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Being Good Boys and Girls This Christmas Season

Bah HumbugThe tenors outnumbered the baritones three to one. However, it was 5:10 in the morning on Christmas Day within Fiji’s Mamanuca Islands. Initially thinking I was trapped between a sweet dream and a strange reality, I hurriedly woke Ashley asking, “Did you hear that?” “What, huh, nope,” she sleepily whispered. “No, listen,” I demanded in an effort to establish my state of mind. “Yeah, I hear some faint singing,” she registered still clinging to the body pillow. Christmas 2009 was off to a strange yet incredible start: the staff of Tokoriki Resort was caroling “Hark the Herald Angels Sing” at sunrise outside our oceanside bure.

Ash Talking to Her Fam Ashley must have been a good girl and Santa certainly turned a blind eye to my misbehavior. Because here we were, 1,000s of miles away from anything resembling snow while the good ‘ole USA dealt with blizzard conditions and Europe’s Chunnel was shut down due to drifting snow. Santa Clause (Brad and Cathy Miller) really went beyond a candy filled stocking. Most of December was spent in New Zealand and a homecoming would have been costly… so Ash’s folks sent us to beautiful Fiji. An elf even left Ashley pearl earrings underneath Tokoriki’s Christmas Tree. This is not to say we didn’t miss our families dearly. Ash phoned her family prior to breakfast as the Millers (all 75+ of them) gathered at Grandma June’s home in Claflin, KS on Christmas Eve (our Christmas Day). Crocodile tears streamed down her sunburnt face the entire time. I reached my family celebrating in Cincinnati, OH at home with the Fleges, only after my Mom was kind enough to hang up on me the first try! The phone connection was poor, but I believe my Dad (Herb) got my Mom (Susan) “parrots” for the occasion. I can only hope the static on the line made deciphering the gift difficult. Though not married (expected to occur Summer 2017), Ash and I agreed we feel equally comfortable in the company of either family and love them just the same.

View From Under Glass Bottom Boat Thanks Santa! Hobie Cat

Roundly sad and missing home, we engulfed cups of coffee, eggs benedict, pancakes, and danishes. It was a quick breakfast because Mass began at 10:00am. We didn’t understand a single word during the thirty-five minute ceremony that was given in the local Maori language. But it was a pleasure nonetheless sharing the celebration with the good people of Fiji. After Church, we felt compelled to participate in a traditional Midwestern USA activity in the Winter… snorkeling. Josua (Tokoriki Island Resort’s man of the sea) boarded us on the glass bottom boat and a short time later it was fastened to a buoy above the intoxicated saltwater below. After dawning snorkels, masks, and fins, Ashley held fast onto my hand as we floated along the reef’s edge before it gave away to an incredible deep blue abyss. The tepid water was teeming with colorful fish and the occasional white tip reef shark. Though they were just baby maneaters, Ash was scared enough to not leave my side. Having swallowed enough sea water, it was back to the island for more body fuel.

Xmas Day SunsetYet another massive meal (is dessert really necessary after lunch?) then we hit the Fijian water once more. This time Captain Dietz was at the helm of a Hobie Cat. Pretty simple, even for a novice, to maneuver the small vessel. When the wind was just right and we had the proper position in respect to the gusts, the small catamaran felt like it was moving at light speed. But for the most part, it was feast or famine regarding velocity. Ash played the part of a paying passenger quite well: relaxing, sun bathing, and gazing at the reflective water. When she tried ordering a pina colada, Captain Dietz pointed at the resort and promptly swung the boom her way, knocking her overboard (in my mind). Just when I was getting a grasp on the proper sail tension and headings, it was time to locate the port ‘o call and freshen up for Christmas Dinner.

Xmas Day Mango Belini Santa and Greg! Santa and Ash!

