It ain't over till it's over
It is one of these things that first you hate then you love and appreciate. I really wanted to do this trek after Marika and Byron told me that it was the best and hardest trek they have done. I can't remember if there was 'ever' at the end of that sentence but it was tempting enough to go there. They said they had encountered almost all kinds of landscapes including a desert - moonscape, hot natural baths, forest and of course the geysers - the peak of this trek.
So I did it. I left Liz in Bariloche with the kids (B&M) and they kindly hosted her in their temporary flat, I then took the bus to Osorno. This was the first lone bus ride I had done on this trip and thus I was sad. To add a bit of salt to my open wound, the border control selected my bag to open and strip off - oh what a joy, luckily they didn't find the drugs and ammunition nor did they find the piece of salami or the piece of wood I am carving - I guess they were shocked
The tree canopy opens up for some sun
how tidy the bag was plus slowness is a merit... sometimes. Two hours later than expected I arrived in Osorno and found quite quickly the hostel 'Residencial Ortega' which was conveniently close to the bus station(s) and to the market. The room was small but included breakfast and I could keep my belongings there for the time of the trek free of charge, I also told them that Liz would come there in three or four days... then off I went.
First to the market were the bus to Puyehue was and then a quick rush to an Internet place to let Liz know the arrangements, then back to the station to find, that as I expected, that I was not the only Israeli for this trip. This trek is mostly travelled by Israelis as it becomes apparent and as B&M told me (they were the only Aussies when they trekked there). To my surprise there were only two Israeli girls who despite the up and coming Passover preferred to trek - so that's why I didn't see a whole flock there...
The bus went off and arrived at the restaurant where a group of the chosen ones waited for
Morning has broken
The sky changed colours like crazy
the return bus and told us that it is OK, meaning not that hard, (yeah, I believe you). Registration at the administration book confirmed once again that except of one German and the two Australians only Israelis had walked there in the past two pages of the book.
Then we started to walk. First it was flat until we reached the first fence of the forest. Then it was a little harder, then it was hell, but as you know hell doesn't come at once, it builds up and tricks you. So even when I agreed and confirmed and had no doubt that this is indeed hell, that B&M were right to say that it was very hard, I thought I was already not too far from ending the worst part - how naive - it wasn't even half way.
After the flat part, across the first fence to the second is still an easy ascend, then across the second fence the forest covers the sun, which is lovely and dramatic, though cold and damp and hence muddy. Then the walk leads up and the degree of elevation changes but it is constantly up, so much so that when
it is only a shallow ascend I called it flat, but it was nothing like flat. The path winds up between the trees along mud gullies that don't give you anything to hold on to, except to the question why? After four hours I reached to a relief of the forest and then I knew I was close to the refuge.
The girls were already there, smashed on the grass without the ability to move a finger. I went to the refuge to be not surprised to see how dirty it was. I wouldn't put a dog there. In fact I could imagine how dirty it was by looking at the surroundings, they were, polluted with rubbish not only waste but human waste as well, around the building of the refuge, people who were too lazy at night to walk to the toilet, which was well arranged and positioned not far from the refuge, did it behind the refuge building. As B&M had shared the same experience I followed their spirit and cleaned around, there was a broom there. After an hour the refuge and around were clean and the fire was burning. Then another flock of Israelis came to
the refuge, returning from the hot springs. In the morning I asked them to please clean their rubbish before they leave. To my surprise on my way back the refuge was clean and all the sacks of rubbish were gone. The girls told me that the Israeli group took all the rubbish down with them as part of the Passover spirit which is - cleaning - really! Well done guys and girls!
Now it was the second day of my trek when they did their Passover mitzvah, I was already struggling up the footpath to the Puyehue volcano. Such a gradient on scree I have never walked in my life. The maybe a 1km walk to the top took me two hours. The amount of energy used was disproportionate to the distance I walked or to the time and ease it took to get back down to the junction where we left our bags. The view on the other hand was magic. We were blessed with a fine day, in fact all the days of this trek were lovely, sunny, warm, and clear skies. We were above clouds, that in the morning covered the valley beneath us and made those
great mountains around us look like hills that slop gently to the sea (of clouds). The fine visibility stretched beyond volcano Osorno in the south to volcano Lanin in the northeast. The landscape beneath us included the grassland by the refuge, the rocks and scree of the volcano and a desert like yellowish reddish brownish hills that also hosted a glacier like lava rock. Each one of us admired this fascinating marvellous view in its way and rushed back down to snack some lunch and then head on to the next stop - the hot springs. Walking that undulating trail was not as bad as the up hill trail of the forest. I appreciate that it is indeed an easy trail, clearly visible and without particular obstacles, just the odd crack that needs a detour that mentally annoyed me. I tried to pace my self and time how long to the next hill at the distance, when those cracks came every now and then causing me to re time my destination. I was tired after the climb earlier that day and so really wanted to finish it but no, then another obstacle - a river - which I couldn't find
a way to cross but through the water, this forced me to take off my shoes and put them on again and that took time because I am slow and the water was freezing - my poor battered feet. Finally I arrived at the campsite, just by the hot springs... what a marketing gem. It is a river that has at times some extension to the side where one can sit body covered and bath. I didn't do it but the girls did and another Chilean as well just before night fell.
