Pucon was a bit of a mixed bag.  We had pretty high expectations based on conversations with other travelers; this can be a little bit dangerous… We arrived in a downpour, after crossing the boarder with Argentina in a snow storm.  Our hostel was full, even though I thought I had communicated with the hostel owner and secured a room (at a discount no less).  Then we were recommended the sister hostel, which sounded like a great deal since it had also been recommended by a friend.  It turned out to be crowded, messy, and overpriced…

Volcan Villarica from Pucon, right outside our hostel (I guess this was one good perk from staying there…)

Pucon is the “adventure sports capitol” of Chile.  The Kiwi hostel owner excitedly described all kinds of extreme activities available to us.  There was rafting, zip-lining, body-boarding down a river (called Hydrospeed, where a guide would run the river backwards with a GoPro and provide your own personal DVD), horseback riding, and the most popular, climbing Volcan Villarica.  The cost for each of these hovered around $60-80 USD, which we were told was a great deal… Hopefully I’m sounding unimpressed with all of this.  Tours are great, don’t get me wrong, but with limited funds we are hyper aware of the real value of some of these activities.

Sheena with our new Swedish friends, Erik and Lisa, and Cameron (from London). We didn’t really expect snow on this hike!

In the end, we decided to hike the volcano because it seemed like the thing to do.  Then we spent the following day doing a low-cost day hike, staring at the Volcano (and two others) on a beautiful day, and deciding that we actually didn’t care about mountaineering and backed out of the volcano summit attempt… I guess it’s really easy to get caught up with these things, especially when 75% of the other travelers are doing it.  It’s also nice to remember that we have volcanoes in Washington (taller ones, like Mt. Adams), that are low-cost, or even free to climb.

A day hike in El Cañi Park. Sheena looks at the araucaria araucana trees (Monkey Puzzle). This is nearly the only place in the world these trees grow in a forest.

Three volcanoes! The one on the right is Volcan Villarica. The one on the left is Volcan Lanín, which is in Argentina.

More monkey puzzle trees!

On our third, and last day in Pucon, we took a bus out to some thermal hot springs.  What a great way to recover from a 7 hour hike!  I swear, if I lived in Pucon, I would be there almost every week.  We’ve been traveling with a Swedish couple for the last 4 days, and it was nice to spend a day doing nothing more than sitting in hot pools, eating, and talking.


san carlos de bariloche

While in El Bolsón we found ourselves really missing this relaxed, small hostel in Bariloche.  So we decided to take the owner up on his offer and come back for a week to volunteer!  It has been passing by in a blur.  Bariloche is a great city in a fantastic location.  There are lot of treks to do nearby, and until today, the weather has been perfect.  The environment in the hostel is really laid back, and the shifts are easy.  Our fellow volunteers are fun people.  It’s the kind of place that has the potential to trap a traveler…

Sheena checks out Lago Nahuel Huapi from Cerro Otto


Tronador (3,470 m), from Cerro Catedral


Siloah on top of Cerro Catedral


We have watched way too many X-men movies here… Did you know there are 6?!


Jordan works the morning shift.  It looks pretty tough, right?

Filling in the cracks

Craig’s been doing an excellent job of updating the blog with pertinent information, so I’m just going to give some extra details in this post.

I was very sad to leave Frutillar… mostly because we had to part with our new volunteer friends, who were so amazing! I really hope to see them again someday, if not on this trip, then in France or Australia… or wherever!

Our hostel in El Bolsón (La Casona de Odile) was really nice, except for the fact that it was 7km from town. You either had to take an unreliable, slow, and infrequent bus (3 pesos) or a taxi (30 pesos) to town. Guess which one we decided was the better option? Click here or in the sidebar to see my Instagram pictures (my username is @hopsee) and find out!

View from our hike on the first day after a very steep climb. I was almost too tired to appreciate it.

We enjoyed some great weather for hiking the first day to Refugio Hielo Azul… it was nice to feel warm on a hike again after our cold cold days in Southern Patagonia. I only needed to wear one layer! What a welcome change.

A fun little basket to send stuff across the Rio Azul. Presumably it mostly carries orphaned babies who are actually princesses and will be raised by either forest animals or fairies.

Packhorses on the trail. Better get out of the way!

This reminded me of Scotland, without the billions of sheep.

When we got to the refugio, the sun was out and it was still warm, so we felt a bit guilty about not bringing our tent and camping like “real backpackers”. There were also hot showers (which we took advantage of… sorry for being wussies) and flush toilets! I think I could get used to this glamping after all… Forget that feeling of accomplishment, ruggedness, and dirtiness… I think I’d rather be clean and warm!

Cordero (lamb) slow-roasting in front of the fire. I wanted to try it, and I'm sure the people cooking it would have let me, but it took about SEVEN hours to cook! So I was asleep by the time it was done.

Cordero (lamb) slow-roasting in front of the fire. I wanted to try it, and I’m sure the people cooking it would have let me, but it took about SEVEN hours to cook! So I was asleep by the time it was done. Also, those are its kidneys. I asked.