Upon entering the tropical lobby, Joe, a friendly Fijian, handed us complimentary mango belinis. As if we needed more champagne after drinking a bottle of Moet in our bure. Before being seated at our pool side table overlooking the ocean, a sled could be heard landing in the white sand. Low and behold, Santa made his grand appearance! Then on cue, a contingent of 40 children clad in white and carrying candles lined up and sang a few classic Holiday songs along with some local ones. It was truly beautiful to watch the elated kids perform. After several rounds of applause, the children choir and chaperones boarded two boats bound for their island located thirty minutes away and just as fast as Santa appeared, they disappeared into the dark ocean. Dinner was yet another feast, this time a smorgasbord of lobster, crawfish, prawns, clams, and oysters. All local and oh so fresh! We enjoyed a nightcap back at our bure and concluded that it was such a remarkable Christmas in a magical place.

Island Children Choir Xmas Dinner Xmas Dinner with a View

But we look forward to next year’s Holiday Season surrounded by family and friends. Instead of carolers outside an island bure, we may awake in a Midwestern home and clamor down the stairs to look under the Christmas Tree.

 - Greg

Learn From Our Footsteps:

1) Fiji has a plethora of options in terms of accommodation. The main island (Viti Levu), where the capital Nadi and international airport is located, has numerous resorts with a wide price range (Coral Coast is most popular area). If desiring a more remote island experience, the Mamanuca Islands are a great choice. Most backpackers looking for a cheaper island experience choose the Yasawa Islands. Most islands are accessible by ferry.

2) Resorts charge a king’s ransom for drinks. So plan ahead and bring a few bottles of wine and your favorite spirits. This will allow you to splurge for a fruity drink here and there and not worry too much about your budget.

Rest for the Travel Weary… Vanuatu

Overnight bus schedule quizzes, Spanish/Portuguese vocabulary exams, and meteorology tests were near daily experiences in South America.  Time for a slowdown.  Enter lazy beach days, cuddly pets, and the warm sun of Vanuatu.  No brainbusters here.

Paradise CoveLet’s face it.  Any island, whether it be the Caribbean or the African East Coast, is expensive.  Particularly for backpackers.  Remoteness has a price and the South Pacific is no different.  After intensive research via the World Wide Web (Internet) we reckoned the Blue Pango Motel was our preferred inexpensive option.  But not before electronic mail messaging (Email) the South Korean proprietor and negotiating a reduced rate based on our seven day stay.  Solomon (Blue Pango owner) even provided a lift from the smallish international airport (saved us $30).  Driving through the bush of Efate (Vanuatu’s main island, though not the largest), provided ample evidence of the tourist economy.  Resorts abutting squatter settlements and once fertile farmland now on the sales block for development.  Alas, we pulled down a gravel driveway, approached the ten unit motel, and saw the blue water crashing along the rocky shore.  So it wasn’t a five star resort, but it was on the Pacific Ocean, was serviced daily, and had the necessary cooking equipment.  Oh, and the premises was outfitted with furry animals that made our stay oh so memorable.

Surise at Blue PangoWe dropped our backpacks in Unit #7 and politely asked for a small loan of coins from Solomon to get to the local grocer.  Knowing that restaurants were obscenely priced for a vagabond’s budget, we had grand plans on how to spend the money saved by cooking most meals ourselves.  $250 later at the checkout, we weren’t so sure.  The cost of pasta, onions, bananas, ramen, baked beans, flank steak, cleaning supplies, pancake mix, eggs, cheese, bread, peanut butter, cereal, milk, jelly, two bottles of red wine, and some Aussie beers added up rapidly.  Like a cannonball to the groin, I was stunned.  Cooking the friendly animals of Blue Pango seemed to be an economical solution, but Ashley kindly pointed out that companionship is more important than cheap nourishment.  So with that, we flagged down a bus back to the Motel with five plastic bags each in tow  (they double as trash bags, yep, so cheap).

