A Travellerspoint blog

Cafe con Piernas

When in Chile, choose your Cafes carefully

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I should have just listened to Sam and went back to the Hotel instead of taking the detour on the way back. It was the group's last night together and the boys had the brilliant idea of checking out a Café con Piernas. We had tried to get into the same cafe earlier, but were promptly rejected because we were accompanied by females. This time we weren’t going to make that mistake, and the 4 of us headed in after we walked the females back to the hotel. I think the mistake this time was actually going in.

First let me explain what a Café con Piernas is. Chile had never really been a coffee drinking nation, up until a very innovative Chilean Barista came up with a surefire way of drumming up business for his Café. Marketing for dummies: Chapter 1 - Sex sells, and so the Barista came up with the simple idea of hiring curvaceous, short skirted, female baristas, thus getting it's name, Cafe with Legs. Obviously sales went up, at least in the male demographic. The idea caught on, and these cafes sprung up all over Chile ranging from moderate cafés with professionally, if somewhat shortly dressed female baristas, right up to the type we were about to enter ie basically a front for other services.

Feeling like I’d just eaten a greasy bucket of KFC

Now before you tie me up in your moral fibers, it’s not an establishment I would normally go to but when in Rome… As soon as I stepped into that room, I was eating those words. I should have left my Café Con Piernas experience with the pre-dinner visit to one of the moderate types. It was dark, smoky and because it was a Sunday night, I don’t think they had their best in show. I also want to put it on record that there was no nudity involved. There were just a dozen or so girls, sitting on a bench behind the bar dressed in short skirts, fishnets and a variety of 80’s and 90’s clothing. Thank god it was dark. We ordered our coffees (should have been to go) and quickly sipped, trying not to make eye-contact in case one of them got the wrong idea. Unlike other similar establishments I’ve been to (and again, not many), the girls didn’t seem all that interested in even making an effort to try and drum up some business even though we were the only ones in there. We were out of there within 10 minutes of arriving and feeling like I’d just eaten a greasy bucket of KFC without cleaning my hands afterwards. Luckily for me, I was too tired to have any Cafe with Legs nightmares.

Choose your Cafes carefully.

Note: The photo is of the 'moderate' cafe we went to before dinner (not actually taken by me). NOT the nightmare one later on that night

Posted by Al Jam 17:28 Archived in Chile Tagged tips_and_tricks Comments (0)

Santiago De Chile

A nice city to visit, but not too early.

overcast 19 °C

We were now growing accustomed to long bus rides. Unlike the roads on which they travel, the buses in South America are surprisingly modern and comfortable. I’m talking about the long-range, double-decker coaches, not the chicken buses you see in the movies.

The classes range from Semi-Cama to Full Cama Executive (Cama is Spanish for bed). Basically, they are classed in relation to how far the seats recline. Semi-Cama seats recline at 145 degrees which includes a leg rest. Full Cama is as you would expect a full horizontal bed. Within these classes are varying auxiliary services such free wine, ‘edible’ food etc. The only drawback to this is that on most services, especially overnight, you are not allowed off the bus at any stops. Toilet facilities and meals are provided, although it’s advisable to pack your own food to avoid the ‘Mystery Meat’ dinners.

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The 12 hour overnight coach from Pucon to Santiago was no different. I don’t remember much of it as we had a few to drink prior to our 8pm departure from Pucon. I basically crashed out, listening to Stephen Ambrose’s D-Day audiobook…or was it The Ricky Gervais Show? Before I knew it, I was waking up to a grey and foggy morning. I couldn’t tell through the fog if we were driving through a town let alone a city. After a while, it became obvious we were in Santiago. Foggy first impressions aside, we had arrived 2 hours early and it was only 7am in the morning. There was still the usual hustle and bustle found at any main Bus Station in South America. Making our way to our Hotel in taxis, the fog began to clear and revealed a city similar to Buenos Aires. We drove down the multi-lane main street of Santiago, lined with government buildings, shopping centers and historical buildings. Even at this early in the morning, I was expecting to see peak hour traffic and then I remembered it was Sunday.

