Sunday, 2 April 2017

Queñes to Las Peñas and through to Puente Alto, AKA Officially getting to Santiago by foot!

A reprieve from the heat
Leaving Queñes, we began a routine that would carry us through the rest of the investigatory sections of the Greater Patagonia Trail. The general pattern is: leave town on a road, go up a valley to a pass, over a pass or so, and back down a valley to a road that goes into our next town.

The trail isn't overgrown...yet.
From the road out of Queñes, we walked through a friendly gentleman's property, and then began following a stream uphill into the valley it had formed over the millenia. We were still in a fog of firesmoke during a heat wave, so the breathing was difficult, as the air was thick with smoke and humidity. We were happy to stop for lunch at a well-kept campsite where we were told by some locals about the swimming hole nearby. We jumped in the water, and it was such sweet relief from the heat! After a well-enjoyed break, we continued up the valley following horse paths. We camped near treeline that night and continued up the valley in the morning. As we neared the first pass, the horse paths faded into harder to follow animal paths. We were able to continue above tree line and find intermittent paths that took us along the ridge line and down to another campsite.

Looking from our first pass along the trail to our 2nd pass
The area was dry, being a ridge line, but we were able to find water as soon as we dropped down, so we camped for the night and went over the saddle in the morning, heading down another valley to a large river crossing. The river running along the base of the valley was swift moving and narrow with many rapids. We spent a good part of the morning walking along and deciding where to cross (The creator of the route had a couple of options marked on the route he shared with us). When I finally stepped into the water, I was grateful we had planned carefully and found a wider part of the river with smaller rapids. The water was still very strong where we crossed, and a coffee table-sized rock beneath the surface impeded my progress for a few moments. In the end, we were both able to get across safely and had lunch on the other side of the river in celebration.

Fidgit looking out on the firesmoke-filled valley
From the river crossing, we followed more horse/animal paths along a smaller river up another valley and were able to make it nearly to the last pass before town before setting up camp for the night. Waking up, the forest fire smoke that had been irritating our lung and mucus membranes for days seemed to have begun dissipating. Not altogether gone, but I could see more of the sky as we progressed the rest of the way up to the passes we would cross. Again nearing the passes, the horse trail faded at about treeline, though we had become accustomed to changes/disappearances in trail and found our way to the first pass, and then 200 meters down and up to the second pass. Following well-worn animal path, we made it to the third pass, up, over, and down to a beautiful valley and well-worn horse path that led us into the small community of Las Peñas.

Road walking to Aguas Buenas
One of the many human traces at the mouth of the valley
After a short town stay to resupply and use the internet to connect with people, we moved on, road walking through Puente Negro and Agua Buena to our next valley. There are times when we feel like we're in the middle of nowhere, and there are times we notice more human 'prints' through areas - this valley was one of the latter. As we walked further into the valley, the signs of humanity dissipated and we climbed up (you guessed it) to a pass. We were concerned about water as we ascended, so we were sure to fill up before the stream ended. Investigating these routes north of the 'official' GPT reminded us at least every day how nice it was to have a route that someone else had investigated for us while preparing us for the rest of this trip (route finding, mapping, not taking water for granted). We continued up and over the pass, bush-bashing our way through after the animal trail faded out.

Re-entering the forest

We descended the other side of the pass, and again walked for a few kilometers without trail before discovering an old campsite. We found horse trail from the campsite that we were able to follow the entire way (about a day's walk) down the valley. The horse trail took us along the mountainside and past a couple of well-worn camp sites before it spat us out onto the road which led us into the town of Coya. We caught a bus from Coya to meet some people in Santiago.

Making it into Santiago by bus, we met up with some friends of Fidgit's that had offered to bring some goodies down for us - thanks for the pole tips, new gadgets, and goodies, Matt, Mike, and Chris!! After hanging out with those guys and getting semi-cleaned up, we went to meet (in person finally!) Jan and Meylin, the creators/initial explorers of the GPT, who were only in Santiago for a short time. We were able to spend a full day and a half with all of these people in Santiago before bussing back down to Coya.

