It’s been two weeks since we returned from Chile and it already feels like ages ago. We’ve been in a world of boxes, bubble wrap, planning, and good-byes. Overall, this move has been pretty easy so far. It’s been time consuming and definitely has kept us busy, but not stressful. It feels right and we are ready. Now, it’s time to put down the packaging tape for a moment and finish our Chilean adventure tale…
After leaving Chiloe, we returned to Puerto Varas for the evening. On our drive back we hit some light rain and through that rain, we got to see a beautiful double rainbow. A sign of promise, fitting given our current situation.
The next morning we drove to Valdivia, a city that sits on the meeting of three rivers (the Calle-Calle, Valdivia, and Cau-Cau). The city is known for many things, but for us the main attractions were the sea lions and the beer! We stayed near the river and walked through the fish and produce market when we arrived.
The fish market and the river bank are frequented by a group of sea lions that have traveled up the river to hunt for fish and since the fish are so readily available at the market, they’ve camped out and made themselves comfortable. The sea lions splash around or lay out on the docks and wait for the vendors to toss fish heads and whatever else is left over into the water. These beasts are huge! I grew up with California sea lions and Harbor seals, so that’s what I was expecting, but I have never seen seals this big before.
We sat around forever watching the sea lions fight each other off docks, playfully swim around in the river, and chomp on whatever goodies the vendors tossed their way.
We then went on to Kuntsmann Brewery. Valdivia is a very popular beer region in Chile, so we had to stop and do a brewery tour while we were there. Chile has a large German influence, which is definitely reflected in their beer, so the whole brewery was decked out with a German atmosphere. As I mentioned before, English was rarely spoken by the locals and their menus weren’t any different. We did our best to decipher what we wanted for lunch, attempted to communicate our order the waitress, and wait for our food. Derek picked what he was able to figure out had something to do with beef and was a traditional dish from the region. Yet again we were surprised by what it actually was. It looked like spam on toast, but after a few tastes from both of us, it was easily determined to be raw ground beef on bread. We have tried many foods in many places and both of us consider ourselves pretty adventuresome when it comes to eating, but we drew the line at cold, raw, pink ground beef. After sharing my meal, we were given a tour of the brewery and learned a lot about how beer came to that region and the progression of craft beer throughout Chile. The best part of the tour was tasting the beer and the pint glasses we got to take home with us!
We spent the rest of the evening exploring Valdivia and returned to our amazing casino hotel for the evening. The next day it was off to Pucon. Driving in other countries has become one of our favorite ways to get around. We drove for the first time in Greece a couple years ago and we got to see so much of the country that way that we had to do it again in Chile. Driving also creates opportunities for memorable moments. I was just about to take a little nap on our drive from Valdivia to Pucon, when Derek starts pulling over on the side of the road. There were two military guys dressed in uniform on the side of the road with their thumbs out. “What are you doing,” I asked. “I’m going to pick up these hitchhikers,” says my husband. Well, okay. We noticed that a lot of people in Chile relied on hitchhiking to get around. Since we had our own experience earlier of someone offering to help us and take us where we needed to be, I guess Derek decided we better keep good hitchhikers karma and pay it forward. So, before I know it the two guys climb in our car (again, sorry mom), greet us, and begin speaking in very fast Spanish as to where they need to go. I catch Villarrica, which is in the direction where we are headed, then just kinda nod okay, attempt to explain that we speak very little Spanish, and spend the next 20 minutes or so having a broken English/Spanish conversation with the military men (who again speak almost no English…it’s definitely time for me to work on another language). We dropped them off in Villarrica and headed on to Pucon. Pucon is known as the adventure capital of Chile. You can do all sorts of activities from skydiving to water skiing to rafting and everything in between. We were there to hike Villarrica, which is an active volcano named for the town and lake at it’s base (the town where we dropped off our hitchhiking friends). Villarrica is one of the many volcanoes in that region, but is one of the most active. Pucon looks like a little mountain town that you would find in Colorado. It was the cleanest town we were in by far. We spent the night in Pucon and prepared for the hike the next day. I will admit, I was nervous. I had read some reviews of the hike that said it was pretty challenging and it was hiking through snow and ice, which I have not done before, so I was crossing my fingers that I could do it. We met our guide with the Sol y Nieve company (great tour company by the way, highly recommend them), gathered our gear, and headed to the volcano. There were two other couples on the trek with us-one from Israel and one from Switzerland-guess which one didn’t have a problem with the snow? We drove to the base of the volcano, took a ski lift part way up, and then began the hiking. Now the hike is only about 3 miles or so to the top of the volcano, which clearly doesn’t seem like a lot, but there are elements to the hike that make that 3 miles pretty tough (at least it was for me, Derek, as usual, was a champ). Snow, ice, steep inclines, getting used to the crampons just to name a few.
As we got closer to the top you could start to smell and taste the sulfur from the volcano. It burned my eyes and lungs and everyone started coughing on and off. But through all this the views were incredible! To actually be above the clouds and see nothing but sun shine, glittering snow and ice, and the tips of other volcanoes in the distance was amazing. Normally when we travel, I like to to attend local church services on Sundays. I’ve always been interested in other cultures and religious practices, so that’s normally one of the things on my to do list. However, both of the Sundays we were there were taken up with activities. The first Sunday we were in the midst of Patagonia and spent the whole day in the vast wide open spaces of Torres del Paine around the unreal 3 towers. And this day, the day we climbed the volcano and literally felt like we were in the heavens, was a Sunday…an actual mountain top experience. It was just as much a spiritual event as sitting on a pew on a Sunday morning. How can you not feel close to God when you are surrounded by some of His most beautiful work? So, the scenery kept me going and what relief I felt when we finally made it to the top! We spent a few minutes looking at the crater, enjoying the view from the top, and taking pictures and then headed around the corner to hang out in an ice cave for a few minutes.
We were unable to stay at the summit for long due to the sulfur in the air, so after a brief break we were on our way back down. Going down is a hundred times more fun than going up! Instead of hiking down, you spend most of the trip on your butt sliding down the mountain on a disk, snow spraying behind you. We had two guides and one would just take off on his disk and make a path for the rest of us and the next guide would say “Okay, you go.” These were steep drops too, it was a little scary at first and I kept envisioning myself veering from the path and flying off the side of the mountain. Once you get the hang of it though it is a blast and definitely one of the most fun things I’ve ever done. We finished the hike late that afternoon and drove to Temuco to catch our evening flight to Santiago.
I thought I could finish the trip in this post, but there is still so much to cover. So, again, I will pause here and save the final few days for another time. The next post may be written from our new apartment in Salt Lake City! We are down to our final few days in Texas. We have many sad good-byes to say and some packing to finish, but before we know it Saturday will be here and we will saying our final good-bye to Texas. And then west! And on to different adventures and a new state to explore. I’m so ready.