A couple of times we were tempted by the McGolden Arches

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Chile, along with most of South America, is a predominantly Catholic country and so Sunday is a day of rest and prayer. Shops don’t open till late in the morning to allow the god fearing people of Chile to attend Church. I think most of us had forgotten this fact as we searched around the empty city centre for some breakfast and much needed coffee. It was a bit early for ‘Café con Piernas’ (that's another blog) and a couple of times we were tempted by the McGolden Arches. We finally came across a diner on the Plaza De Armas, Santiago’s main plaza. I had the biggest omlette ever which I’m sure consisted of over a dozen chicken or 4 ostrich eggs.

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Even though most of us had had a good night's sleep on the bus, we were all still quite tired and so some of us had a mid-morning siesta. We organized to meet up again just before noon to hopefully wake up to a more lively Santiago and fortunately we did. Santiago is one of those walking-cities with huge plazas, garden parks and pedestrian shopping malls. We decided to check out the Museo Histórico Nacional, which I had misread as Natural History Museum to my disappointment. But the National History Museum was still quite interesting, taking you through the various stages of South American civilization with art and artifacts which seem to resemble play dough figurines. Well worth a visit even after the somewhat deceiving “Free Entry on Sundays” advertised, whereby tourists were obligated to give a ‘compulsory donation’, an oxymoron if I’d ever seen one. I’m all for giving a donation, but just don’t take advantage of the fact that I am a visitor of your country. We then a wandered through the city as the residents busily prepared it for the coming Independence Day celebrations. We would miss it by a week but there was still a buzz in the air with the national flag being flown from buildings, shops, strollers and cars that would block the drivers view but hey, the driving couldn’t get much worse.

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The fog had not fully yet lifted and there was an ongoing debate amongst us on whether it was fog or pollution. Whatever it was, it blocked the famed Andes that surround Chile. The sun was trying to break through as we decided to check out Cerro Santa Lucia. This Cerro (Hill) was a kind of park/garden/lookout in the middle of the city, giving a 360 view of Santiago. It was a pleasant uphill walk with hanging gardens, old stone churches and fountains. On the way up, we witnessed frequent Public Displays of Affection (PDA), which was like stepping back to the 60’s free-love era. I had first noticed it on the bus ride, when a local couple couldn’t keep their hands off each other, but really didn’t make much of it. Maybe it was the coming Independence Day, or maybe something in the water. Finally making our way to the top, we were greeted with a great view of Santiago and could now see the snow tops of the Andes, peaking above the fog/smog. By this time, we were ready to head back to the hotel but not before stopping at the local shop for some bread, salami, empanadas and wine to take back to the hotel and enjoy.

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Some people were over the continuous wine and meat fests, but not me

For some of us, this would be our last night with the group, including Sam and I. We would be making our own way up to Peru and then back down to Patagonia via Iguazu Falls. We had our last supper in the University area of Santiago which was a brief stroll from our Hotel. The stroll was littered with more PDA’s, which was past the free-love era but bordering on bizarre. We decided on a Restaurant which served Chilean Paradilla. Some people were over the continuous wine and meat fests, but not me. When you come away with a variety of quality grilled meat and a bottle of wine for under $20, you’re always a winner.

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After dinner, we picked the dodgiest looking bar on the University strip. In my experience, dodgy uni bars are usually harmless in that they accommodate harmless university students who can’t afford the fancier bars. So here were 15 gringos, on our last night together, taking over a dark and cold uni bar which barely had 7 people in it, including staff. Pisco Sours were ordered along with ridiculously cheap beer and before we knew it, we were taking over the Jukebox. The owners must have loved us because we brought in more business. Probably the result of locals coming in to check out the spectacle unfolding, which included singing (loudly, if not badly), dancing and if I correctly recall, pole dancing?

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I only vaguely remember the walk home but it included swapping ‘Tales from the Toilet’ with Vicky and taking a detour to a Cafe Con Piernas with the boys. Luckily that detour didn't last long because we had a long daytrip to Valparaiso the next day.

Posted by Al Jam 18:57 Archived in Chile Tagged backpacking Comments (0)

South American Plumbing

A land the Romans forgot and where Señor Hankey 'La Poo Poo de Navidad' is King

sunny 20 °C
View South America on Al Jam's travel map.

Warning: The following contains toilet humour, but in an educational way.

Most people believe it was the Romans who invented plumbing circa 1000bc. Some say it was the Ancient Greeks 500 years before that but whomever it was, unfortunately they did not make it to this part of the world, South America.

