Our trip to Pucón

I’d been to Pucón a few years ago when my mother and I lived in the States and flew down to visit family. My cousin lived there at the time with her husband and though it was great to visit her and see a new part of Chile, I went when it was wet, cold, miserable and windy. Needless to say, I wasn’t sure I saw the hype in Pucón.

Fast forward four years later and G surprises me with a trip to Pucón to celebrate my 1-year anniversary in Chile. We arrived in Temuco on Friday and the weather was insanely beautiful – a complete 180 from my former experience there. The idea was to take a “transfer” or a cab to Pucón, which is about an hour/hour and a half from the airport in Temuco. I remembered having heard from various people that the best bet when traveling outside of Santiago was to rent a car and just follow your nose (it always knows) and so I suggested it to G, who immediately agreed.

One Hertz agreement later, we were off to the hotel Enjoy of Pucon. Since the Enjoy chains have a reputation for being new and hip, stocked with lively entertainment (all hotels boast casinos) we were pretty excited to have the best of all worlds: nightly entertainment, daily ski or spa trips and beautiful scenery everywhere. The 9th Region of Chile didn’t disappoint with its natural beauty and provincial ambience. Rows and rows of fields, topped with trees galore and speckled with livestock reminiscent of “The Famer in the Dell” : cows, lambs, pigs, horses … ahhhhh country. I never imagined I’d be stoked on it but after living in smog central for a year, I’m ALWAYS happy to leave the busy, dirty city behind for a few days.

Views on our drive from Temuco to Pucón. Cows are where it’s at down there.

Lovely change from the Santiago traffic. Green everywhere and zero congestion.

High on fresh air and in the company of each other, G and I could not have been happier. We were excited to go skiing the next day, excited to venture out to unknown territories and excited to find hot springs to soak in until we pruned. Yeah … all that happiness came to screeching halt when we arrived at the Enjoy Pucón. It turns out, the Enjoy Pucón has only one thing that’s truly in line with the marketing and positioning of the Enjoy chain – the casino. It’s a brand new, asymmetrical building that definitely conveys the notion of a fun time to be had inside. HOWEVER … the hotel associated with this casino is actually the Gran Hotel Pucón and I’m not gonna lie: this hotel is older than my grandmother (if I had one). In fact, we later learned that its claim-to-fame is that Queen Elizabeth had stayed there. When? Circa 1962 when I could actually begin to imagine that the old, dilapidated hotel that stood before me was actually a grand hotel worthy of the word “grand” in the title? G and I don’t come from wealthy families and our upbringing could be described as middle-class AT BEST. Yet when we arrived, we realized that no matter what our background, silver spoons or no, the hotel was a joke. He was being charged a pretty hefty amount of money for a hotel whose lobby looked like a retirement home’s and whose rooms had a king size bed NEXT TO a twin size bed, covered in bedspreads that had me conjuring up images of Fräulein Maria making play clothes for the Von Trapp children in “The Sound of Music.” Not to mention, the bathroom had mold everywhere … Whether we’re annies or not, the fact of the matter was that G had paid for something promised in marketing, advertising and positioning messages of the Enjoy hotels. What we saw was completely the opposite. We checked in and immediately checked back out. (Thankfully the staff was very accommodating even if the rooms were hideous). There we were, G pissed and feeling like he had let me down (he hadn’t), no hotel room, hungry and with nowhere to go in the middle of Pucón. Standing outside in front of the car I said two things to G: “Thank goodness we rented a car” and “Later tonight, over a glass of wine, we’ll be laughing about this.” (At that moment he only agreed with the first statement.)

All’s well that ends well though. The truth of the matter is that we DID have a chuckle over the way our mini-vacation had started out. But things happen for a reason and it’s good to remember that no matter what one encounters, significant or not, things happen just as they should. G and I ended up staying at the Villarrica Park Lake Hotel, which was AMAZING … the joke being that the nightly rate at the 2nd hotel was less than at the Pucón Gran Hotel yet the amenities and the comfort can’t possibly be compared! The spa, the beds, the environment, the location and the views:

View from our hotel room’s balcony at the Villarrica Park Hotel.

Which of course led to complete and total relaxation on said balcony.

The rest of our vacation included a trip up the Volcan Villarrica for some skiing … we actually snowboarded and though we had a really good time, it’s safe to say that we both suck at snowboarding. Yeah we looked cool with all the gear but it’s apparent we need at least 2 more runs up to the mountain before we can walk the walk we intend to talk on the subject of snowboarding. I’ll be fair and say that G actually did really well and I’m particularly excited that after trying both skiing and snowboarding, he’s agreed with me that snowboarding is a million times better. The ski resort itself is small but I actually really enjoyed it – much more than Valle Nevado, simply because there was less people. The lift is a pretty long one since the actual slopes are further up the mountain than where the equipment is rented but it provides an amazing view of the lakes surrounding the volcano.

