‘There and back again… An Incredibly Unfit Human Girl’s Tale to See a Waterfall’, by Emily Cooke

During my trip down South I also visited the small town of Pucon. Closely resembling a little Alpine village, I did feel a little as I had walked into Lapland as I trudged through the main street to my hostel. All the buildings looked as if they were made out of wooden logs, and I half expected carol singers and elves to come prancing down the street led by Father Christmas, hand in hand. Cute, is the word to describe it. Spoilers: they didn’t, a little disappointingly.

If ever I were to return to Pucon again, it would not be in Winter. Or spring, or autumn. To fully experience all the incredible things that Pucon has to offer, I would only come back in Summer. The Hostel where I stayed (which was excellent by the way- Chili Kiwi for anyone planning a visit) had a window with a wide view of Volcano Villarica, one of 5 volcanoes in the world with an active lava lake. Unfortunately, for all I knew this entire volcano could have been a hoax; for three days the obstinate clouds denied me even a small glimpse of this supposedly sublime piece of nature.

That’s not to say that the rain prevented any fun. The Geometricas were a great way to spend a rainy day; it was actually very refreshing to have some cold rain in the face when submerged in natural 40 degrees thermal baths. Plus, the hostel had a bar. Which extended its happy hour from 4-8 because of the dismal weather. What could be happier than enjoying a £2 artisan beer around a fire after ringing out wet socks?

During my last day, a strong battle played out in my head. It was raining (again). The bar looked extremely cosy and inviting. Outside did not. In fact, it could not have looked any further from cosy and inviting. But, it was my last day. And there was supposed to be a spectacular waterfall named Salto el Claro a two- hour walk away.

Very surprisingly, to myself more than anyone else, the waterfall won. After failing to persuade anyone to accompany me (unsurprisingly), I set off solo, with dire warnings that I would probably get very lost. Second spoiler: they weren’t wrong.

But, armed with my trusty Google Maps and my raincoat, off I set.

The first hour passed uneventfully, except for my first sighting of the sun for around a week. A good omen, surely?! The scenery around me was surreal. After I turned off the main road, I found myself enclosed in a series of fields, with a sea of trees looming high around me. When the sun disappeared, the effect was pretty eerie, which was not helped by the fact that I did not encounter a single other sign of life (save a few grass-munching horses and some bored looking sheep). But, the rugged beauty and desolation of the place was beautiful, and as I plodded on, I couldn’t help but think that here in the rural Southern Chilean Countryside, I could be the only person left on Earth.

This feeling wasn’t helped by the fact that my phone decided to die shortly after (thanks a lot Apple for your incredibly long- lived batteries). As the walk turned into an incline and I started huffing and puffing, a car drove past me and stopped a little while ahead. As I passed, an old couple wound down the window and offered to drive me up the hill, an offer which I gladly accepted. I must have looked a sorry and solitary figure, especially since it had started raining and was very grateful they had taken pity on me. They dropped me off at the top of the hill and pointed me in the right direction, and after apologizing for making the floor of their car nice and muddy to which they laughed off, I resumed my odyssey on foot.

What faced me next was a crossroad in the forest. The old man had told me to go right, but to the left I could hear what sounded like a waterfall. I followed my instinct and went left. I was wrong. I should have learnt by now to trust my sense of direction in the sense that, if I think it is one direction, I should be safely assured that it is in fact completely the opposite. The sound that I had mistaken for the waterfall was actually some very fast- moving rapids, over which an old rickety bridge lay. I took one look at the bridge, decided that I didn’t have a death wish, and turned around.

This time, I went right, and after a few more wrong turns I finally saw a sign scratched onto a tree pointing me towards Salto el Claro . I nearly kissed the tree in gratitude. I then proceeded to an almost vertical decline in the forest, at the bottom which lay my final destination. Using the gnarled roots of the trees as steps, I half climbed, half slid down the bank for around half an hour (two days later my legs are still sore as hell- probably a sign that I need to do this more often). And then, at the bottom, I was rewarded with a view of this bloody -impossible- to- find-but- well- worth- the- mud- and- rain- waterfall. It was a beautiful sight; the magnitude and sheer power of the falls, and the deafening sound of the water against the rockface surrounded by the lush green forest.

After taking my fill of the view, I turned and started the return journey, which of course first involved clambering up the vertical route that I had taken before. When I arrived at the top, I saw a group of friends with a mint green Vauxhall van, who again very kindly offered to give me a ride…this time to the door of my hostel(!!!!) I eagerly jumped inside before they could change their minds, beaming at the thought of an imminent hot shower, clean clothes and artisan beer in front of the fire. Unfortunately, my new friends decided to pro-long the trip for what felt like an age in the torrential rain… to look for some mushrooms. I like mushrooms as much as the next person. In fact, probably more than the average person; they take the coveted spot of being my numero uno favourite vegetable. Who can say no to mushrooms fried in heaps of butter and garlic on toast for breakfast? But the mushrooms we came across in this forest were terrible; small and suspiciously orange, and when I tentatively took a small nibble, completely tasteless. Nevertheless, I’ve never seen four people so excited upon finding some slightly moldy looking mushrooms. (Note- after recounting this story to a friend he revealed that these mushrooms may have had *special properties*, which might help to explain the effort and excitement that went into retrieving them).

When I finally returned to the Hostel and powered up my phone, I was expecting many hours to have passed (you might also feel the same, readers who have actually persevered and got to the end of this arduous blog post). I was therefore pretty surprised and marginally disappointed to find that only 3 AND A HALF HOURS had passed. But still, it had been an interesting trip. The cliché phrase ‘‘it’s the journey, not the destination’ definitely rang true in this sense; from old Chilean couples, a few wrong turns and some mushroom picking, not to mention the incredible scenery I encountered on the way, the waterfall itself was only a small part of the trip. Salto el Claro was indeed a hidden gem in Pucon, and one you should forgo a warm fireplace for.




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