The Day We Climbed A Volcano

I’m writing this from the waiting room of Hospital San Francisco Pucón. We are not here, as previous posts may have led you to believe, due to any mishaps from reckless adventures. We’re here because Aidan’s tonsils have decided that today is the day they explode. Although our climb up a volcano may not have helped her body fight them off… So while we wait here (a seemingly endless event), let me recount the story of one of the best adventures of our trip so far. Aidan and I are both in agreement that it was well worth the exertion, even if it results in her tonsils combusting. 

Climbed a volcano only to be conquered by overactive tonsils

We had had this expedition in our sights for a while. In fact, it was Aidan who found out about this trek before we even left Canada. She sent me a link (an activity occurring multiple times a day in the months leading up to takeoff) describing the magnificent Villarica Volcano, which you trek up and toboggan down. Too cool to pass up!

After some haggling with a few different tour companies (an act I’m finally getting comfortable with, due in large part to my ever expanding Spanish vocabulary), we paid our deposit, and were told to show up later that evening to get outfitted for the expedition. Side note – although you can technically do this trip solo, it is not advised. You need some serious gear to get up this volcano safely, including an ice pick, crampons, and a gas mask! A fellow traveller we met back in Buenos Aires saw someone climbing up alone – without any gear – who proceeded to fall and rip off all of their exposed skin (again, how are we in a hospital because of tonsillitis?!). Alright, there’s your PSA.

We showed up to meet the rest of the group to find that we were the only ones there

. Turns out we were getting a private trip! Traveling during low season has some serious perks (no crowds, cheaper fees…) as long as you can handle the rapidly degrading weather. Which Aidan and I obviously can, since our bank accounts are emptying at about the same rate!

The next morning we piled our gear into the back of an old truck and set off to the volcano with our guide, J.R. (pronounced hota-er-eh). He is a man in his mid-fifties, with a beer gut and a devilish look in his eyes. He’d been doing this his whole life, and had ascended the volcano over 2000 times. He’s planning to retire once he hits 3000.

J.R!

The stars were still shining overhead when we got to the base of the volcano. Since we had decided to spurn the chairlift (not because we wanted the extra exercise, but because it would have costed us 8000 pesos each – that’s the cost of an entire bottle of pisco!), we were one of the first groups to start our ascent. We were racing against the clock – the lift would be up and running in less than an hour, at which point throngs of people would be with us on the volcano.

Why we woke up early…

And we made it! While we p

paused to let Aidan cough up some phlegm so that she could breathe again, the chairlift hummed to life below us and started to transporting all the (lazy) people up. They wouldn’t be able to catch us though, even with Aidan’s airway being the size of a dime.

No chair lifts for us!

We kept climbing, obviously taking breaks to marvel at the mountains and valleys around us. We made it to the glacier after ascending for about two hours. We put on our crampons and pulled out our ice picks, and set out onto the snow.

Switchbacks on the snow!

We were just called into the examination room. No doctor yet but there’s an open window – perfect for Aidan to spit out of. 

We trekked through the snow for a couple more hours, then got to where we’d be eating lunch. So as to outrace the hordes of people on our heels, we dumped our gear (minus the ice pick and gas mask) and started our last ascent up to the mouth of the volcano.

And what a sight! Aidan and I stared transfixed as lava erupted from the fiery crater, that is until we both stopped being able to breathe. J.R. laughed at us as he gestured that we should put on our gas masks. These proved to be much more effective at filtering out the noxious fumes than the sleeves we had quickly held up to our mouths.

Kaboom!

After a long photo shoot (J.R was only to pleased to be our photographer), we headed back to our lunch spot. There were lots of people there by that point, and we started to fully understand how lucky we had been to get a group to ourself. Language barriers, cultural differences, and “touristy” behaviour made it so that even taking off crampons was an ordeal. J.R. was quick to brag about his two intense Canadian chicas, and we were invited to go out with the guides that night. An offer we would have taken them up on if Aidan’s tonsils hadn’t decided to grow even larger. But I’m getting ahead of myself – at this stage in our story they were only the size of small golf balls. Totally manageable.

The doctor just came into our room. She took one look in Aidan’s mouth and visibly recoiled, saying “Ooh that’s bad!”. Which is word for word what I’ve been saying, so clearly I have what it takes to be a doctor in terms of bedside manner. The doctor is gesturing that Aidan should take off her pants. She’ll be getting a shot of antibiotics straight away. 

After downing our PB+J sandwiches, we donned our sledding gear and headed to a sort of luge track. We used a piece of plastic as a sled, and our ice pick as a steering wheel and brake.We shot down the mountain, digging our axes into the snow as we zoomed through the snow trails (and sometimes right off the track!). I had a huge smile pasted on my face, and behind me I could hear Aidan giggling like a child jumping on a bouncy castle with handfuls of candy (I just thought through that simile and I have to admit I was dead on. She was that happy, and the experience was probably just as fraught with risk!).

Ready to slide down a volcano!

Who knew we’d find the best slopes of our lives in Chile?!

We ran out of snow far too quickly, and then it was time to walk again. Except we didn’t walk- we ran. We slalomed down the scree, leaving a massive wake of dust behind us. It was almost like we were back in Canada on the ski slopes! It had taken us 50 minutes to walk up the area we would have skipped with the chair lift- it took us less than 5 minutes to run down.

We made it! Now let’s get to a hospital!

We blasted the radio on our ride back to Pucón, then cracked open a few cervesitas out on the patio. The reason for J.R.’s physique finally became clear as he put back beer after beer! We tipsily walked back to our hostel, claiming that we needed a siesta before the fiesta later that night.

But first, beer!

Aidan just got her shot, time to go back to the hostel! Let’s hope she gets better soon!

Epilogue

Since I’m posting this weeks after our time in Pucón, I can tell you that she did not get better in any hurry. We had to make another trip to the hospital to get more antibiotics and pain meds, where we met a doctor just as scared of her tonsils as the first one. At that point they resembled moons, both in terms of size and topography. We were also kicked out of our hostel in a classic “no room at the inn” situation, and so we rented a private room at a nearby hotel. While Aidan recuperated, I explored Pucón. I rented a bike one day to visit Lago Cabulga, and ended up falling helmet first off a bridge into a ravine full of rocks and blackberry bushes. Apart from a few bruises and scrapes I was fine, although a snapchat sent back home (where I filmed myself under the bridge saying “Fuck I fell off a bridge!”) did nothing to assuage moms fears of my well being in South America. Anyways, Aidan’s tonsils have shrunk and now resemble fat men who lost a lot of weight far too quickly, and my bruises have faded to a nice blue. All is well!

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3 Responses to The Day We Climbed A Volcano

  1. Melanie McClelland says:

    Your father and I discussed your lack of consideration for others’ feelings (re: fears) when it came to delivering your news by snapchat!! Crazy chica!
    Have fun and I hope Aidan’s tonsils remain appropriately sized!
    xo

  2. Cindy McEwen says:

    OMG ladies!! Your adventures give me heart palpitations. The only thing that gives me relief are the smiles on your faces. Keep posting…..

  3. naomi bissell says:

    Dear crazy wild ladies…oh to be young and foolish and so strong.
    Your photos and narrative are breathtaking.
    Stay safe.

    Naomi

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