By the time I reached the Lake District I got rid of that annoying homesickness and mental overload, that spoiled my stay in funky Valparaiso. Was my brain fooling me? It was gone right after I left the city. I didn’t feel even a shade of nostalgia while crossing the country by bus from north to south and watching for long hours the rich green landscapes, which seemed amazingly familiar to me. It reminded me Bavaria: soft hills covered now and then by some woods, the farms scattered in foreground and the Andean volcanoes in background, adding a bit more dramatics to the landscape – just like the Alpes do. The German and Swiss immigrants colonized this area sometime 100-150 years ago and turned the Lake District into the farming paradise of Chile. Not only they gave the local architecture its nordic look, but also significantly influenced the culture of the Lake district.
Day 63-75: 14-26 February 2016
A Story of Self-Exploration With a Happy End
So here I arrived in Pucon, a lovely small town at the Lake Villarica with a beautiful view of Villarica Volcano. Pucon offers a huge portfolio of outdoor activities, covering the whole range from volcano hikes to water sports. I consider my time in the Lake District (in Pucon and later in Puerto Varas located further south from there) as a very important stage of my journey – times of intense self exploration and of confidence improving begun there. No wonder! The beauty of this country activated hidden processes in me and gave me a huge boost.
Impressions of Horseback Riding & Salto Claro Trail, Pucon
To understand why: There were scary times in my past, when I was absolutely incapable to resist any mental or physical stress. Even the fun activities with a tiny “overdosis” of stress, such as a hike, some extra sport, a bit demanding dance class or even a long shopping tour, ended up many times with heavy migraine attacks and painkillers for two days or so. I would get sick while or right after doing something, so that I started avoiding many activities I liked and became a passive person really doubting in myself. So far the history.
So back to Pucon: I was still fighting those weird fears of failing, especially considering the recent sad facts of being sick in the middle of the Colca Canyon trek (my bad knee this time!), having migraine a couple of times after hiking in Bolivia, and missing the Inca Trail because of some infection (for some variety). Sounds not really promising, huh? All that was absolutely not supporting my sense of confidence. Call it a mental issue or a behaviour pattern, but I had those facts and I truly hated them!
Impressions of Los Lagos Trail, Huerquehue National Park
The thoughts of failing again in the middle of the multi-day trek in Torres del Paine National Park (TDP NP), which was upcoming in 2-3 weeks and I was extremely looking for, were totally depressing me. No way it was going to happen to me! After all the Torres del Paine trek was one of the main reasons, why I was heading all the way to South Patagonia. On the other hand I was absolutely aware of that I needed massive improvements (both physical and mental), in order to be prepared for Patagonian harsh temper and to pass a 60+ km of a trek described as “moderate to difficult”.
How easy is “moderate”, and how difficult is “difficult”?
I kept questioning other traveler, who had done that trek. It was definitely beyond of what I’ve ever done, it was exceeding my physical limits. Period.
But still, I couldn’t give up the idea of trekking in TDP NP– undoubtedly one of the most spectacular treks in the world. My aim was to make at least the part of it called W-Trek, if not the whole loop. You hate giving up dreams, don’t you? Same me. I still had a bit of time to decide, if I was going to trek alone or with a guided group and, of course, to improve my condition.
Impressions of the Los Lagos Trail, Huerquehue National Park
Lakes and woods: the best gym ever
I hiked almost daily, gradually increasing the distance from 14km up to over 25km, testing myself on different kind of landscapes with steep ascends and descends, walking on different grounds such soft sand, volcanic ash and hard stony trails. This might sound like a cheap story, but my systematic work had a huge happy end. I learned so much about myself, about how to manage my energy, how to control my pace and extend/overcome my own limits. I’ve learned how and when to recover, in order to keep myself going and not to fail my plans. I kept “practicing” even in Bariloche, after I crossed the border to Argentina. By the time I reached the TDP NP I managed to hike about 200km without any failure – no migraine, no aching knee, no whatsoever sickness! It was a huge achievement for me considering the issues in my past.
Impressions of the Petrohue Trail
These two weeks changed my self-perception in such a positive way. Finally I stopped thinking of myself as of a prone and vulnerable person. Such a good feeling!
View from Osorno Volcano
Not only I became a better physical condition and gained the self-confidence I needed so, but I also began processing my thoughts and getting a clearer perspective on questions, that were buzzing in my mind all the time – I started talking to myself. Don’t worry, it was not some kind of a mental disorder caused by my particular solitude, but a very conscious process of analysing (will touch this topic in a later post). The environment was just perfect for this. I found myself many times in some remote areas of enormous beauty, absolutely focused on my inner state and the surrounding nature. These were truly magical moments, when I resonated perfectly with my environment, and must admit, that made me positively addictive. These long walks were demanding and charging at the same time, my hard work was constantly rewarded by fantastic views. And the most important, seemed like I found the perfect mode for honest introspection, which was a precious and very new experience to me. I value the time spent in the Lake District very much for its revolutionary effect on me – I was ready for Patagonia and considered myself strong enough to trek in Torres del Paine NP on my own without any guides!
Climbing Osorno Volcano
…to sum up.
The lake district is indeed an outdoor paradise. There are tons of fun things to do apart from hiking, such as horse riding, climbing, paragliding, etc. The region is famous for its water sports, climbing volcanoes is an absolute MUST. I tried to climb the Villarica Volcano (a day trip from Pucon), but the rangers closed the access due to weather conditions. I waited for weather improvements for 2 more days, then left to Puerto Varas. Bummer, it would have been a very special experience. I had a bit more luck in Puerto Varas, the weather in mountains changed unexpected and I was able to climb pretty much high on Osorno Volcano.
Hiking on your own: it was sometimes a bit tricky to explore the area without booking a guided tour. Seemed like despite the rich nature you were able to experience only a tiny part of it. On one hand there was no well-developed network of trails. On the other the access to woods or lakes was mostly blocked over many miles by private properties such as farms and resorts. However, the trails I walked were very beautiful, I loved Pucon a bit more than Puerto Varas:
Salto Claro Hike: started in Pucon: 22km, a long walk out of town, walking through the farms, easy hike but very rewarding beautiful views, the waterfall was really beautiful.
Los Lagos Trail in Huerquehue NP: starting in Pucon, 23km, 6 hours, demanding with some accents and descends. Fantastic view of 4 lakes, rich forest, bamboo groves and a few waterfalls.
Petrohue Trail: started in Puerto Varas: 12km, 4 hours, moderate hike, walking along the lake, walking on the sand over longer distances was a bit more demanding toward the end, the views were lovely.
Climbing Osorno: started in Puerto Varas, 5-6 hours of steep demanding hike (from-to Parking at the basecamp), climbed over 1300m, the soft sandy slopes of volcanic ash made the ascending even more harder. The views were amazing!