December 4, 2011

To La Campana and Beyond!

The past two weeks have been a whirlwind, but so wonderful at the same time. Throughout my time here in Chile I have been formulating a seemingly never-ending list of things that I want to do or places I want to visit. I am happy to report that the majority of the things on my list have been crossed off, but there still remained a few stragglers. Fortunately, my lovely sister came to visit for about two weeks and we got to all of the cool things that I hadn’t done.

Our first excursion was to Casablanca. And no, we didn’t fly to Morocco… Casablanca is a town just outside of Chile full of vineyards. When I say “full” of vineyards, I mean they are EVERWHERE. I’m pretty sure the grape-vine to citizen ratio is about ten million to one. Anyway, I’ve passed Casablanca countless times on my way to and from Santiago and I’ve always wanted to go wine-tasting there. That’s just what we did.

The next item on the agenda was to climb Cerro la Campana. I’m not sure I’d call it a cerro because it puts the cerros of Valpo to shame. La Campana is more like a mountain, the tallest in the region in fact. So with various layers of clothing and a backpack we set off for Quilpúe. A half-hour metro ride later, we hopped on a micro a rode it to the end of the route. On that dirt road up to the park we began the climb. Three hours later, the spectacular view was well worth the pain in the calves and the terror of the gigantic tarantulas.

On our way back we met some really nice people and rode with them to a biergarten. Yes, I realize that sounds ridiculous, but it really was an authentic German-owned, open air biergarten with a live band too. After a day full of hiking it was so nice to relax and chat with our new friends over a pint of homemade beer and french fries.

While we’re in the food category, there were two restaurants that I really wanted to go to that Marina and I paid a visit to. One was Sabariticas, home of the famous completos. Marina and I split an original. This consisted of a foot long hotdog with heaping mounds of sauerkraut, tomato, avocado, and mayonnaise spread on top. Sounds like an interesting combination and frankly one that I normally wouldn’t bee so keen on eating but it is AMAZING. Wipe off about a cup of the mayonnaise and I could probably live on those for a week. The other restaurant that I had been dying to go to was called Las Deliciosas, home of renown empanadas. We ordered a scallop and cheese empanada and a shrimp and cheese empanada so that we could try two different kinds. Marina and I now know why they are world renown.

The beach, the beach. We spent many-a-day relaxing on the beach. It was so nice to not think about class or life and just catch some rays and catch up with Marina. And of course it was gorgeous weather every day we were there.


November 17, 2011

I don’t know where I’m a gonna go when the volcano blow….

Last Thursday I took an overnight bus from Viña to Pucón with my friend Ayn. Equipped with the address of our hostel and a poorly hand-drawn map, we got off the bus and found ourselves in a quaint little town. I still was a little dazed and sleepy from the bus, but the sun had risen and the town was just beginning to wake up. No more than fifteen minutes later we were standing in front of the gate to Nature Hostel. Gina greeted us at the door and welcomed us inside her beautiful rustic home. From that moment on I knew that this trip was just what a needed; a big ‘ol breath of country fresh air.

When I told my host mom that I was going to Pucón, she kept commenting on how far south I was going. Every person after her as well added their own oo’s and aah’s at my “aventura al sur”. I’m sorry, but Pucón is not the south. It’s still in the middle of the country. 12 hours south is nothing when a country could stretch from the top of northern Maine to the tip of southern California. I soon realized that any city south of Santiago is considered “the south” and any city north of Valpo is considered “the north”. That leaves a two hour window for “the middle”. Seems kinda silly to me, but that’s the way the cookie crumbled I guess.

After settling in, Gina talked to us about the best way to use our time. Ayn and I discussed our options, planned it out and jumped to it. With a backpack full of snacks and empanadas for lunch we got on a bus (aka tiny white van) and got out at a bridge which would lead us to some waterfalls. The day was perfect for a walk through the woods in search of cascades. We decided to stop at the “saltos” (means “jumps” but really they were tall, skinny waterfalls) at an abandoned picnic area for lunch before hitting up the big waterfalls. It was definitely worth the walk.

