Monthly Archives: August 2014

Villarrica 02

The Volcano Curse : Pucón, Chile

Pucón in Chile seemed to us like a clone of Banff in Canada. It’s very beautiful and very touristy. I think that winter is a more mellow time to visit, which suited us just fine.

We have been wanting to do some ski touring for a while and hoped to break our ‘volcano curse’ by tackling Volcán Villarrica. Every time we have visited a volcano on this trip, things haven’t gone as planned.

We arrived in Pucón to rain and clouds, found the only shop in town that offers ski touring on the volcano, and booked a trip for the next day. We woke up at the crack of dawn to totally clear skies. The volcano looked so beautiful and ominous smoking in the early morning light. Lucky for us, the conditions were almost perfect for attempting the summit.

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And so we climbed… and climbed… and climbed. It may have been slightly ambitious for my first ski touring attempt. Going straight up was fine, but turning on the steep slopes was a bit of a debacle for me. It requires almost doing the side splits, then bringing one long loosely attached ski over to meet the other. Very tricky for the flexibility challenged!

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I’m not sure how long it took to reach the summit, but they estimate about 4-5hrs. By the time we got there, the wind had really picked up, and we were being blasted by ice and snow. It was pretty amazing being at the top of an active volcano, looking down into it’s smoking crater, only once copping a face full of gas. From the top we could see the snow capped Volcán Lanín, which marks the border between Chile and Argentina.

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Finally, the moment I had been waiting for! There had been a dusting of snow overnight, so I was pretty keen to start the ski down. I clicked into my skis, hit the slope and then tried to make my first turn. Then things got weird… I could barely communicate with my skis. I felt and looked (confirmed by Mark), like I was back on the bunny slopes. I was falling on almost every turn. The touring bindings I was using allowed for a lot of movement, which is not what I’m used to at all. I felt completely unstable and out of control. Soon my confidence was shot. I even had to walk part of the way down.

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At least this guy got some fresh tracks…

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We celebrated at the end of the day with the guides and the rest of the crew, over some rooftop beers and this spectacular view. I’m sure my poor guide was breathing a few deep sighs of relief.

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At first I was just thankful to have made it down without any broken bones. But after a while that wore off, and I was just annoyed. The terrain wasn’t any more difficult than what i’m used to, and worst of all, the volcano curse lives on.

Soaking in the hot springs at Los Pozones was the perfect cure for my aching ego and tired muscles.

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The next day, we leisurely made our way towards the Argentine border. Saying our farewells to the smoking Volcán Villarrica, still visible from the quiet backroads.

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This pretty campsite in the woods was home for our last night in Chile… but we’ll be back, real soon! This country is absolutely blowing our minds.

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Posted from: Bariloche, Argentina.

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On the Road Again : Central Chile

We had been sitting still in Santiago for far too long. And as soon as we left the city we were seeking out campsites in the woods and trails into the mountains. I was on a mission to camp in the forest and cook over an open fire.

It didn’t take long to get back to van life the way it should be. By sunset on the second day, after a day of chasing waterfalls, we were popping the top in the winter woods and enjoying the alpenglow on the snow capped peaks.

But my mission was not yet accomplished… there were no fires allowed in this area.

Central Chile 01 Central Chile 02 Central Chile 03 Central Chile 04 Parque Nacional Siete Tazas

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We couldn’t have been happier the next morning, brewing coffee  and having breakfast in the van while we planned a hike into the Altos de Lircay National Reserve. Since it’s still winter here, the park was totally empty. Just us, the mountains, and a few local critters.

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For some reason, people around here aren’t that keen to go hiking through waist deep snow. But it was definitely worth it for the amazing views and the beautiful afternoon light filtering through the naked trees. After a long day on the trail, we made it back to the van around sundown and stayed in the deserted campground of the reserve. Enjoying the absolute silence, we had the best sleep ever.

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On our way up to Chillán, we found a sweet spot by the river, just out of view of the highway. In the morning there was a blanket of fresh snow all around us, and it was still coming down. We haven’t seen snow falling since our last winter in Canada so we were super excited. Like kids on Christmas day.