Fidgit knew what these were, I had never seen them before.
Found horse path along the way
Returning to the trail after our first day off since Talca (nearly a month before) was difficult, but we were still determined to make it to Santiago on foot before we allowed ourselves a proper rest. We knew a dry ridge walk was our next challenge so we made sure to fill up our waters. As we ascended and followed the ridge, we slowly got to see the extent of why we had to go to the ridge - one of Chile's largest copper mines was nestled in the valley below. We traversed the ridgeline all day, slowly draining our water before making the descent past a retaining pond to follow a road. This was right about the time we had both run out of water, so we were eyeing the pond, but its mass of deposits from the mine deterred us. We were able to walk a few more kilometers and find a small stream not coming out of the mine to fill our water containers with. After a night's rest, we followed the road the mine was building, up and up, to our highest pass yet. As we walked along the road, multiple trucks stopped; the workers inside the vehicles offered us water, fruit, and even their sandwiches from their lunch.

Fidgit, Meylin, Jan, and me in Santiago!
We made it up and over the 3,200 meter pass and worked our way down into Reserva Rio Clarillo, where we found an easy to follow horse path along the valley. As we neared the entry most people would be coming through, the main gate, we were stopped by a couple of young men. They worked for the reserve and asked us how we had come through. When we told them, they relayed that the park was closed because of the fires along the coast, so to leave ASAP because we were in the park illegally. As we were already on our way out, Fidgit and I had no trouble finding our way to the entry gate and walking down the road past two more groups of park workers who were re-routing people. They were all quite genial, and we made it to our road walk without incident.

Road walking into the city of Santiago was very different than it would have been in the states. The campo pretty much abuts the city with a small village in-between.  There were no sprawling suburbs filled with McMansions and strip malls; there were no shady characters leering from the edges of shadows. Instead, there were people out walking their dogs, talking to their neighbors, and riding their horse into town. As soon as we crossed the bridge into Puente Alto, the city began. People were everywhere, selling wares, walking along the wide sidewalks, doing whatever it is city people do. Fidgit and I walked straight to the subway station and hopped on the subway towards where we would be staying. We had just walked from the southern tip of South America (near Ushuaia, Argentina) to Santiago, Chile!
Some of my gear was struggling too

As we neared Santiago, it was like my clothes knew
and began falling apart, one piece at a time.

Looking down at the mine from the ridge we walked
along it.

Fidgit walking up the road, along the caracoles

Thanks for the juice, passing trucks!

The view from near our 3,200 meter pass

Fidgit looking down into Reserva Rio Clarillo

Some horses visited us at our camp the evening
before we reached Santiago

Sunday, 5 March 2017

Puente Ingles to Ruta 115 and Talca

Some men from Puente Ingles preparing for the
 San Sebastian Fiesta/Asado
We were able to catch a bus back out to Puente Ingles to continue north along the Greater Patagonia Trail route. It is helpful that many people in the campos don't have roads to their houses, much less cars, so the buses go deep into the backcountry towns/communities of Chile. As we walked along debating which route to take out of Puente Ingles- horse path or road- we came upon some locals and they (as forcefully as a Chilean can) urged us to take the road, because the horse path was more dangerous. They told us a story of how a man had died recently, and said we should be careful. We took their advice, as we have learned over time and a lot of practice to listen to the locals.

Paola on the bridge in front of her Puesto
Following trail along the valley up to Laguna Dial
We didn't get far before night fall, though we were able to get the road walk out of the way during the cool morning hours the next day. Nearly right when we turned off the road to a horse trail, the temperatures seemed to be heating up for another hot day in Chile. It has been warm all summer, and the temperatures for the forseeable future were in the 30s Celsius, or the 90s Fahrenheit. So, hot. As we pressed on into the afternoon, we came upon a lovely shade tree and stopped to have lunch. The tree was in front of a puesto, and as we settled in to eat, some Caribeneros and a young woman came out and the policemen asked us a string of questions before being satisfied enough to get on their horses and ride away to continue patrolling. The woman came up and talked with us after they had left, being excited to speak with some women, as it's mostly men who pass through. So as we ate, we also talked. Well, Fidgit did most of the talking, because I'm still working on my Spanish language skills and also prefer to listen. We both enjoyed our chat with Paola, but had to get going to get some more kilometers in before camp time, so we packed up and moved on, thanking her profusely for the use of her tree's shade.

