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We arrived at Pucon about 9am, checked in, and set about organising a 3 day hike in the Villarica National park in record time.  The national park office was shut so minor details such as a good map, hiking time estimates and information on water sources or nearby civilisation fell by the wayside. Luckily the supermarket was still open so we were able to throw together our staple camping menu.

Pucon is a pleasant little touristy town that owes much of its fame to the volcano that towers over it. Every second shopfront seemed to be a tourist agency offering hikes to the top of the Volcano. It looked cool but expensive and as there are many more grandiose volcanoes on the continent we decided to pass. Despite the wonderful scenery in the national park, no public transport accessed it. This was clearly a conspiracy by the tour agencies which we cunningly tried to circumvent by negotiating with the neighbour of our hostel. He offered us a lift to the start of our hike (near the volcano) and a pick up from our end point (3 days into the middle of the park) for an exorbitant price. My Spanish negotiating skills were able to reduce this price about as much as Tony Abbot’s direct action plan will reduce carbon emissions.  Thus, we resorted to plan B; Wake up at 6:30am to negotiate a cheap ride to the volcano with the driver of a tour agency mini van and leave the return journey to dumb luck.

We were bathed in glorious sunshine as we set off on the first day of our hike. This took us on a long route around the smoking volcano during which we passed through many varied landscapes and took photos from every angle. Once again, we found ourselves in prime red woodpecker territory.  I have to admit, I was a little disappointed not to get the chance to redeem my spectacular photographic failure to capture the little bastard with clarity on the Torres del Paine hike. (actually we had decided if we saw another one that I would remain very sanguine and  still and Jacinta would take pictures for all she was worth.)  We also passed over jet black, red and blue volcanic rocks and through lush forests that sprawled towards the horizon in an excellent tilt at prehistoric imitation. (I am basing this on Jurassic park.)

Despite this diversity, we only came across one source of water during the day. (this is bad enough for normal people like me who don’t look after their health properly, but for an athlete such as Jacinta who is accustomed to drinking 5 litres a day it is unthinkable.) As evening neared, and I turned to Jacinta to suggest an unpalatable downgrade of our evening meal, we heard the blessed sound of running water.  We drank heartily and filled up our water bottles while contemplating the reality that, despite my usual brand of blind optimism, we had no chance of reaching the campsite before dark.  Luckily we found a flat campsite with pebbles rather than the surrounding sharp rocks that had beautiful views in all directions.

After enjoying the views at first light, we continued across the rocky landscape before dropping down into a lush valley. We reached a national parks office at 2pm. We hoped that we might be able to organise a lift out of there on the third afternoon by either negotiating with some people or using a phone. No people. No phone. No sign of life whatsoever.  There was a long dirt road nearby but we had no idea if anyone lived along it or whether it just accessed the national park office. We were faced with two options: Continue hiking to the next town (3 more days) or backtrack two days across the same territory. The weather was set to turn ugly and we didn’t really have enough food to make it to the next town, so we took the sensible (but very depressing) option of turning back. Miraculously, after trudging for a sombre 10 minutes, we saw only our second person since setting out. She was a vibrant, organised and well researched Italian who assured us that the long dirt road led to a Hot Springs about 3 hours away which was apparently populated at this time of year. We promptly abandoned our ideas of a third day’s hike and aimed to make it to the Hot Springs where we could arrange a lift out the next day. As fate would have it, a car passed us within 2 hours and we found ourselves in the back of a ute headed back to Pucon just before sundown. Suddenly, were saved from 2 days of backtracking and from the high prices of private transport;  Dumb luck had prevailed after all.

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