I think. And if they didn’t get a discount on their bill after all that work, they should have!
The Pirate is pretty good to his woman, too. Between preparing courses for diners, she was allowed to step outside for a cigarette break and a chat with the Pirate, just like the rest. I didn’t see that she got a smooch, but then, she wasn’t departing.
For the mere mortal getting dinner without the smoke break or the smooch, there is still much to enjoy about The Pirate’s Place. The food and drink are worth the effort, as I have indicated, and we spent a good hour enjoying an excellent tea selection while ruminating upon the history of the various artifacts adorning the walls. A sign in the café advertised live music on some evenings, but we were not able to visit at these times. (I'm thinking “Yo-ho-ho, And a Bottle of Rum” is on the approved list...)
Well, that’s the story of The Pirate and his “Color Café”. Worth a visit if you’re in Valpo someday. At the very least, it’s a place to stay warm and entertained (or intimidated) while you wait for your bus out of town…