You see, there are 2 rules in regards to using toilets in South America:

1. Always carry around your own personal roll of toilet paper
2. Never flush anything else, besides what comes out of your body, down the toilet *

I would also like to add another rule to this. Well maybe not a rule, but a word of advice. If possible, don't make it known that you are going to the toilet or allow yourself to be seen by friends to go into a particular cubicle. I'll get to the reason for that shortly.

As most of you who have travelled, you'll know that meeting new people whether it be with a tour group, hostel or bar, it always starts with the holy trinity of conversation starters - "Where are you 1. From, 2. Been, 3. Going?". This is usually followed up by interesting small talk and if you're unlucky, absolute dribble. One thing is for certain, and this may be just in my case, the conversation degrades to "Who is the hottest celebrity?", most drunken stories and eventually Toilet Humour. Taking Argentina as an example, the country has a staple diet of bread, steak and vast quantities of wine. Mix this in with the 2 rules of the toilet and sometimes the conversation naturlly jumps straight to Toilet Humour. Add to this the copious amounts of alcohol that usually accompany these conversation and hours of G rated family fun is had.

You start to panic and you press yourself up against the corner of the cubicle on tip toe

I won't go into specifics but throughout the bars, restaurants, hostels and bus rides in South America, fellow travelers are swapping Tales from the Toilet. Stories of people entering the toilet without paper, only to be left with no option but to use their socks. I heard another being locked into the cubicle and having to crawl out the window into another person's yard as claustrophobia set in. There are plenty of other gruesome stories but those are non-printable and editing would do them no justice.

Perhaps the most common tale is to hear the unmistakable curses of realizing, only after they've flushed, that they had put paper down the toilet. "OH SHIT! (Pun intended) Not again!" is the scream as you flush. You look down and start praying to god that if the water recedes, you'll promise to never do it again and donate all your earnings to charity. As the toilet water steadily rises, right up near the lip of the bowl you start to panic and you press yourself up against the corner of the cubicle on tip toe. Not sure whether you should exit and flee or face the seeds you sow, the toilet Gods answer your call and this time you are lucky. The water and all that it has come to wash away, quickly recedes for the unfortunate chicos who have to clean up your mess way down at the sewerage treatment plant. Yes, as you have probably just realized, this has happened to me.

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Another one is of the uninvited visit of Señor Hankey 'La Poo Poo de Navidad'. For all you South Park fans, he is better known as Mr Hankey, the Christmas Poo, but there's nothing Christmassy about him. He was christened that name after making his first appearance in Pucon (Pronounced Poo-kon. Last one, I promise). I won't mention any names but someone had left a Christmas present in the shared toiled of the house. It stayed there for 2 full days after numerous attempts to flush, negotiate with, poke it down to Plumbing Purgatory, to aimlessly wander the sewers of Chile until judgment day. The daily diet of wine, red meat, bread and dolce de leche (thick, sweet, caremel like spread) was starting to take affect and through it, the Senor Hankeys were building up their immunity to flushing. It did, however make for great comedy material and hours of laughter.

So you can see why you should never make it publicly known when going to the bathroom in South America. It would make it too easy to be fingered in a line up as the culprit who invited Senor Hankey or who with a toilet bowl, created a scale model of Iguazu Falls after tree logging. Picture it, you know you want to.

* The plumbing in most South American countries are not efficient enough to handle toilet paper. Some exception to this are newer modern buildings and Modern Hotels. Rule of thumb is if you see a bin next to the toilet, throw the paper in the bin

Posted by Al Jam 13:48 Archived in Chile Tagged tips_and_tricks Comments (1)

Owning Volcán Villarrica

"Don't Climb it, own it" - The story of broken dreams, determination, human endurance and triumph.

sunny 13 °C

Well not really...But it was one bloody hard climb!

Introductions

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They assured us that we just needed to be fit and have no major health problems

I'm not sure if any of us were prepared for what was ahead of us when we signed up to climbing the Villarrica Volcano. Perfectly shaped, it overlooks the small town of Pucon at 9,340 feet. It is also known as Rucapillán, a Mapuche word meaning "House of the Pillán"...and of course translated to "House of Pain" for those who climb it. It is one of Chile's most active volcanoes and its last major eruption was in 1971 where it destroyed the Ski resort on the foothills of the Volcano.

