A Moment In...A Volcanic Eruption

The most important lessons we have learned this trip are that nothing goes according to plan, ever. Perhaps more pressingly, we have gleaned that there is a strong need for balance that governs each turn on the path before us: for every stroke of bad luck we encounter there is an equally powerful silver lining around the corner. Case in point ... experiencing a natural disaster first hand and emerging with an incredible story and some once in lifetime footage.

It's astonishing the amount of natural beauty packed into Chile. This long thin country sewn to the rest of the continent by the Andes, serves as an impressive example of how beautiful the earth is, and how utterly wild and fierce Mother Nature is when she wants to be. April 22nd found us winding our way up the steep slopes of majestic Volcano Osorno. We had spent the morning staring out at the incredible emerald waters of Lago Todos Los Santos, the silhouette of Osorno looming behind us. Having spent the better part of a week admiring its height and iconic shape, we made the decision to drive up to the top. Once we had driven up the multitude of switchbacks, pushing Marquito to the verge of overheating, we parked at the end of the road and hiked up to get a better view. Golden hour was upon us, and the beginnings of sunset kissed the world below, turning an already stunning view into a veritable feast for the eyes brushed with yellows, pinks and gold. Despite having the makings of a sunset that you can languish in till darkness, our adventure took a turn for the dramatic. A flicker in the corner of our peripheries directed us to a large and dynamic cloud of smoke emerging from neighbouring Volcano Calbuco. Formerly a tall but unassuming grey peak that we had neglected to appreciate in favour of the picturesque Osorno, Calbuco began to erupt in front of our eyes.

Later we would learn that the eruption had occurred entirely without warning. Later we would learn that Calbuco had been considered dormant for the past 4 decades. Later we would learn that Chile contains over 90 active volcanoes. Later we would learn that Calbuco ranks in the top 3 most dangerous volcanoes in the country. At the time our feet were frozen, eyes fixated on the growing cloud with a potent mixture of fear and awe. The hour spent on a volcano watching the adjacent one erupt will forever be etched into our memories, and as we will learn, will provide a powerful lens through which to view all the future volcanoes we encounter. The following hours flew by, now a hazy but emotional memory, heavily steeped in adrenaline, wonder and fear. There was a time we expected to be stranded on Osorno. However, as we watched the frightened park ranger pack up in haste and race down the slopes, we decided to risk driving towards the smoke and attempt a descent. For fear of sounding like a Hollywood exaggeration, the drive down appeared like some apocalyptic vision of hell: black acrid smoke obscured everything while smoking bits of rock rained down, ferociously ricocheting off our windshield. There was a moment during the twisting race downwards, when the ash started to sting our eyes and burn our throats, that we both truly understood the meaning of a life and death situation...that our steering wheel was starting to emit smoke simultaneously only served to pound the message in further. With a smoking wheel, we sped to the nearest town outside of the endangered zone, racing the black cloud and lighting strikes looming ominously above.

Perhaps this is the most dramatic example of our penchant for winding up in highly unlucky situations, only to be whisked into safety at the hands of good chance. We had meant to camp at Lagos Todos Los Santos that night, and had we not decided to check out Osorno instead, our drive out and chances of being stranded would have been much more grave. Luck also came to us in the form of kindness, as we were welcomed into the family home of a incredibly genuine resident of Puerto Octay, giving us food and a place to sleep for the night.

There are certain experience that defy the descriptive power of words, and this certainly rates as one of them. For fear of rambling on and getting nowhere near an accurate description, I will let Tavi's stunning footage do the rest of the talking.

Up Next: Little Marquito with his quirks, tiny wheels and 2WD take on the wild and mostly unpaved Carretera Austral!