After leaving laid back Pichilemu we followed a maze of single lane gravel back roads down the coast, we hardly traveled in a straight line but were rewarded with remote landscapes and quaint local culture. We then arrived in the small town of Cobquecura which is still recovering from the effects of the earthquake generated tsunami's in 2010. With little money and nowhere to stay, we were very glad when a chance stop to talk to a blond foreigner resulted in a warm bed for the night. After finishing her roadside Combi paint job we were invited in by the fire at her and her boyfriends house for a dinner of freshly picked veggies which included our first introduction to Mate (pronounced Matai). A traditional herbal tea packed with caffeine and drunk through a metal straw, I still can't decide if I like it or not.
Next we headed inland to our latest couch surfing destination Temuco where we meet the fast talking brothers Nico and Francisco who invited us to party. Feeling drained from the driving we went to bed with promises to party the following night. Instead they took us camping at Conguillío National Park and what an experience that was! The evening really began at 2am when the fire roasted Plateada was ready. Dripping with fat and goodness we feasted and drank until the small hours of the night. The Plateada we were to learn is a much loved Chilean tradition and is simply a large heavily salted cut of beef slowly cooked over a charcoal fire on a hand turned spit… absolutely delicious! The brothers also introduced us to the surprisingly good combination of Fanta and Beer! After one more night in their apartment we were sad to leave but excited when Francisco invited us to spend News Years with him and his family at their lake house in Lican Ray, we would even have our own room as Nico was going to Brazil with his girlfriend for New Years.
We saw in the New Year with all of Francisco's family and much like in New Zealand there were fire works, champagne, party poppers, confetti and candle lanterns. The rest of the night and every other night was spent with Francisco's awesome friends who treated us like we had known them for years, we drunk Piscola late into the night and sung to Nacho's guitar who luckily for us knew many english songs. The days were spent swimming in the near by lake, slack lining and eating far too much. All this made leaving very difficult but eventually we did and headed to the much recommended Termas Geometricas. Arriving early we once again had an amazing place to ourselves. Over 20 stone pools are dotted along a 450m raised walkway over the hot thermal river, but as the tourists started to arrive we left rejuvenated and headed to the base of Volcan Lanin to plan our assent.
Volcan Lanin at 3,747m (just higher than Mt Cook) sits right on the border between Chile and Argentina and is an intimidating sight. Almost as soon as we arrived we realised we had stuffed up and the non technical route with base camp refugios (huts) to stay in was actually on the Argentinian side so in a last minute decision at 9pm we decided to try and cross the border. As they were closing they rushed us out of Chile and soon we were standing at the Argentinian entrance however had forgotten the vital point that we needed international insurance for the car in Argentina! Back in Chile and feeling a little disheartened we drove back for a last ditch attempt to climb the Volcan by heading down a rough road that seemed to head in the general direction of the mountain. With luck on our side and night rapidly approaching we found what looked like a track leading up the Volcan so we had a quick dinner and slept in the car only mildly scared after hearing some noises that sounded much too like a Puma.
Early the next morning as we were packing for our assent a ute pulled up filled with packs and climbers. We soon discovered that they were from Argentina and that there would be 24 of them arriving in total. They had come to climb the Volcan from the Chilean side. If they could do it then so could we, elated we set out on a six hour exhausting scramble up the mountain side to set up base camp at 2908m and watched our Argentinean amigos change tack several times and finally making camp much lower and much later than us. At 3:45am with half a mug of sugar loaded granola each for brekkie we started our push for the summit, the sun rose as we climbed with our ice axes and crampons to unveil unsurpassed views of the surrounding volcanos and landscape in every direction. Three hours later we were the first to summit for the day closely followed by another pair from the Argentinian side, despite the sun a freezing wind was blowing making our summit photos with the NZ flag a brief and cold experience.
Back at camp we had a second lunch and packed up, at first we made good time and had lots of fun glissading (controlled sliding) down the snow slopes until we reached the final scree, schist and rock filled gully before the car. From above it didn't look so big but took us hours and hours on our very tired legs to descend and looking back from the car we realised what a mammoth gully it was but still only a small part of the huge Volcano that will always be in my memory. But the day still had more for us and on the way back to the kiwi hostel in Pucon we heard a strange tinking noise from under the car, thinking nothing of it we continued down the gravel highway and back to civilisation subtly become aware that our already loud exhaust had become even louder humm. After some investigation in Pucon Will announced that we had some how completely lost the muffler SHIT no wonder the exhaust was so loud. We decided to dwell on it later and after a much needed shower we went out for a huge meal our first as an engaged couple we even splashed out and got a drink each rather than sharing one. The next day in some broken English and Spanish with some diagrams we managed a temporary fix on the exhaust by welding a pipe straight from the engine to what was left of our tail pipe making it a bit quieter. We are currently in a hostel in Puerto Varas preparing for the next stage of the trip driving the Carretera Austral directly south towards Ushuaia.
How time flies when your having fun
Rochelle & Will