Yohan and a Fearless Crab Comfy Bed Yohan's Collar

Even before Ashley could clean the cooking surfaces, Unit #7 was overrun with hairy rapscallions.  “Yohan, stay!” I exclaimed.  “Ah, ah, ah… bad kitty!” Ash pleaded.  Aside from the proprietor’s family, the Blue Pango Motel had five additional inhabitants: Chellie (mother dog), Yohan (four month old puppy), Momma Cat (momma cat), Tiger (kitten), and Black Jack (kitten).  Perhaps they sensed our sincere love for animals because they targeted us for food and friendship without hesitation.  Each morning was met with tripping over Yohan as he awaited our presence on the doorstep, kittens infiltrating our room with the slightest crack of the door, and constant pleading for grub from every four-legged friend.  Certainly my favorite time each day with the Blue Pango animals was at dusk when Black Jack would cozy up on my lap, Momma Cat implored Ash for milk, Tiger toyed with fruit blossoms, Yohan attempted (quite successfully) to steal flipflops, and Chellie guarded the Motel entrance.  Whether I was drinking a cup of Joe in the hammock or Ash was gazing at the surf, Yohan was there wagging his tail and itching his fleas.  Ghostbuster Dr. Peter Venkman was correct, “cats and dogs living together, mass hysteria.”  So it wasn’t the end of the world at the hands of the Stay Puft Marshmallow Man, but the canines and felines were happy co-inhabitants of the Motel.  In the midst of two Animal Whispers.

Rocky Shoreline Shoreline Paradise Cove - v3

You would think Vanuatu is simply a sanctuary of animals, but there is actually a lot more to it, believe it or not.  We took a daytrip to Paradise Cove (location of the hotel we wanted to stay, but deemed too expensive) where we packed a lunch of PBJs and four cans of beer.  Here we happened upon two Aussies who pointed out where we could see octopus while snorkeling.  We had been carrying snorkels and masks for over three months, so we hit the turquoise water straight away.  Though we failed to spot tentacled sea creatures, Ash was looking good.  So good in fact, that small fish literally wanted some of her flesh.  After numerous nibbles while 200 feet offshore, we turned back for the white sand beach.  After our only dinner not prepared in the motel, we waited impatiently under the starry night for a bus as cockroaches scampered across Ashley’s flip flops.

Ferry Dock to Erakor Island Starfish Erakor Island

Still reeling from the grocery bill, we were elated to hear about a free ferry to Erakor Island, a heavenly place across the bay from Blue Pango Motel.  The flatbottom vessel chugged across the shallow blue water and as we approached the sandy island, starfish the size of frisbees came into focus.  Finding refuge from the blazing sun below a palm tree, we chatted with an unlikely French and Argentine couple about the greatness of Ignacio’s country: provoleta, malbecs, and scrumptious beef.  All was right in the world on this day, except that we were 1,000s of miles away from the Argentina taste explosion.

Natural Pool of Spring WaterAside from our Thanksgiving Day adventure of scuba diving and kava tasting (Ash will never imbibe again), our big excursion while in Vanuatu was the Mele Cascades.  Picture crystal waterfalls in the jungle.  We were psyched as we plodded our way uphill on the worn path ($15 entry per person) and spied our first pool of clear fresh water.  Ash was less excited about the massive spider that nearly lured her into its web.  Regardless, we continued on until being rewarded with a massive waterfall with ferns and green moss clinging to its vertical channels.  While tourists in watersocks frolicked in the spring-fed pools below, Ash watched in fear as I climbed up the falls until I was suitably frightened.  We then discovered a nice rock from which we could soak in nature’s beauty.  Here, Ash noted that this venue is similar to a place we all dream about when needing to seriously mull over a decision.  It was that serene.  But the sun was setting and the dense forest is nowhere to be left in the moonlight. 

Mele Cascades Come Close to My Web... Sunset over Port Vila Harbour

Tuskers (Vanuatu’s national beer) in hand, we watched the fiery ball dip beyond Port Vila Harbor into the Pacific Ocean one last time.  This slower pace of life on the road was like a 1600 SAT score… perfect.  
  
