Over the past two weeks we've hiked from jungles practically dripping in green to the erosion-cut landscape of the desert. I'll cover our first green week from lush Huerquehue National Park to Flor del Valle, Chile (sadly our last time in Chile) and Sarah will write in our next blog post about our second dusty week in from volcanic Caviahue, Argentina to Chos Malal, Argentina.
Hiking through Huerquehue (pronounced "where-kay-way") National Park, we found the hiking trails that Los Alerces National Park didn't provide. We were happy to be protected by the cool shade of the tall forest dotted with the exotic-looking araucaria tree. We patiently waited for a fairy to fly by while the park's well-maintained trails led us to white cascades falling down luges of black rock, tranquil lagoons flanked by moss-covered granite cliffs, a peaceful river valley, and ultimately to the relaxing Termas Rio Blanco (hot springs). However, the only thing that ended up flying was the mysterious tailed creature (monito del monte?) that fell onto our tent in the middle of the night - Sarah, in her sleepy semi-conscious state, wound up and THWACK! sent the little guy flying into the night's abyss before snuggling back into her sleeping bag unperturbed.
From the north end of Huerquehue National Park, we hitched to the tiny town of Reigolil, Chile- although not too small to not have public wifi! Shelley and Sarah were able to briefly check e-mail via their kindles (mine broke) and find out Whitney Houston had died, which led to our repeat renditions of "I Will Always Love You" and "Queen of the Night" the rest of the leg.
Since the new year, we've been mostly hiking through the well-trailed and also well-traveled "Lakes District" of Chile and Argentina marked with several beautiful National Parks. As we left Reigolil, we found ourselves back on the road less traveled and couldn't help but feel more at home. Our route unfolded in front of us, each day a new adventure formed by chatting with locals and by sketching trails, dirt roads and landmarks onto our basic, undetailed map. The tiny towns and posts we came across on the rest of this leg do not show up on maps (not even google maps!).
Walking out of town and along the Chile/ Argentina border, we came upon a Carabineros station (ranger/sheriff/border patrol of Chile) where we were invited to camp for the night despite the sign indicating otherwise out front. We joined the five hospitable Carabineros while we cooked our late dinner of Mexican-flavored rice (for the second time this trip, Sarah had to excuse herself to puke from eating rice too fast - it causes a severe esophageal spasm) and they shared several glasses of wine and pisco sour with us- alternating cheers or "salud" to Valentine's Day and Whitney Houston. In the morning, we woke up to a breakfast of eggs, warm homemade bread, tea, and coffee - we didn't hit the trail until 1pm and not without a hefty roll of homemade bread for the road.
After a long day of hiking, we came to a fork in what had turned from a trail and split into two roads - not knowing which road would eventually lead us in the correct direction or dead-end, we found a nearby house and asked directions. The caretaker ended up inviting us into the property- a New Zealander's vacation home- and insisted we stay the night in actual beds with down comforters. Sarah woke up early the following morning (Shelley and I stayed in bed nursing colds) to join the caretaker in milking the cows and cheese-making. We all joined up for a late breakfast of fresh cows milk, made-last-week cheese, hot-off-the-griddle torta frita (like an unsugared donut shaped in a square), preserves, hot tea, and of course mate (a traditional tea drink).
We continued on the unimproved dirt road occupied by several large mountain properties of wealthy foreigners. As we lowered into the "town" of Caren, we were unexpectedly delayed by one hour- picking ripe BLACKBERRIES.
With happy bellies and stained fingers, we lowered into the picturesque Flor del Valle (Flower of the Valley). The valley we merely stumbled upon begins with an approximately 200ft free-falling waterfall dropping into the river that calmly meanders through this fertile valley boasting healthy herds of sheep and cows, more blackberries, and fruit-bearing orchards. That day the sun pierced through the sky's multiple shades of blues and grays to set aglow the tall grasses swaying in the breeze. We played tag with a gigantic hawk coasting from fence post to fence post as we walked along the valley's single pewter gray road (volcanic soil). We walked silently deep in thought and happiness for the gifts this day and this journey had bestowed upon us.
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