9 Days in Sucre and Surrounds

IMG_2135

In which we relax in the white city, and then backpack through the Maragua Crater.

IMG_2140

Sucre is the constitutional capitol of Bolivia, and it’s center is a UNESCO world heritage site. The city rose to importance in the 1500s as silver​ mining boomed, and is home to the second oldest university in the Americas, Francis Xavier College of Chuquisaca, which is still operating. In the 1800s, Sucre became known as a center for progressive thought and a home base for independence movements across South America.

IMG_20170424_092709655_HDR

We find a charming alojamiento and proceed to stay longer than intended in Sucre, which indeed, we’d been warned might happen.

IMG_2138

We spend much of our time in town wandering the streets. Every day, we stop at Mercado Central for fresh fruit and veg, and sometimes lunch or dinner. We discover a number of local delicacies including J’s favorite, higado revuelto (liver scrambled with eggs), and C’s favorite, a sesame juice similar to horchata. We take two notable trips out of town:

IMG_2161

1: Cal Orcko Parque Cretacico!

IMG_2190A factory near Sucre happened upon a slab which contains the largest collection of dinosaur footprints in the world!

IMG_2175

Visitors are allowed in only for 2  hrs per day, when they kindly stop  the factory operations still happening around the wall, and give tours. The prints are some 65 million years old, and surprisingly distinct.

IMG_2184

Our inner 10-year-olds geek out at the prints and at the life-size dinosaur sculptures, real eggs and bones at the museum above.

IMG_2208

The view over Sucre from Cal Orcko.

 

IMG_2294

2: Backpacking through the Maragua Crater.

We take a local bus to Chataquilla and take off on a three-day trek down the Inca Trail through the small campesino towns of Maragua (status as a meteor crater: hotly debated. But check it out as seen from google maps!), Niñu Mayu, and Potolo.

IMG_2222

The Inca Trail is one of the thoroughfares that took Incans down from the altiplano and into the lowlands. The trail is paved in stone, and feels a bit like the yellow brick road – a neat, nicely paved path winding through spectacular and sometimes surreal wild scenery.

IMG_2241

The first day is long. We descend from Chataquilla into the Ravelo river valley and meander along the namesake’s river. J, taking a break:

IMG_2277

In the late afternoon, we find the faint path that climbs steeply (only mildly treacherous, on scree) out of the valley and climbs up into a landscape dotted with ancient pre-Incan terraces.

IMG_2313

The climb continues. There are several false summits. We are slightly distracted by the awesome scenery, but not quite enough. It is dusk by the time we crest and descend into Maragua Crater.

IMG_2310

We climb a hill outside of town and find a very picturesque campsite for the turtle.

IMG_2325

The next morning​, we take a side trip to check out Garganta del Diablo (Throat of the Devil).

IMG_2337

Villagers say they sometimes hear voices from deep within the Devil’s throat waterfall, but it’s probably C, as captured in the above photo.

IMG_2357

We continue onwards, climbing out of the Maragua Crater and through some hills and valleys to Niñu Mayu.

IMG_2390

Where we find more dinosaur footprints!

IMG_2373

Campesinos we pass behave predominantly in one of two ways: Either they wave and stop their work to come chat with us, asking us questions about where we’re from and what we think of their country, or they glare at us malevolently for intruding. At Niñu Mayu, we meet Caroico, a chatty man who proudly shows us all of the dinosaur footprints in the area. When he finds out that were camping there for the evening, he invites us to his home, feeds us sopa de mani (peanut soup), and treats us to a wonderful evening of chatting about Bolivian politics with his brother, Sebastian, while he interjected with tunes on his charango, a local instrument similar to a ukelele, but with 10 strings.

IMG_2407

The next morning, we climb out of the Niñu Mayu valley and complete our trek with an incredibly picturesque few hours strolling through farmland with mountain views and descending the last valley to the larger town of Potolo, where we hop an afternoon bus back to Sucre. A fantastic trip. More photos:

IMG_2287IMG_2302IMG_2307

Stunning red and blue stripes of earth.IMG_2403

A curious burro.

Next stop, Cochabamba and Toro Toro National Park. Caves and Canyons and yes, even more dinosaur footprints!!