- Greg         

Learn From Our Footsteps:

1) Inspect food packages closely before cooking.  Even sealed packages.  Ash was preparing pancakes one morning and noticed the batter had a mind of its own.  Black little bugs (harmless) had somehow infiltrated the sealed bag of mix and some were still alive.  That batch of flapjacks found the trashcan, though we did eat my pancakes the day before, bugs and all.
2) Countries all have different entry requirements.  And some enforce them more strictly than others.  Had we not had an exit flight from Vanuatu, our carrier would have prohibited us from boarding in Los Angeles.  If you come across the requirement of an onward ticket, but don’t know where you will be going next you can do two things: a) roll the dice or b) buy a fully refundable ticket.

LA LA Land

Tarmac glowing in flashing red lights, the Boeing 747 was surrounded by ambulances and firetrucks at 2:15am. We weren’t supposed to be in Central America let alone an airport yet. No more than ten minutes earlier, the 200+ nervous passengers were awoken by the Captain explaining, “we will be making an emergency landing in Panama due to smoke in the cockpit.” Sleepy mechanics sorted out the problem and four hours later (customs issues prevented us from leaving the aircraft) we embarked for Miami once more. Needless to say, Ash and I missed our connection to Los Angeles. Such is life flying with American Airlines. I digress.

Though our time in Los Angeles was short, we set ambitious goals: spend lots of time with friends, inhale Chipotle burritos, consume Budweisers from the can, enjoy fluffy pancakes, indulge in sushi, and experience IN-N-OUT Burger. We ended our thirty hour stint in Hollywood batting 0.833 (no sushi). Not bad!

Tired and smelling ripe, our dear friend Bill was kind enough to fetch us from LAX. I was expecting a witty comment from William about my modern hobo look of pajama pants with a torn crotch, flip flops, and greasy hair. Instead we were met with his smiling face and like that we were off to Chipotle. When living in Chicago, we ate there at least once a week. A three month hiatus was painful, but the reconciliation was monumental. Bill then whisked us to his seaside one bedroom apartment in Seal Beach where we took the necessary steps to feel welcome again in public places like laundry and showering.

Nice Mo!Rocking the Combover Mutt!

Then we shot over to our good friend Mark’s pad in Newport Beach for a BBQ and Budweiser from the can. The only can of Budweiser spotted in South America was in Paraguay. I love the stuff, but when a man wielding a wheelbarrow icechest offers you a can of beer with half the label rubbed off, I decline. So thank you Mark for procuring this delicacy. How did you find it? My aspiring musician/reality TV personality/anti-virus pioneer/linguist buddy Joe even made the one hour drive to catch up. Hanging out in a neighbors apartment, we traded stories from the last three months and watched Joe sing on YouTube. I think the comparisons of him to Tracy Chapman are a bit off. Voice comparisons that is, not talent. Patronizing some local beach bars was last on the agenda though gaining access to a couple with Ashley’s photocopied passport proved difficult.

An American breakfast was in order the following morning. Ashley had to have her pancakes. Mark had been raving about Mutt Lynch’s: filling breakfast and unique schooners. We knew the establishment wasn’t messing around after seeing the billboard that read “to beer or not to beer, Shakesbeer.” A slogan Herb (Father), Jeff (Brother), and I discovered in Western Europe in 1999. Ash had her pancakes while the men drank coffee and oversized goblets of PBR. Bill’s presence was required at work, so we said our “see you in a year” goodbyes. Not shopping while in LA would be like not eating Skyline in Cincinnati. So Ash found a darling bikini that came in a strange Chinese carryout package while Mark explained the art of surfboards in a suitable way to fit into my small brain. It was back to Newport Beach and the seemingly endless beach. All the concrete and congestion of downtown Los Angeles can be unnerving, but the beach communities seem to know how to live the high life. IN-N-OUT Burger was our last California institution where we met Ashley’s cousin, Jonathan. After chowing down on a entire day of calories, we thanked Mark for hosting us and it was back to LAX with Jonathan behind the wheel. Enjoy your impending travels to South America, Jon!

Coffee and PBR ComboSufing USA Trash Collecting

Many thanks to Bill, Mark, and Jonathan for chauffeuring us around Los Angeles. Bill, gracias for the clothes… my rotation of three shirts was wearing thin (clothing joke). Mark, we are reminded of you daily by the Saint Christopher surfer medallions (lots of compliments on these too).

As we waited for the lengthy flight to Vanuatu, Ash and I agreed that we should have scheduled a few more days in Los Angeles. Good friends, tasty food, and great times. And we prayed for a smooth flight not requiring any emergency landings… the Pacific Ocean is massive.

- Greg

Learn From Our Footsteps:

1) When traveling without a mobile phone, don’t be afraid to approach a stranger, explain your situation, and ask to borrow their cell. It can be hard to find pay phones in airport terminals when you need to make an urgent phonecall. We met a nice gal who turned out to be from Cincinnati (my hometown) after needing to call Bill.
2) If an airline causes you to miss a connection for any reason, be sure to file a complaint. We were happy with American Airlines’ decision to land in Panama, but it did require new flight/ride arrangements. We each received 3,000 miles… better than nothing I presume.

Tempting Fate on Volcano Villarrica

Volcano Villarrica View from PuconToxic fumes, molten lava, and suffocating ash. An active volcano has many potently destructive tools at its disposal. Add “swallowing” to that list.

The feature presentation of Chile’s lake district for adventure sports is reaching the summit of Volcano Villarrica ($65 including guide and equipment). Rucapillan, as it is known locally, is the tallest volcano in the Chilean Andes (9,340 feet). Why not climb an active volcano? Right? Rising at 6:30am, we met six other climbers and our two guides. After a quiet forty minute ride to the base of the sleeping giant, we checked our gear and began the four hour snowy hike. But not before our instructors showed us how to properly utilize the ice axe as a brake if we were to slip and slide down the snow. Not even half way up, two Brazilians became immensely fatigued and had to turn back. But the six of us twenty-somethings (British and Australian couples) had enough gas in the tank to keep motoring.

Volcano Villarrica View from PuconClimb for twenty minutes. Rest, water, chocolate. Rinse, repeat. We moved slowly in diagonal paths up the snowy pitch towards the billowing smoke. The snow was compact in some areas allowing firm footing.  In others it was mushy and every step was tough.  Either way, the grade of the incline made progress incredibly difficult. Reflecting unmercifully against the white powder, the sun baked our exposed skin as we poured with sweat. Towards the summit though, Ash’s tank-top became the first among five layers. The wind howled, the snow blew, and the temperature dipped sharply.

Destroyed Ski Lift Climbing Volcano Villarrica Required Rest

Like a window seat aboard a Boeing 747, we were high above the clouds enveloping Pucon far below. In the distance we gazed at two other active volcanoes and the azul water of the surrounding lakes. It was a peculiar feeling being so high above sea level. When not being taken away by the panoramic views, our eyes were focused on each carefully placed step. We came along an abandoned ski-lift shelter that was destroyed when Volcano Villarrica erupted in 1971.

View of Another Volcano Lakes and Clouds Endless Views

After four hours, the summit was in sight! We could see and smell the sulfuric white smoke emanating from Volcano Villarrica’s circular crater. The last bit of trekking required crampons because the snow had turned to ice and was quite slick. Upon reaching the top, we dawned gas masks to have a peak closer to the crater. No lava or crater bottom could be seen due to the sheer amount of toxic smoke being spewed into the atmosphere. Proud of our achievement, we relinquished our backpacks and followed the guides to the western side of the volcano for some photos. Big smiles temporarily.

That's No Campfire Smoke Sulfuric Smoke Cheers!

“HELP!!! HELP!!!” gasped a young woman. It was over as fast as it had happened, so it seemed. I was following tracks in the snow where several others had walked on this day. I was charged with photography duties and I took a couple quick shots, dangled the Canon SX10IS around my neck, then proceeded empty handed about ten feet from the crater’s edge. Ashley was twenty steps ahead of me carrying my ice axe on her way to the backpacks. Then as if a trap door were opened below me, I dropped straight down. Right through the ice. Remarkably, my two arms instinctively shot forward and I caught myself on the ice with my forearms before falling any further. I lack any memory of the next two to three seconds. The next thing I remember, my legs were dangling above the abyss below and I kept telling myself to stay calm and not move a muscle. A bearded guide (not from our group) wearing a red parka inched towards me over the now obviously thin ice. Careful not to fall through himself, he reached out and grabbed my arms. Perhaps a combination of his Chilean strength and my status as a featherweight, he was able to pull me out. Dazed, shaken, and stunned, I thanked the heroin and made a bee line for more solid footing.

