Gone Volcaneering

The title of the post is misleading, because I didn’t actually manage to do so, but that was the purpose of my latest adventure to Pucon over last weekend.
Pucon, about 800km south of Santiago in the Lakes Region is an outdoor activity paradise, where you have the options of doing just about anything you can think of. Its biggest attraction, however, is the 2800m Volcan Villarrica, an active volcano that, weather permitting, you can summit and peer into its crater to see the lava inside. Unfortunately, the weather did not permit, and I had to make do with the myriad other activities at hand.
Because of international workers’ day, we didn’t have classes April 30th or May 1st, so I took the opportunity to skip my Friday class and spend five days in town, arriving Thursday morning and leaving Monday night, taking the ten hour overnight bus each way.
I arrived in Pucon at 9:30 in the morning with a wave of other students studying in Santiago and Valparaiso who were also taking advantage of the extra long weekend. Checking into my hostel, I met a few of these students and Negra, the hostel’s beloved former street dog. After stretching out by the fire with Negra and the other hostels guests, some newcomers and I decided to go zip lining later in the afternoon. I flew through the treetops and over a deep blue river, an thrilling view and feeling when there is only a steel cable out there with you, and nothing else. When you get over the original fear of dangling above an abyss, and remember the cable is designed to hold you up, you can really take in the rush of an almost birdlike experience. It’s as close to flying as I’ve been… for now (I’m looking into skydiving and paragliding too).  
La Negrita
The River I ziplined over (although not from the canopy)
Pucon’s black sand beach at sunset
On my second day, and second adventure, I went “hydrospeeding”, which I don’t think exists in the US. It is similar to white water rafting, but instead of descending rapids in a boat, you do so in the water with a body board. Needless to say, it’s significantly more exciting than rafting. One problem, however, was that both the river and the air were extremely cold, making my fingers so numb that I couldn’t even put on my belt afterwards. That was only a minor issue, however, in the grand scheme of hydrospeed’s awesomeness. Most of the hour in the water passed in calm parts of the river, but hitting the rapids was a huge thrill. The water rushes and then dips down right before a wave, and you speed to the top of this wall and launch off the top just to find yourself following another one, picking up speed and catching more air with each one. Each set of rapids got stronger, with the last one at the meeting of two rivers. These waves grew high enough to hang in the air for at least two seconds at a time and lasted for a solid five minutes. I had never done anything quite as exhilarating.
The only picture of me that came out

Photos taken by the pucontours guides

Next, I went horseback riding with other travelers in the hostel. We rode them halfway up a mountain that gave a gorgeous lookout over the town, and then descended again to a delicious homemade Mapuche (southern Chile indigenous group) lunch. Two of our horses had very strong personalities, only walking or running when they felt like it. I generally repeated “vamos!” about five times a minute to try to get Regalon to move forward. He just wanted to eat the whole way up and down. He and another horse were especially apprehensive about climbing steep hills, staring up from the bottom and letting out long sighs before scrambling to the top. Thankfully he was so used to the tour that I didn’t need to steer or control him in any way, because I’m pretty sure he would have come to resent me pretty quickly otherwise.

My most physically rewarding adventure was on my fourth day, where I rented a bike and rode 24 kilometers uphill to a manmade lake on top of a mountain. As you’d imagine, the ascent was pretty taxing, especially on a dirt road, but it was entirely worth it. With nobody else around, you can really lose yourself in your thoughts and soak in your surroundings. After half an hour of enjoying my solitude, I began my decent back into town, downhill. Taking advantage of the steep decline, I leaned as far forward on the handlebars as possible to get the bike moving as quickly as possible, which ended up being pretty fast. While my ascent took about two and a half hours, accounting for a stop at the Ojos de Caburguawaterfalls, returning to Pucon only took one hour. At the steepest parts of the mountain, I got up to fifty kilometers an hour, which is a huge rush on two wheels in the open air.

Picturesque bike ride
Los Ojos de Caburgua
Also, came across a black sheep
Made it. 24km each way
Monday was my last chance to climb Volcan Villarrica, but unfortunately ended up having the worst weather of the entire week. While I had lucked out with beautiful, albeit chilly, weather the entire week, my final day in Pucon was grey and rainy. Despite being upset that I couldn’t climb the volcano, I had managed to complete a number of adventures (not that rain would have stopped them), so I was content to relax in the hostel, laying out by the fire with the dog and enjoying the company of the other travelers.
This was my first time traveling solo, and it has become my favorite way to explore a new place. It turned out to be an exciting way to meet new people from all around the world, and the flexibility it offers to find smaller things that larger groups prevent is the style that I’ve been looking for in my years of traveling. After having seen so many great places, I realize that I’ve still missed out because of schedules and the generally cumbersome nature of big groups, but now I know how I want to see the rest of the world.
One phrase that writing this blog has brought up in my mind is “viajar por viajar” (travel for travel’s sake). It made me realize how enamored I’ve become with impromptu voyages, not particularly knowing what I would do beforehand. I love the stimulation that comes from arriving in a completely new place, working out my plans as I go and meeting people in the same fashion, with the same mindset. Making an impromptu trip for its own sake, getting to know the world from this approach, injects a new sense of life into you with every new destination. Maybe it’s the beauty of Pucon, or the people I met, but this trip has solidified my wanderlust, and my desire to see the entire world, figuring it out as I go.
So while I didn’t accomplish my main goal of climbing the volcano (this time), I managed to take the kind of trip that I had never done before. It’s thrilling and invigorating, and viajar por viajar has taken on a new significance in my life. After this semester ends, I will be doing so as much as possible, for as long as possible while I have nothing to hold me back (except for money). 

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