The drive towards Puyehue-Cordón Caulle began on Tuesday morning, when we set off from Villarrica. As we passed through Los Lagos – the lake region – the plume from the eruption became visible in the distance.
Late on Tuesday afternoon, we turned up in the town of Rininahue and – eventually – found the local Carabineros (police). The police officer on duty took our names and showed us some of his amazing photos from the eruption. Apparently the main park entrance was closed and the best route in was from the north; the carabineros had travelled there on horseback. He gave us instructions on how to find the house of a guide, Hector Para, whose name had been given to us by OVDAS.
With a vague understanding that we were to take lots of right turns and drive twelve kilometres, we set off and – not suprisingly – got completely lost. A shopkeeper and a few passers-by tried to help us, and the outcome was that, a couple of hours later, we were on a steep 4WD track with two very small cars and no idea whether the mysterious Hector was to be found in that direction. We sensibly decided it was time to call it a night, and camped at a flatter spot down the road.
Upon phoning Hector’s number the next morning, and explaining to whoever had answered the phone that we couldn’t make it to his place in our cars, we found ourselves agreeing to meet him next to a fish farm in an hour’s time. In due course, a priest named Gabriel arrived in a big red pickup, and drove us up to the house. We weren’t entirely sure what was happening – Hector wasn’t there, although a few other people were; it was almost noon and probably too late to start hiking into Puyehue National Park; apparently the forecast was for rain the following day and there was so much ash around that we were concerned about lahars. Some discussion followed about the weather and the possibility of starting off early the next morning.
The next thing we knew, we were on another four wheel drive track in Gabriel’s pickup. There was a brief stop so that he could cut us some walking poles.
Then we were walking through a forest that got progressively quieter and greyer as the ash thickened, and out onto and over a series of eerie ash-covered hills. The only animal I saw or heard on the way in was a small lizard, before we entered the national park.
We could hear the booming of the volcano in the distance, getting louder as we approached. In some places, the ash layers were so thick that it felt like walking over sand dunes.
A couple of quick photos of the eruption: