Tag Archives: Europe

The Land of Ice and Fire – Villarrica, Chile

In Chile, you can hike to the summit of a snow-capped volcano in the morning, and enjoy beers sunbathing by the lake in the afternoon. Despite the Game of Thrones reference in the title, this is no fantasy. Villarrica volcano (2,860m high) is the real-world setting for this adventure, situated near Pucón, referred by guidebooks as the ‘Switzerland of South America’. Switzerland with added volcanoes, maybe.

The hike starts early, in shorts and t-shirts, but you quickly add on the gear as you adapt to the elements. That ice pick comes in handy when you hit the snow and ice at altitude, especially if you get stuck (see photo). It’s a fairly challenging slog up but the view into the active crater is worth it. The escaping gases can be overpowering so our time at the summit was limited. Now the real fun started – sliding down on a flimsy piece of flat plastic down the volcano. This sounds dodgy but it was hands-down some of the most thrilling fun I’ve ever had. Someone suggested making the 6-hour trip back up purely just to slide back down again.

It’s easy to overlook the fact that in Europe, for example, this kind of activity on an active volcano would be off-limits. Two months to the day after we climbed Villarrica, it had violently erupted and caused the evacuation of nearby towns, making the headlines around the world. But when it’s calm, it’s worth exploring one of the best adventure activities out there.

Worst Driving Award: Panama City

The roads around here generally aren’t to the same standard as Europe, for obvious reasons, but the driving style would get you banned off European roads within a few months. The worst I have seen is Panama City. Every taxi ride should be advertised as if it were its own rollercoaster at Disneyland. You’d be amazed to discover Panama has no current Formula 1 drivers, although considering the majority of cars have major dents or scratches, that may not be too much of a surprise.

You take your life into your own hands as a pedestrian when crossing the road. I usually have no problem crossing roads at any point (a bad habit from living in Dublin’s city centre) but here I always stick to the crossing points. Also if there is a local person crossing at the same time I tend to shadow their movements. They know what they’re doing, right?