Lots of love,

C and J

IMG_2239

The Desert in Three Parts

IMG_1741

In which we circle the desert through the Andean plateaus and canyons from northeastern Chile into southwestern Bolivia. Careful, folks, it’s a long one.

Part I: San Pedro de Atacama, Chile. Elevation: 2,407 m (7,900 ft)

San Pedro de Atacama is a low, sprawling town of adobe buildings set in the middle of the entirely inhospitable Atacama Desert. We step off the bus, suck in some dry air, and wonder why anyone would choose to live here. Yet people have lived here since about 9,000 BC.

IMG_1695

As one does in the desert, we rent bicycles and take off on a 45 km day. They are far and away the highest-quality rental bicycles I’ve ever seen and we are given, to take with us, a pump, allen wrench set, tube patching kit, and 2 neon reflective vests, for use on the main road. Safety! The bikes even have mega-shocks, which we put to good use on the dirt roads over the course of the day.

IMG_20170412_110756040

Our first site is El Pukara de Quitor, an archeological site just 3 km outside of town. This fortress had strategic military purposes, but also acted as living quarters, common squares, and animal pens. The site was first used by the Atacameño people around 1,000 AD, and was continually crucial to their stability in the region throughout conflicts with neighboring peoples. Interestingly, the Incan empire didn’t expand into the area until around 1,450 AD, and effectively destabilized society. The region became increasingly chaotic, which set the stage for the first Spanish encounters with the native peoples.

We wander the old fortress walls, find a giant stone face sculpted from mud, and crawl back through a back cave entrance into the fortress.

IMG_1781

We turn out into the open desert for Valle de la Luna. Instead of the out-and-back option, we go for the 39 km circuit with several other sights along the way. And boy, are we glad we did! We start with a grueling uphill – the sun is relentless and the grade is steep and we’re both feeling the thin air at this altitude. But we end at a spectacular mirador where we have a delightful picnic, and the descent is awesomely long and fast (8% grade for over 5 km of well-paved highway; we flew).

IMG_1690

From the highway, we turn left onto a wide, unmarked dirt road. Soon, the road is forking and we are guessing and finally we are on a terrible excuse for a dirt road which fords several dry streambeds and then hits a locked and rusted gate. Eh? We check our maps, surreptitiously duck the gate, and proceed cautiously, convinced that we might die out here.

received_10103530777730108

And then the road is suddenly covered in salt. Salt crystals, everywhere, looking like snow! We wind up and around and past some massive desolate sand dunes, and then find ourselves abruptly at the far end of the tourist trail. Huzzah!

IMG_1751

Valle de la Luna

IMG_1772

Cueva de Sal

IMG_1768

Just making sure.

That night, J makes some delightful pisco sours and we stroll through town getting ready for our 3:00 am bus departure for Bolivia. We’ve both really loved Chile. I think it’s mostly about the land – vast, beautiful, and f-ing majestic.

Part II: Uyuni, Bolivia. Elevation: 3,656 m (11,995 ft)

IMG_1860

Welcome to Bolivia! We wander around town acclimating ourselves to the new culture, tasting some new street eats, and giggling at the fact that the currency here is not just called the Boliviano, but the Bolivian Boliviano. We book a tour for the following day for the reason we’re all here: The Salar de Uyuni!

IMG_1873

Salar de Uyuni is the world’s largest salt flat at 10,582 square kilometers, and is visible from space. In places, the salt is as thick as 5 meters. We take off in a 4×4 with a driver, a Bolivian family and a couple of college kids. First a couple of touristy spots including a train graveyard where we learn about the mining history of Potosi (read: the terrible ways that mining has destroyed the state’s water supply with cadmium, lead, and arsenic).

IMG_1834

Any building constructed on the salt flats is made entirely out of salt – both the bricks and the mortar.

IMG_1919

That afternoon, we stop Isla de Incahuasi. There are several of these islands that crop up unexpectedly out of the endless expanse of white. The islands were originally volcanic rock then grew a thick layer of coral (from when this area was a part of the ocean) and are now covered in cacti. These huge cacti, seen above, grow about a centimeter per year. The Isla de Incahuasi is a stop along the famed Inca Trail. It took the Incan travelers 7 days to cross the Salar de Uyuni.

IMG_1933

On the way back towards Uyuni, we stop for the most incredible sunset of our lives. It rained a few days ago, and there are a few centimeters of water along this part of the salt flats, creating some incredible reflections.