After lunch we continued our walk to the “Ojos de Caburgua” which was a more extensive array of waterfalls that all collected into a pool which spilled out into some rapids. As much as I wanted to just dive into the water, I held back because I knew that it was coming from the glaciers in the mountains and it was in fact freezing cold.

After spending the day hiking, we hitchhiked back to our town and bought some food for supper along with lots of fruit for the weekend. While preparing supper we met Yael and Shira on holiday from Israel and Daniel from the UK. We traded traveling trips and stories over a tasty dinner and dessert.

Early in the morning the next day our guide Pepo picked us up along with a German couple from the hostel next-door to climb the ominous volcano Villarica which overlooks the town. I know I’m not super athletic like my marathon running sister. And no, I have never climbed a mountain before. I must say though that climbing up a very steep slope, in boots, in the snow, is not an easy task. I just threw around the idea that I was going to climb a volcano, thinking no big deal ya know… WRONG! It was exhausting. That being said, it took our group 4 hours and 30 minutes to reach the summit which is a quite respectable time so I’ve heard. For those of you that have never climbed a snow-covered volcano, the way that you hike is in a zig-zag pattern following one after the other. You keep your icepick in the uphill hand and always switch it as you change directions.

Looking up the mountain it didn’t seem like the top was THAT far away, but it was. In order to not psych myself out, I tried to focus on the footprints of the person in front of me. That worked really well and before I knew it, I had made it to the top. ¡Vale la pena! The view was spectacular and for a moment I was speechless. For one, because I couldn’t believe how far I could see out. But also because I couldn’t believe I had finished. Definitely a mountain-top experience.

From the top I could see into Argentina, the lagoons surrounding Pucón and Villacura, and also the ash cloud of the neighboring volcano Puyehue.

I’ve always wanted to look into the top of a volcano. Villarica in particular was especially interesting because it is an active volcano that always is smoking.

It has erupted every ten years and is now a couple years overdue. What I would love to see more than inside the top of the volcano is lava pouring off the sides, but I didn’t especially want to be climbing the volcano/near the volcano when that happened. Still would be really cool and it could happen at any time! I was joking with Pepo that we had better make a sacrifice when we get to the top to give us safe passage down. Stepping a little closer to the edge I could smell and then unfortunately taste the sulfur and hear the magma churning. It sounded like crashing waves. A full sensory experience!

Exhausted, we returned to our hostel and hung out with our new friends Gefen and Sheli also traveling from Israel. They had climbed the volcano the previous day and it was fun to share experiences. That night we drove to the hot springs of Puyehue. There were seven pools with differing heat intensities lying right next to some rapids. It was so so so relaxing to sit on a rock with hot water up to my chin, listen to the churning river, and star up at the hundreds of stars. It was the perfect ending to the perfect day.

Our last day in Pucón we took it easy. We walked around the town and visited the laguna enjoying the nice weather. I caught up on lots of homework that I had been neglecting, but it was a little less painful since I was sitting on a beach looking out at the calm lake.

Gina, Gefen, and Sheli were all at the hostel when we came back and invited us to eat lunch with them. Ayn and I ran out and bought a dessert to share and we returned to a wonderful feast and great company. The conversation switched from Spanish to Hebrew to Spanish to a few words in English and back to Hebrew in the blink of an eye. With our dessert we drank Israeli coffee. I’m not much of a coffee person, but this was DELICIOUS. I’ll definitely be searching out a Israeli coffee vendor when I get back to the States.

After lunch I tried to relax as much as I could because I knew that it was going to be a long bus ride back. As we walked to the bus stop I couldn’t stop staring at the volcano. Hard to believe that I climbed that whole thing just the day before. And even though it would have been cool to see it erupt, I was content to watch the endless sulfur clouds billowing from the cone from afar.