On Thursday night, after a long day of school, I went to bed with a mind full of excitement and anticipation for the morning and the weekend to come. When my alarm sounded at 3:30am, I nearly snoozed it and rolled over before remembering that that wasn't an option because I had to be out the door in a few minutes, on the way to the airport and onto a plane to Temuco. As we drove from one house to another picking up everyone else, we found the little energy we had and tried to express our enthusiasm the best we could.
A two hour car ride, hour and a half flight (on which we met the CIEE university students from Santiago!), and another two hour car ride later, we pulled into the driveway of a quaint hotel just outside the center of the town. After breakfast, we got into the car again and traveled to the famous Termas Geométricas, the Geometric Hot Springs. I must admit, my expectations from what I'd heard from my friends at school were pretty high, but even they were exceeded. Walking past the patio, clouds of steam rose before our eyes, up through the trees. A red walkway reached through the cavity in the mountain, lined with pools and leading to a waterfall.
We spent a couple of hours enjoying the water. Those of us who were brave enough bathed in the 6°C (43°F) water in between the hot baths, but I personally tested the water and decided that the toe curling cold wasn't for me. The heat of the water and the atmosphere of the hot springs were extremely enjoyable and relaxing, especially after a day of travel and the cold weather.
We had a meal at the hot springs restaurant before heading back to the hotel. By the time we got back, everyone was exhausted and happy to take advantage of our free time to rest. After dinner, we sat around in the common area of the hotel and shared stories, fears, dreams, life philosophies and anything else that came to mind. Moments after my head hit my pillow, I was fast asleep.
The next morning, we woke up ready for another day of adventure!
We ate breakfast at the hotel and were loaded onto a bus and drove northeast to the beautiful Huerquehue National Park, picking up pack lunches on the way. Upon our arrival we met our guide, Jose Luis, who would be hiking with us that day. We set off from the park's main entrance at 9am and were soon met by a chilly rain as we exited and reentered the park, passing by a wooden hut store selling hot chocolate and snacks and a few farm buildings and animals. As we climbed the mountain that led to the intersection of Lago Chico and Lago el Toro, we passed breathtaking views and worked our way up slippery wooden stepss and mud trails. We sang songs and definitely made enough noise to kill our chances of seeing any wildlife. As we walked, Jose Luis taught us about many fascinating co-dependent species in the area, like the a vine that climbs trees until it reaches the top and feels the sunlight, and then bends over a branch and climbs back down until it reaches the roots and can plant more seeds.
Amy had been saying from the beginning of the day that she wanted to go swimming in one of the lakes, and given the freezing rain and the fact that we were all bundled up, we didn't think she was serious until she was ready to get into her swimsuit at the edge of the water once we reached Lago el Toro, which was quickly rejected by Maria Paz and Camila.
By the time we got back to the park entrance and were picked up to go back to the hotel, everyone was exhausted. As soon as we were back, everyone jumped into warm showers and then we got ready to walk around the main area of Pucón!
Lined with coffee shops, fishing stores, tourism agencies, and souvenir shops, the main street in Pucón was bustling with Saturday night tourists. We walked down to Lago Villarica, and could just barely see the outline of the Villarica volcano through the fog as we stood on the black sand beach. Bella and I explored an artesenal market while Max went into a fishing store and we all found our own place around the town, before having dinner all together at Bovinos. That night, those of us who were brave enough changed into swimsuits and went out to the hotel's pool, which we believed to be heated. The water was much colder than we expected and while Melody, Max and Amy shivered in the water the rest of us shivered outside. After bundling up in layers, we made a makeshift tripod by taping a phone to the wall and had fun remaking a Bohemian Rhapsody video in a hotel room shower, and laughed far too much.
On Sunday morning, we took advantage of knowing that breakfast wasn't going to be ready on time as we'd learned the day before after waiting around for almost an hour, and took the opportunity to sleep in an extra half hour or so. After packing our bags, we were off again to the center of Pucón, where we started our bike tour. The sky threatened us with rain but it didn't stop us from being excited. The tour took us through the town and up a slippery cobblestone road to the Santa Clara Monastery which looked over all of Pucón and Lago Villarica.
From there, we rode around Lago Villarica and along the beach, which is when we pulled up our hoods over our helmets as the rain started to hit us, and then through the Pasarela de Quelhue, a beautiful trail through the forest just outside Pucón, where we tried to avoid our tires slipping, and where Max got scared half to death as he turned a corner and found a bull staring him in the face... or rather on the side of the trail, not about to do anyone any harm.
At the end of the bike tour, we stopped at a beautiful little store where a man makes incredibly intricate flowers out of wood. We'd passed and noticed the store on the way from the airport on our first day, and I'm sure I'm not the only one who was deceived and thought they were real flowers.
After a snack and a hot drink at a cafe called La Fabrika where we tried excellent pie de limón, tiramisu in a jar and carrot cake, we were on our way to the airport, tired but so so happy. Over our three-day weekend getaway we bonded, laughed, ate both good and mediocre food, did enough physical activity that we used it as an excuse to skip a few gym days, and made unforgettable memories. I'm incredibly grateful we were able to go on the trip and I'm ready to have more adventures with our CIEE group over our next two months in Chile together!