The most famous volcano in Chile is Volcan Villarrica, it is also the most active volcano, with a plume coming up from the crater, pretty much constantly. We first saw this one from the plane, and instantly decided that we needed to come by here and try to summit it, like the other 50-60 000 summiting each year (according to our guide; Lonely Planet). So, done with the Carretera Austral, we headed a bit eastwards from route 5, into Pucon. We had read that the climb up to the summit would be on snow, so we were kind of surprised to see how small the ice field was (a very warm summer?) and started dreading walking on scree and loose gravel, instead of compacted snow and ice (which should be relatively more easy).
Turns out, Volcan Villarrica was a bit too active; just 10 days earlier there was a major eruption, effectively shutting down all activity at least until winter. And what we interpreted as “little snow”, was in fact ashes and tephra streams covering almost the entire volcano. So, definitely a disappointment, but decidedly a very spectacular one; it’s not often we have been thwarted by a volcano eruption, usually it’s something much more pedestrian, like forest fires or flashfloods in the desert (in Death Valley, an oxymoron for sure).
So, we returned to route 5, northbound. We are now headed for the more populated, and frankly, less interesting part of Chile. Oh, it’s still a nice view, with vineyards and the odd laguna here and there, but mostly it’s small towns and the four-lane high way. Poor Ramone gets uncomfortable with speeds exceeding 100 kmph, but that’s ok, since its already quite precarious holding my camera out the window trying to “capture the atmosphere” without the wind snatching it out of my hand.
Although Chile has some very old cities and settlements, we haven’t felt inspired to make any stops at the larger cities along the way. Architecture-wise, it seems fairly rundown, even if they paint the, for lack of a better word, shacks, in the color palette of “My little pony”. Eventually route 5 left the flat inlands (which were also too warm for my liking; I don’t do well with temperatures over 22 C) and veered off to the coast. Now we’re talking! Beaches, cliffs, volcanic rock, martian like landscapes (well, sans the fierce Pacific Ocean of course).
We did stop at Valparaiso, just for a quick soaking of the atmosphere, and a trip with the ancient ascensor (1890-ish). Well, strictly speaking, after asking google about parking in Valparaiso, we ended up at the municipal, staffed, parking next to the Vina del Mar metro stop. We felt pretty safe with leaving our car there, and the some 15 minutes with the metro was really very scenic, with the tracks hugging the coastline, with a plentitude of beaches and rustic piers. And we agree, Valparaiso was definitely worth a visit, with it’s steep hills, stairways, ascensors, and the colors! The city is apparently infested with art students, who have made it a mission of leaving no wall unpainted. I’m pretty sure we only saw a tiny, tiny fraction, but what we saw, we liked.
But, urbanites, we are not. So, back to Ramone again, and route 5. we had been looking forward to arriving at the coast, with the idea that there would be ample opportunities of camping along beaches. We were not mistaken. One spot is nicer than the next, and it’s only the arriving dusk and nightfall that forces us to finally make a choice and park.