February 27, 2004

Chile flagWe didn’t have to get up too early to go to Parque Nacional Huerquehue, only about 6:45 am. We had a quick breakfast, and then walked down the street to the Bus JAC terminal to catch the bus to Pucón. We had to get there by 8:30 am in order to catch the bus to Huerquehue.

The sun wasn’t up yet, but so far the weather seemed okay. We could still see the volcano, so we took that as a good sign. We arrived in Pucón with plenty of time to spare, and just sat at the bus terminal there waiting for the bus driver to appear. About 8:25 am people started to get on the bus so we did as well. The Huerquehue park bus must be a new venture, as we hadn’t heard about it in any of our Chile references. It was a 24-seat minibus with two daily trips, one leaving Pucón at 8:30 am and the other leaving the park at 5:30 pm. Ours had about 30 passengers when it left Pucón, and being a Chilean minibus it also picked up passengers for local trips. Including one man who the driver told to put his chainsaw into the luggage compartment! So it was packed for most of the trip.

The first part of the way to the park was along the same road that we had come from Argentina on, and then we took a turnoff and headed towards the park. Soon after this the road climbed very steeply up the side of the valley. There were numerous switchbacks that took us higher and higher. The views back down the valley were quite good but by now we could see some clouds coming in. Even next to that backwoods road there were people living, raising sheep and turkeys and cutting wood for heating.

Upon arriving at the park we paid our park entrance fee of 2200 pesos each, then the ranger gave us “the talk” describing the main hiking trail. It was in Spanish of course, but not too complicated, and he did throw in English translations of the key information. So we left feeling reasonably confident that we knew where we were going.

The first glitch occurred almost immediately, when a trail went off to the left and the road continued uphill. We followed the trail but it quickly turned out to be a nature trail, so we backtracked and continued on the road. It starts out by crossing private land, where there are little restaurants that serve you coffee and kuchen. Then it crosses a stile and changes from a road into a trail, which climbs quite steeply uphill. This is well graded and has had quite a bit of work done on it, such as steps and switchbacks and directional signs. There were a couple of short side trips to some very nice waterfalls. The flowers along the trail were very pretty, including two varieties that the park had marked with signs, estrellita (“little star”) and botellita (“little bottle”), which both bore red flowers.

With all the side trips and flower observations, not to mention seeing a hummingbird, it was after nearly 3 hours that we reached Lago Chico, the first of the lakes we would see. Very soon after that we reached Lago Verde, where we sat down for lunch. (This was the third or fourth Lago or Laguna Verde on our trip.) At this elevation the forest contained a scattering of araucarias.

The few clouds we had seen during the bus ride up to the park had now expanded into a thin cloud cover that wasn’t much higher than the tops of the hills around us. This meant that the weather was somewhat cooler than before, although still humid.

After lunch we carried on among the lakes. They are all at about the same elevation, but the land between them is very irregular. We followed the trail up to Lago Pato, and soon we were seeing more and more monkey-puzzle trees, some of which were huge, rivalling our red cedar trees in diameter. It was interesting to look up at the skyline to see trees that looked like umbrellas, which were in fact araucarias that had lost most of their lower branches.

Lago Pato was small and not very pretty, but around it were a large number of araucaria trees in all sizes. By now it was getting on for 2 pm and we weren’t sure of how far it was to Lago Huerquehue, or how much longer the loop trail was supposed to be, or how many more lakes we were supposed to pass on it. Our memories of the ranger’s “talk” were hazy and didn’t agree with each other, and we hadn’t brought our guidebook, which contained a map of the trail. So we decided to turn around and go back down the way we had come up.

The trip down was quite speedy, so we arrived at the bottom of the hill in plenty of time. We stopped to photograph the single arrayán tree we had seen; the arrayán it a deciduous tree with white flowers and bright orange bark. Near Bariloche there is an entire national park dedicated to this tree, and we rather regretted not having visited it. Then we stopped at one of the little restaurants and had coffee and tea and a kuchen. (Kuchen is a common menu item in this part of Chile because it was originally settled by German immigrants.) The kuchen was good.

Walking back to the start of the trail, we followed the little nature trail that paralleled the road. The interpretive signs were in Spanish but we could generally make out what they were talking about. It went through the bushy woods next to the lake, and unlike the bigger upland woods it contained a lot of small arrayán trees, so many in fact that the park had used them to make handrails and posts.

By now the skies were overcast and hinting of rain. The bus trip back to Pucón was just as crowded, but we got on the express bus to Villarrica (which we probably shouldn’t have, for the price we paid). The first thing we did at the hostel was to have showers, and then we went out to the supermarket and the local fruit and vegetable shop to buy some dinner materials. We got a box of strawberry juice, which really tasted like strawberry juice, and some vegetables to make into spaghetti sauce. We thought of buying corn on the cob but couldn’t find any that looked good.

Back at the hostel we duly made dinner—pasta with tomato sauce and fried vegetables, very good. We chatted to a South African couple for a while; it turned out that they had been at El Chaltén at about the same time as us, and they had met the same group of South Africans we had met there. After cleaning up the dishes we wrote our diaries and headed to bed. Tomorrow we could sleep in if we wanted to!

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