Travelogue: Pucón and Lakes Region

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My parents came to visit me in Chile at the end of April and we decided to go to Pucón and the lakes region, but I got lazy in my blogging and didn’t write up this post until just now.  We started off in sunny Santiago in our tiny little Chevy Spark and took the highway south.  The weather was beautiful and we could still see the Andes to the east as we were driving out of the city.  The route south is beautiful, starting with vineyards and wine country, later turning into rolling hills and lush greenery.  A few hours south of Santiago, the sun started to set, projecting brilliant reds and pinks on the Andes.

We stopped our first night in Chillan, a medium sized town about four hours south of Santiago.  We didn’t see much since we were just staying over, but the town center looked really interesting.  The next morning, we got up early and started to drive south again.  After a few hours, we got off the main highway and drove toward a huge volcano, shrouded in clouds.  I hadn’t seen clouds many times since I’d been in Chile, so it was an interesting sight.

As we got closer, the weather started to get worse.  We drove through Villarica and it started to drizzle.  The clouds obscured the volcano.  We knew it was off season and that it might be rainy in Pucón, but we had hoped it would stay dry.  After a beautiful drive along the lake we got to Pucón, a small touristy town of about 25,000 people.  Since it was off season, we pretty much had the place to ourselves.

People had told me that the food in the south was way better than in Santiago and I was not disappointed.  The food was amazing!  We started out by sharing grilled lamb and halfway through our meal, it started to pore.  It was cold out and none of us had any rain gear in the restaurant, so I ran back to the car to drive it around.

One problem.  The car didn’t start.  I had left the lights on.  We tried a push start, but couldn’t get it to work.  I asked a police officer if he could give me a jump, he said he didn’t have cables, but taxis did.  I asked a collectivo, he said he didn’t have any cables.  I talked to four different taxis, all of whom said they couldn’t help me.  I even offered to pay.  Finally, one taxi told me that if I bought cables he would help me.  Five minutes later, I had the cables, but he had driven away.  I walked back to the car, cables in hand and luckily a nice guy stopped and agreed to help out.  After about an hour, we were on our way.  Since the battery was dead, we had to drive around for awhile, which was alright because it was raining.  This would become a recurring theme.

We stayed the night in Pucón and walked around as the clouds started to clear.  We decided to take a walk on the beach.  Just before sunset, it started to drizzle.  Luckily, that meant we got to see a rainbow.  And not just any rainbow.  A double rainbow.

Later that night, we had another amazing meal. This time we split venison stew and a wild boar dish with veggies.  It was hearty, warm and filling.  Perfect for a cool and rainy night.  The next morning, it was raining again and we planned to take a drive toward Argentina, but when I tried to start the car, it was dead.  The guy at the hotel jumped us and we decided to drive around to other towns to charge it up again.  The weather started to clear in the afternoon and we drove through a bunch of small towns and ended up in Villarica, a less touristy town 20 miles from Pucón.  We stayed above an italian restaurant, walked around the city and ate some great fish at a small restaurant.

The next morning, the car started up like a charm and we took a drive toward the Argentina border.  We drove through a bunch of smalls towns and were pretty much the only tourists.  Each town was a a little different and the weather was perfect.  Curarrehue was a hidden gem.  We walked around, checked out the Mapuche museum and then walked into a bakery called Pasteleria La Cocina de Elisa on the main plaza for a small snack.  We smelled something amazing and I asked what it was.  The baker, Elisa Cea Epuin, brought out fresh baked meat empanadas and we decided we had to have some.  They were amazing, the best I’ve had in Chile.  After we finished, she came out with the fried version.  Amazing again.  Next, we tried some bakery and check out some local canned fruits and jams.  Everything was wild picked, nothing was farmed.  After a few minutes, she emerged from the kitchen with some amazing berry spread.  The baker had been invited to London and Dublin a few years back to make all of her food at the embassy and I can see why they picked her.

After we finished, we got back to the car and what do you know? Another dead battery.  I asked a guy at the only gas station in town and he said he couldn’t help me, but there was a mechanic just down the street.  As I walked up, all the workers and truckers stopped and just sort of stared.  I don’t think they were expecting a family of tourists.   The mechanic was out to lunch, so I went back up to the gas station and sat there until someone agreed to give me a jump again.  Thankfully, this was the last time we’d need our jumper cables.

We drove through the beautiful mountain valleys, past crystal clear lakes and shaded passes under the bright sunlight.  We came to little town called Huife and decided to turn around.  As we were driving back, I saw a sign for a restaurant that was advertising fresh trout, turkey and venison, so we had to stop.  We were the only people around, besides the waitress/cook and the food was amazing.  Rich, savory and fresh.  It was a great decision to stop.

We stayed another night in Pucón and the next day, the weather was really nice and went up the volcano.  It is a huge volcano that has a history of erupting, sometimes destroying the surrounding towns.  It was cloudy in Pucón, but we emerged from the clouds into bright sunlight about halfway up the volcano.  The clouds looked like icing on a cake, covering the valley.  We took a hike up the volcano and started when it was bright and sunny.  It was amazing to see the evidence of past lava flows and the destruction it wreaked on the vegetation. About an hour later, the pea soup had descended and we couldn’t see more than a few feet in front of our faces.  Luckily, the trail was very well marked.  The fog was eerie and outlined the trees perfectly.

The next morning, we drove back to Santiago, capping a great trip to the south.  Although the weather and car trouble were less than optimal, it was an outstanding trip.  I’m really glad my parents got a chance to visit and got to spend some time sharing where I’d been living for the past six months.  I really loved the area around Pucón.  The combination of lakes, mountains, lush green scenery and amazing food is pretty hard to beat.