31.03.2012 - 31.03.2012 25 °C
6.45am, 1400m half way up a volcano donning a helmet, gaiters and ice pick I watched the firery red glow of dawn tear back the night. It was worth getting up at 5.30 just to witness day breaking over the lake district of southern Chile. A traveller oasis half way between the chaos of Santiago and the stark pristine glaciers of Patagonia, the quaint apline-esque town of Pucon is just what was needed after the ransid robbery experience.
With the sky brightening and spreading a different red-pink pattern every minute we set off zig-zagging up loose volcanic ash to the summit of Volcano Villarica. She was hard work for the first two hours - steep rocks and brown-black dust. Then we hit the edge of the glacier; after a quick lesson in crampons and ice-climbing the ascent continued, this time taking care to grip each icy step, stay single file and avoid the deep crevases, which appeared out of nowhere in the white landscape.
By mid morning the sun beamed on us like a spotlight in cloudless turquiose sky.
Desite the burning quads, dripping sweat and breathlessness, the greatest challenge was taking enough time to glance away from my feet and appreciate the panoramic perfection all around us. With civilization burried beneath the cloud blanket far below we were in another world made up only of mountain and volcanic peaks jutting up into fresh clear sky for as far and one could see. Snow caps, smoking crators and mountain lakes dotted the skyline - south america was slowly becoming my friend again.
Another two hours and the third part of the ascent invited us to clamber, climb and scramble our way up shaky and crazily steep terrain with rocks and small boulders (no exaggeration!) falling and rolling past us at quite a speed to warning shouts of ´rocka rocka´ from our guides - a bit like dodgeball on a ski slope. Whenever I find myself in these somewhat risk-que situations I remember how suffocating and stuffy health and safety regulations of the world´s ´leading economies´ are - Villarica would definitely not be the same with safety ropes, harnesses, lifts, netting to stop falilng debris or refreshment kiosks.
After four and a half heart-racing hours my chilean guide, ´Oscar´, delivered pure delight in the form of a high-five and a big grin - we´d reached our destination - 2800km of pure volcano and a crator raw from it´s last erruption 5 years ago still smoking sulphur.
(Oscar by the way had just completed his 2,400th something climb!)
For an hour I literally stood on top of the world looking over Chile and to Argentina in the East. I took several long deep breaths of doubly fresh perspective. This is what the world is about - my appreciation even richer for the effort expended in getting to the top.
Just as eventful and non health&safety-fied we descended Villarica on our bottoms (!) wearing strapped on ´diapers´ (yes, their word for plastic /cloth pads strapped around our thighs)...40+ adults with little orange helmets bombing down a glacier face with only an ice pick for a break - imagine´Lemmings´ crossed with ´Cool Runnings´. Significantly quicker y muy divertido!
Back on terra firma in Pucon I emptied my pockets of ash and my pants of ice and savoured my best shower in weeks at the gloriously cute ápres-ski´feel Hostel Refugio. What a little gem combining rustic, wooden chalet-type ambience with a touch of bohemian beauty and the warmest of welcomes.
Lounging in the rope hammock in the cosy living room with a cerveza,´negro´the dog and other wind swept glowing faces, my day was complete. Perspective doesn´t get much fresher than this. Mucho mejor, gracias Pucon!