Even though the rain gods are firmly on holiday (somewhere in Europe I’m afraid) I think ‘water’ is still an appropriate summary for GPT08, simply because there was so much of it! Most of the time, we followed river valleys, with the occasional rapids and cascades. Higher up, the landscape transformed into a high-altitude meadow, inundated by either natural wells or by human-made canals. This kept the green grass growing for the livestock, but it also created swamp-like hiking conditions sucking in our boots 😀 We got to refresh in hot springs twice, the second time in two idyllic little bath tubs with perfect water temperature. Next was the sapphire Laguna del Dial, sufficiently warm to swim (for one of us at least ;). And the last days, in the gorge of the Río Gonzalez, our feet got plenty wet during a handful of fords (some acrobatic rock-skipping kept our them dry during another handful of crossings).
With lots of water, there’s lots of life. Cows, goats, dogs, horses, water fowl and tiny sparrows. And of course, humans. On horses. Chasing lost knifes or lost friends. These are the Arrieros: Chile’s cowboys tending their livestock in the verdant pastures high in the mountains during the summer. They live in small puestos, ranging from ramshackle collections of rope, pole and tarp, to proper aluminum cottages with accompanying stables. Most of the time, the few trees in the meadows predict a puesto’s location from afar.
The Arrieros celebrate San Sebastian on the twentieth of January. We found this out when the GPT manual mentioned that a señora Irma sold home-grown food at her puesto. At our approach, we were greeted by a dozen tied-up horses, some cars, a couple of tents, and the sounds of a guitar being played. In the shade of the trees, nicely-dressed people chatted and drank along a long wooden table. The atmosphere felt like a large family party, though after inquiring, friends and acquaintances were present as well. We felt a bit out of place, but fresh goat cheese and tomatoes would be a welcome break to the monotony of couscous, dried mushrooms, instant soup and nut mixes – our typical hiker grub. So we petitioned in our politest Spanish (which probably still is childishly rude 😉 and Irma was happy to oblige. While waiting for the food at the back of the fiesta, a voice and drum began accompanying the guitar. Shortly after, an Arriero and Arriera started dancing the cueca – a complicated dance full of history. Though the people were most friendly and welcoming, we did not stay long. It was their holiday, and we had miles to go before we slept.
Finishing this section was rather tough. Thirty-five kilometers before the end, Veronika’s stomach decided that up is the new down and switched careers to fountain, much to its owner’s dismay. The last day, Veronika basically survived on a little breakfast porridge and a hundred gram of couscous. This was way too little to properly hike, but luckily, the trail was mostly downward, I could manage most of our backpack weight, and Veronika soldiered on. We were really happy to reach El Inglés to take the bus to San Fabián to recover for a couple of days.
The next section along Volcán Chillan looks daunting. Lots of altitude gain and loss. And active volcanic territory 😀