Pucon. So this our second work away at the award winning Chilikiwi Lakefront hostel. Fortunately we weren’t aware of the whole award winning bit until the night before else there may have been some serious reconsiderations. Like to think of me and Steve as comfortably not award winning… Anywho we arrive at this crazy little hippy style hostel and meet our future family.
First we meet Jono, on his morning hunt for a cigarette. Well I say we meet Jono, we actually meet Jono’s beard. This maverick Australian and his beautiful voluminous beard (I think I braided it at some point) welcome us and instantly pass us to someone who looks responsible. And this person is Gerrit. Gerrit is a handsome man from Beligum, who Ste was sure stole his eyes from a wolf. Next is his pint sized beauty of a Swedish meatball Sabina. Then there is David, the truly charming, multi-lingual Swiss with equally fabulous facial flair. The bearded brothers Jono and David’s where living Chile’s finest bromance. Finally and by no means least, I mean how could she possibly be, is Madison. Madison has a presence of nothing I have previously had the pleasure to experience. Both energy and volume of a pack of puppies on amphetamines, you can’t help but smile as you question the safety of your eardrums.
We were put task straight away, working the cover shift (basically keeping the hostel looking fab whilst chatting to all the worldy and wonderful guests) and working the bar (basically trying to count whilst drunk). How lucky we were to have found ourselves staying for free at this tree house, hobbit-hut paradise, and if we weren’t spoilt enough already, we also go all the excursions thrown in.
Number one was horse riding. Now maybe it’s his height or maybe just his loose cannon demeanour, but Ste has a real thing about horses. Me, not so much, but Ste would quite happily run a horse off the side of a mountain. Oddly enough the lovely German girls who ran the horse riding appeared to have a side talent in match-making. Ste’s little grey horse named Moro was as mental as him. Whilst my horse jolsted with the other mare for the affections of the aptly named stallion Casanova, Moro and Ste were hell bent in just galloping anywhere and everywhere. A true Gringo gaucho we climbed the mountain taking in views of the volcano Villarrica, stopping at waterfalls and trotting through the forest. A normal tourist price of 30,000 pesos (around £38 for three hours) this tour I would have happily paid for ourselves.
The next day was canyoning. Here I was to meet my next hero. Ralph. An Austrian teacher who was on a career break and travelling South America. Ralph was a darling, and as we jumped and zip lined and slid our way down the river, Ralph’s boy like enthusiasm warmed me from heart to chilly hands. It was also hard not to fall slightly in love with the fiendishly handsome French man who ran the canyoning, with his subtle whit and humble charm, he casually reassured the nerves before throwing each of us of a cliff. Another 30,000 pesos for canyoning normally, it was a half day of river based madness, including post jump chocolates midstream.
Time flew by at ChiliKiwi, Jono was replaced by Marcus, the adorable crazy Danish carpenter, who also had an impressive beard despite only being 21. He added yet more hilarity with constant shouts of ‘Buena!’. The days were spent meeting a mixing with wonderful people and evenings on Maqui berry beer. Ste, ever the entrepreneur, started to feel there was money to be made. The hostel at present did not officially serve food, and thanks to a drunken tipping competition with the beautiful Norwegian couple Linn and Stig, an idea was born.
Lairy off a few too many lagers, the guys v gals tipping competition was in full force and I threw Ste under the bus saying it we made over 30,000 in tips he would make all the staff, plus our two adopted Norwegians, burgers. (In total we made 33,000 which is around £41 and we definitely still owe Linn and Stig a few beers for their efforts). So Ste whipped up his culinary treat, burgers based on The Meat Counter in Falmouth. While we were students there Ste had an almost vendetta against the place. This were without a doubt his favourite burger and so he became a man on a patty mission to replicate them. After a few hundred attempts the guy nailed it, and with some tweaks he now has the recipe for the burger of dreams.
Following the success of the staff burgers, Ste took his opportunity to ask the hostel owners Peter and James if he could sell burgers out of the hostel bar. A nervous first day coaxing people to give them a try, turned into 3 weeks without a single sales pitch. With a record of 40 burgers sold in one night (3,000 pesos a burger which is around £3.75), the burgers became self-selling and sold us a tidy £700 profit. Always knew he was a keeper.
Burger making by day and beer pouring by night the adventure continued and our next excursion loomed. Climbing the volcano Villarrica. Villarrica is the most active volcano in Chile. On clear nights you can sometimes see an orange glow of lava above the summit. In the last week before our climb Villarrica was grumbling and two groups had had mini spurts of lava, showering the climbers in little rocks. As a childhood geologist I was somewhat excited.
The catch with the free excursions was that we had to be ready for wherever the opportunity came that there was a space for staff. Unfortunately I had decided to come down with a bout of hostel flu, probably the worst illness I had had for a few years. After a few days of ‘will we, won’t we’ , I was working pub quiz night on the bar with a raging headache and a very old frog wedged in the throat when Gerritt excitedly informed us we climbed in the morning. Bollocks.
Saturday morning and the alarm goes off at 5am. We pack our lunch and water into the rucksacks provided by the guides and head to the mini buses bound for the national park. There are two options for climbing Villarrica, you hike the first 800m of sand like lava dust or you pay 10,000 pesos (£12.50) for a 1960s chair lift. Seeing as we were getting the tour for free (normal price 75,000 pesos – just under £95) and myself being wrecked with cold, Ste was more than happy to play the ‘better look after my sick girlfriend card’ for all of 5 minutes and jump into the ski lift next to me. To be honest with you, the lift was worth every penny. With no safety bar you definitely got a little adrenaline kick as you looked over Pucon, the lake, and the thining clouds, watching the rising sun paint pastels across them. Off the lift and of course me with the bladder of a gnat, joined two other girls for a nature wee behind the lift house.
We began our climb, Pepper our guide leading ahead. The first initial climb was on a combination of gravely lava sand and bare rock. After an hour and half we reached the glacier. Ice picks in hand, we zig-zagged up the glacier, stomping feet to ensure grip, following one foot after the other. Due to a spell of good weather, a well trodden path meant there was no need for crampons. A clear day meant the higher we climbed, the more intense the sun became, and at every rest stop we reapplied our UV war paint. Finally at the fake summit, we ditched our kit bags and climbed for the final 20 minutes of bare rock with only gas mask, helmet and ice hack. Fortunately it’s low altitude (only 2,800m) meant no altitude affects, however the physical exertion with a head stuffed with cold I was beginning to feel incredibly weak. A pep talk from the wonderful pepper and I trudged up to the top. Once in the summit all thoughts of illness were instantly replaced with sheer joy and wonderment. For safety reasons you are supposed to stay at the summit for only 5 minutes and wear a gas mask. But our perfectly still conditions meant there was little gas pollution. We peered in seeing the vivid orange bubbling away, and listened to the natural roar of the dragons belly. It was simply awesome.
After another cheeky nature wee at the top – this time the boys got pee envy so all joined the volcano toilet gang – it was back down to the fake summit. We got suited in our thick jackets and tough trousers, and paddles ready we stepped out onto the glacier ready to side. Little half pipes had been carved out of the glacier and one after another we slid down, twisting and turning and rocketing out into the ice. My slight build reduced my speed so in the end a Brazilian guy gave me a push and as a team of two we shot down the volcano. Sliding over we bounced down the lava sand to the bottom. Back to the hostel and to celebratory beers, we were all buzzing from both experiencing the natural wonderment and just being full of endorphins. We had conquered our first Volcano.