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Our timing couldn’t have been better. There’s a pretty damn good ski resort at Chillan, but they hadn’t had snow for quite a while. We were waiting at the rental shop for the doors to open, and hit the slopes as soon as we could.

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There were only a couple of chairlifts open, but they give access to a lot of amazing terrain. And on a powder day like this, you don’t need much more.

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The snow was so deep and heavy that we had to zoom back into town so Bec could get some bigger skis. Then she really started ripping. We couldn’t wipe the smiles from our faces.  It’s times like these that we really wish all our friends were here with us. Carpark lunch breaks and after-ski beers just aren’t the same without them.

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And what better way to end a day than cooking over a camp fire. It took a few days, but finally… mission accomplished.

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All of this in just five days… it’s oh so good to be back on the road.

Posted from Bariloche, Argentina.

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Parts and Recreation : Santiago, Chile

“We find after years of struggle that we do not take a trip; a trip takes us… Only when this is recognized can the blown-in-the glass bum relax and go along with it. Only then do the frustrations fall away. In this a journey is like marriage. The certain way to be wrong is to think you control it.”  – John Steinbeck.

Sometimes we have to remind each other that even though our plans change, we can still have fun in the moment.

We only planned to spend a few days in Santiago, get a few repairs done on the van, buy some spare parts, and then get the hell out. This was pretty optimistic. Ten days later, we are finally ready to hit the road again. We fluctuated between frustration with the current situation and making an effort to enjoy ourselves.

Mark spent most of his time like this …

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On the other hand, my time was spent a bit more like this …

OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERACruising the ‘burbs’

OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERAWarming park benches

OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERACoffee shop hopping – at my second favourite place, Faustina

Mechanically, the van was still running great, but we tend to push it harder than most vintage car owners. The brakes are now in good working order and Mark fixed lots of the little annoying things that have been on the ‘to do list’. Luckily, Santiago is a gold mine for VW parts. Thank you Velizwagen!

Mark and the mechanics replaced all the shockies, the brake cylinder, and the busted engine mounts. Then, we discovered that the transmission mount was also broken. This part is held on with two pathetic little bolts and looks like it should be simple to replace. As it turns out, it is a really difficult job. When the threads in one of the bolt holes stripped, they had to remove the entire engine to finish the job.

IMG_3090The boys at Retro Garage  – mechanics numero dos.

We have been dreaming of wilderness camping and cooking over an open fire, so the big city isn’t exactly where we want to be right now. It didn’t take us long however, to realize that Santiago is a pretty nice place to be stuck. On a clear day, you can see the Andes as they rise up in all their glory above the city.

Santiago is very live-able by our standards. It is really bike friendly and has fantastic parks everywhere. The weather was perfect, so we were able to make the most of being outdoors, exploring our neighbourhood with morning runs, afternoon bike rides and leisurely strolls.

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There are some pretty old buildings too…

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We have a hard time being budget conscious in cities. There are just too many tasty temptations.

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IMG_3080BACO – getting awkward with oysters

Still, we did try to balance things out with a few hotel room picnics at Posada del Salvador in Providencia.

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I’m usually not a big hotel fan, but this place was great. It’s in a good location, the staff are super friendly and most importantly, they have parking. It was pretty cheap by Santiago standards, especially since we got a little discount for having a VW bus. Also, it was just a short walk from lots of yummy restaurants, like La Gloria (sandwiches) and Liguria (fancy pub food).

OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERAThe view from our room with Mark’s thrifty finds

Steinbeck was right. This trip has definitely developed a personality all of its own, and it has taken us on one royal ride. It has ebbed and flowed and changed with our expectations, and despite them. Sometimes we are all in sync and life is a dream, other times our personalities are clashing like titans.

As we move into the last month of our travels, it is hard not to have mixed feelings. But for now, we are just happy to be on the road again.

Posted from: Chillán, Chile