Updated: May 11, 2020
When we decide to return to Pucón after the extension at the cabin in Caburgua, Jason announces that he is going to live with his pseudo friend. On the last night at the cabin, I decide it is my final chance to get the truth from him so decide to go in for the kill. I draw up a list of questions for the interrogation about ‘the woman’ he is going to live with.
Place of birth
Date of birth
How did you meet?
What do you get up to after dark?
All I get is that she lives in Villarrica but her family comes from further north. She is a solicitor and, get this, they met on a jogging app. Yer right, Jace (nick name courtesy of Essex Girl extraordinaire, Jemma Jopson). I know this relationship involves exercise but surely you do better than that.
Christine is a big disappointment! She is at the cabin when ‘the woman’ picks him up to go hiking and then she is at the house in Pucón when ‘the woman’ picks him up and he disappears in to the sunset but she doesn’t even get sight of ‘the woman’. She tries to placate me with ‘she was driving a four wheel drive’ but really Christine, if I had been in residence at the time, I would have been out there introducing myself and getting the full low down!
We move back to The Gated Community in Pucón. Just the Baby Boomer Pucón Princesses minus Millennial Man. I cycle back from Caburgua but, unusually, it is wet and
miserable. I am so used to sunny weather that I don’t take my rain coat and have to resort to sitting it out in bus shelters along the way. Jazz, who is on the Pucón Princess Group Chat supposedly so he can give us the benefit of his knowledge of South America, takes the piss when I contact the others to mention this unforeseen delay.
The owner of the second Pucón Gated Community house is a right wide boy because Heather finds the property more cheaply on booking.com than we paid last time. She books it but gets a message to say he has mis-priced it. I dictate one of my classic complaint messages for her to send to booking.com (Heather is far too nice) but, unusually, it doesn’t work. Normally, I’d get on the phone at this point but it is in Heather’s name and she doesn’t want me to be mean to them. There are, to be fair, people in call centres around the world who are still suffering mental health problems after a ‘chat’ with me. Heather sends a message to the contact details we have from the previous stay and Mr Wide Boy ends up trying to play us off against ourselves in a price war, thinking that we are not connected to the booking.com enquiry.
I take over liaison because I have internet access and on the journey by bike back to Pucón, not only am I suffering the humiliation of looking like a drowned rat but I get very confusing messages from Christine and Heather who have got to the property:
Tell him the T.V. Is not working
I send him a message
2 minutes later
Tell him it’s working now
I send a message
2 minutes later
Tell him we can only get one channel and it’s in Spanish
2 minutes later
I send a message
Fucking tell him yourself ladies, I’m trying to cycle and drowning at the same time!!!!!!!
Once back in Pucón we have to go to the bank to deposit the money for Wide Boy’s House. I have to go because I “speak Spanish”. Heather and Christine think my Spanish is better than it is because they speak ‘nada’ Spanish. I keep pointing out my Spanish is intermediate at best but they still think I have the skills of a UN translator! I got a C grade in O Level Spanish at school (mind you, that’s higher than an A* at GCSE!) and I have practised my Spanish in Spain, for example, when we visit the lovely Bouza Leira families in Madrid and Ferrol. Miguel was supposed to teach me fluent Spanish when he lived with us for a year but he failed miserably. Far too interested in football, if you ask me. Spain were World Champions, European Champions, Solar System Champions and Universe Champions at the the time and, oh boy, did he go on about it!! The only time I managed to wipe the smile off his face was when I convinced him that because football was invented in England, we had patented the rights to it so we were going to stop Spain playing our game! He fell for it hook, line and sinker!
So back to my Spanish, it actually only consists of about 500 words which sounds like a lot but in truth is mainly numbers, days of the week and months. I also have a few tried and tested phrases that help me get around like, “Where are the Ladies toilets, please?” and “Two beers, please”, phrases I know in 52 languages, including Swahili! Before embarking on this trip, I did manage to brush up on my Spanish thanks to a lovely Year 7 pupil who spoke Spanish because she went to primary school in Spain on the way to the U.K. from Nigeria with her family.
Winter is coming. Well that may be a bit of an exaggeration but it would be the equivalent of late October at home. When I landed in Buenos Aires to summer in January I was congratulating myself that I wouldn’t have to see winter for a while and I should be in Peru by now. Having had fine, warm and settled weather in the Chilean Lakes for four weeks, there is a definite change in the weather and it has become more inclement and changeable. I do manage to find two good days to get out on my bike which is now back at its home base. When the weather clears up mid afternoon one day, I head up the mountain to the base of the volcano and Villarrica National Park. I am running out of routes, having been here for so long so it is a hard slog of 2.5 hours up hill but the views of the active volcano are spectacular and take my mind off things. At the top I waltz in to the “closed” national park and I am not the only one as there is no barrier stopping cars entering this one. I slip off the road on to what is clearly a lava flow and it looks as if it is frozen in time. This volcano erupts on a regular basis with the last eruption being only 5 years ago. If it decides to blow now I am definitely in “The Death Zone”. I have a drink and a snack, and then notice the sun is setting on the volcano and it is going a fiery orange colour. I am mesmerised and take a million photos of it. What I forget, thanks to this Sundowner Show, is that I am still up the mountain and it is going to get dark very quickly. Now regular readers will know that going down hill is remarkably quick compared to going up hill around here but it is still a 40 minute cycle ride down and I have visions of me in a car, as I have on many occasions, going, “Look at that idiot on that bike with no lights, no helmet, dark clothes and no high vis jacket!” Oh and I forgot to mention that the brakes on the bike are shot to pieces now and just to keep the bike at a steady speed going down hill you have to have them fully on! When I get back to the house, Christine and Heather make it very clear that they think I am a total idiot! No sense of adventure.
