Friday, April 24, 2009

Camping Huerquehue

Three days of walking; one three day hike through the woods.

Huerquehue National Park is a beautiful place covered with interesting pines and bamboo. The sole volcano in the distance gives a glow of ownership to the land every time you catch a glimpse through the canopy.

For hours upon hours we walked through trees at times dense then sparse, then dense again. Across ridges and over creeks and streams, carefully picking out a rocks to use as bridges. Two by fours and freshly fallen branches guided our feet as we slowly ascended and descended over and over again; sleeping bags, pots and our tent haphazardly strapped to our bags dangled like tails behind us.
The struggle up the mountain that lied ahead of us was filled with beautiful look outs, waterfalls and the main attractions-- the lakes. The first three hours of walking gave us an opportunity to see the amazing Lago Chico and Laguna El Toro. Although these lakes probably aren't considered the most spectacular in the world, they did add to the playfully elegant atmosphere of the park, like watching a very pretty, off-balanced ballerina enjoying a dance she will never, truly master.

After an almost painfully easy two hour walk through the lakes, with one still sitting momentarily inaccessible to the left, we started our next rise and fall over the peak that would end with our camp. One foot after another, we slowly made it up the majority of the peak until we came upon a ridge that opened up to the burning mid-afternoon sun. It was as if we had been walking underground for hours, hidden in the dark, finally to dig ourselves out. As the sun, high in the sky, impaired our vision, the first sign of our temporary home became apparent: an orange tent appeared in a small clearing at the foot of the peak we were walking around.

With our minds filled with a new exuberance and our bodies still operating on nothing but a single banana and weak tea carrying an extra fifty pounds on our backs, we moved quickly down. Again, we found ourselves cool under the cover of leaves, once in awhile catching site of the orange tent.

Upon reaching the site, our stomachs growled with new intensity. With fervor, we had the tent popped, wood gathered, a fire started, and hot dogs roasting on our bamboo spit. We sat around the fire eating our campers' dinner with stale bread while drinking pisco and coke. As the water boiled around our eggs, the next days breakfast, we played rummy basking in the glow of the coals. The sky was almost white with stars and the silence nearly annoyed with the cackle of our laughter.

The first night was harsh and bitter. In our borrowed tent and shared sleeping bag, we struggled to stay asleep for more than ten minutes at a stretch. Although our muscles and minds were exhausted, the rigid, hard ground below us kept crashing into our bones. So we tossed and turned, fully clothed, our heads covered in scarves and hats, in our freezing tent catching micro bursts of sleep until the sun forced us out; strange, short, interrupted dreams clouding our thoughts.

The next morning we ate our hard-boiled eggs in stale bread and ketchup. We tried to convince ourselves we had enough sleep for another five hour hike.

We left after thee small morning fire finished smoking. Without our packs, the walk was little to speak of. A few steep climbs, a few soggy ravines to cross. Once or twice a view of the surrounding peaks would find their way through the foliage. Nothing much to speak of.

Three hours after walking through the sun and trees, our path evolved into a choice between return via our current path, return via an alternate path, or continue onto the nearby hot springs. Thus far, our experiences with South American hot springs has been disappointing, so we opted for retreat on the path not yet traveled. With our stomachs again on empty and running on the fumes of a breakfast hours prior, we attempted to climb up a nearby hill for the unexplored path only to be met by thorns and overgrowth stopping any further exploration. Too tired to continue looking for the path, and with the sun threatening to set, we resigned to return the way we came. Nothing much to speak of, but this time dimmer.

Three hours later, empty in the belly and hollow as a cave, mouths parched and cracked with hours of no water, we returned to our refuge. With the wood that was gathered earlier that morning, a fire was started quickly and large. Our final rations of hot dogs were roasted and consumed without bread and washed down with stream water.

For the rest of the night we stayed huddled around the fire, coals burning blue and white, feeling the temperature roll down like a ball thrown off a cliff by an angry, chubby boy.

We retired to our tent after the last of the coals went grey. Newly refurbished with all of our clothes acting as our mattress, we slept more soundly.

The next day, without any food available, we packed up our belongs and started back on our long, lonely return hike. Lighter on our backs and in our stomachs, the hike moved faster than before; moved with a determination to eat before full hunger began to hurt. Nothing much to speak of. We took the opposite side path to the one with came in on, but walked past the differences; our nose teasing us with memories of delicious smells of food.

Four hours later, through the sun but before the heat, we found ourselves outside the park feverish for food and excited about another great, and eventful hike completed.

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