Fidgit enjoying the sunset/moonrise at camp
As we ascended towards Laguna Dial and were making our way around the beast (lake) the next day, I was wistfully remembering the shade of that tree. It was intensely hot, and the lack of shade and sun's reflection off the pristine waters of the lake were not helping. If I were to guess, I would say it reached at least 98*F that day. We would try and cool ourselves by dipping our hats and bananas in water before placing them back on. By mid-morning, my shirt was soaked with sweat, not a cloud in the sky. We were grateful when the sun set and we were left in the cooling evening air. A breeze even came up and cooled us off more.

Laguna Dial
Fidgit walking along the shores of Laguna Dial
The next day, we made it the last few kilometers around Laguna Dial and started down the valley towards Carrizales, a tiny community at the other end. As the day again grew warmer, we began seeing a cluster of trees in the distance. They were tall, and proffering shade like only the first trees we had seen in 2 days could. As we walked up to them, we realized that there was a Caribeneros station nestled into the center of the trees with about 6 police officers sitting at a table outside. We didn't care, though we did politely ask if we could eat our lunch there. They kindly said yes, and we talked about where we had come from, where we were going, who else had passed through recently, and how it is to be a policeman at a remote station. After eating, photos, and goodbyes, we made our way down the valley following an old road. This led us to a woman named Irma and her family, who also generously shared their shade with us. We were basically trying to shade hop as much as possible because of the oppressive heat, and luckily we were encountering kind people with shade to spare.

Grateful to still be in the shade of the mountain,
going up to a high point along Laguna Dial
As we broke camp the next morning, I was hoping for a cooler day with a light breeze and more shade. We ended up getting slightly more shade and were able to walk past a few abandoned estancias with fruit trees and shade trees, so I got to enjoy even more than I had hoped for. Fresh off the tree plums and cherries! There were also pear trees; unfortunately those weren't yet ripe. It is not often we get fresh fruit out here, and I was very grateful we were able to find some. We walked along a dirt road that turned to horsepath that turned to road again, and we made it into Carrizales by evening. We sat on the porch of the kiosko owner's house and talked with them for some time. We ended up camping in one of their fields, fenced in from their goat herd.

We ran into a large herd of goats being herded past us.
We packed up the next morning and headed on our way, road walking the entire day - a first in a long time. It was a lesser-used dirt road mostly, so it stayed quiet until we got closer to the main road and cars began passing us with more frequency. As we were looking for a camp spot, we saw two hikers coming toward us. It was Buck-30 and Skittles, 2 thru-hikers from the U.S. we had been in contact with about planning their hike along the Greater Patagonia Trail! We made camp together and stayed up late exchanging information and stories. I was glad we were able to finally meet these guys in person and have a conversation, and we parted ways amicably in the morning, us pushing toward town and them off to complete Section 2 of the GPT.

We found more shade for a few moments!
We made it to Ruta 115 by about lunch time - road walking is much faster than route finding and trail walking, though I prefer trail. We hitch-hiked into San Clemente from a bus stop in case a bus came past, decided the larger town of Talca would better suit our needs, and got on a local bus to take us down the road. We arrived, and it was a bit overwhelming, though we were able to quickly find a place to stay and some food. We then self-sequestered to get work done; thankfully the place we stayed was able to wash our clothes, as it had been about a month since their last proper washing. We left town smelling less bad and rode the bus back out to begin where we had left off along the side of Ruta 115 outside of HydroStation Cipreses.

The Caribeneros Outpost

The Caribineros and us.
 The wind was blowing dust in my face.

Where's the shade?! A hot, dry stretch

Fresh plums!
The plum trees were weighed down with ripe fruit

Cowgirl Camping and making faces

Walking down the road along the Rio

We got to meet Skittles and Buck-30!

