Arucarìa trees, alpine lakes high in the Andes, hot days, and cold, cold, streams have been my surroundings for the past few days. It was with some hesitation that I boarded the JAC tour bus leaving Parque Nacional Huerquehue yesterday afternoon, knowing that I would soon be surrounded by people, cars, computers, and things to attend to. All of which I had been able to leave behind for a few sweet days.
My trek began in the afternoon 5 days ago, as I boarded the little bus bound for Huerquehue. The bus wound it's way up a lazy river, flowing from a distant glacial source, before heading away from the river high into the Andes. The road quickly became dusty and full of washboard as we climbed higher, away from the city, and into the "campo" or country. The switchbacks were tight and steep, once we even had to back up and try again to make it around one.
After nearly an hour of bumping along, a beautiful glacial lake came into view in the valley below. Lago Tinquilco, our stopping point for the bus trip. We descended to the lake, crossing a wooden bridge fit for a fitness trail in our lumbering bus, and stopped at the entry gate to the park. As I went to the guardhouse to buy my entry ticket into the park, I said I wanted to "hacer camping," thinking I was saying that I wanted to go camping in the park. Soon I was very confused as I the ranger replied, "Todo occupado."
It took about a half an hour for me to realize our problem; they thought I wanted to camp right there next to the lake in the high traffic area, and I wanted to hike into the interior of the park, to camp at a primitive refugìo.
Once our difference was understood, I was on the way to the refugio, about 13km from Lago Tinquilco.
My maps are not topographic, and from the way they are printed I thought I would be walking up a glacial valley to further lakes and camping. It was a great surprise to find a steep acsent awaiting me at the head of Lago Tinquilco. The ascent was cut into the mountainside, green arucarìa trees, some plants very similar to bamboo, and many other varieties of green life surrounded me on all sides. I could not tell how far this ascent continued on for, which caused me to take is somewhat slowly, but not too slowly, as it was already growing late in the afternoon and I had a long way to go before making camp for the night.
I ascended for an hour or more, covering about 1500 ft of vertical, with sweet vistas of Lago Tinquilco below and Volcan Villarica in the distance. At the top of my climb I found alpine lakes with crystal blue water, lots of chirping birds (which I could never see), and a more gradual trail leading onwards into the park.
I walked onwards for hours, taking pictures of mountain peaks that would appear through the forest as the underbrush upened up at higher elevation. I spotted two huge birds about the size of golden eagles, with long curved beaks, as they took flight from my presence. As I neared treeline, the trail turned downwards, towards another hidden valley, and the sun set behind a high up treeless summit. I had a couple of hours to make it to the refugio, the only legal camp spot in the park, and although I was feeling the weight of my pack on my shoulders and feet, I was feeling good about making it to camp before dark.
Once again I was surprised by the topography, as the trail descended sharply, switchbacking Grand Canyon style, into the valley below. The trail became more and more rocky, with large steps down at every third step. This took a toll on me as I was mentally unprepared for the ruggedness of the terrain, and my feet were feeling close to blistering.
I took the descent slowly, and the light faded away to nothing. I turned on my headlamp, to find many large black spiders were coming out at the change from day to night. Walking onwards I stopped periodically to stretch the now aching muscles in my neck, but continued on mostly directly towards the refugio.
I was startled to find a very large creature in the brush ahead of me, but was soon relieved to see a horses tail. There were then lights ahead, and I had made it to the refugio only about half an hour past nightfall.
The following days were filled with the peacefulness of the valley where the refugio sits, filtering water from the extremely cold Andean stream, reading some good bits of the book I have with me, Louis L'amour´s "Education of a Wandering Man," a few delectable conversations with fellow trekkers passing through from distant lands, and time to stretch and reflect on life.
The days passed quickly, and soon it was time for me to pack up again and head back to the civ.
The walk was much easier on the return as I started at a higher elevation, had a good knowledge of the land, and began my walk hours earlier in the day. My body was more prepared for the walk as well, my legs feeling stronger, with less aches and pain from every part.
A wonderful treat awaited me at midday, as I stopped at Lago Toro for a refreshing dip in the clear, cool water. A few Chileans were there too, and we talked about the country and my trip.
The walk resumed, and was quickly completed, back at the dusty little bus stop by the lake.
Our bus filled to capacity. People and bags everywhere. Then as we went we kept picking up more people, Chileans waiting for a ride to the city from their little houses. One couple boarded the now overful buss with a huge box from a bigscreen TV and 5 bags too. Soon our bus was packed to the gills with people standing in the isle, boxes and bags pushing the driver to the side in his seat. But here this is not a problem. People make way for each other. No one complained, and we all got were we were going quite expediently and with good form.
Back at Hospedaje Wohlenberg, the hostel where I am staying, there was steak on the grill, and beer to be drunk, which we did. The family that ownes the Hospedaje is quite welcoming, making me feel right at home.
I'm here for the afternoon, and evening, then off to Puerto Montt and on to Puerto Chacabuco, where I will find land transport to Coyhaique to meet my friend Lindsay to begin the next segment of my trip.
Thanks for all of the comments and e-mail. It makes me really stoked to hear stories from my friends, and know that you are following my trip.
Rock on at the Merc! I never expected Normous to be behind the counter, but I´m glad he is, as he is part of the family for sure.
I´ll update as I can. Probably from Coyhaique. Maybe I can find a newer computer, where I can upload some pictures. We´ll see.