As we pulled up next to our Airbnb in Pucón we were immediately greeted by three huge, slobbering mounds of fluff who were super excited to have visitors. The owner of our little cabin, who lived next door, came out close behind her excitable dogs to greet us and show us the house – and introduce us formally to her pets! The house was an adorable wooden cabin about a half hour walk from the centre of Pucón, complete with a great wood burning heater for the chilly evenings. As well as that, when the sky was clear we had a perfect view of the nearby snow capped volcano that towered above the trees. It was an idyllic location, and to top it all off there was no WiFi – we all agreed that it was actually really nice to have a break from the outside world for a few days.

After our long journey we decided to have a relaxing first day in Pucón just mooching around and exploring. In the morning we wandered down the road into town and went for a coffee at Cafe Berlin, where we chatted for a while with our barista about Chile. He was originally from Buenos Aires so he also gave me and Dan some tips for our upcoming stay there, but unfortunately he spoke Spanish a little too fast for us so all we really got was “it’s really hot in Buenos Aires”, which he mentioned several times for emphasis. Afterwards we walked down to the shore of Lago Villarrica to admire the view of the volcanoes over the beautiful blue waters, before trying another cafe called Cafe de la P – this time for cakes and beers! That night we went for dinner at a highly recommended burger restaurant called El Camino, which probably had the most detailed and varied burger menu any of us had ever seen. They also served Jane a gin and tonic that was so heavy on the gin, she barely had room for any tonic! It turned out that this generosity with spirits was not exclusive to El Camino – Jane found that her gin and tonics throughout Chile only seemed to add the tonic as kind of an afterthought.

The next day we went out for our first hike in Chile to see the lakes in Huerquehue National Park, about a 30km drive away from Pucón. This was about a 12km hike (6km to the top and 6km back) through woodland up the side of a mountain, and it turned out to be a pretty tough climb thanks to the trail being turned into a mud slick by all the melting mountain ice. Jane and Steve stopped at one of the viewpoints near the top to eat lunch before walking/sliding back down, while Dan and I scrambled on to see the top lakes. As the mud gave way to hardened snow and my already terrible balance was challenged to the extreme, I decided to sit out the final climb of the hike while Dan went ahead to see the last lake, which he said was still almost totally covered with ice. Despite the difficult conditions the views and scenery were incredible, and walking through the silent forest hearing nothing but the creaking of snow and ice all around made us feel like we were alone in the world.

Despite the beautiful scenery I felt pretty nervous about the descent down the 6km mudslide, but apart from one tumble into a pile of snow we made it down unscathed. Unfortunately Steve had not been so lucky – when we met up with them back at the car we discovered that Steve was covered in mud after taking two falls on the way down. Fortunately however some kind Chileans in the car next door had offered Jane and Steve beers, so they were both in great spirits by the time we met them!

The next day we took a drive to the nearby lakeside town of Villarrica, a bigger, more touristy version of Pucón, where we stopped for a coffee and a bit of a walk before continuing on to the tiny town of Licán Ray. Licán Ray is also a lakeside town, but unlike Pucón and Villarrica it seems that Licán Ray is only open for business during the peak summer months. As we drove through the main streets we saw nothing but closed up shops and restaurants, and very few people out and about. Eventually however we found a tiny dirt track that went right down to the lake front, where we discovered Harris Hotel & Restaurant. Not only was this restaurant right on the shore of the lake, it also happened to be open for business, so we decided to give it a try for lunch. The food turned out to be excellent, and of course we couldn’t have asked for a better view over the lake.

That night it was time to pack up all our mud spattered books and hiking clothes for our drive the next day to Puerto Varas, our next stop in the Lake District.