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Published: January 7th 2016
I had made it to the end of the Carretera Austral. I was very much in one piece, though flashbacks of gravelled, swiss-cheese road with an edge that simply plunged 100+ metres to rageing water torrents had this perhaps more down to chance...
My final stop would be the slightly more serene beauty of the Chilean lakes district. If I had any doubts that I had returned to tourist-ville, the street-corner vendor attempting to unload selfie sticks soon disabused me of that idea.
I quickly escaped, however, to the Cochomo Valley. I knew nothing more than it was a relatively undiscovered rock-climbing mecca with a heavenly base camp. It contained some unexpected challenges - firstly the walk in (so how did you spend your birthday, Bec? uh trudging 5 hours though calf-deep mud, oh in the rain..). Then 'day walks' from camp climbing up, up, until - hang on, whats the rope hanging over that slippery near-vertical rock face? ..thats the track??
There were also many rewards, including time with Helen, Toby and Justin. Climbers in their early 20's, they maintained a 'dirtbag' image that carefully masked a near-military operation. I was amused, however, that this extended to cheese-rationing. Also, that the machete the ranger had persuaded them to carry for purposes of track maintenance (on top of literally mountains of climbing gear) had so far been used solely for aforementioned cheese-dividing duties.
Then monkey puzzle trees through the gently rising lake-mists of Huerquehue national park, like sculptures it should rightfully take a lifetime of inspiration to create.
So to the last official day of my trip, and of 2015. In keeping with trip tradition, my last excursion would be an ascent of some potentially volatile mass of volcanic rock. Vulcan Villarica, dominating the skyline and watchful attention of the town of Pucon, was the lucky candidate. Some differences were noted, however, from previous volcanic ascents.
Firstly, the conical near-perfection of its slopes, accented by a generous snow cover gently melting like so much sun-lit icecream.
Secondly, it would be one of the more active ones subject to Bec-attempts, having only just been reopened to ascents after an attack of 'indigestion' in March.
Thirdly (this should be mandatory for all mountain ascents) the exhilaration and at times briefly airborn and barely controlled 'luge ride' that was the 1,400 m descent.
Our group of 12 (and guides) rise somewhat shakily from the plastic trays provided for sliding, our descent having resembled a crazy pinball game with many inevitable collisions. We fail to immediately recall any activity quite so fun. That night back in Pucon, a lakeside fireworks display with many a boom and shower of delicate glitter celebrates our successful climb.
Or was that just something to do with the date???
As I start on my way homeward, the smeared bus window frames silence and disarray - the slowly rumbling hangovers and glinting street litter of New Years day. I think of you, O Faithful followers, and thank you for your company on this remarkable adventure. I do hope you join me on the road again, but for the moment please excuse me, I have an irresistible urge to purchase a selfie stick...
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