A few days later we get another fine weather window so Heather and I set out to cycle up to the volcano. We get up there earlier and there is a ranger on the gate who stops us to tell us it is closed. I try my Idiot Abroad routine but much to my regret he speaks really good English so I can’t pretend I don’t understand on this occasion. I switch tack. It’s been a long ride up here, can we just go on for a few hundred metres to get a photo? He kindly agrees and off we go, not emerging for 4 hours by which time he is at home having his tea. I describe it as poetic licence but Heather very ungraciously (let’s not forget, it’s me who found this beautiful spot) says I’m a liar. We hide our bikes on the lava flow and then hike on foot further up the lava flow towards the volcano. Eventually, it narrows to a gorge with steep sides and we find puma scat, using the internet to get a firm identification. Every rustle in the trees above makes me think I’m being stalked by a puma. This is not the first time I’ve had these eerie feeling because these big cats are prevalent throughout this wilderness but this is the first time there has been visible evidence of them. In the Huerquehue National Park I saw small snakes on the road but the most dangerous animals in Chile remain those vicious dogs that come after me!
I don’t want anyone to get the wrong impression. I am an animal lover. The stray dogs are very placid when they are not roaming around in packs, and one can’t help feel sorry for them. At one point I share my lunch with a stray cat which is skin and bones. As an enthusiastic ornithologist, I continue to delight in the bird life of the area. I’ve recently discovered Chilean tree creepers, thrushes and kestrels.
Having enjoyed unlimited internet access, “Three”, my phone company, suddenly cuts my unlimited internet access which is a big problem because the house at The Gated Community doesn’t have internet access. It says I have exhausted the data allocation for the ‘feel at home’ package for the month. This is probably because I have realised I can watch bbc i-player which you can’t normally access from abroad. I-player must think I am in the U.K. because of my ‘feel at home’ package. When I’m on ordinary WiFi I get a message that says ‘no way’! I start a web chat with a guy in customer services:
Him: You can get a daily £5 WiFi access voucher.
Me: £5 a day! Are you serious? I’m stranded in Chile because of Covid 19 and you’re telling me I have to pay £5 a day to access WiFi.
Him: I can offer you a £2 discount.
Me: £2! Are you kidding me?
To cut a long story short, it takes me 45 minutes and 196 mentions of Covid 19 to get a £75 credit to maintain my internet access. Time well spent!
It is Christine’s birthday on 23rd April. She had been looking forward to celebrating it at Machu Picchu but, sadly, that is not to be. Heather, very kindly, steps in to the breach and organises a Machu Picchu Themed Birthday. She buys balloons and uses her Machu Picchu jigsaw as a centre piece. She tells me we are going to make a Machu Picchu Birthday Cake. We? I look at her as if she is mad. The last time I made a cake I was 21 years old and used a packet mix. Everyone agreed it was awful. I tell Heather this to try and put her off enlisting my help. What did you do for your children’s birthdays and christening etc, she asks. Went to Tesco I tell her. Worked every time. They loved the Hairy Caterpillar Cake and the one in the shape of a football pitch. Why bother making one? She doesn’t give up and the night before she has me cutting out Machu Picchu from a chocolate cake she‘s made. I do, however, think I’ve got a last minute reprieve when she opens up the icing and finds it is corn flour. She refuses to give up though and the next morning she goes off to get the icing. We then spend about an hour creating Machu Picchu. Heather has lots of experience of cake making but I‘m still sceptical, thinking it will look like a pile of rubble. But I have to eat my words! It is definitely passable as Machu Picchu and Christine is delighted. We have a birthday meal and wear the Pucón t-shirts we have bought for the occasion. We have to eat Machu Picchu for the next six days! I will now need to do the retched hike to the place, as planned on the Dragoman Trip, in order to rid myself of all the pounds I’ve put on eating it!
More shops open in Pucón and I manage to find a hiking shop with 50% off. Result! There are, sadly, no bamboo t-shirts but I still manage to get three hiking t-shirts, three pairs of hiking trousers and a hiking fleece. The medium hiking trousers don’t fit me. This is where I hear you saying I must have got small sizes because of all that recent hiking and cycling but no, I end up with bloody large. How does that work? Heather, who is also clearly medium, says she has to get large too so I don’t feel so bad.
On the same trip in to town, we are heading for the bus station when we hear an almighty commotion. We look back and in a spot that we crossed only a few minutes before, there is a car on its side. Not having witnessed it visually, I can’t work out how the hell it managed to perform this feat! There appears to be no other car involved and, luckily, no one hurt.
The more inclement weather does bring some advantages. I see a beautiful rainbow over the mountains and when I post the picture on facebook I am reminded by a friend that it is very much a symbol of our times owing to the pandemic. In addition, the rain in Pucón is translated in to fresh snow on the volcano and when the sun shines it is stunning.