Potential Icy GraveThe “what if” and “why” questions are haunting. What if I didn’t catch myself? What was below me? Why didn’t my arms break through too? If I survived the fall, how would I get out? No answers here, just conjectures. Our guide suggested the stone exterior of Volcano Villarrica was some feet below me. But he was quick to point out that he was simply guessing. As the photo suggests, it appears to be a black abyss. This experience is eerily reminiscent to a book I read three years ago, Into Thin Air. The author, Jon Krakauer, recounts the story of climbing Mount Everest. One particular passage tells of a Sherpa falling through the ice where several other climbers has walked previously. He fell over 100 feet, but miraculously survived. Regardless, every soul on the summit made a quick exit after recognizing the delicate state of the ice.

SleddingAnxious to get down the already treacherous volcano, we fastened rusksacks to our bums and did some sledding! Like human torpedoes, we cut paths down the slope. It may have taken us four hours to reach the top, but less than forty minutes to get back to ground zero. Ashley was hilarious to watch as she flipped, rolled, and twisted her way down the volcano. It was clear that gravity and friction were in control, not her.

Not wanting to tempt fate any further the following day, we decided a leisurely time in the vibrant mountain town of Pucon would suit us well. Indeed. We caught up on sleep, ate a hearty breakfast, and drank some beers as pedestrians strolled along. Ash and I had fallen in love with Negra, the hostel’s black lab of three years. So we took her on a gorgeous walk to Lake Villarrica where she enjoyed swimming in the chilly water and playing fetch. Only problem was that she liked to break the sticks, so fetch was more challenging than usual. It was the perfect antidote for the all the excitement from the previous day.

Pretty Gals Greg's Best Friend Playing Around  

We met up with the British and Australian couples from our trek for some beers and pizza in the evening. They informed us their hostel was abuzz concerning the “guy who escaped death on Villarrica.” Perhaps. Who knew a volcano could potentially swallow its victims too?

- Greg

Note: I write with sarcastic dry humor most times. Even when things aren’t so great, I try and find the best in it. Finally putting this story to typepad brought back some scary memories and confusing thoughts/feelings. My hands literally shook as I recounted what transpired in those fifteen seconds. Life is fragile, no doubt. Climbing a volcano shouldn’t have to remind you of that. But life is short (cliché, I know) too. If life is a bull, grab it by the horns.

Learn From Our Footsteps:

  1. Going down Volcano Villarrica can be tedious. That is unless the trekking company allows you to sled towards civilization with a rucksack fastened to your bottom. Ensure your tour group allows this before booking. Of course, if snow has been replaced with stone, the Shoe String Express (walking) is your only option. Others hiked with skis and descended in grandiose style.

  2. Check the weather forecast with tour operators and pick a day with favorable conditions to summit Volcano Villarrica. Windy conditions blow the toxic sulfur smoke down the volcano into climbers’ faces forcing them to turn back prematurely. And don’t sweat a bad forecast for Pucon… you are well above that weather when on the volcano.

  3. Just after you are taught not to eat dirt as a young child, you are taught to be safe. Even in seemingly safe environments with qualified professional guides, don’t be afraid to ask questions. Better off safe than sorry as they say. Investigate your surroundings as well. It never occurred to any climber that the snow/ice was the roof of a cavern below.

Driving Chile’s Lake District

Sweet Ride“Oh, I can drive a stick shift, no problem,” claimed Ashley. Engine starts. Stall. Engine starts. Stall. “Are they watching?” she asked. That’s as far as Ash made it behind the wheel of the high performance Chevrolet Swing hatchback. All seven inches in neutral, but it was a sporty coupe to be fair. Too much power in the four valve engine for this gal from Kansas, so I took the helm and righted the ship… out of the rental car harbor and into the mountains surrounding Pucon, Chile.

