After leaving Pucon, I headed south for a few days of camping in Parque Nacional Payuhue. This was to be my first time camping on my own so it figured to be an interesting few days. Traveling alone definitely has some ups and downs. Whenever anyone goes on vacation or travels somewhere, they always come back and say it was the most amazing trip, which it probably was, but they always leave out the parts about it that were tough. Well, I will be honest and say that the three days of camping on my own had some lows and some highs, but I think that the lows helped to accentuate how amazing the highs were. Here are some examples of them intertwined in my three day camping adventure.
Day 1 – After traveling by bus all day from Pucon to Osorno (5 hours), and from Osorno to the park (2 hours), I was pretty sluggish. Upon stepping off of the bus at the entrance at around 6:30pm, I was greeted with blustery winds and a steady rain. Luckily for me, my amazing step mom had purchased a great waterproof jacket for me before my departure, so I didn’t mind the rain much… at first. After storing some of my stuff at a facility, I departed on a hike that was estimated at 3 hours to my first campsite. I walked for about 40 minutes and came to a barbwire fence. There was a trail leading behind it, but it didn’t seem to be the correct one since it was blocked off. To the right of the barbwire fence was a small trail leading into the forest… there it is, I thought to myself. So into the forest I went… but within 5 minutes I couldn’t find the trail. ”Could it really be marked that poorly? Am I missing something?” I backtracked two or three times to see if I was missing the trail to no avail. At this point, I’m pretty frustrated as it’s cold, raining hard, and getting later. The sun is out till about 9:30 this time of year so I still had about 2 hours before it got dark, but this wasn’t how I wanted to start my trek. “Maybe the trail is further down the road and I completely went the wrong way? Let me go check.” I headed twenty minutes back in the opposite direction to see if I had missed it. Sure enough, there was an entrance to something that resembled a trail, so I headed onto it. After hiking for about 30 minutes into the woods, the trail just ended. At this point, I start questioning life, thinking what I did to deserve such a fate, and if I was actually on some hidden TV show similar to Boiling Point. It’s too late to head up the mountain, so in the rain and cold, I throw up my tent on the wet floor and jump in soaking wet. My first day didn’t get me more than 5km, I am in the middle of nowhere, by myself, in a tent, with absolutely nothing to do but listen to the rain hit the nylon fabric above me. This was definitely one of the low points of traveling alone.
Day 2– I awake to… wait for it… sunshine! Already things are looking up. I decide that I am going to go back to the information booth to find out how I missed the trail or what I did wrong. This is where my poor Spanish really hurts. I go back to ask questions and I can barely understand anything. The gentleman is speaking too quickly for my low comprehension and Chileans are known throughout South America for putting their own spin on the language. This adds up to me saying “Si, Si” and agreeing to anything he says. Great job on my part. Luckily, one of the farmers on his staff is heading up and can show me the way. We head right back up to where I was the day before… the dreaded barbwire fence… or should I say, barbwire gate. As we get to the barbwire, the farmer pulls a tin hook off of the side of the fence to open a portion of the barbwire fence and lead me onto the trail behind it. At this point, I don’t know whether to be mad at myself or mad at the fact that I have never seen a barbwire gate made of wood before. I soon realize that were I to be in the situation again, I would still think the same thing. As I hiked through and discovered about 20 cows, I realized the barbwire was for the cows and not for the hikers… but then again, I don’t see much of this in NY, so I am giving myself a pass on this. And to be honest, it actually worked in my favor. The night before when I began the hike, I failed to realize that it had an ascent of over 1000 meters (over 3000 feet). The first three hours of the hike were straight up, and were I to have done this the night before; I would have ended up sleeping in a fetal position halfway up the mountain, soaking wet. I finally reached the campsite where I was supposed to sleep the night before, and decided to push on to the next site, which was another 4 hours away.