Our guides came around the night before the climb to fit us out with our boots, crampons, backpacks and clothes. Holding the ice axe made it complete. The atmosphere was full of light-hearted banter as we tried to gauge from the guides how hard the climb would be. They assured us that we just needed to be fit and have no major health problems and it would only take around 4-6 hours. Satisfied with that, we proceeded to drink more wine and get a good night's rest

The Approach

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The following morning was filled with activity and nervous energy. Everyone had their game faces on, tempered with more light hearted banter and general crap talk. It was an early start and we were away by 7am, making our way by bus to the foot of the volcano.

As we drew near, catching glimpses of the volcano in the early morning sun through the trees, the Volcano seemed to grow. It continued to grow right up until we arrived at base camp where we all jumped out of the bus. I'm sure most of us were thinking "What's the cancellation policy on this activity?". Not me, I had been looking forward to this since the start of the trip. I had never climbed a mountain and have never really been affected by altitude sickness. This ignorance on my part probably helped.

Every journey starts with one step

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I was already sweating after an hour of 'strolling'

After final adjustments of our equipment and quick happy snaps, we set off. Snow covered the volcano right up to the base camp and it started off with a slow gradual incline, walking alongside the ski lift that dotted the foot of the volcano. It was a perfect day for climbing, with the sun shining, hardly a cloud in the sky and little or no wind. I was already sweating after an hour of 'strolling'. I had 5 top layers of clothing and was regretting it. Luckily our first stop was just a little over an hour, at the midpoint of the ski lifts.

Looking up at the Volcano at this point, it felt like we had made no progress. But looking back, I could see we had walked quite a long way. We were still on the relatively flat part of the volcano so I took the opportunity to take stock of my layers and take the waterproof jacket off. It wasn't like it was going to rain. The atmosphere in the group was still very positive and there had been no casualties yet. The guides took this opportunity to show us how to use the ice axe, which up to this point, we had no need for. Everyone quickly put their game faces back on as he showed us how to do an ice axe arrest. This is a technique where you use your ice axe, along with 3 Hail Marys to stop yourself from sliding down the icy mountain if you slip. Oh, and that's what our helmets were for. I could tell by the looks on some of our faces that some of us weren't expecting this. I continued to take comfort in my ignorance.

Hail Mary, full of grace

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Reflexes kicked in and before I knew it I was on my stomach

So once again we stepped off, the incline gradually becoming steeper and the ice more slippery. We had not put on our crampons yet so I assumed that it was only going to get more treacherous. My first slip came when we traversed the side of a slope which was well over 45 degrees. I lost my footing and I started off on "Hail Mary, full of grace, the lord is with thee". Reflexes kicked in and before I knew it I was on my stomach, body on top of the ice axe, digging into the snow and ice for dear life. I had only slid a metre before the axe caught on but it was another sheer 50m slide down the ice if it hadn't. A slide if I was lucky. A tumble if I wasn't.

I continued on and I wasn't the only one to slip on the same patch of ice. Sam and a couple of others also started off on their respective prayers and ice axe actions. I was really worried about Sam and it got to the point where I was nagging her at almost every step to be careful, or use the ice axe properly. I think she was tempted to turn around and do an ice axe arrest on me at one point. I was just being the loving, caring, worried husband. No brownie points for me there.

Cramps and Crampons

Vamos Jon, Vamos

We made our way to the old Ski Lifts that had been destroyed in the 1971 eruption. It's charred remains still jutting out of the snow. I think everyone was relieved to have a rest and we all swapped some close call stories. A few of us were already lagging behind and some of the guides had to drop back to accompany them. We had been climbing for over 2 hours and a few of us were ready to call it a day. To make it to this point was a great effort but with the introduction of the crampons, some people thought it better to admire the view from here and make their way back down. Sam and I had discussed it and agreed that it was better she head down as well. I was still worried she would send that ice axe through my head if she continued.

As soon as we set off on crampons, the wind picked up and things started to get serious. There were a couple of other climbing groups making their way up and a couple of people were hiking their ski and snowboarding gear up there. I was planning to hike up with a snowboard but with the wind picking up, I was glad I didn't as I would have been airborne.

