Our two weeks of freedom before the start of school got off to a rocky start after we missed our bus, but some bus drivers from Pullman going to Temuco, almost to Villarrica, took pity on us and ushered us on. We watched the sun rise in Temuco as we waited fifteen minutes for the bus to Villarrica, and smalling town in la Región de Los Lagos on the shore of lake Villarrica and in the shadow of the still-active-and-smoking Volcán Villarrica (notice the trend, anyone?). The smaller, more touristy town of Pucón is more central for various activities in the area, but Villarrica felt less artificial (and had the reputation of costing less), and Pucón was a gorgeous, half-hour busride away along the side of the lake.
The hostel was a charming little place owned by some Swiss bicyclists that retired from cycling around the world and settled in the Andes (home-made bread every morning!), and we met some fellow travelers there, including a girl from Washington that had gotten some scholarship that paid for her to travel around the world for 8 months, and a Belgian cycling through the country (hard-core!). We walked around the lake some, all blackish volcanic sand and rock, but picturesque, went rafting for the first time (well, my first time) and managed not to maim ourselves, hiked around Parque Nacional Huerquehue to see some more lakes and massive waterfalls, then said goodbye to good bread and headed to Valdivia.
Unfortunately for Valdivia, Villarrica was a difficult act to follow, and in retrospect we would have spent fewer days there. It´s known as a former German colony-type city on the river near the ocean, but there wasn´t much of a "cute historical German town" atmosphere. It was also flooded with other Chilean/extranjero tourists, which meant the housing was a hassle: the first place lost our reservations and chided us for not calling several times to confirm, and while the place she found for us, a little cabaña in the backyard of a strange old lady with obnoxious dogs, was relatively cheap, the old woman argued that we hadn´t been clear we were staying for two nights (this after about a fifteen minute conversation of clarification of that fact) and tried double the price on us. We did hang out with some Chileans, though...I know a little more about rugby and Chilean rock. Plus there were sea lions in the river. Could have watched them all day.
We´re all sick of Chilean food, which is either expensive restaurant-fare or various types of meat sandwiches, and started cooking for ourselves. Apparently Chilean per capita consumption of bread is second only to Germany, and it gets old fast. Green beans never tasted so good.
Then to the mystical island of Chiloe, which, despite some changed plans, is my favorite stop so far...much less crowded, and supposedly there are at least 400 varieties of potato, of which I want to try at least 150. We made plans to stay in the tiny campo town of Tenaún with a family, but a missed buss in Valdivia meant we missed the last rural bus there from Castro. Our staying in Castro, however, worked out for the best when one girl, who´d had a sore throat the day before, went downhill in the morning. We spent the morning at the emergency room, the only place open in a small town on a Sunday and literally the slowest entity ever, then let her rest as we wandered around the town and along the coast.
Next Ancud (a penguin colony), then back to Santiago by my birthday...I´m looking forward to a washing machine.