The downsides to the refugio’s sleeping porch, however, was that the mattresses were all side-by-side and not very thick (see instagram), and the loudest snorer always placed himself RIGHT NEXT TO ME. I think there must be a special place in hell reserved for snorers who choose to sleep in public places when there’s an alternative… like freezing in a tent… or missing out on beautiful scenery. I’m pretty sure snorers shouldn’t get the same sleeping rights as non-snorers. I also maybe need to get better earplugs for myself…

Our first refugio had an emergency slide in case of fire. A scary thought, especially since it was so hot and dry with two wood stoves going. An even scarier thought was that our next refugio had no slide…

The hike the next day was also fairly difficult… extremely steep uphill and downhill both. Craig and I got pretty tired and frustrated with the constant little slips going down. (We must be getting soft with all this glamping and not sleeping in a tent.) We finally made it to Refugio El Retamal, a 40 minute steep (South Americans have never heard of switchbacks, apparently) hike up from Refugio Cajon de Azul, which was this huge compound/farm/garden… we were happy to skip this for the more laid-back, less-crowded Retamal (even though it also harbored a loud snorer… they’re following me, I swear).

Craig crossing a mini-bridge.

We met a fun French couple at El Retamal, Pierre and Marie (whom he called “Mary” when speaking English… so funny!). They went halvesies with us on a bottle of wine and some delicious pan casero (homemade bread). They also introduced me to a cream-cheese-like product with the brand-name of Finlandia. On the package, it’s described as queso procesado. Yum!

This cute little mini-Kisa followed me for awhile on the trail between the two refugios, but I wasn't sure which she belonged to so I tried not to encourage her in any direction. I hope she's still okay...

This cute little mini-Kisa followed me for awhile on the trail between the two refugios, but I wasn’t sure which she belonged to so I tried not to encourage her in any direction. I hope she’s still okay… we didn’t see her the next day.

Our last day, we walked past the beautiful Cajon de Azul, which was wonderfully lit with morning light. It was a relatively easy walk back to the trailhead, where we called for a cab to share back to town with the Frenchies. Like most people we’ve met here, they were incredibly friendly and we became email friends and exchanged blog addresses. We’ve friended dozens of people on Facebook, gotten loads of email addresses, phone numbers… it’s a common theme for everybody to be very friendly and giving.

I can take pretty pictures, too! Take that, Craig!

On the other hand, there’s also always one American nay-sayer. We end up defending the U.S. more often than you would think from a couple of hippie, liberal Seattleites. In truth, I think being Estado-unidense has incredible advantages. There’s a reason that my parents chose to emigrate to the U.S. and ended up becoming successful middle-classers. But you always meet somebody who claims that America is full of intolerant and ignorant people and sure, there are some, and sure, we have our problems, but doesn’t every country? And it’s kind of hard not to have an incredible spectrum of perspectives and beliefs in such a huge country. Give us a break, you tiny European countries! It’s not easy being green!

Craig relaxing on the sun porch of La Casona de Odile.

Craig relaxing on the sun porch of La Casona de Odile.

Spending a couple of nights at our hostel to regroup was wonderful. Going trekking is always such a difficult endeavor in regards to packing… We have to take everything out of our packs, repack it with trekking stuff, separate out everything else to store at the hostel, and then redo everything over again when we get back from the trek. Such a pain! But we wanted to go trekking during our travels, so you have to make sacrifices for it.

How many Americans does it take to change a spare tire?

Ruben (the owner of our work-exchange hostel) sprung a flat as soon as we arrived. How many Americans does it take to change a spare tire?

We’re now having a great time at another work-exchange in Bariloche. The weather’s been beautiful and warm, although the leaves are changing color and reminding us that we’ll need to be heading north soon to follow the sun. But it’s a great, laid-back, and small hostel where we can spend a week, have a lot of laughs with the owner and the other volunteers, and “save” some more money. I’m currently hanging out with a spastic (but cute) cat on the sofa, about to begin the second leg of an X-Men movie marathon (not our idea), after only doing a few hours of work this morning. We also had time to take a hike to a local mirador (lookout) and jump in the hostel’s pool afterwards! Seven weeks into our trip, and life is good.

el bolsón, argentina

I just finished up a yoga session… haha, it didn’t go too well!  Something to do with me being inflexible, or maybe that I just got back from a three-day hike…  I’m writing from El Bolsón in the Argentinian lakes region, about two hours south of Bariloche, and six hours east of Frutillar, Chile.  This place attracted a ton of hippies in the 70’s,  so it’s appropriate that our hostel has free yoga and homemade beer & bread.

lenga forest

Sheena and I arrived four days ago, spending one night in town to gear up for our trek.  We did a pretty short hike (~35 km) in the mountains just outside of town, staying two nights in refugios.  I know what you’re thinking, didn’t I talk a lot of crap about people who stay in refugios??  Well, my lame excuse is that it’s about 32 deg F at night around here now… and the refugios were meant to be mostly empty, so we thought it was a good way to keep backpacking.

on the way up to Refugio Hielo Azul

On our first day we met an Argentinian couple from Buenos Aires.  After talking with them for about 3 minutes, they offered us a place to stay when we visit.  Then we found out they are acrobats in the circus!  (maybe these two things have something in common…) They were heading to the same refugio for a birthday party for one of the guys running the place.  Their friends were riding up with a lamb for the BBQ.  So much for our quiet evening.. but we made friends while they grilled and we ate pasta.  We were offered lots of Fernet & Cola, and wine.  And the refugio was HOT!  Two wood burning stoves transformed the sleeping area (upstairs) into a sauna.  I slept without a shirt, on top of my sleeping bag.

Refugio Hielo Azul

near the Cajon de Azul