IMG_1876

A word on the tours: We were tempted to do the 3-day tour from San Pedro de Atacama, but in the end decided that it was too much money, and much too touristy for our tastes. After having done the day tour, I stand by that decision firmly. We did a single day tour with Salty Adventours for about $20 USD each. We spent the whole day seeing the sights, but didn’t get tired of the weird tourist gimmicks.

IMG_1951

The vast expanse is difficult to convey in photographs, but the Salar de Uyuni is a deeply surreal place. Standing in the middle of it, there is nothing but white flatness in every direction – it feels as though the matrix has just been deleted. It was an incredible experience.

Part III: Tupiza, Bolivia. Elevation: 2,850 m (9,350 ft)

IMG_2056

Tupiza is a cute town built around ample parks and green spaces on the undulating hills between red cliff faces. Our first night in town, we crawl to a hostel after a horrific bus ride (read: two flat tires and an unexpected bus change culminating in a 6-hour stretch of driving down winding potholed dirt roads in the hottest part of the day in the desert with no a/c and no windows open) and go straight to bed. Except that we have arrived just in time for Semana Santa (Holy Week) celebrations. We creep outside to see the festivities for a bit – processions of people preaching into loudspeakers up and down the streets followed by drums and crowds of people shouting “Halleluyah!” at any opportunity -but are much too exhausted for this type of religious fervor and give up fairly quickly.

IMG_1961

We are slow travelers, and all of this touristing and hopping about is exhausting. We slow it down a bit in Tupiza, and over the course of our time here we do several hikes straight out of town and into the surrounding canyons. It is possible to do phenomenal loop hikes connecting any of three canyons together- but the tour agencies won’t tell you this, so we had to rely on studying the google map image of the places before setting off. The landscape reminded us of parts of Northern Territory, AUS. (See Here)

IMG_1965

Puerto del Diablo.

IMG_1973

A little bit of bouldering.

IMG_1986

This place is called Valle de los Machos. Can you guess why?

IMG_2005

Scrambling through Cañon del Inca.

IMG_2017

Colorful rocks above Cañon del Inca.

IMG_2052

Valle de los Duendes (Elves)

IMG_1967

Cacti everywhere.

IMG_1964

A stunning landscape.

We now find ourselves in Sucre, the constitutional capitol of Bolivia and famed “White City”. We like it here!

IMG_1952

Til next time!

Lots of love,

C& J

Cities!

IMG_1617

Santiago cityscape.

A word on Cities:

We’re not city tourists. J in particular will avoid large cities like the plague in favor of wilderness routes and small towns, and convincing her to spend a weekend in a large city takes a considerable amount of strategizing on my part, including:

  • Forewarning and advance notice. Example: “Just so you know, we’ll be going to Santiago for a weekend in about a month, so you should prepare yourself.”
  • Carefully timed hints about things she’ll find exciting, such as beer, street art, parks, funky bohemian neighborhoods, or local culinary delicacies. Example: “I hear there’s a great brewery there and the biggest city park in South America – we should go when we’re in the city two weeks from now.”
  • Limited timeframe. A visit to a large city must not be planned to exceed two nights, and is probably better if it can be limited to one. That being said, once in the city, if we are enjoying ourselves or even having a tolerable time, it is fairly easy to convince her to stay another night, one night at a time, until we’ve reached my planned 4-5 night stay.
  • Lots of rest and downtime. A day in a city can include a list of things to achieve, but each activity or sight must be sandwiched between activities such as resting at the hostel, lounging in a park, or reading in a bar or coffee shop. The lack accomplishments off of our to-do list can be effectively combined with the bullet point above as a reason for staying an additional night.

In this particular instance, all four strategies worked like a charm for two back-to-back city visits to Valparaíso and Santiago which were both wildly successful. Win!

IMG_1619

J, in cities. (as seen in Santiago)

IMG_1581

Part 1: Valparaíso

We’ve heard wonderful things about Valparaíso – mostly it’s very colorful and there’s lots of delicious seafood – and sure enough, we loved it. Valparaíso as a city is almost 500 years old. In it’s heyday, it was the biggest, wealthiest, and most important port in South America. Unfortunately, in 1914, the Panama Canal opened and most shipping opted for the shorter route instead of going all the way around Cape Horn.

