Pucón, Chile: Triumph Finally! [Days 76 – 79]

Day 76 | Saturday, January 7, 2017

We are escaping the heat and hectic pace of Santiago traveling south to spend a few days in what they call the Lake District of Chile. The city of Pucón is a popular destination with both national and international travelers as a hub of adventure/recreational activities such as water skiing, snow skiing, backpacking, white water rafting, kayaking, horse back riding, natural hot springs, zip line rides, skydiving, and guided ascents of Villarrica volcano.

We are using Sky Airlines for the 1-1/2 hour flight from Santiago to Temuco and then plan to take Buses JAC from Temuco to Pucón. The bus ride should be about 2-1/2 hours.

Thankfully we have had another uneventful flight. Domestic flights within South America so far seem to be a much more pleasant experience than flights in the USA these days.

Now that we are on the ground in Temuco we are realizing that they have transfer services that run from the airport to Pucón and will drop you off at your accommodations. For $20,000 CLP we can catch a ride here at the airport directly to our hotel saving us about 1-1/2 hours and a taxi ride backtracking into Temuco city center. Per the JAC website I am anticipating the bus tickets costing us $2,500 CLP each plus, per a sign in the airport, it looks like a taxi to the bus terminal is going to cost us $20,000 CLP so it will not only be cheaper, and easier but also faster to take the transfer. Here’s hoping it all works out.

Steve supplied the name and address to our hotel in Pucón to the guys at the counter for the transfer and paid them the requested rate. We were provided a receipt and ushered out to the van. Our luggage was loaded in the back and we joined the other passengers in the main cabin. A short wait longer, we were joined with a few other passengers filling out the van, and then we were on our way. 

As we reached the outskirts of Pucón we began making stops dropping passengers off. As we pulled into the heart of the downtown area of Pucón it was our turn to depart the van if the driver could just find our hotel. After a couple of circles we finally managed to communicate with our limited Spanish, the help of Google Translate, and one of the other passengers the exact location of our hotel and we were dropped at the front door. We quickly and easily checked-in and made our way to our room to settle in. A quaint room with a modest kitchen, a balcony, and a decent bed to call home for the next few days.

After dropping our stuff off we located a grocery store and decided to venture out to pick-up a few groceries for dinner and breakfast for the morning.

A decent size grocery store with a decent selection just across the street from our hotel is always a big plus in my book. 

With that we kicked back and shifted into vacation mode.

Day 77 | Sunday, January 8, 2017

It is much cooler here in Pucón (high of 68) than Santiago (high of 88) and we are getting a bit of rain. Fortunately as Oregonians we don’t mind too much and it really doesn’t slow us down. 

Today we are wandering the town taking in the sites: quaint little shops, windows filled with yummy looking baked goods, decadent chocolates, and artisans creations. 

Finally the cold and wet has driven us inside and we are relishing in the day to rest after a day of travel.

Day 78 | Monday, January 9, 2017

Today we are determined to log some steps, see a few areas of town that we haven’t yet, to acquaint ourselves with the bus that departs for Parque Nacional Huerquehue, gather the details of the park, and the various hikes it has to offer.

Eventually finding our way to the major grocery and home improvement store on the other side of town we find ourselves caught unprepared in very heavy rain. Soaked through with water pooling in our shoes we squished our way back to the hotel to dry off.

Once the rain passed we ventured back out to the bus station. Buses Caburgua runs between Pucón and the park 4 times per day. The current schedule and prices as of today (January 9, 2017) are in the photo below.

With confirmation on the location of the bus station (Uruguay 540, Pucón), the bus schedule, and some research on the various hikes within the park we now have a plan for how we will spend our last day in Pucón as long as the weather cooperates. Fingers crossed!

Day 79 | Tuesday, January 10, 2017

We are up early this morning so that we can catch the 8:30am bus to Parque Nacional Huerquehue. We have our sights set on completing the San Sebastián Trail today, an 8 hour hike. It promises panoramic views to include Tinquilco and Caburgua lakes, Villarrica, Quetrupillán, Quinquilín and Lanín volcanoes, and Conguillío National Park. After the fiasco at Torres del Paine National Park we are approaching today with a slightly different strategy and high hopes of squelching the memory of defeat. We are not putting our bag in the cargo hold of the bus and we aren’t going to allow ourselves to be pushed to the back of the line.

