I did, however, get that poster board project greenlighted. I am currently in contact with a communication therapist back home figuring out how I can make this work down here with these kids.
Last Wednesday night I took an overnight bus to Pucón, which is eight or nine hours south of Santiago. We all know how crappy overnight buses are by now, but the ride down wasn't so bad because the seat next to me was empty so I could just lay flat without any issues and sleep relatively soundly.
Out of all of the trips I've planned for my time in Chile, I was most excited about (and remain the most excited about) my trip to Pucón. This place is literally a paradise. Rivers, lakes, and lots of green things are everywhere. The city is in a valley surrounded by mountains, most of all by Volcan Villarrica, the most active volcano in all of Chile.
Maybe that's enough for words. I'll just let the pictures do the talking from here.
|Colo Colo St. in Pucon|
The town is maybe a little touristy, but that also means that it is in great shape. The buildings and shops were so picturesque. Advertisements for places where you can hike the volcano, visit hot springs, and so much more are all around. The walk to the hostel was nice. The air feels crisp - it's only 40º out in the mornings - but it tasted good and I had a jacket and everything warmed up just fine by noontime.
Anyway. The first day I went for a bike ride to get my bearings. Headed to the beach on Lake Villarrica, which borders Pucón, first. I was thrown off by the color of the sand, but realized pretty quickly that volcanic ash tends to be a bit darker than normal sand.
Turned around and headed off to who-knows-where next. Ended up on a road that would have brought me to Argentina if I had gone far enough. I didn't bring my passport with me so this seemed like a bad idea... I took a random left turn and was so happy with what I found. I crossed this tiny little bridge over one of the coolest rivers I have ever seen into Quelhue, a rural area inhabited entirely by the indigenous Mapuche people.
I biked maybe eight miles past the bridge only to find that the road was blocked by a river. I don't mean there was a stream in the way... I mean there was a freaking river in the road. I felt obliged to turn back. Don't regret that decision at all, because once I looked at a map when I got back I realized I wasn't going anywhere fast down that road.
The next day I planned on going whitewater rafting. However, Pucon sort of shuts down at this time of year. I was there at the very tail end of tourist season and they needed to have a certain amount of people involved to send staff off on any particular activity or adventure. They needed at least four people to confirm a whitewater rafting booking, and I was not going to pay for three other people to go whitewater rafting, so I looked around for other activities instead.
They DID have enough people to go horseback riding. It wasn't quite what I had imagined for the day, but I had never done it before and it sounded like it would be fun, especially compared to my other option, "doing nothing."
|The sort of road I was dealing with on bike and horseback.|
I got on this big grey horse. Peaceful fellow. Pleasant enough. I don't think he had a name but I was calling him amigo the entire time, so I'm going to refer to him henceforth as Amigo.
I realized immediately that riding a horse is very different from any mode of transportation that I've used before. It sounds dumb, but a horse is a living thing. It's an animal. This means a couple of things. First, unlike with a bicycle, it will avoid annoying rocks in the way. Second, unlike with a bicycle, it doesn't necessarily bend to your will automatically.
|Look at your man. Now look at me. Now back at your man, now back at - oh, forget it.|
|You think this view is good, just wait until tomorrow.|
Horseback riding is hard. That's what I decided when I got to the top. My legs were tired, I was breathing hard, and it was very difficult to control an animal and get him to do what you want him to. I had no idea what I was talking about. If I thought THAT was hard, wait until we started actually moving when we got to the flat part.
Galloping is breathtaking and exhilarating. Moving quickly on a horse is really cool, except for the part where you are moving up and down and up and down and bouncing and bouncing and you start to realize that the pain you are feeling may mean you can't ever have any children. My feet were coming out of the stirrups and Amigo was flying completely unconcerned for this fact and I was just bouncing everywhere. Had to pull over a few times to straighten everything out.
I have learned since then that there is a proper way to not bounce as much that involves gripping the horse with your legs. Maybe the Mapuche instructor tried to tell me this and I didn't understand, or maybe he just thought it was funny to watch me bounce around.
On Saturday I did one of the most epic things I've ever done.
|If I'm sort of grimacing in this picture, it's because |
I'm awake well before dawn and it's 35º outside.
Somehow made it out to the street by 6:45, when my ride to the tourist agency showed up. They dropped me off at Andesmar (apparently people love things referencing that they go from the Andes to the sea, because there are two bus lines named "Andesmar" and "Andimar" and there's another tourist agency called "Andemar") but that was interesting because I booked with Turismo Florencia. Apparently they're run by the same family, and I stopped worrying that I took the wrong bus once I saw that my shoes (labeled "Adam" in red marker) were in the room like I expected them to be.