IMG_1560

Valparaíso is still the port for Santiago and a thriving business center, but nowadays it is more known for it’s historical importance, it’s art and culture.

IMG_1598

And it’s street art! Street art is relatively new to Valparaíso, but in the last decade it has become world-renowned. We actually saw several murals by artists we recognized from pieces we’ve seen in Berlin, Stavanger, and Miami. Local artists go knocking on doors of private homes and businesses, asking if they would like a mural on their big empty walls. Some businesses seek out murals because it keeps people from tagging. We stay in Cerro Allegro (Happy Hill), an incredibly cheerful, quirky, and fun neighborhood completely and totally covered in street art.

IMG_20170406_114642657_HDR

This alleyway was previously dingy and completely tagged, and the neighbors got together and held a mika – when the community comes together to help out with something. They provided all the materials and had a big party weekend, and about 50 artists showed up from all over Chile, each painting a doorway or section of wall. The result was amazing – like an outdoor art gallery.

IMG_20170406_111957257

Valparaíso is also known for it’s ascensors. These are public outdoor elevators that run up and down the many hills that make up the city. Seen here above the cow mural, the two little painted boxes on slanted rails – one going up and the other going down.

IMG_20170403_162559621

City wanderer.

IMG_1577

C makes a rare blog appearance outside of the sign-off photo. Seen here at Plaza Bismarck, overlooking the city.

IMG_1607

J likes cities after all.

IMG_1642

Part 2: Santiago

Santiago, founded in the mid-1500s, is a city of over 6 million and is the capitol of Chile. Even I was a little overwhelmed by such a big city, but we were delighted to find that the city is packed with free museums and spacious city parks and boasts one of the best public markets we’ve encountered.

We wander the city for several days, walking this way and that, enjoying a delicious brewery here, enjoying the beautiful churches and stone architecture there. We accidentally end up staying in the middle of Bella Vista, the nightlife neighborhood, where just a few blocks from our front doorstep we find discos, karaoke bars, and eager waiters accosting passers-by on the street chirping enticements of 2-for-1 drink specials. Our overall rating of the city is decidedly mediocre according to J’s city rating scale, but we have a good time.

IMG_1613

J, such a tourist.

IMG_1641

The city lights from the top of San Cristobal hill.

Now headed north again. Next up: Bolivia!

IMG_1628

Lots of Love,

C & J

Relaxing in the Termas

 

IMG_1523A quick word on Termas, or hot springs.

The high concentration of volcanic activity in the area creates:

  1. Great hiking views of snowcapped volcanoes, sometimes spewing smoke or dust,
  2. Slight fear every time you see said smoke or dust (or large ash clouds) and take quick assessment of escape routes, and
  3. Lots and lots and lots of local hot springs.

The hot springs in the area range from expensive, built-up spa facilities to rock-lined swimming pools to steaming streams in the middle of nowhere. We explored several on the more rustic end of the spectrum and can report that they were fantastically luxurious.

IMG_1488

Los Pozones. In Chilean vernacular, pozones means pool. Many of the termas have the word “pozones” in their name, and trying to find the one pool called “The Pool” is difficult. (Not that difficult – there’s a local bus that goes there.)

We arrived late morning on a weekday to find we had the place entirely to ourselves. We luxuriate about between 5 different pools ranging from too-hot to mildly tepid. We spend most of our time in the too-hot, with breaks to run down to splash into the river (frigid) and lounge on the grass in the sun.

IMG_1526

Valle de Aguas Calientes. A spectacular day hike from Chillan, our next stop north from Pucon. The bus drops us off at the trailhead which strikes off into steadily inclined forest crisscrossed with bicycle and puma tracks. Soon we are passing steamy cracks in the earth with yellow, pink, and white deposits and strong sulfur smells. We reach the saddle just after lunch and are greeted with spectacular views.

IMG_1530

Over the pass, we descend into a grassy valley crisscrossed with streams – and sure enough, these are, in fact, aguas calientes. The streams vary in temperature, with some being mildly warm and some being too hot to touch. The streams are small and not too deep, but we find several nice pools where the hot streams join with cooler waters and lie back in the natural hot tubs, watching the hot steam rising against our rocky surroundings and marveling at nature.