Arriving at the bus station with time to spare the buses are parked out on the street and the small convenience store that shares the plot with the bus company is just opening. Uncertain where to purchase bus tickets we first approach the convenience store and inquire and are pointed in the direction of the buses. Since neither bus is displaying the park’s name on its placard in their front window it is unclear if one of these buses is the correct one or not. Based on the gathering confused crowd we aren’t the only ones that are uncertain about which bus to take. Finally Steve decides that we should inquire. Sure enough one of the buses on the street is headed to the park. We get on the bus just before the flood gates open and before we know it there is a line down the sidewalk of eager hikers hoping to get on the bus. Finally the gates to the parking lot are opened and the buses move from the street into the lot. Another bus joins the line-up and they cram far beyond the legal limit and as many eager hikers as possible onto the two buses with no standing room let and then finally depart.

As we cruise up the winding road to the park at what can only be described as a Latin American bus driver clip we barely squeeze past oncoming fuel trucks and cube vans. Finally reaching the park entrance we all pile off the bus and into the microscopic ranger station to pay the park entrance fee. Once that step is completed we funnel out of the ranger station and over to the large map of the park with a bilingual ranger posted next to it to get our bearings. We are off. 

After just a few feet we encounter the beginning of the Ñirrico trail and an opportunity for a bathroom break. Deciding it would be good to take advantage of the bathroom before hitting the trail we make a quick stop and then continued on the Ñirrico trail until it splits with the Quinchol trail. Then we continued along the Quinchol trail. Instantly the trail converts from a very slight almost unnoticeable incline to a steep series of switchbacks. This first part of the trail is covered with a thick canopy providing a dense cool shade from the brilliant sun above. Periodically broken up with windows to the surrounding landscape. Finally we reach the top of the Quinchol trail. Thankfully it opens into a patch of flat brown grass with a trail carved down the middle. Thus begins the San Sebastián trail with sweeping views of the surrounding forest and mountainside.

Soon we are reentering the forest and enjoying a stretch of down hill trail. Trees frame perfect pictures of the surrounding mountainside as we go. We are encountering some very interesting trees along the way. Some of them have a very nubbly bark. We haven’t see a lot of wildlife but we finally encounter a lazy lizard. The down hill trail is short lived and we are soon climbing back up hill at a decent rate. It is not as steep as the Quinchol trail portion was and we are being rewarded with glimpses of the lakes in the surrounding areas from time to time as well as magnificent waterfalls off in the distance. The vivid blue of the lakes pops against the green of the trees. Higher and higher we go reaching the clouds. Eventually we reach a crazy stretch of trail that is a bit like a straight up and down ladder created by tree roots and trunks. Finally the end is in sight but between us and the end are a couple of peaks and masses of boulders to scale. We have come this far we can’t quit now. I refuse to let Chile be marked with another defeat. I will claim a victory today. The top of the trail is as promised. We have endless views of the surrounding lakes, valleys, snow capped mountains, and the blue sky dotted with wispy clouds. We have made it to the summit in the estimated 4 hours. 

Now to spend some time on the mountain relishing in our triumph. 

Alright it is time to start climbing down this mountain. If we can hit a good pace we can make the 5:10pm bus back to Pucón otherwise we will have to wait around for the 7:30pm bus. The trip down started out fairly well but as we went the decline increased and the ache in our knees, ankles, and hips increased with it. Pushing through we beat the bus to the entrance of the park by about 5 minutes. It appears that everyone else that has been dropped off at the park today has the same idea we do about catching the 5:10pm bus based on the mob waiting at the entrance of the park. Fortunately, we not only managed to get on the bus but we also managed to get a seat on the bus which my legs are thankful for. The driver crammed the bus just as full as the trip this morning and finally took off. The drive back to town took just over an hour. Upon reaching the bus station we piled out of the bus and trudged back to our hotel thankful for the only day of beautiful bright sunshine we had experienced in Pucón and our new triumph to redefine our time in Chile.

On that high note we began readying for our trip back to Santiago tomorrow and our final days in Chile.

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