Saturday, February 4, 2012

It's Summer in Pucón

How can I tell? People are everywhere. Cars are everywhere. Events are happening. The shops are full, the restaurants busy, and the sun is always shining. The highlight of my day was spending it with my Nature Conservancy GIS South American counterpart, whom I have been filling in for during her five month maternity leave from work. This is only the second time I've met her. The first was when I took my trip to Santiago, Chile last August. After spending about three hours walking along the lake shore, window shopping, and trying to find a guided tour for my Sunday adventure this afternoon, I was invited to a BBQ with my coworker's family and friends. I accepted of course, and they picked me up at the hotel.

We drove about 10 km outside of town to a small property by a gorgeous river. We crossed the narrow suspension bridge you see in the above picture, by car! It is hard to believe a car can fit on that thing. Mercedes was telling me on our way that it is traditional to have a BBQ once the frame of a new house is built. She said in Chile there is always a reason to celebrate something. As it turns out, the people who are building the house are actually building six cabins next to this river and plan to start up a river kayaking business where people spend the day kayaking down the cascading river and, once finished, relax at the cabins. All I can say is, the setting was amazing! At the property we bordered a national park and the hills of the mountain next to us rose above the landscape so quickly it was hard to grasp. On every square meter, trees were growing from it. Even rock cliffs were somehow full of trees. On the other side of the river where we were siting, I could also see the top of Volcan Villarrica and the steam raising up from its crater. I stood on a series of decks they had built right next to the river and felt like I was in a tree house, every which way I looked was a jungle of green life. Many places on my trip so far have reminded me of Washington in some way, but now that I am closer to the national parks in the Andes Mountains, I can surely say I have never seen anything like what I saw today, and tomorrow is just going to get better.

Back to BBQ talk, however. When I first arrived I was offered a fanchop, which I quickly learned is a very popular Chilean mixed drink. To my surprise or horror, I can't decide which, someone poured me Fanta orange soda mixed with light beer in a wine glass! After one sip, I admit it wasn't horrible, but I think it is because I could hardly taste the beer. I can guarantee this isn't a habit I'd pick up and bring home with me... unless you all are curious and want to try it with me!??

I met some really wonderful people there. Most of them could speak a little English and were practicing because they wanted to improve their language for this business they were starting. Most of them are ski instructors from Santiago, that have decided to take a go at starting a seasonal summer business. We had barbequed beef and chicken and lettuce tossed in lemon juice and olive oil. Throughout my traveling and eating in South America, very little emphasis is put on salad dressing. In fact, I see no salad dressing sold at grocery stores. A little lemon juice or balsamic vinegar is all they really use. And they have really yummy lemons here. We also had a potato salad and a traditional Chilean onion, tomato, and cilantro salad that had been marinated in what I am guessing is more lemon juice! It was all really delicious. It was also fun meeting local people and participating in local culture.

Mercedes has a six year old daughter in addition to her new born. Both are really cute. For their six year old, they bought a two month old golden retriever. It took its first ride in the back of their pick up truck today, which wasn't a pretty sight after arriving at our destination. It lost bodily fluids from both ends, poor thing. But when it jumped out of the truck, she was off wagging her tail like nothing in the world ever happened. I also got to see her take her first swim ever. On the way home, the six year old was signing in English to the Jason Maraz song, I'm Yours. She doesn't understand English, but she knew every word and she sang the song once, twice, three times! At the end of the car ride she gave me a chocolate volcano, a little cookie filled with dulce de leche covered in chocolate. Yum!

Of course you are all going to be mad at me because I didn't bring my camera to the BBQ! I had to switch gears pretty fast this afternoon between getting back to my hotel room and being ready to go, so it was one of those times where I was outside and realized I didn't have time to run back into the hotel to grab it! But, I do plan on taking it with me tomorrow.

Before I went to the BBQ this afternoon, I tried to go to at least four places to schedule a tour for Sunday. I had so many options between rafting, canopy carabining, horseback riding, going to the hot springs, climbing the volcano, etc, etc, etc. It was a bit overwhelming, mostly because I want to do it all! But I determined what I want to do most is go to the national park to see the ancient araucaria trees. Of course, no one takes guided tours there because the national parks are suppose to be really easy to get to by bus and are not that far outside of town. At the barbeque I met a German student who told me how to get there and back. She said it was safe and lots of people go there. So, tomorrow morning I am going to take a bus from Pucon to Parque Nacional Huerquehue where I am going to hike on the las lagos trail.

The bus leaves at 8:30 am in the morning and will take me directly to the park. There is a ranger station at the park where they give you maps and information. So the main thing will be making sure I am back to the bus by the afternoon to come home! But I will figure that all out once I get there. I'm excited to share the photos from my day trip, as long as I make that morning bus!

Photo credit: Travel Approved

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