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Published: February 27th 2008
Fox in Campana ParkA long, thin country
A rare and lucky sighting for us on a hike in Campana National Park. These foxes are apparently all over Chile but it's very rare you see one. This was the first we'd seen despite having done numerous hikes before. He kept his distance but he didn't seem too frightened.
When you look at Chile on a map its strange shape makes no sense. From Arica in the north to Puerto Williams in the south, Chile reaches over 4000km in length. (Interestingly, the official centre of Chile is not just south of Santiago as you might expect, but way down south in Punta Arenas as the official bottom of the country is at the South Pole - Chile takes its Antarctica claims very seriously). This shape makes Chile an ideal country to travel through as you're usually never more than 150 kilometres from the mountains or coast, and when you want to move on you simply head north or south. The Pacific and the Andes are the two constants in this long, thin strip of land containing a variety of landscapes. We've seen ice, glaciers, snow, fjords, and volcanoes so far - with the desert of the north still ahead of us. One of the places where Chile's geography "makes sense" is from the summit of Cerro Campana, from where you can see both the Andes and the Pacific. Charles Darwin climbed this mountain in 1834 during his travels through South America, so, not for the first
This was our goal
time on this trip, we followed in the great man's steps... Culture shock in Santiago
Before going to Campana we had to pass through Santiago. Arriving in the capital on a Sunday is strange as it's very quite and relatively little is open. The next morning was a complete contrast, with the city in full swing, and crowds everywhere. After spending so long in rural Chile (and Argentina) it was a bit of a culture shock being in a big city again. We quickly fell for Santiago's charms: beautiful, old colonial buildings, plenty of wide squares, good views of the mountains, and, perhaps most importantly, not having to search everywhere for proper coffee, a task which occupied too much time in other parts of Chile! We found a hotel on the corner of calles Londres & Paris, possibly the nicest streets in the city, with old mansions and cobble stoned streets reminiscent of Paris. We only did a little sightseeing in those two days as we'll be spending more time in the city when Ruth's parents arrive in a few weeks. What we did see was very impressive: the huge main square Plaza de Armas; Cerro Santa Lucia, where
On the trail to Cerro Campana
Nice views from the climb to Campana
the city was founded in 1540 and from where there are excellent views; and the statue of the Socialist president Salvador Allende outside the Moneda, where he died during the 1973 coup. Survival of the Fittest
Another great thing about Santiago is its proximity to beautiful countryside. Cerro Campana is in Parque National la Campana, to the west of Santiago near the coast. Many people visit the park on a day trip from Santiago, but this means a very early start plus a rushed tour of the park's highlights, excluding Cerro Campana, which you can only climb if you set off before 9.30am. So we stayed in Olmue, a small village down the valley, about 10km from the park. Getting here from Santiago looked easy on the map but tuned into something of a nightmare, taking about 3 hours in all. After finding a hotel we decided to stay around the village and to leave the park until the following day.
Clouds covered most of Cerro Campana the next day so we instead hiked the Sendero de los Peumos, a 11km return hike to a pass between the mountains. On the way out it felt like we were
Darwin's Plaque on Cerro Campana
"Time never passed so quickly than the day we spent at the top of the mountain. Chile stretched out before us as an immense panorama limited by the Andes and the Pacific Ocean". (This is my attempt at a translation of the Spanish!)
hiking through cloud forest as it was damp, humid and very warm. The clouds cleared by the time we reached the pass, giving us our first view of Campana, and also our first view of anything really. We met a Swedish guy on the way back down who had come from Santiago that morning to see the park and to see a rare plant which can only be found here and somewhere in Brazil. He was an interesting guy with lots of stories from when he'd backpacked Latin America in the 1980s, though I don't think we shared his enthusiasm for botany. He's planning to publish a travel guide centred around seeing rare plants. Good luck to him!
The next day we returned to the park, and with clear weather we attempted Campana. Though the altitude is (approximately) only 1800 metres, the altitude gain is easily 1400, and it's a 7km steep, uphill hike, with very few water sources. We started off at the same time as a German guy and a group of locals. I didn't see them again for the rest of the day. It's clearly survival of the fittest on Darwin's peak! About 30 minutes below
Getting close to the summit
The final climb was very steep along a rough path
the summit we stopped at Darwin's plaque, which commemorates the climb with a quotation:
Time never passed so quickly than the day we spent at the top of the mountain. Chile stretched out before us as an immense panorama limited by the Andes and the Pacific Ocean.
Whatever about Darwin's dismissive attitude to the natives in South America, you have to admire the man for his spirit of adventure and for how much he saw and did during his travels here. After this rest the final path to the summit was quite steep and we thought we'd never get there. We reached the top just under four hours from the start, and were rewarded with clear, blue skies. Almost too clear as the heat haze meant we could see neither mountains nor the Pacific. So all that way for nothing! Well, not quite, the views were still good and the summit was a great place to relax and eat lunch. The summit was covered in graffiti, though there were also more poignant offerings, such as memorials to people who had passed away. Relaxing on the coast
Well, after the hike in Campana, and indeed all the recent hikes in Chile, we felt we deserved (and needed) a few days break from anything strenuous, so we went to Valparaiso and Vina del Mar for a weekend. Vina del Mar is
Ruth on Campana
Ruth on the summit of Cerro Campana. We had forgotten our flags so instead we used a Chilean one we found at the top.
a hugely popular beach resort, and it seems most of Santiago comes here for the summer. At one time it must have been a small suburb of Valparaiso but it has its own identity nowadays and is very different from the larger, nearby town of Valparaiso. Valparaiso is the most picturesque town I've seen so far in Chile. It has a certain character (you might say edge) to it that you don't find in other Chilean towns, which, in many ways, reminded me of port cities in Europe like Naples or Marseilles. It's extremely pretty, however, with its hundreds of houses dotting the many hills on which the town is built. There are many places in Valparaiso where you don't want to wander after dark, but it has many very scenic corners and some lively bars. The lower part of town is connected to the hills by a number of Ascensores (elevators), and its these hills that make it seem like a mini San Francisco.
I think the nicest part of Valparaiso is on the hillside above the port area. Here there are winding streets, bright coloured houses built by 19th century immigrants and many miradors with good views
Olmue from the summit of Campana
Olmue is the gateway town to the national park. We stayed there for 3 nights.
over the city and over the higher hillsides beyond. Many of the streets are connected by narrow passages or steep steps, something like Montmartre in Paris, though a more psychedelic Montmartre. Our first Moai
Vina del Mar, in contrast, is a glitzy, modern town, which attracts masses of tourists every summer, chiefly for its beaches, but there is more to see than just the beach. We visited the town's museum which had an entire section on Easter Island (a good preparation for our upcoming trip), with excellent exhibits in Spanish and English. They even had a genuine moai outside, one of the few you can see outside the island. Ruth closed her eyes walking past the moai as she wanted her first view of an Easter Island view to be on Easter Island. After Vina and Valparaiso we returned to Santiago for the evening but we had little time to see anything as we began our preparations for the next part of our trip, somewhere that will probably be one of the highlights I expect, Easter Island.
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