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.
This unforgettable activity takes place in the middle of a compact desert in Peru, near the Huacachina oasis, and involves joyriding around in a dune buggy and sliding off boards down massive sand dunes. Your ‘board’ is a glorified piece of wood with small ropes attached for your bindings – another example of the fantastic Health & Safety in South America.
It is a phenomenally good adrenaline fix. Even in the dune buggy ride, it’s like a roller-coaster where you’re hanging on by your fingertips. Our driver climbed the largest dune in sight and braked hard just as we were going over the other side. He then informed us to grab our boards and instructed us to either stand up or luge down. The sand slope was easily over 100m long and the gradient was steep. As the tour leader, I was volunteered by the group to go first. I thought I did pretty well, even flying up into the air in patches, but crashed out near the end. That was rough, the sand was like…sandpaper (more imaginative adjectives are available).
It was interesting to see that the lighter and smaller you were, the faster and more airborne you got. I guess you wouldn’t sink into the sand as much as heavier guys like me. In the distance we could see Cerro Blanco, the highest sand dune in the world, at 1176m long. That would be a decent run to try next time I’m in the Peruvian desert.
Welcome to my first blog post back after 18 months out. Way back then, in what seems like a previous life, I had finished up my stint leading tours in Central America and I was about to start my mammoth 171-day tour of South America. From Slothing Around Central America, to Slothing Around Latin America, this blog is evolving quickly like a well-reared Pokémon.
I’ve returned to this blog via the inspiring photos popping up in my Facebook Memories from last year. I had a job to blindly lead a group of tourists around 79 cities I had never been before (apart from my previous home, Buenos Aires). I had no days off for just under 6 months, I was sometimes working 20-hour days, but I was always on call for any tour or group issues anyway. I have never been more tired, or more stressed out, than over that tour. But I have also never felt more alive.
When events are changing rapidly all around you, it’s easy to live purely in the moment and not reflect on what you have achieved. Every day I wanted to see, or do, or learn something new. It’s a philosophy I’ve kept with me. I haven’t quite forgotten the small details of the people we met, the stories we heard, and the places we visited. It’s important to reflect on those memories from my previous life. As always, I hope you find them as entertaining as I do.
I was chosen to lead the ultimate tour of South America way back in September. Everything happened very quickly, and here I am, in a Quito hotel room, anticipating the start of ‘El Circuito’ tomorrow as we begin our expedition through 9 countries in 171 days. Not a bad cricket score that, 171-9…I think. To be honest I’m more of a fan of sports that don’t include breaks for tea and crumpets.
I digress. Apologies for the lack of recent activity on this blog, as I’ve had to do a fair amount of research to prepare. At least I got to pop back home to Dublin for the last month to see family and friends – a welcome but unexpected bonus! I was also delighted that The Irish Times published my follow-up article (link below) – I had originally pitched the title of the article as ‘Slothing Around Central America’, but no dice. Oh well.
Unfortunately the region in the title of this blog is a bit of a misnomer now, but I think I’ll keep it anyway. I will understandably be a lot busier on this new tour but I’ll still post updates when I have the time! In this part of the world, there’s always a good story yet to be told. While there may not be as many sloths south of the equator, rest assured that there will be at least one Irish eejit still slothing around.