Sunday, 26 February 2017

Leaving Antuco, celebrating my birthday, and walking to Community Puente Ingles and San Fabian

Louise, Neon and Fidgit leaving Antuco
Fidgit walking along above Laguna Las Lajas
The (late) morning of January 1st, 2017 (how did that happen?!) Fidgit and I packed up and hitch-hiked back to the trail. We got a ride with a kind couple who were only going a short distance and dropped us at a bus stop a few kilometers past their turn off. We then were picked up by a guide/engineer, Louise, who was heading to the same place we were for a day-hike. Louise ended up walking with us most of the day, excited to have company as well as share his knowledge of the area with us. We parted ways late in the day when our paths diverged. Fidgit and I headed up a steep rocky area to continue Jan's GPT route along Laguna Las Lajas, and Louise hiked to a lake nearby before returning to his car. We hiked a few more kilometers up and found a campsite near the ridgeline. Tired from the hike and so much socializing in the past couple days, I fell asleep quickly after dinner.

We woke up to a chilly morning, packed up and walked along the ridge most of the day, sharing company with some condors floating lazily above us. Though the ridge-walking was mostly water-less, the route dropped down for a short time to a water source before climbing back up and continuing its march along the ridge. We spent the evening dropping steeply down the northern end of the Laguna and were able to find a lovely place to camp near a meadow speckled with horses and cows.

Fidgit checking the GPS above the Laguna
In the morning, I woke up to Fidgit having sneakily decorated the tent while I slept. It was my 32nd birthday, and she had found some decorations in town. I'm very lucky to have such a compassionate hiking partner, and usually wish that I could be so thoughtful. We hiked on, through a windy valley that led to a low saddle between some peaks, and we dropped down to an old access road. At the road, we decided to push to see if we could make it to a marked hot springs by evening. Music in my ears and road walking made the kilometers go by faster and we made it to the hot  springs around 8 p.m., just in time to be invited to have dinner with the caretakers, Yoanela and Miguel. They were so kind, and even took part in Fidgit's idea to sing 'Happy Birthday' to me. After we agreed to join them for breakfast the next morning, Fidgit and I went to sleep near 1 a.m. - far past my bedtime.
We made it to hot springs for Neon's 32nd

After a lovely breakfast the next morning, we decided to stay a day, rest, and learn more from Yoanela and Miguel. They shared much information, including their family history of coming to these springs for generations. Their passion and knowledge for the area was evident and we discussed them often as we continued our hike northward along the cordillera.

We valley hopped a couple of low saddles and then began our climb to Volcan Chillán. Up a steep, well-used horse path we went for 5 kilometers to come over a crest to the view of the volcano with some horses staring at us in the foreground. We then crossed a high valley to some more natural hot springs! We unfortunately didn't get to spend as much time at these springs as the last ones, though we were able to enjoy them for a time.

As we crested the next saddle along Volcan Chillán, we heard something that sounded like a rock slide. Looking toward the noise, I watched a large plume of smoke rise from the mouth of the volcano. I had assumed that most volcanoes were dormant or aggressively active; as it turns out, some are minimally active. We watched the smoke travel across the sky and cover the sun above. A short while later, ash began raining down as we made our way down the valley. We sped up and made quick time getting down to the river at the bottom of the valley.
The hot springs caretakers with some
 of Manuel's wood work

After crossing the river and not seeing any more smoke being burped out of the volcano, we stopped to eat some lunch before heading up to one last pass before town. Over the pass, we came down to a valley and were able to follow a well-traveled animal path to a road which then led us into the community of Puente Ingles.

Staring horses at the pass near Volcan Chillan
We arrived in Puente Ingles on a Saturday which wasn't convenient for catching a bus into the nearest sizable town of San Fabian, but was convenient for hitch-hiking into town. Even then, it took a while for someone to pick us up, as most of the vehicles that passed were stuffed with people and things. We were finally given a ride by a local man out with his son for the day. He told us about many things on the ride, including the large dam that is being built along Rio Nubles that, once built, will flood the community of Puente Ingles. We arrived in San Fabian and found a hostel run by a kind woman named Angelica. She welcomed us in and helped us with more information about the town, including where the internet was(the town square) and where to find food (which markets had what) Thanks to the locals, we were able to make the most of our time in town.