A few other people have camped here and we kick ourselves for not bringing along our tent. We can only luxuriate for a little while before we have to hightail it out of there to catch the last bus back to town.

IMG_1519

That time that the nearby volcano suddenly spewed a huge cloud of ash and smoke. J ran a little circle in panic, but all the locals we passed on the trail seemed utterly unconcerned, so we kept an eye on it and continued on our way until it finally stopped.

 

Next up: Overnight bus to Valparaiso and on to Santiago!

Lots of Love,

C & J

Pucón

IMG_20170318_102651173

In which we start calling our hiking boots work boots on Campo El Laurel just outside of Pucón, in the north end of the Chilean Lake District.

Cast of Characters:

Chris: Chris calls El Laurel her homestead. She is a 70-year-old environmentalist and artist who moved here with her now-deceased husband 20 years ago. When they bought the land, it was logged and destroyed by cattle. They worked hard planting trees, creating water conservation systems, and building the things they needed. Chris is Chilean, but from Vancouver, Canada. She’s ruled the roost for so long that she has her ways of doing things and doesn’t approve of variance. Within only a few days of getting to know her, she is funny and generous and much more trusting. Chris lives in the big house – beautiful spacious rooms with large windows facing out over the Lago Villarica and the valley. She has an aesthetic that reminds us of J’s mom Martha’s house – the house is crowded with pleasant sitting spots surrounded by interesting installations, old metal artifacts and twisted knots of dried wood.

Pamela: A full-time worker on the homestead who lives in a cabin at the back end of the land. Pamela is a hilarious and expressive hippie in her early 50s. Pamela is also Chilean, but lived for a long time in Tahoe, USA. She moved in and began work the same day that we did, and has hit the ground running making the place her own, reclaiming the garden and greenhouse, fixing fences and gates, and planting her own little weed garden.

Clara and Juliette: Volunteers at the homestead who work 25 hours per week in exchange for room and board. Originally meant to be here just two weeks, they’ve now signed on for another week since they like it here so much. Clara and Juliette live in Chris’s art studio above the workshop. It is a large studio-style apartment with a wood-burning stove, a small kitchenette, and lots of light and art installations.

The Animals: 5 dogs, 2 horses, 6 sheep, 2 ducks, 1 cat, 4 kittens, 1 newly born litter of kittens not yet found (number unknown).

IMG_1450

C & J’s cozy home.

IMG_20170316_194601544_HDR

The big house.

The Work:

We work 6 hour days, 4 days per week, with some variation. We spend our days doing farm maintenance:

  • In the juerta (garden), weeding, pruning, cleaning and clearing.
  • In the orchard, picking plums and apples.
  • In the kitchen at the big house, cutting plums and apples for drying or plucking dried herbs for teas.
  • In the backyard doing pool maintenance, keeping the firewood baskets full, doing the heavy lifting and wheelbarrowing for Chris and Pamela, and mowing, weed whacking, raking and cleaning.
  • Everywhere, waging war on the blackberries (J’s specialty).

IMG_1465

C, unloading firewood into the shed.

IMG_20170401_205007

J fighting the good fight with the blackberries.

Sheep

J, putting skills to use by giving injections to the sheep.

Since Chris was here alone for a few months before the three of us all arrived at the same time, there is also a lot of repair and bigger projects – replacing rotting boards on bridges, fixing the greenhouse, fences and gates, rebuilding archways for the roses and refitting sagging doors.

We’ve also done a couple of side trips to an amazing local cider press run by a 94-year-old man probably stronger than I am who built the whole thing himself out of enormous wood beams, scrap machinery and bicycle parts.

IMG_20170328_103141807_HDR

 

The press.

IMG_5361

Don Osvaldo showing off his hand-carved scoop.

The Time Off:

In the afternoons, we lounge in the sun, play with the dogs, swim in the pool, and read from Chris’s extensive library. On our days off, we go hiking around Pucón – a spectacular region of volcanoes and lakes. We have not yet climbed any of the larger volcanoes, but we’ve certainly swum in an impressive number of lakes.

IMG_1457

Huerquehue National Park (pronounced where-kay-way).

IMG_1422

Relaxing at El Cañi.

IMG_1393

Estacion del Silencio at El Cañi. A landmark written up on the map where we stop to listen to the woodpeckers.