The cramps started coming in waves and the thighs were burning. Each step started to become laborious as we passed 6000ft. We weren't at the point where altitude sickness kicks in (around 7500ft) but there was more and more ice and steep slopes. Some of us were powering along, up at the front of the line. Erin was from Lake Tahoe and she was used to the high altitude and was leading the way along with the Guide. I was right behind Kim, who was a foot and a half taller than me and so her strides were large enough for me to have to make an extra effort to step in her steps. Lauren and I stuck together as we drew closer to altitude sickness zone. Trevor was drifting between groups as he took smoke breaks (jokes) and just behind us were Claire and Jon. At some points we couldn't see Jon but we sure could hear him. "Vamos Jon, Vamos" .... "F your Vamos!!" came the response. A bit further back and doing really well to keep up was Kat, with her own guide.

Thin Air and Small Goals

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10 to 15 grueling steps, 10 second rest to catch your breath, repeat

I didn't notice when we hit 7500ft until a bit later on. We had a bit of a rest to enjoy the view and get down some much needed sustenance of anything that contained sugar. I had the best Salami sandwich ever (kinda like having a kebab after a big night out). There was only around 1500ft left but when we were told there was another hour of climbing, my heart almost sank. It's not that I was exhausted. I was actually fine when we weren't moving. It was the pain of putting one foot in front of the other in foot deep snow or glass like ice. The crampons felt like sacks of wet sand and I was swinging between hot and sweaty to cold and wet.

The last 1500ft was a constant cycle of setting small goals consisting of 10 to 15 grueling steps, 10 second rest to catch your breath, repeat. The air was thinning and every gasp for air was as grueling as the steps. The smoke that had been bellowing from the top of the volcano all day slowly came closer and closer but as we reached a ridge we thought would be the crater, we were faced with another ridge. After what I thought was climbing for an hour, I realised we had only been climbing for half that. That last half an hour of climbing was one of the hardest things I'd ever done. That includes the 10 day army exercise which rained every night, 30 degree heat in the day, and an average of 4hrs sleep. What actually helped me was the "Thumb in bum, mind in neutral" approach that the army taught us when we would do pack marches. Basically put your head down, put your mind in neutral, drown out the pain and keep going.

Volcano, you're mine

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Duck and Cover ran through my head

Slowly but surely the smell of sulfur and the faint grumblings of the crater grew stronger. Before I knew it, I was there. I could see the final ridge and there was no mistaking it was the lip of the crater. I could see the origin of the smoke and the other side of the crater. It was one of the most amazing feelings and for a moment, I forgot about the lack of oxygen and almost ran to the edge of it.

We were greeted with a huge roar and boom from the crater. We all looked at each other, not really sure what to do. "Duck and Cover" ran through my head as I knew it would protect me from lava and pyroclastic flow..Yeah right. But there we were, looking down into the crater in awe, trying to avoid the constant gushes of sulfur clouds the volcano spewed out. Some of it so bad that you had to hold your breath until the cloud went over. The scenery was amazing as you could see the small lake town of Pucon and 6 other volcanoes in the region

The descent

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We donned our sliding nappies

It had taken us approx 5 hrs to reach the top. What they didn't tell us was that it would take almost 2 hours to get back down. The coming back down bit had escaped me throughout the whole climb. We had spent that last 5 hours trying to avoid slipping and sliding down the mountain. Ironically, this was the very way we were going to get down. We were going to slide down the side of the volcano. The ice and snow had soften now it was late afternoon and we were assured it was safe to slide down on our butts. So we donned our sliding nappies (Wasn't sure what they were when it was first given to us) and one after the other, we sat down and slid down the volcano, using our ice axes as brakes. If the ice axe failed as brakes, we had our feet, hands, torso, body and any other part of the body to use. At that point, you were basically tumbling down, but it was all good fun.

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Triumph and Satisfaction

A couple of near misses and collisions on the slide down and before we knew it, we were back to the top of the chair lifts. At that point, it was flat walking all the way back to base camp. That was one of the longest walks as it took almost an hour but felt like 3. The highs of conquering the volcano had long passed and it was just a matter of getting back to the hostel. Still, spirits were high, even if our bodies battered and a quiet feeling of satisfaction and triumph descended upon us as we rode into the sunset, back to our home away from home.

