4th - 5th December 2003
The Parque Nacional Conguillío was set up to preserve the araucaria (monkey-puzzle tree), and solid stands of these trees can be found all over, as well as coigue forest. We managed to get to the park that night, although it was pitch black as we entered the park proper. The northerly entrance is a very narrow and bumpy road with lots of ruts - not easy without 4WD. Luckily it wasn't raining or the track would have been very difficult to pass along. The road got much worse as we got further into the park and the muddy surface was very slippery, with large water channels running down the road. It was pretty eerie driving at night with all the trees overhanging the road, moss dangling off the branches. It was like something out of "Blair Witch". Eventually we found the campsite and pitched up, just as the heavens opened. Boy did it rain!
The campsite there is well maintained in an attractive forest setting, with picnic tables and a shelter to cook under in inclement weather. There are also clean, hot showers. We paid 6000 pesos for two people per night (approximately £6).
Having arrived in the park to rain, we were greeted again in the morning by overcast skies and wet weather. So the awning went up and we cooked some breakfast whilst trying to decide whether to hang around and hope the weather would improve, or leave the park and get back onto the road south. Speaking with the people who maintained the campsite, they said the weather would improve by the next day, and so we decided to stay another day and take to one of the shorter trails.
The rain had eased off somewhat and was fairly light as we climbed gently through bamboo, coigue and then araucaria forest. But then it started to get a lot heavier and eventually we turned back as the rain was coming down too hard to make the walk enjoyable.
Back at the campsite Ed bumped into some guys from the US who were in the park for a couple of weeks to do some walking. They had hoped to do some back country camping and had come equipped to that end. On arrival they had found out there was no back country camping permitted in the park and they had to resign themselves to doing long day walks, returning to the campsite each night. They told us about the cafe a short walk away where some fresh bread would be just about ready, so after drying ourselves off we headed up there for a hot drink and some warm rolls and butter, drying our coats and boots by the open fire and whiling away the afternoon chatting with the American guys.
With the howling winds and heavy rain outside, we decided to eat at the cafe that evening as well. They were doing a BBQ under the porch - a much more civilised option than struggling to cook over our petrol stove outside. And after all the red wine Sue had been drinking all afternoon, who knows what our food would have turned out like?
The BBQ consisted of two huge slabs of meat, supported over the coals by what looked like a sword threaded through the middle of each piece. It was then slowly turned over the hot embers and salted just as it came off the heat. The meat was superb and so tender.
The next morning the weather had cleared a lot although it was still overcast and looked as if it might rain at some point. Before driving out of the park we went along the trail to the lake and the beaches. The beaches are made up of black volcanic sand and the dead trees littering the area have really interesting textures.
Returning to the car about 2pm, we headed off through the southern entrance - a far easier route than the one we came in on, with amazing colourful strata in the rocks around and a landscape of black volcanic lava.
Rather than go straight back onto the Panamericana, we decided to go the longer and more scenic way round via Lago Villarrica with its active volcano, and then join the Panamericana further south.