Volcano Villarrica - View from Pucon - v9Tourist buses bound for Location X, Destination Y, and Lookout Z were left in our wake as we enjoyed the freedom of our own transportation for a change ($60 for rental car, insurance, and petrol). Armed with a map that lacked any semblance of scale or direction, we headed into the Andes Mountains with majestic views of Volcano Villarrica (Chile’s tallest). Forty minutes and a long gravel road later we pulled into the quaint parking lot of China Falls ($4 entry). The 300 foot waterfall kept us in awe for quite some time as it poured over the edge from a lush jungle above.

Mountains Waterfall China Rapids

LizardNext stop was meant to be a short drive to view some spectacular rapids, but fate had a different objective. We made a wrong, perhaps correct, turn and met a kind old man named Refugio who instructed us how to put the Chevy Swing in reverse. Quite helpful considering we had been pushing the light vehicle out of tight corners up until this point. Refugio also happened to be the developer of a gorgeous assemblage of land and suggested we drive around and select our slice of heaven for $22,000 per acre. Rather than splurge on a piece of dirt, we imbibed on a glass of Chilean white wine and soaked in the views from the choicest plot. But we heard the rapids calling us, so it was onto our intended destination. The river was powerful and surrounded by dense forest housing insects, birds, and reptiles.

Lake VillarricaBy then our hunger was guiding us more than the dismal map, so we aimed for Lake Tinquilco but found Lake Caburgua. A bit lost but craving a late lunch of mozzarella cheese, salami, crackers, and bananas, the Chevy Swing was stowed away on a safe stretch of road as Ash and I made ourselves at home on the rocky shoreline. Not wanting to miss out on a chance to lose feeling in my hands/feet, I took a brisk, albeit short, swim in the crystal fresh water. Not only can Lake Caburgua pass as a suitable shower, it can also chill Chilean white wine quite effectively as we learned by submerging the bottle beneath large rocks. Having a working brain, Ash sat this activity out.

Lake Villarrica - v10 Lake Villarrica - v5 Lake Villarrica - v19

Suitably cold, the natural thermal baths outside Pucon seemed be the perfect antidote. Argh! Termas Las Pozones ($8) did not open until night fall. No worries. We drove one mile and found a hilltop upon which we could enjoy the sunset. The ball of fire descended behind the tree lined slopes as we traded fleeces for bikinis (I wore trunks). At first the volcano heated pools felt tremendous. Little by little though, the heat became unbearable and Ash clamored onto the surrounding rocks of the natural pool. Being a tough guy of course, I stayed in the warming bath… for thirty seconds more. Needing to cool down, Ash led me to the adjacent stream via light from the digital camera. Feeling the cold mountain water on my ankles, I gingerly submerged myself into the depths until the temperature proved unbearable. Thankfully, Termas Las Pozones has four pools of varying temperature and we found the second to be accommodating. As I tried to relax in the soothing pool, Ashley kept pestering me about her being the first female President of the USA (okay, I just wanted to include this hilarious photo). After gazing at the starry night, we dried off and drove back to Pucon thoroughly worn out.

Pre Thermaling Neighboring River Worth $100

Err, I drove back.

- Greg

Learn From Our Footsteps:

  1. Hostels and Adventure Groups offer various tours of the surrounding area of Pucon. DIY (do it yourself) can be the way to see more for less. When sharing with at least one person, you can rent a car for the entire day and see four days of tours in one day. Not too mention, tour groups hit you hard for transportation. For example, hostels charge $15 per person to hit the thermal baths at night (basically $7 for transport). Simply splitting a rental car with like minded people will save you cash and allow you see more on your own terms.

  2. Pucon offers an incredible amount of things to do: white water rafting, skydiving, volcano treks, mountain biking, thermals, etc. Purchasing two or three activities through one provider provides you with leverage. But even if you prefer just one adventure, check around for prices and negotiate.

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