Bend it like Beckenbauer in Pucón

Driving on the overnight bus to the touristy town of Pucón was so far the most luxurious moment during my journey. Whew, the spacious seats in this double-decker bus recline almost like the ones in an airplane´s First Class compartment. But how would I know about flying First Class – right…

Pucón and the volcano Villarica in the background

Anyhow, I made it to Pucón within ten hours after leaving Santiago. Arriving completely relaxed and with a good night’s sleep, I did set out to explore the city. Chileans love to come here and relax, hike or do some other outdoor adventure activities, ranging from hard-core kayaking to paintball shooting for nerdy couch-potatoes. It seems that running around with a rifle does mainly attract the usual people who never had to attend armed services. Voluntarily enlisting and paying for a military-like drill exercise is an utterly strange concept to me.

But the true reason to come here – for most tourists – are the various hiking trails. One of these hikes goes up the Villarica volcano, which only can be made as part of a guided tour. Some people claim it to be a climb. But that is not really the case, given the fact that no mountaineering experience is required to join such a tour. Sliding down the volcano afterwards is part of the fun which contributes to the fact that most backpackers go through this hot spot here.

Fire brigade building in downtown Pucón

A bit of bad luck changed the weather soon after I arrived. Clouds would set in and all the climbing parties were cancelled. Since I was prepared with all the gear and food for a day, I decided to go for a hike to the Huerquehue National Park instead. Other “stranded” climbers had the same idea and the local bus who drove us there filled up very quickly.

As it turned out, this alternative program was as much as scenic as a potential climb to the volcano. The main day hike is called “Los Lagos”. Its route passes along small lakes in the national park (Lago Chico, Lago Toro and Laguna Verde). As the weather was steadily improving that day, the hike went into a picturesque stroll full of stunning sights.

Unfortunately, next day the weather became worse again as it would start to rain. Some of the travelers decided to wait for better weather to do the climb up onto the volcano. But since the weather forecast was not too convincing, I decided to buy my bus ticket and move on instead. Having a firm booking on a ferry boat leaving in a couple of days from Puerto Montt does somewhat put constraints on my travel plans.

At the shores of Lago Toro

Nevertheless, having spent finally two very cold, windy and rainy days in Pucón had given me a different insight into the inner workings of people living here. It was the day when the football “Goliath” Colo-Colo would play the Chilean soccer final against “David”, the unfortunate team of Palestino. The game ended – quite predictable – with a 3:1 win for the team Colo-Colo. Being drawn into the crowd gathering around a giant screen in the local hangout, I learned quite a lot about both teams based in the area of Santiago. Furthermore, I was told that the name of their favourite team came from Colocolo, a Mapuche tribal chief. It is said, that he was the national symbol of resistance because he fought – and never surrendered – to the Spanish conquerors.

Another history fact are the German settlements I keep on stumbling into, by coming this far South. Restaurants would advertise a wealth of food in Spanish language – and “Küchen”. Which definitely are pies tasting as good as back in old Europe. These “Germanismos” are popping up frequently and sometimes they make me smile, since they tend to sound funny to a native (Swiss-)German speaker.

Nevertheless, it is hard to decide which one sounds funnier: The road “Clemente Holzapfel” (in Pucón) or “Hilde’s Teestube” (on the road to the National Park).

Never having seen this as a topic in German news, it is quite interesting to find out that there is a German minority living in Chile. Most of them arrived as settlers in the 19th century. They were actively sought by the Chilean government to colonize the less developed areas in the South (which was then understood as being the areas between Valdivia and Puerto Montt). The basis of this was the “Law of Selective Immigration” of 1845, which had the objective of bringing people of a medium social/high cultural level to populate the mentioned regions of Chile.

Today, there are about 300’000 German descendants living in Chile, about 20’000 of them still speaking German. Sounds like a bad recipe to improve my Spanish skills.