The scenery from this part of the hike was unbelievable. It reminded me of a desert and made you feel like you were walking on Mars. This was definitely one of the highs of the trip as I felt so mesmerized by the scenery… every step brought a new angle, viewpoint and discovery. This is where it would have been nice to be traveling with a friend or partner. Just to be able to turn and look at someone you care about and say “Do you see what I am seeing? Is this insane or what?” The picture below is beautiful but doesn’t come close to doing justice to the beauty of this park.
I linked up with a Czech couple for a bit and chatted. While we were walking, we were met by a girl walking back from Camp 2 looking for help for an Israeli hiker who had gotten too close to a geyser and badly burned his leg. She was going to walk as far as she could to get to help by morning and have a horse come transport the wounded hiker out of the park and to a medical facility. Upon arriving at Camp 2 later in the day, I met the wounded Israeli and took a look at his leg. While not life threatening in any way, his leg was pretty badly burned and he had blisters the size of baseballs that could potentially become infected if not treated properly, so getting him out of the park the next day was pretty important.
The camp was right next to some hot springs and I sat in them for a bit and toasted to myself an excellent day of immense beauty.
Day 3 – About 2 hours from the camp, there were some geysers that were a must see, so I woke up and did the 4 hour round trip hike and was back in camp by around noon. After soaking in the hot springs and having some lunch, I packed up my stuff to head back towards the first campsite, closer to the exit of the park. I planned to stay there this night, and wake up early the next morning to make the 1000 meter descent. Before leaving, I checked on the injured hiker since I was the last one in camp with him. As we were speaking, 5 horses appeared on the horizon. As they approached, I noticed one of the horses didn’t have a rider on it… this was to be the horse to transport the hiker out. On the other four horses were two farmers (the same one that showed me the trail Day 1) and two officers from the Chilean national police force. I helped the hiker put a bandage on his leg, break down his tent, and get up on the horse, and saw the group depart.
Upon seeing them trot off and realizing I had another 4 hour hike in front of me over terrain I had already crossed, I became a little dejected due to my weariness from the previous 48 hours. What I would do to be on one of those horses, I thought. After hiking for about an hour, I could still see the horses out in the distance. Suddenly, a helicopter appeared overhead. Now if I was in Santiago or Buenos Aires, this would not be cause for a reaction. But a helicopter hovering low over a national park did not seem like something that was done every day. As I stood there watching the aircraft, it suddenly began to descend down to the ground right near the injured hiker and the horses. Compelled with the drama in the middle of the park, I picked up my pace and caught up with the group as the Israeli was boarding the helicopter. From what I understood, the Israeli consulate had become involved once they found it was one of their own and ordered a helicopter to have him airlifted out of the park and to a hospital. While this was good for him, it showed a lack of planning. The Chileans had just rode out on a 3 hour horse ride to pick him up, only to have a helicopter swoop in and play hero an hour into their return trip. As I sat there with one of the farmers watching all of this happen, it suddenly struck me that there was now one horse without someone on him. Before I could think any more, the farmer said a bunch of stuff that I could barely understand, but I got his drift. “Caballo para mi?” I asked. “Si”, he said, with a grin on his face. I couldn’t help but laugh to myself. My four hour solo jaunt across the park had suddenly become a 90 minute horse ride through scenery that made me feel as if I was in a movie. My only regret was that I couldn’t take pictures because I had to hold on for dear life. The ride back was over rivers, through snow drifts and very, very steep in some parts. There were at least 3 or 4 times where I thought I was going to flip over the horse on the way down, and had to use every bit of energy to avoid this from happening. They took me to the campsite and my smile was still ear to ear. In my best broken Spanish, I cheesily showered them with thanks and told them I would not forget this day for the rest of my life… but it was true. It’s cool enough to pay $100 to go on a long horse ride through beautiful scenery, but to do it on a whim, for free, and with some of Chile’s finest had me smiling for a long time, even when I woke up the next morning to another day of rain.