The lifts and the view of Lake Villarrica in the background (pic taken from the mountain).

Someone looking like he knows a thing or two about snowboarding, despite being a first-timer.

Which is a hell of a lot more than I can say for myself (and I’ve snowboarded before!)

Our last day in Pucón was dedicated to submerging ourselves in water and floating until we wrinkled like little prunes. Mission accomplished with Termas Geometricas and Termas Menetue. We first went to Termas Geometricas and all I can say is WOW. Words can’t really do it justice so I’ll provide pictures. At one point, it actually started SNOWING while we were in the water and it was as if we were in the middle of someone’s movie shoot. Walking through the termas, I felt like I was in The Shire of “Lord of the Rings.” Just serenely, beautifully, naturally amazing and wonderful. I highly suggest.

Just one of many pools in the termas, containing water ranging from 4 – 40 degrees Celsius.

Adding to the already-cool environment: snow.

You might be wondering if we were freezing before and after getting in the water (and more so, after.) The reality is that it’s not that cold at all. Your body temperature rises enough so that when you step out and go to another pool, you aren’t freezing. By the time you submerge again, you barely remembered if it was cold or not.

After that, we headed to Termas Menetue, which I had actually been to when I first visited Pucón. I wouldn’t say that these “termas” were bad because that would be a complete lie. In fact, they’re a great option for families and those who wish to actually stay overnight (or a few nights) because they have a hotel/resort right on site. The thing is that after Termas Geometricas, it was really hard to adjust to a very family-friendly environment. In short, it was simply a completely different experience to be had: one was definitely more in line with nature and a rustic outdoor experience, while the other (Menetue) had enclosed “piscinas termales” (or pools with thermal water) and with a completely different target audience in mind (hence so many families). There is an “adults only” area which was recently opened (two years ago, I believe) and it was definitely nice but to arrive you had to venture through the kid friendly pool area and that was pure chaos! Their spa, where G and I each received massages (his with a Reiki session) was nice, albeit small, though again, it’s based on the comparison with the spa in our hotel. It seems unfortunate that our experience at Menetue was overshadowed by comparisons of the experiences we had just hours before, but despite our personal experience, I do believe that on its own, Menetue is a great place. Even more so if you have kids.

By the time our mini-getaway ended we had pampered ourselves into a relaxation coma. Thermal waters, massages, spas, nature = one happy couple and one relaxed G (he’s the most stressed of the two of us.) I was (and am) so grateful for the gesture on his part and that his gift included one more gift incognito: the fact that he took two days off work to travel with me. That itself is amazing because my dear husband is the epitome of a workaholic. In fact, he had barely signed his name on the credit card slip during the check out when I caught him in the middle of what he does most: work.

Pic taken in the hotel lobby before hopping in the car to head to the Temuco airport.

It served to remind me that the true gift in all of the above was the time he took to be away from his job to actually enjoy the trip with me and to completely disconnect himself from work.

On a final note, um, can I just say THANK GOD I don’t live outside Santiago … and I mean absolutely no offense to those who do because trust me, I’m the first to value your way of life in compared to mine. But when it comes to the little things, towns outside the big city just function at their own pace and on their own time. Example – we arrived at the airport relatively early because we thought we could grab a bite to eat before taking off. Oh no, no, no. Temuco Airport is having none of that. The flight to Santiago departed from Temuco at 4:50 pm and the airport shops, airline counters and lone restaurant opened at 3:30 pm. Before that, this is what it looked like:

Believe it or not, this picture is actually almost of the ENTIRE airport. It’s that small.

Oh Provincia (as the towns outside Santiago are known). I know that for the small towns this mode of operation makes total sense. After all, what’s the point of having an airport running at 100% when only 5 flights arrive per day? It was still a minor inconvenience to the two big-city dwellers who were hoping to eat at the airport and who didn’t eat breakfast in hopes of just that. I learned that next time we need to stop in Temuco to get a bite to eat and arrive at the airport at exactly 20 minutes before boarding. I highly suggest you do the same.

I’ll conclude by saying that this part of Chile is amazing – something I’m sure that most people who are planning a trip down here already know. I was very much impressed by the nature, the people and the environment in general. It was a fabulous break from the all-too-often grimy and stressful Santiago living and it made me hungry for more adventures of the sort. I love it when I realize that Chile can be (and on many occasions, IS) a pretty cool place to live.