Oh, what a night it was... Full moon and clear of clouds the desert moonscape indeed glowed like a moon in various tones of dark blue and blue-grey, heavens above shined their stars and the river ran through it murmuring its relaxing sound. I thought then that walking there at night could be a fascinating experience.
Next day came and soon after we left the camp we lost the trail. Whilst the trail previously was well marked by bamboo like sticks every time needed, in here there was no marking nor a trail. So the girls went west and I followed them because I didn't want to separate.
Although we quite quickly sensed that we were wrong it was only after we spotted the two Chileans walking in the other direction that we turned back, rushing to catch their way. There we found a trail again and we followed it to yet another extension of the river, this time it was the cold river (there are two streams in the area one is cold and one is hot that makes the hot baths), where we had to cross bare foot - it was painfully freezing. The trail continued and at some point hid behind a hill. So I lead us wrongly to a gully instead of straight on - great. That mistake cost us another two hours and by the time we were back from the dead end gully the girls decided to head back to the camp and on to the refuge. I on the other hand took interest in the trail one of the girls had just noticed - it was the right way to the geysers. As I heard the girls head away from me I couldn't stop my curiosity and desire to beat this bloody trek. In my eyes was the possible shame of
coming back without seeing the geysers and this shameful picture made me determent to press on. I walked fast, I almost ran, ignoring the fatigue of my body at the second half of the third day of this trek. I knew that it was late in the day and realised that the chance to meet the girls in the refuge that night faded with every step I took in the direction of the geysers. It was then when I decided to stay another half night in the camp by the springs and head back to early morning before sunrise.
As the trail got clearer I finally got to a point where it was noted 'Geyser' - absolutely ridiculous - if this sign was few kms back we would not get lost. I followed the trail passionately crossing a beautiful lake, climbing a hill and then I saw the big smoke coming from the ground. By then my excitement didn't know limit. I walked faster down and up another hill, the sulphur smell got stronger and the steaming cloud hazed my view - I had arrived - what a thrill. It is not a nice smell but it was precious. Two
mistakes, fatigue and time limit didn't stop me. The yellow - green mud around the mouth of the geyser was soft and warm. At the bottom of the cloud I could see the bubbling pools of mud. It was beautiful. It was nature in its best power and energy and... magic. It was far far away, three days away, high in the mountains. The combination of these factors almost made my eyes well up , especially in the light that I nearly missed it. But I hadn’t . I built a tower of stones for Liz who couldn't share with me the moment and whom with I like so much to share these kind of terrific moments, took some more photos and rushed back to the tent for an early sleep.
At two in the morning my body woke up and after twenty more minutes I decided to check the skies - full moon and clear. I warmed myself up, ate breakfast and packed slowly. I had in mind the trail back and remembered a stretch without a clear trail, I wanted to get there close to sunrise in the case I get lost, as then I will not have
to wait too long for the day light. And so, according to this calculation, also bearing in mind that I have two river crossings I left at 4am. As expected I did get lost at the part where the trail was unrecognisable, and the foot prints faded, the markings invisible under the moonlight, but as I turned back I recognised some foot prints that led me back onto the right trail. Moonlight suddenly overpowered by sunrise and then there was light.
I walked rapidly back aiming to reach the 12:30PM bus back to Osorno. I ran down the notorious forest in 1.5hrs, carrying my full pack and met the girls to their shock just before the bus arrived.
Now to finalise this event hundred percent I looked forward to meeting Liz. The hostel girl took a moment to recognise me, but then she realised whom I was belonged to and took me to the door behind it I heard a familiar voice - I was shining with happiness.
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