Other Photos:

IMG_1390

The view of Volcán Villarica from anywhere, always, in and around Pucon. Villarica has erupted 4 times in the last 70 years, including in 2015. It smokes constantly, called “breathing”, which glows red at night.

IMG_1397

Araucania Trees, an evergreen native to Chile, has thick, reptilian branches and can live to be 1,000 years old and are sometimes described as living fossils. The leaves, which are broad and thick, have an average lifespan of 24 years. The seeds are large and edible (similar to pine nuts) and are an important food source for the local Mapuche people, as well as being sacred.

IMG_5346 - Copy

J making friends with Nico, her new favorite boxer.

IMG_20170318_125423167

J in the Llancalil valley.

IMG_20170329_132025922_HDR

Lots of love!

C & J

Cochamo Valley

IMG_1315

In which we were planning to head north, but in chatting with some rock climbers at our hostel one night, we decide to change those plans and instead check out Cochamo Valley. And boy are we glad we did.

Cochamo Valley has been called the Yosemite of South America. It is a lush jungle valley surrounded by rocky peaks and cliffs – it is a rock climber’s paradise. We pack enough food for three nights and take off.

 

Day 1: Hike In

The hike in from where the bus drops us off is 13 km of relatively flat terrain, winding up the valley next to the Rio Cochamo. It is expected to take 2-6 hours. Wait, what? 2-6 hours? There’s a big difference between a 2-hour hike and a 6-hour hike. . . And soon we find out what it is.

It’s rained on and off the last couple of days, and picks up again as soon as we exit the bus. We start up the trail and soon find ourselves on a knee-deep slog through dense, disgusting mud. The trail is slippery at best, and incredibly difficult with a full pack on. It is an exhausting 5 hours before we arrive at camp and walk directly into the river, still wearing all of our clothing, to wash off. No photos were taken this day due to the deluge. Instead, here’s a photo of J making friends with the camp kitty:

received_10103454733498358

The man at registration loans us a huge tarp, which we string above the Turtle for an incredibly homey (and waterproof!) effect.

 

Day 2: Cochamo Valley

The next morning, we awake to find the clouds have lifted to reveal a spectacular scene. Blue sky, big sun, and big granite walls everywhere you look. We spend the morning resting and drying out before taking off to explore in the afternoon. Starting with this small contraption, to pull yourself across the river:

IMG_1258

And we soon discover the other problem with trails here. Each trail branches infinite times with side trails made to avoid large muddy sections. There are also animal trails which crisscross the valley and climber’s trails to each of the nearby crags. The actual hiking trails which wind between all of these are largely unmarked, except for a few large junctions. We set off for El Anfiteatro, but several hours of wandering and bushwhacking later give up and head back down to the river to catch the last remaining sunlight.

IMG_1278

 

Day 3: Arco Iris

Today, we tackle Arco Iris. We’ve heard rumors that it is incredibly difficult, but that from the top you can see Argentina in one direction and the ocean in the other. We’re sold.

The trail quickly becomes what we’ve coined a Class 4 Jungle Scramble with vertical sections assisted by roots, vines, and ropes. Sometimes it’s just bare rock with a wet, muddy rope hanging down and you are expected to grasp this rope with both hands (not knowing how long its been there) and haul yourself up while bracing with your feet against the rock. Sometimes there are perilous ledges below you. Sometimes, Chile is not known for its safety-consciousness.

IMG_1306

The trails here are not the most direct, easiest, or most scenic routes, but seem to meander around because someone with a machete deemed that that’s where the trail should go. Having learned our lesson yesterday, we encounter several groups of lost hikers along the way, bushwhacking in the distance until J calls out, “¡Hola chicos! ¿Estan perdidos o bien?” “. . . ¡Un poco perdidos!” We soon adopt one of these lost hikers, Pascal, who joins us for the rest of the day.

IMG_1340

The end of the hike is a rock scramble and the views are gigantic – peaks and nearby lagoons and the bases of nearby snowy volcanoes beneath drifting clouds. It’s magnificent.

IMG_1338

As promised, that’s Argentina in the background.

 

IMG_1333

And as promised, there’s the ocean.