Neon with Volcan Chillan having a
minor eruption in the background

An older Lava flow near Volcan Chillan

Our hitch-hiking spot/a bus stop

Angelica with her daughter and grandson

Sunday, 19 February 2017

Christmas in Ralco, Trapa-Trapa to Antuco, and New Year's

Pre-shower feet in Ralco
We spent a short time in the tiny pueblo of Trapa-Trapa, then, realizing we wouldn't be able to get what we needed to get done on our town stop (internet and full resupply) hitch-hiked to Ralco, a larger town nearby. Our hitch turned out to be a nice guy named Felix, who had grown up in Trapa-Trapa, but now lived elsewhere. He and Fidgit talked about the history of the natives in the area, as well as the development of the road that he was driving along. It was a warm day, so I was just in the backseat trying to not get carsick- I succeeded! We made it to Ralco and were able to find a place to stay and some non-trail food.

Fidgit at the look-out above Trapa-Trapa
Though still a small town, Ralco had what we needed, so we rented a room at the hospedaje for a couple of days to celebrate Christmas, get in touch with loved ones across the globe, and get some work done. The owner of the hospedaje and her daughter were very kind and were even able to do our laundry, making it the second time we had washed our clothes this season (minus underwear and socks, of course; those were washed far more often). Christmas in the summer is still something I'm getting used to, though the downpour all day helped set the mood for staying in and drinking tea while watching Chilean TV.

Fidgit walking along in the valley
Road walking between countries towards
Volcan Antuco
The rain cleared up as we were leaving town and we were able to catch a 'micro' or bus back to Trapa-Trapa. It was my first experience being on a full bus down here. By full, I mean the seats were filled (some with women who had children on their laps) and everyone who piled in after that got to squish together in the aisle until everyone got on the bus. As the bus trundled up the one-lane dirt road, most of the people on the bus drank beer after beer, throwing the empty cans out the open windows. As the bus got closer to Trapa-Trapa, boxes of wine came out, and then vodka. Some of the more drunk locals began attempting to talk to me and I told them in Spanish that I don't speak much Spanish, though they kept trying. No one became aggressive, though. I was grateful that our stop came up quickly after that. Fidgit and I have a rule to not be around men drinking heavily for safety reasons, though it was unavoidable this time. I was glad to get back to the trail and camp outside of town that night.

Nearing the Chilean Frontera
The next morning, we were able to follow a well-worn horse path up out of the valley and down into a valley full of puestos that opened up and had a road at the far end which traveled between Argentina and Chile. We were in between countries again, traveling between the fronteras. We set up camp and walked 'back into' Chile at a border patrol station. Even though we had never actually left the country, because we passed the station, they had to check and stamp our passports again. It was confusing for both sides to try and explain the situation. We made it through after about 30 minutes and began our ascent to the pass west of Volcan Antuco. Up and up through an old lava field we went, loose rocks slipping out from under our shoes. The wind that picked up near the top was a welcome event, as the sun was getting hotter with each step. Fidgit also wasn't feeling well, though we were able to get over the pass and hang out in the shade of a giant boulder for lunch. As we traveled down the other side of Volcan Antuco, Fidgit began feeling worse, so we took our time picking our way through this fresher lava field and then down the multi-kilometer, steep downhill that took us to the road and our campsite for the night.
Fidgit going along the lava field

After some sleep and re-hydration, Fidgit felt a little better, and we were able to hitch into the town of Antuco to resupply, planning on coming back to the trail early he next day. As things don't always go as planned, Fidgit had another bout of illness in the night, and we decided to stay another day in town. The hostel owner basically forced Fidgit to go to the 'posta' or health clinic in town to get some meds; she felt much better after she did. We were also then invited by the hostel owner to come celebrate New Year's with him and his children and grandchildren that evening.

Nearing the pass!
We were getting ready to go across the backyard to visit for a short time that evening when the hostel owner's son-in-law came to retrieve us and we were escorted across to where the Asado was going on. Perfect timing, as the lamb was nearly done. We met the daughter and grandsons of the hostel owner and were immediately swept up in talking to them about our travels and the U.S. Dinner was ready shortly and we ate heartily before being invited to play ping-pong while waiting for midnight. The time flew by and suddenly we were all celebrating and wishing each other well in the new year. Strangers had yet again invited us into their homes and shared themselves kindly, I fell into a deep sleep a couple hours after the new year with a smile on my face.
Interesting rock colors on Volcan Antuco

Fidgit picking her way through the newer lava field- the
posts are how we found the 'trail'

Getting ready to share in a New Years' dinner.