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Click Here for more photos

* All people, places and events in this story are real, although some parts are over dramatized for impact and artistic purposes..kinda like bull, but not

Posted by Al Jam 18:18 Archived in Chile Tagged backpacking Comments (1)

Day 10 to 13 - Pucón, Chile

Adventure Capital of Chile and hangovers to match

sunny 18 °C

I had never heard of Pucón and when I read the tour brief just days before it started, I noticed it mentioned a volcano climb. Little did I know that Pucón, a small town in the Southern part of Chile, would be the highlight of my trip so far.

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Arriving in the late afternoon, we were shown to our new lodgings at Hostal Willy. Here we would have a house to ourselves. Kitchen, dining room and a wood fire burner. With Sam and I being one of 2 couples in the group, we were to get a room to ourselves, but in the granny flat next door. This meant sharing the flat, in a separate room, with Sam and Stefan, who we later found out were vying for the heavyweight snoring title. The wall that divided the 2 rooms didn´t quite reach the ceiling. Awesome.

Potentially lethal when free, as with most types of free alcohol

Pucón is a one main street town, with a lake on ones side and overlooked by the perfectly shaped Mt Villarrica Volcano (2874m) on the other. The main street is lined with cafes, restaurants, outdoor stores, Adventure Tour operators and of course, dogs.

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Seeing as we had our own house, Jon and Claire kindly volunteered to cook us a meal of Chilli con Carne (Not a pun just because we were in Chile). It felt very homely with a nice meal, bottles of wine being passed around and marshmellows roasting in the wood burner. This was soon to change later in the night as backpacks were drawn, crampons checked, boots, pants and jackets were sized and friendly banter was exchanged. All in preparation for the next day´s assault on the before mentioned, Villarrica Volcano.

Villarrica Conquered (Next blog)

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So what´s the next best thing to conquering a Volcano? Rewarding yourself to a Chilean BBQ and all you can drink wine, pisco sour and beer in the same afternoon! Pisco Sour is the South American version of a Margarita. The composition has no resemblance but the taste does. It’s actually made of distilled grapes (like wine) mixed with egg white, lemon and bitters. Potentially lethal when free, as with most types of free alcohol. The free alcohol translated into a night of eating, dancing, singing and limbo dancing…and did I mention Macarena? We ended the night at a local watering hole called Mamas & Tapas, where there was bar top dancing and once again, nipple licking tequilas. Yes, we had climbed a volcano earlier that same day.

My legs were starting to feel the effects of the volcano climb and I thought it would give way at any time

I spent the next day chilling whilst Sam went horse riding around the lakes and mountains and some others did some white water rafting. I thought about going rafting but after reinjuring a niggling shoulder injury during snowboarding, and with the sobering effects of a hangover, I thought it best I catch up with some needed rest and chores i.e. laundry. Plus, my legs were starting to feel the effects of the volcano climb and I thought it would give way at any time.

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So what do you do to sooth some sore muscles and hangovers besides Ramen Noodles? Go to the thermal baths of course! It was a great way to end the day, 2 hours in various thermal pools. We came home to an even bigger treat as Trevor had bought bottles of wines for everyone to enjoy. Once again, there was dancing, singing and copious amounts of wine. Senor Hanky, Poo Poo de Navidad made his maiden appearance (Future blog).

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The dog looked like a bear on its hind legs

We ended off the night as we did the night before, at Mamas & Tapas Bar. This time it was a Saturday Night. The place was very different from the night before. We weren’t the only ones in the bar this time and there was a nightclub out the back and seemed like the whole of Pucón was in there. Of course it was up to us to instigate bar-top dancing. It was a great way to end our time in Pucón, except for Lauren having her wallet stolen at the club and Sam being attacked by a Bear-Dog. Well she wasn’t actually attacked but in the middle of the night, the dog looked like a bear on its hind legs.

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The next day was spent chilling out in town at various cafes nursing hangovers and 5hrs sleep. Eventually we ended up at a bar (we couldn’t resist) waiting for the overnight bus to Santiago.

Pucón Rocked!...Santiago, come on down.

Posted by Al Jam 20:27 Archived in Chile Tagged backpacking Comments (0)

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