Up at 5 am so we could walk to the bus terminal to catch our 6 am bus to Villarrica. The streets were dark and quiet as we hurried toward the terminal. We arrived with plenty of time to spare but our bus didn’t show up until after 6 am, which made us a little nervous. Leaving San Martín de los Andes there were only a few people on the bus, but as it travelled to Junín de los Andes it gradually became fuller.
The bus sat in Junín for nearly 40 minutes while the bus company made up a passenger manifest for the customs authorities, and the sun had risen by the time we got under way. The bus followed the dirt road up through dry country towards the Paso Tromen. Volcán Lanín showed up soon, a grey and white cone, but we couldn’t see it well because we were on the wrong side of the bus, and the people on the correct side were asleep with their curtains closed.
Then suddenly there was a small cluster of araucarias, and then more, and then we were going through a solid forest of them. These were the first wild monkey-puzzle trees we had seen; the earlier ones had all been ornamental.
In the cavernous Argentinian immigration hall the officer called us each by name (our name is almost unpronounceable in Spanish) and did something on his manual typewriter for each of us. Then we went down the pass and did a more standard lining-up procedure for Chilean customs and immigration.
The Chilean side of the pass was quite different from the Argentinian side. The forest was much greener, and denser, and varied, but there were no araucarias to be seen there. Coming down the valley into Pucón we passed a lot of small farms and sawmills, and then a lot of new properties that looked like summer homes. In Pucón a lot of passengers got off the bus, and then the rest of us continued on to Villarrica, passing more of those summer-home places all along the shore of Lago Villarrica.
Unlike most of the other volcanoes here, Volcán Villarrica is still active, and we could see puffs of smoke coming out of it. Climbing it is still a popular tour from Pucón, although they advise you to be cautious when looking down into the crater and they do provide gas masks.
Arriving at the bus terminal in Villarrica, we found we were quite close to the place where we hoped to stay, a hostel named La Torre Suiza. We had e-mailed them from San Martín to say we were coming, and they did have a room available, a double room with a view directly towards the volcano. We wouldn’t need to go anywhere to see sunrise or sunset views of it.
After depositing our bags in the room, we went out to buy some groceries, then came back to have lunch (at about 3 pm.) Then we went out to explore the town, which is quite small. Our first stop was the Mapuche artisan market. We looked at several stalls, and at one of them we saw a traditional woven wool tapestry that caught our eye. The woman did a good job of selling it to us, at first asking 70000 pesos for it but then suggesting a “discount” and settling for 55000 pesos. It was a strange sale, with Rosemary negotiating in English and Paul translating and negotiating at the same time, mostly on our side. We had to visit the ATM to pay for this, and when we came back to pick up the rug we paid the woman and took her photograph. The rug weighs a ton; it’s a good thing we are going home soon.
We had been warned that we might have to book early to get a bus to Puerto Montt, so we decided to get that done sooner rather than later. It turned out that travelling on February 29 was no problem, and we had our pick of five or six trips on that day. So we chose one that would leave Villarrica at 8:55 am and arrive at Puerto Montt around 2 pm, in plenty of time to get the plane home.
On the way back to the hostel we stopped at the supermarket to buy something more to drink, and also bought a red pepper to go with our dinner. We had dinner at the more reasonable (for us) hour of 7 pm, spaghetti with tomato sauce and red peppers, tomatoes, and ham. Dessert was buns with raspberry jam. While having dinner we spoke with a guy from Los Angeles who had been at Parque Nacional Huerquehue, so he gave us the details on where and when to get the buses to go there. This was helpful information as we were planning to go there tomorrow.
After dinner we rinsed out some clothes, and then went out to the store to get some fruit and cookies to take with us on the hike. Finishing off our diaries we got to bed by 10 pm, as we had to get up fairly early to catch the bus to Huerquehue.