And so I slept hardcore on the half-hour bus ride to Volcan Villarrica. That is, until I heard an audible gasp from the four other people in the car. I looked out the window:
The stars were shining brightly. More brightly than I had ever seen them before, more brightly than at Sugarloaf or in Colorado. The crescent moon hung high in the sky, illuminating the surroundings with its pacific gaze. Trees popped up on each side of the road, and it was easy to see that their leaves were about to fall even though the dawn had yet to break. But most imposing, foreboding, was the volcano in the distance, glowing red towards the top and wafting gray smoke, like it was waiting for something. For me.
I sat up straight and stuck my head out the window. I was wide awake.
|The shadow of the volcano on the freaking sky.|
The Brazilian guy's wife dropped out almost immediately. Complained of a headache and a stomache, which was apparently enough to not go. She did not have a stomachache. She just didn't want to be there...her husband dragged her along and she didn't want to do it. It was so obvious. I hope I never have a relationship where anyone pulls stunts like. She just shouldn't have gone if she didn't want to go. She should have gone and done something she actually liked and then they could have both shared their experiences when they got back.
He looks at me. Says in a thick Brazilian accent, "Do you...practice sport?" I smiled and shook my head.
It suddenly got colder once we hit the snow. Yes, snow. On a volcano. It was hard to walk on and the coats I had taken off at the bottom of the hike became utterly necessary when the high winds kicked in. About halfway up we put on the crampons (spikes that you tie to your feet so you can stay put in the snow) and the hiking became significantly easier for me.
The Brazilian guy dropped out quickly after we put on the crampons. It was about two-thirds of the way up the mountain. I can't imagine quitting that far up. It was so close. One of the guides had to bring him back down. Again, why didn't he just stick it out? What a shame if you ask me, especially because the older Uruguayan couple were troopers and did the entire thing.
|A view up toward the summit. Note the smoke in the upper-|
right corner from the volcano's pit.
It finally got hard for me towards the top. I'm not saying I broke a sweat at our snail's pace, but I am saying that I was breathing hard. I attribute it to two things. First, because the oxygen that was present in the air at the bottom of the volcano was gone. Second, because that oxygen was slowly but surely being replaced by poisonous gas spewed by the volcano. The last stretch was so hard because the air was just gone. It was just the sulfuric gas, the noxious fumes that Villarrica was spewing out, as if it wanted to keep us away.
|The volcano's crater|
The way down was much easier and a bit more fun. There were a bunch of tracks for you to slide right past the long paths we used to zig-zag up the volcano. We sat on our ass and were instructed to use our ice pick to steer (read: I was flying). It was awesome. I even got some air a couple of times.
It made the downward descent both more pleasant and much faster. It's a little fuzzy because I'm pretty sure I was extremely dehydrated. Shoulda brought more than a half-liter of water.
We finally hit the bottom at 16:00 (read: 4 PM), after starting the hike at 7:00. Nine hours. It was epic. My legs no longer work, not even now that it's been two days, but it was definitely worth it. How many people can say they hiked a volcano, you know?
I certainly can.
|Volcán Villarrica. What a beast.|
First, I am genuinely able to speak Spanish now, at least well enough to function. I learned how to do two things that I had never done before this weekend (ride a horse and hike with crampons and an ice pick), and I didn't screw either of them up because I understood what everyone was saying. It feels like such a relief to be able to say that.
Second, I just don't think I'm a city person. I'd much rather spend time in a little place like Pucón with the lakes and rivers and mountains and green than bum around in a huge city like Santiago. There may be more options in Santiago, but it is much easier for me to get my bearings in a place like Pucón and there's a lot more to do that's interesting and exciting to me in nature than there is in a city. Certainly a personal preference, but it's now an established one. I don't want to live anywhere as large as Santiago again.
And finally, that I am finally starting to settle in as the halfway point of my journey to South America comes and goes. I really like traveling around and helping out with the kids and spending time in the city and doing all the things that I do down here. I will definitely need to come back to Chile someday.
Shout-out to my little sister Natalie for deciding on Union College for the fall! Make sure you do a cappella so you can bring your friends and hang out with us Cords!
Spanish Word of the Day: Caballo. Horse. I kept calling them animales and the guide corrected me maybe three times before I got savvy.
Next Time on 11Santiago: The driest desert in the world, a fútbol game, and an update on my posterboard project