April 28th–Pucon, Chile
Though Pucon is located well over a hundred miles north of the eruption, folks here often wear masks due to the gray air carrying acidic volcanic ash. Some days it´s like living in a thick fog, particularly when there are strong winds coming from the south. This area is one of the prime lake regions of lower central Chile, so I look for the clearer days to take in the beauty of the area. There are not many travelers here due to the off season, and the closure of national parks in the area. I´m staying in a great hostal that I have mostly to myself, at nearly half the advertised cost–turns out you can negotiate on some things here in Chile.
If you want to see some pics and know more about this mountain resort area, cut and paste this entire monster:
The volcano you see in the Pucon background close to here is Volcan Villarica, which blew several weeks ago before the huge eruption. Here´s a pic:
Yesterday, the other guy here at this hostal (Fredrico, a quiet, friendly Chilean man in his first year of engineering work since graduation) and I went to a couple small towns on one of the lakes (Calafquen). We walked on the black sand beaches turned gray from ash, and roamed through a small forested peninsula that was home to an indigenous Mapuche community.
Today the woman at the bus station called a national park person who said the Huerquehue Park was now open for the first time since the big eruption.
I bused, hitched and hiked my way up to the park, only to be told by the guard named Javier that it was closed and nobody was allowed in. I explained that I´d come many thousands of km from California to see the Park, and was upset that I´d not be able to see it. After giving him 30 seconds or so to consider my plight, I asked him if he could think of anything to help me out. I was flabbergasted when he said maybe I could walk in for an hour or 2. I thanked him profusely for this difficult decision to let me pass, and redoubled my belief that rules and signs are only guidelines to be molded to the situation at hand. Then he indicated that a bus would be here that could return me to Pucon in an hour, but not to worry as another would be here 5 hours later (meaning it was ok to stay in the Park for the whole afternoon!). Javier and I ended up together on the 5PM bus and enjoyed eachother´s company.
Huerquehue is one of the more beautiful Chilean national parks, so picture yourself being the only person in Yosemite or the Grand Canyon for a day (Disclaimer: I´m not claiming this park is comparable to the 2 mentioned). The sun was bright and air mostly clear at these heights, a major change from Pucon. I was absolutely giddy with delight hiking through beautiful, silent forests to the lake and waterfall pictured here (note all pics taken with my trusty iPhone, so landscapes never done justice:
The first picture of the waterfall is a photo from the rainy season, the other 2 what it looked like in the middle of the current drought. This marsupial (Monito del Monte) lives in the park (note how the tail is wrapped around the thumb–ok, ok, I admit it´s not my thumb but a pic of a pic):
Today could have been a major disappointment, and became one of the best yet!