Thursday, May 8, 2014

Pucon: The Big Picture

We felt rather guilty for hiding in our own little patch of paradise instead of going out and exploring all of the other  paradises around us.  But hiding was what we needed, and the splendid people of the Cabañas Azul del Parque  let us have it.

In my defense, a couple of years back I came here with my family, and we did everything then.  We rode rapids, floated down rivers, and spent days driving through towering mountain forests, climbing to waterfalls at the top of tumbling mountain rivers, and following hand-lettered signs reading "kuchen" to remote farmhouses in high hanging valleys, where German-speaking grandmothers would serve us home-made apricot and blackberry pie in their front rooms.
            That time, we had stayed right in downtown Pucon, a beautiful little lake-side town, small and alpine picture post-card-y and green and pink and blue and yellow and red with growing things. Spring arrives late in the South and the whole world seemed like one enormous flower garden. Not only in the town; wild rambling roses and hydrangea and gladioli and bright coral colored wildflowers sprang out of every roadside cutting and the bank of every wild mountain river and stream. In an extremely unexpected way, The place reminded me of Papua New Guinea – in the way that every space and crack that could hold soil was blooming and flourishing and EXPLODING with life.

            We had taken rooms at the Gran Hotel Pucon - the sort of grand lake resort popular in the United States in the first part of the twentieth century. It was an ancient, rambling building with equally ancient and saggy beds and manicured lawns running down to a black sand beach. There were salsa classes and volleyball matches from dawn to dusk and little children EVERYWHERE.  It was entirely delightful, and Dr Tabubil and I shared a room with a perfect clear view up main street to the volcano. We’d sit in our room in the evening and watch it smoking.

Mr Tabubil stayed at the Gran Hotel Pucon for a conference last year (Because conference organizers are extremely savvy people and know where the beautiful places are.) and reports that the beds are just as low-slung as formerly, and while the windows need a new coat of paint, the view is everything that it ever had been - unbeatable.  
            One day, Dr Tabubil and I left Villarica and drove to another lake, and took a pedal boat out to a rare “white beach,” whose sand was made of limestone instead of basalt.  The water was clear as glass, fathoms deep.  We'd forgotten to bring swimsuits, but it was terribly hot, so Dr Tabubil and I nipped round the point of a little white bay and found a small secluded cove and stripped to our underwear.  Almost simultaneously - and please remember how glassy-clear the water was - a huge pedal boat full of teenage Chilean males rounded the point and hove to alongside.   Shrill whistling. LOTS of it. Tabubilgirl sank into the water, groping for her bra. Dr Tabubil turned her back, which accentuated the delicate lapping of the water across her posterior. They had a video camera. Thanks, guys.
            In all seriousness, the cultural mores in play here are fascinating, aren't they? We were wearing more clothing than makes up most Chilean swimsuits, yet the different fabrics made them verboten underwear and indecent for public exposure.

            Mr Tabubil and I did go hunting for that white lake, but our directions to the "white sand beach" led us instead to Lake Caburga- a happy little holiday town set on a stretch of grey muddy sand buried under about seven and a half thousand sunbathers, and a shallow, sandy lake, the water tepid from the sun, and the bottom half sand, half-slime.  Past and present Presidents prefer Caburga for their holidays, but we looked around and drove back to Lago Villarica- where the water was cleanly cold and the beach our very own.

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