 

IMG_1318

The descent takes almost as long as the ascent, due to the tricky terrain. We make a small detour to an isolated waterfall where we sit and relax in the cool oasis of moss and aquamarine pools. It’s a fantastic day.

That evening, we chat with a couple of guys from the camp who convince us to stay another day, mostly by telling us that there’s ample free food available because people leave behind their extras when they hike out. Done.

 

Day 4: La Paloma

Instead of hiking out today, we pull together our extra food and take off on a recommendation from one of our friends: La Paloma.

The trail takes us first past El Tobogan area. This is a waterfall with wide flat rock people use as waterslides. There have been several major accidents here, including a death earlier this year. We opt not to slide, but watch some kids doing it and it does look fun.

IMG_1351

Second, we hike up past La Pared Seca, a climbing wall (literally, Dry Wall). Here, we come across a group of young Chileno climbers who strike up a conversation and pretty soon offer us a turn on their rope while they cook up some lunch. Yes, please!

One of them leads what he calls a super-fun 6A for us and then hands over the rope. The climb rises diagonally along a bomb crack with solid jugs the whole way. It’s overhanging enough that we both struggle and our out-of-shape arms tire by the third move. But after J climbs, then C leads, we decide with our feet back on the ground that it’s graded a bit high, in our opinion.

received_10103454733603148

We thank the chicos and do another long, pinchy, fun traverse before getting back to our original plan for the day – La Paloma. It’s another ridiculous jungle gym climb up to a stunning rock valley. What are these trails??

IMG_1372

We paddle about in a shallow pool at the top before descending back to camp. We join our friends at camp who share some food for dinner on our last night in the valley.

IMG_1364

 

Day 5: Trinidad

We wake up and are packing our things to leave when one of our friends comes running up: There’s been an accident up at Trinidad – a climber has fallen and broken both legs. Any chance we could stick around to join the rescue party? Um. Yes.

This same friend had been telling us over dinner the night before that they’d done a rescue the previous night – their second of the season. A hiker had broken his ankle and they hadn’t received the call until 7 or 8 pm. The rescue had been up La Poloma (remember those trails?), in the dark, and there were only 6 of them. They hadn’t gotten back to camp until 6:00 am. We grab our first aid kit and join the rescue party expecting the worst.

It turns out that Pablo, an experienced Chilean rock climber, had gotten way off route two pitches up a multi-pitch climb. He had fallen from a full 15 meters above his last protection down a cliff face and landed on a class 4 rock scramble below, and had a fractured femur on one leg and a compound fracture of both his shin bones on the other. However, he was incredibly lucky in that after a fall of over 30 meters, his head, neck, and back were all fine. The fall was in the morning, in a valley with other climbing groups around – a total of about 10 people had gotten to the scene fairly quickly, including one with extensive medical knowledge who had taken control. One person had rappelled and then run all the way down to camp, and our group had hiked immediately up at top speed. We arrived around 1:30 pm at the base of the cliff to find Pablo already on a stretcher and being lowered down the last of the steep rock.

The rescue procession was about 20 people strong, and proceeded as organized chaos. Six people bore the stretcher down the trail, while someone ran ahead with a machete, cutting back low branches and stands of kila (Chilean bamboo) that narrowed the trail. When we reached a steep section, we lined the trail, shoulder to shoulder, and passed the stretcher between us. After the stretcher passed you, you bushwhacked around the group at a run (down the steep section) to be ready at the front again. When we reached manageable terrain, the last six could begin walking again. We are joined over the course of the afternoon by several groups of day-hikers who come upon us on the trail and join in the hoard. With several breaks because Pablo was shifting on the stretcher or bleeding through the bandages, we reached the campsite about 7 hours after we’d left.

We don’t know how Pablo is doing now, but he was conscious and gritting through the pain with the aid of someone’s cell phone tucked into one of the swathes of climbing slings strapping him into the stretcher, playing swinging reggae tunes the whole way down. Once at camp, he was picked up by a Chilean Navy helicopter. We learned that the army and navy do all the emergency rescuing in Chile – this is how they occupy their time and keep in practice during times of peace, and that it is completely free. Damn it, United States.

That evening, we joined a group of rock climbers from the rescue team for dinner, who also gifted us some food for the next day’s hike out. It’s a physically and emotionally exhausting day, but it’s nice to see the community of strangers come together in a time of need.

