From Temuco we took another bus south to Villarrica, and checked in to a hostel with a breakfast Teresa dubbed “all you can eat, but nothing you want to eat”. Villarrica is close to Pucon which is the biggest tourist town in the lake district, but a little quieter. After a rest day we started at 7am the next morning, to find a bus first to Pucon then to the Huerquehue national park – unfortunately it was Sunday so once we got to Pucon there were no buses…after walking around in the cold for a while we found one place that was open for coffee in the early morning, then caught the first bus back to Villarrica again.
Since we couldn’t get to the national park we decided to try and make our way to the Termas Geometricas – the nicest hotsprings in the whole region. First another bus to a small village called Coñaripe from where it would be another 17 kilometers, but there didn’t seem to be any buses at all on this stretch. We started walking and keeping an eye out for a lift together with a german backpacker who had similar plans. It started raining fairly soon, and there was hardly any traffic to try and hitchhike with on the small dirt road – we had walked close to an hour when a nice Chilean family picked us up and gave us a lift on the back of their pickup. They took us most of the way and dropped us at a turnoff with just a couple kilometers left, then 15 minutes later they showed up again and gave us a lift the final bit! Once we finally arrived at the hotsprings we were freezing, from walking in the rain and sitting on the back of the pickup – my fingers could barely close the padlock on the box in the small changing-room hut – but what better place….just sink down into the 38 degree water! The termas were really fabulous, 17 stone-slate pools spread out along a river running through a narrow canyon, with a wooden walkway leading between them and up to a natural waterfall at the top. Mist rising from the hotsprings and the canyon sides covered in ferns, trees and moss…cold water dripping down on your face from the vegetation above as you soak in the steaming water. The kind of place you’re happy to go to once before you die, and actually wouldn’t mind going to permanently after (…it even had that smell of sulphur believers have always promised me ). We spent 3-4 hours soaking in the warm water, occasionally trying a dip in the freezing river when getting too close to overheating – so relaxing I nearly fell asleep floating around. On the way back we had walked only a couple kilometers when we got a lift with a lovely Chilean couple that were down holidaying from Santiago – they gave us some good tips on other things to do in the area and offered to drive us further but there was a bus in Coñaripe to take us back to Villarrica. Chilean people are so nice.
The next day we decided to make another attempt on the national park. Another bus at 7am, and luckily the early morning paid off this time and we found a bus to Huerquehue. It was snowing when we got to the park entrance at 780 meters altitude, and the snow got deeper and deeper as we climbed up to 1300 meters through the forest to several stunning frozen lakes. On the higher slopes we again came across the ancient-looking Araucaria or Monkey-puzzle trees. Apart from a couple of waterfalls that were crashing down the mountainside the forest was completely quiet – no hint of wind, nothing moving, just nature frozen and still all around us. The sun broke through the clouds for just a short moment every now and then, but most of the time the sky stayed a solid grey leaving the landscape almost completely monochrome.