The week before Christmas, Mr Tabubil and I flew south from Santiago to Pucon. Pucon is a small town at the head of Lake Villarica, a very long, very deep, and very beautiful lake some 800 km south of Santiago. We took a late-evening flight from Santiago to Temuco, the nearest large city to Lake Villarica, and rented a car to drive the last hundred-odd kilometers.
In Temuco, the air was very deep and very fresh, and as we always do after a long spell in the capital, we stood about swallowing it in in long, deep gulps - we could have eaten it, it tasted so cool and crisp and invigorating, and, after all the renovation chaos of the past few months - needful.
It was full night by the time we were on the road, and we drove along the 199 in the dark. It was very dark – a terrible deep dark, compared to Santiago with its all-night haze of sodium-yellow light. We drove with our headlights on high-beam, feeling terrifically dangerous as we sped along the country highway through the black night. There were no other cars with us on the road, and it was very black and very lonely and terribly, terrifically, dark. Periodically, a long-distance bus came roaring out of the night toward us, and its own high beams - brighter than ours - would catch us full in the face. We'd flinch and pull further into our own side of the road, crowding the verge as it came blazing toward us, its forehead lit up with Castro, Puerto Montt, Valdivia – the names of cities impossibly far away to the south, and at the very bottom of the list, Santiago. These buses would roar on all through the night, their passengers sleeping behind drawn curtains in their long-haul cushioned seats; they would miss all of this incredible blackness, waking in seven or eight hours to the sodium-vapor haze of a Santiago dawn.
Lake Villarica is very deep and very beautiful and - at Christmas time - very cold. On its western shore the small resort town of Pucon, and Pucon sits directly on the feet of the Villarica Volcano. Volcán Villarica is a snow covered cinder cone, very much alive and stupendously spectacular as a view. In the mountains around her are hiking trails across mountain ranges and hanging valleys, swift-moving mountain rivers for white water rafting, slow, lazy rivers for floating and fly-fishing, caves for spelunking, hot springs for soaking, blue lakes for boating, and long lake shores for lying in the sun –
We had booked a cabaña (holiday cottage) at the Cabañas Azul del Parque - a property of a dozen or so holiday cottages half-way down the lake. We arrived there just on midnight. The manager was waiting up for us, dozing in a pine-wood office under a yellow desk-lamp. He led us down a narrow grassed lane, lighting the way with a torch while we bumped in our car behind him with our lights on dim.
He unlocked our cottage door and led us straight through the cabin to a terrace facing on to the lake. We stepped out into silence, and lake sounds and a huge yellow moon. Unnoticed on the road, the moon had risen and it was riding full and heavy above the water. From our feet a wide white moon-trail stretched out across the lake to meet it. It was so wide and white that we could have walked clear and confident all the way across to the mountains that stood sharp and silhouette on the other side.
Mr Tabubil and I looked at each other and we looked up at the moon and all the sharp, heavy things we'd been carrying for last few months slid loose under our skin and fell away into the lake, and were lost in the big water.
We thanked the man for bringing us here. He smiled, and we thanked him again, and asked how long we could stay -
He smiled again, and said that we could be here as long as we cared to stay.
We went to sleep in a wide double bed with the water on the other side of the window, and in the morning we called the airport and changed our flights until the very last minute possible before we had to be at work -
And it was a good day.