No photos were taken today, so here’s another photo of J’s new best friend:

IMG_1299

 

Day 6: Hike Out

On day 6, we finally leave Cochamo Valley. After this many days of sun, the trail is almost completely transformed. There is still mud, but it’s either easily avoidable or shallow enough to tromp on through. We take the time to marvel at the stunning trenches constant trekking has created, and picture the native tribes, traders, missionaries, and conquistadors who have been using this valley as the pathway from Chile to Argentina for hundreds of years.

received_10103454734436478

The hike that took us 5 hours on the way in takes only 3 on the return. We hop to public bus back to Puerto Varas, slightly ashamed of our mud and stench. A fantastic adventure of a week!

We now find ourselves 6 km from Pucon, on the north end of the Lake District, at Campo El Laurel, a stunning homestead on the slopes of Volcán Villarica. We are working here for 2 weeks weeding, pruning, and picking plums and apples. More in the next post!

IMG_1365

Lots of love,

C & J

The Lake District, Part I

 

IMG_20170223_163519278Chile’s Lake District is famed as a prime tourist destination for Chileans and foreigners alike. It is the northern end of the Patagonia region and is known for lush farmland, dense jungle forests, volcanic mountains, and yes, incredibly beautiful lakes.

 

First stop: Chiloé Island. 

IMG_20170222_165421882_HDR

A foggy day in Castro, Chiloé Island.

 

A short ferry ride, then a lovely drive south through foggy hills and lush green farmland down the island to the town of Castro, famed for beautiful wooden churches and houses on stilts.

IMG_20170222_181736428_HDR

Ominous clouds over cheerful, colorful houses.

 

Iglesia San Francisco in Castro. Click to see full image.

 

IMG_6695

A local market in Castro where we purchased some local Chiloé garlic, which was about the size of a softball, but incredibly buttery and mild in flavor. The Chiloé Archipelago is also the native home of the potato most commonly cultivated around the world today. Here, it is one of over 400 unique native potato species.

 

IMG_6714

Curanto for dinner: a local specialty of the Chiloé Archipelago that dates back 11 thousand years. It is traditionally prepared in a hole dug into the ground and covered in stones, and consists of smoked meats, seafood, and several different kinds of potatoes. It comes out deliciously smoky and is served with broth.

 

We spend our last night with Benya in Ancud, in a cabaña literally across the street from a famous lookout point. Unfortunately, it was entirely clouded over four our whole stay and we never saw anything more than a wall of white. Benya departs for Santiago, and J & I take off for Puerto Varas, where we home base for a couple of weeks.

IMG_20170222_164905392_HDR

 

We are currently applying for volunteer work in the Lake District and in regions north. But since sitting in hostels for hours using the free wifi doesn’t make for an interesting blog, I’ll stick to the adventures we’ve had in between.

 

Stop Two: Petrohué 

IMG_1137

In need of a break after all this hopping around the last couple of weeks, we catch a local bus to the small town of Ensanada and then on to Petrohué for a proper beach vacation. The road is unpaved and ridiculously sketchy, with large chunks missing, but we arrive safely to Lago Todos Los Santos and hop a small boat across the mouth of the Petrohué River, then find a campsite.

 

 

We stay two nights lounging on the beach, taking breaks from our relaxing and doing nothing to paddle about in the lake, read, play Set, and ogle Osorno, the huge volcano which looms above us. The stars here are incredible.

IMG_20170226_170833018_HDR

 

On the morning of the third day, a torrential rain starts to fall. We are slowly packing up camp when a boatman yells up to us to hurry – that ridiculously sketchy road in? It closes in the rain. We throw our wet gear into our packs and race across the river to the last awaiting bus. The road winds precariously along the flanks of the volcano, and we drive through entire streams running across it. At one point we pass a C.A.T. actively re-fabricating the road where some mud has slid.

Back in Puerto Varas, we dry out and plan our next steps. Puerto Varas is a cute little town on the shore of Lake Llanquihue, and not a bad place to home base. We even found a local brewery with an IPA (pronounced ee-pah), a rarity in these parts.

IMG_1239

J, throwing horseshoes behind Chester Beer Brewery.

 

Next up: Cochamo Valley. Till next time!

IMG_1275

Lots of Love,

C & J