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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Skiing in the Andes with the Annie’s

G and I have taken to completely regarding ourselves as avid skiers in the making. After some convincing from me on how awesome the ski/snowboard/general snow experience was and my repeated “OMG’s” on the fact that he’s never been skiing in his life, (considering the Andes are so close), he relented. He purchased new snow gear (at 50% off and still ridiculously expensive for Chilean standards) and this past Friday we were off on our snow bunny trek.

Obviously you know where this post is headed: the comparison between going to the snow here vs. going to the snow back home.

Let me preface by stating a couple of things. First, I’m using the term “going to the snow” in lieu of skiing or snowboarding because I want to encompass the entire experience AND leave room for a switch between skiing and snowboarding down the line. This time, G and I skied but next time we go (in about three weeks hopefully) we’re going to be snowboarding. Second, I recognize that skiing and snowboarding (mostly skiing) are not a cheap activity no matter where you’re located in the world. Considering gas involved getting there and back, gear involved, lift tickets, accomodations (if need be) and food, it’s pretty pricey to list skiing/snowboarding as a frequent activity during winter.

However, I learned that in Chile skiing/snowboarding is most definitely an ABC1 outing and I realized this mostly because of those around me that day.

Back in California, we used to head out to Lake Tahoe for our yearly doses of snow and this usually involved getting a group of friends together and 1) staying with friends who had houses there or 2) finding a vacation rental for 2-3 nights and splitting it across all those going.

Me and my friend Jen in 2005 or 2006, in front of the house 8-10 of us rented in South Lake.

Lake Tahoe was about a four hour drive from San Francisco, depending on traffic and velocity, so in our case, we always stayed at least two nights. Besides, being on the border with Nevada, there is definitely a nightlife and subsequent debauchery that one can partake in on the evenings when one isn’t philandering in the snow (skiing).

Also, there are SO MANY options for skiing, depending on which “shore” of the Lake you are staying, and because of this, there are also various options when taking into account the budget. This site gives you a very topline idea of the various prices of lift tickets in the Lake Tahoe area and seriously, the range is anywhere from about US$21 to US$90. And equipment rental prices? Anywhere between US$30 – $60 for gear and boots for the day. So on the expensive end, skiing for a day in Lake Tahoe could cost about US$160 at most … while here in Chile it will cost you about US$65 for a lift ticket and about US$45 for equipment rental. Taking into account the salary discrepancies in this country when compared to those in the U.S. AND taking into account how I mentioned in a previous post that only 10% of the population of Santiago has money to spend on these types of “luxuries”, you can imagine the type of people that one encounters on a skiing adventure here vs. a skiing adventure back home.

Back home, I remember the outings in the snow to be all about friends and fun. It was never about luxury, even if the place where we stayed was super nice. Yes, skiing is an expensive sport no matter where you are, but back home, it was more about being with friends than consideration of the fact that we were doing something very upscale. To most of us back home, “upscale” might entail First Class tickets to Paris and staying at the Four Seasons Hotel George V. And even when you were on the mountain you rarely noticed if people had more or less money … just like in the movie “Clueless” with all the groups united on one same high school campus, you had all kinds of people who enjoyed gallivanting in the snow, one right next to the other. In short, the differences are less obvious back home when compared to Chile.

And the culmination of our high society (“cuico”) experience in the snow last Friday, was overheard on our way back to the car after our time skiing. A blonde-ish woman, wearing a poofy North Face jacket, was walking around talking on her phone… in her very notable “cuica” voice she was telling the person on the other end of the line that she was headed “back to the apartment” (mind you, we were 2 hours outside of Santiago so obviously she had a place right there on the resort) and that “Annie” was on her way “to the spa.” The minute we had suffieciently walked past this woman, G and I proceeded to crack up. It was just so.typical.rich.Chilean.person. Obviously this now means that all the “cuicos” in this country are to be known as “Annie’s” from now on … and we’ve proceeded to exploit the term continuously since then. Feel free to adopt it if you’d like. I find it has less of a negative connotation too.

Some might argue that in partaking in said activities, relatively speaking (i.e. for Chilean standards vs American standards as mentioned above), G and I are Annie’s too. I can respect that opinion but I would argue that the difference with us is that we don’t take our advantages and accomplishments for granted, nor do we act like it’s our God-given right to take trips to the mountains to go skiing. Realistically, it’s not like we could afford a week in the mountains skiing/snowboarding either. In fact, between one trip and the next, we’ll have another payday so that makes a difference with regards to how often we head to the mountains. Trust me, the Annie’s don’t think like that and I really can’t imagine them figuring out when it makes most sense to go, money-wise.

I like to think of us as ‘come-and-go’ Annie’s. When we feel like putting that particular hat on (and our bank account tells us it’s ok to do so), we do…but all the while making fun of ourselves because we know we aren’t “born and bred” into it.

G and I being Annie’s. Ya dig?

But that’s what makes it so much fun!!! Our ability to “blend” in with the Annie’s doing things like eating out at certain restaurants or frolicking in the snow … it’s like we’re Jack Dawson (Leonardo DiCaprio’s character in “Titanic”) when he’s eating with the First Class passengers …

“Nothing to it is there? Remember, they love money so pretend like you own a gold mine and you’re in the club.”

We don’t necessarily look like naturals but at least we’re standing!

Of course most of this blog post has been written in a tongue-in-cheek fashion and though some elements are somewhat exaggerated for your reading pleasure, the truth of the matter is that we had a lovely time at Valle Nevado and we are definitely looking forward to falling in the snow again very soon!

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