As we leave Chiloé and set foot on the mainland, we are in doubt about the next destination. Eventually we decide to leap towards Villarrica. Hitchhiking to Puerto Montt and a bus to Villarrica, four hundred kilometers up north in the Lake District. During the ride the volcanoes become higher and increasingly impressive. Sun has set at the time we enter the bus terminal in Villarrica so we are only treated the next morning to the view of the lake with Chile’s most active volcano Villarrica looming from a distance. Depending on the wind direction, a clear smoke plume is visible above the 2861 meter high crater. The summer holiday in Chile is in full swing as is obvious in Villarrica. It is crowded, the city is full of tourists. Two nights are enough to explore downtown and continue to hitchhike to Pucón.
In terms of tourism, Pucón tops its neighbour. By noon no more sand is visible on the beach due to the colorful chaos of parasols. Since the prices in the trendy streets of Pucón have also been adjusted to high season, we buy a liter of icecream in the supermarket for the price of two scoops at the ice cream shop. And at a temperature of 30 degrees, we obviously have to finish all the ice cream at once, luxury problems!
The volcanoes have come a bit closer so we decide to gather information about the Villarrica National Park. A trail runs crosses the park, 80 kilometers and five days along three impressive volcanoes, lava fields, lagoons and rain forest. We create a shopping list, buy a map of the park and try to hitch a ride towards the eastern entrance of the park, close to Lanín volcano on the Argentinian border. That does not seem like a problem at first, but after a few hours of waiting we decide to walk the last fifteen kilometers. Fortunately, we brought enough food for an extra day. Late at night we arrive at the ranger station where we get extensive information about the Villarrica Traverse from a super friendly park ranger. On his advice we camp at the ranger station and we can use his toilet and water. We realize that because of all the hikes of the past months a five-day walk is not that exciting anymore. The decision was made within a few minutes and the preparations were made within two hours.
The Villarrica Traverse guides us through a very impressive landscape that does not get boring for one second. For three days we walk some ten hours a day, during which we climb from 900 to 1900 meters twice a day and descend again, no lack of altitude meters. Temperatures range from 35 degrees during the day in the valleys to 5 degrees below freezing when we camp at 1800 meters at Laguna Blanco. The first rays of sunlight quickly melt the thin layer of ice on the lake, while the wind that night has ensured that our sleeping bags, backpacks and clothes are covered with a layer of fine dust that blew straight through the tent fabric. The dust and volcanic ashes in combination with sweat and sun screen ensure that our arms, legs and face must be thoroughly scrubbed at the end of the day. If Nadieh accidentally misses a step when crossing a stream on day three of the hike, there is even a more extensive cleaning: Until the waist into the mud, oops!
We are always impressed by how quickly the green, dense temperate rain forest alternates with dry lava fields, views of steppe and large snow and ice sheets, of which we have to cross a number. Fortunately, the snowfields are not too steep and the top layer melts a little during the day, so that the dreaded slipping and sliding is not to bad.
Because we get out of our tent early every day and can easily walk through the wonderful weather until the evening, we complete the eighty kilometers in four instead of the planned five days. Motivated by the hamburger and the beer we promised ourselves at the end of the route, we walk the last six hours until the ski lifts on volcano Villarrica appear on the horizon. Nadieh arranges a ride back in a pick-up truck back to Pucón within two minutes where a hot shower, burgers and beer await us. As if one beer is not enough, we try the local Volcán Cerveza with orange-chocolate flavor the next day. Strangely enough not even such a bad taste combination for a beer.
And then it’s time for wine, because wine belongs to Chile. One of the most famous wine regions of the country is the Colchagua valley with the town of Santa Cruz as perfect base. The Bed and Breakfast we book through AirBnb, we have three days for us alone, so we relax in the cozy garden and explore the town. We pick a tour with tasting in one of the many vineyards near Santa Cruz and read a little about the different wines from the region. Arriving at the MontGras wine estate, we are the only two participants for the morning tour and guide Nicolas takes time to teach us about different grapes and we get to take a look in the kitchen and cellar of the winery. Nicolas knows the wines in detail and after tasting different wines with ‘food pairing’ it is impossible to return empty-handed to Santa Cruz. We opt for a Carmenere and take the advice of Nicolas to heart: Carmenere is a perfect wine to have with Pastel de Choclo. And perfectly so, because the corn pie – a kind of pie made from corn, chicken, minced meat, boiled eggs, olives and onion – was still on our list of Chilean dishes.
After the wine in Santa Cruz and the beer in Pucón, the dust, sweat and mud of Villarrica are definitely part of our memories so we are ready for Chile’s capital. No more hitchhiking, no more camping. For now.