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California Love

I’m looking forward to my last fun-filled weekend as a full fledged California resident: a bachelorette party for my friend C, who is getting married this coming August. Her sister organized the bulk of it – cruise stylie with events, outings and meals planned – at this amazing house in Sonoma County. Can’t wait to go, even if my tan from my trip to Playa del Carmen is fading (while I perceive myself to be “white” my real “white” friends find me to be quite dark!)There is nothing I enjoy more than celebrating my friends and in this case, I am so happy to be there, given that in TWELVE DAYS, I’m leaving for Santiago. Can we say a Charlie Brown style “Ack!!!??”

Keeping in mind this upcoming weekend – one weekend – I can pinpoint SO MANY things I’m going to feel nostalgic about when I move. Almost like those cartoon drawings in the magazine “Highlights” where you have to find what’s different/missing in one picture when compared to another. Off the bat, allow me to briefly state just a morsel of things I’ll miss/grieve/look upon fondly on:

1.) Sonoma and/or Napa County. While Chile does have it’s own wine trails and tourist attractions with regards to wines, nothing beats the Napa and Sonoma Valleys. Especially when you’ve grown up taking trips with girlfriends to go wine tasting. This is the kind of stuff that people from the Bay Area take for granted. I know because that’s me! It’s always there, so what’s to miss? Growing up in San Fran and then in the Bay Area, it’s like a right of passage to head to Napa with the girlfriends, sometimes even going all out and renting a wine bus and/or a limo, just for shits and giggles.

2.) Road trip with girlfriends. The first road trip I can recall going on was with some friends from high school, including one of my current bff’s – S. That kid was a rebel child disguised as one of those goody two shoes, ballet/drama style kids. I loved her to pieces for the ball of drama that she was then and love her to pieces more so now. We decided to go with some other gf’s to Carmel – of all places – and when we got there, we practically passed out from boredom. What did we do? We
decided to take the car down to the next town over – no less than Santa Barbara. You don’t need a map of Northern California to know that Carmel IS NOT and never was, the next town over from Santa Barbara. I guess we had fun though, but the next year beat out any fun we may have had in CA, when we decided to drive to Lake Havasu, Arizona for no other reason than because the MTV Beach House had been there the year before. I don’t recall much about that trip except laughing about the town of Blythe, California. It’s the last town before you cross on over to Arizona, and let me tell you, there is NOTHING to see here. In fact, we

tapped into “Wayne‘s World” and just kept repeating “Hi, we’re in Blythe” all the while walking in place, waving like Queen Elizabeth. Come to think of it, this one event sums up many-a-less-than-stellar encounters I’ve experienced in recent years. The whole “WTF” thought process can easily be replaced with “Hi, I’m in Blythe.” A void encounter. No jazz-hands, if you will.

Wait – speaking of road trips – there was also the time we drove to San Diego, crossed over to Tijuana with some random people and consequently GOT DETAINED there when I failed to show my Chilean passport to the border authorities (why would I carry that thing on a road trip?!!). They asked “What is your country of citizenship” and all I had to say was “United States” but I just couldn’t LIE!!! I couldn’t do it man… and still can’t!! Ugh! I was almost left there to rot and right now would not be telling this story, were it not for S and some random peeps paying the Federales a good $200 to see me through the border to the other side….
Hmmmm…on second thought, let’s never speak of this incident again.

Where was I?

3.) Sha-MONE!!! A couple of people will know precisely what I mean by this and for the rest of you let me just say, I’ll miss the road trip mix CDs/tapes/iPod playlists. I would go into more detail than this but after I finish explaining it I’m just going to move on to realize that you had to be there and then I’ll wonder why I bothered taking up blog space.

4.) Sunny California… there’s a reason we’re the object of bitter envy and jealousy. We’re from California and no other place is as bad ass as this one. Mind you, I’ll find and embrace the beauty that Chile has to offer having already been lucky enough to witness a lot of it…but something like California? No way. The cheese stands alone.

I feel like I’ve veered off topic but the object of this blog entry was to remind myself (and you while I’m at it) of all that I take for granted being a native Californian. Stuff that I wonder if I’ll ever embrace again with such casual ambivalence as I have done so my entire life here. Or will I just come back and forever more be the returning tourist, wearing the San Francisco fleeces (or worse, socks and crocs – aaaaaahh!)

Oh my sweet, dear, chocolate covered, Cali … what homage can I pay to thee that the great ones haven’t already paid?

(And by ‘the great ones’ I do mean, Dr Dre and Tupac. Naturally.)
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