We left Santiago in an overnight train to Temuco with our own carriage attendant giving us free blankets, pillows, water and sandwiches (all included in the ticket price, but I like to think I am getting free extras). We arrived pasty and crinkled in grey and dirty Temuco. The decision was made to catch the next bus out to Pucon; a pretty tourist village nestled between mountains and lakes.
Once in Pucon we wandered along the street heading to Hospedaje Donde German when the owner, German, (pronounced Herman) rode up on his bike, long blonde hair blowing in the breeze and a huge smile on his face. We paid too much for a room out of our meager budget, but it had a double bed, an ensuite and, most importantly, nice linen.
The travellers who passed through while we were there were all gringos from Germany, Australia, Sweden, New Zealand, etc. We met a couple of Aussie teachers who had taken deferred pay, for four years; they receive 80% of their wages. In the fifth year, they take leave for 12 months, with accrued pay. I was tempted to become a teacher, but then I considered the adverse effects on the poor kids. (“Anyone here got a ciggy?”)
We decided not to venture up the nearby volcano after a few hours of debate (Shall we? Do you want to? An endless feature of our travels and only likely to get worse). We did rent a couple of mountain bikes, though, and managed to accomplish a 40-kilometre-ride (mainly uphill) to another lake nearby. Thanks to the Italian riders, who passed us three kilometres from our destination as we lay panting on the side of the road, for telling us we were nearly there.
Our only other energetic adventure in Pucon (we spent a lot of time eating and drinking) was an attempted walk to the Salto Claro waterfall, which was only supposed to be about five kilometres. It was flat for about two kilometres, then rose steeply upwards. We eventually made it to the top only to be told by a local farmer that we had taken the wrong road and needed to go back. Off we stumbled down the hill, silently.
After a few more wrong turns and dead ends, we lost our tempers and starting slapping each other with our dusty shoes. We gave up and went back to town. As soon as we arrived, German knew things did not go well and asked what happened. Apparently, we were about 10 metres past the waterfall track when we encountered the farmer and misinterpreted his advice, which is surprising considering our in-depth knowledge of the Spanish language (muchos mas cervezas por favour).
We visited a couple of hot springs near Pucon. One advertised mud baths which I imagined being a luxurious salon style mud in a choice of pastel green or blue, bubbling away in a mosaic covered bath with classical music playing in the background. The reality was, as it normally is, not so pretty. It was basically an outdoor channel with wooden ladders sunk into a stinky brown hole. I managed to tolerate about five minutes standing up to my waist in the muck, but Carlos wallowed in there for ages, covering his face and body with the brown goo. I suspect it is really a gringo joke and that the mud bath is basically the run off from the local pig sty, however, Carlos seemed to enjoy it. (Three showers later I still had the stench of mud wafting from my pores.)
We attempted a cultural study of sorts one night, buying five different beers, and planned to rate them accordingly. Unfortunately, the written review only covers up to the third brand with the astute observation of muy bien.
After five nights in Pucon, drinking way too much, and trying to translate Aussie jokes into Spanish for German, una caballa entrar una pub, el mar hombre hablar por que el largo cara, a pun that doesn’t really work in Spanish and only elicits polite smiles, if you are lucky), we finally jumped on a bus heading south. Our plans for opening a wicked vegetarian restaurant and living a brawny mountain life in Pucon slowly turned into cerveza coloured dreams.