Villarrica Traverse, Pucon Chile

March 7th – Day 1

It’s an early start, I fall asleep with my head pushing hard against the glass of the van window as Jo and Tom negotiate with our driver to get us to the trailhead. My bag is so full, and I think about lugging that grey beast of a backpack up mountain. I think about breakfast. I wonder what is in store for us, and I secretly hope the two travellers that have hitched a ride in addition to our foursome are faster hikers and break off ahead. They are too intense of personalities for me, and for Maddy as well, we gave each other a look last night and I know we are on the same page. I’m excited to hike with Jo and Tom though, Jo is from Germany, living in Austria, and Tom has been in South America for months, after a few years in the special forces in Israel. We met three nights ago in Pucon, Chile and now here we are here about to walk around a few Volcanos together.

We make it to the monkey puzzle forest just the four of us. Our travel buddies have jogged on ahead and I’m happy, but then I feel guilty for not wanting to be more inclusive. Jo leads our group up, while Maddy tells me about the Araucaria araucana trees we are walking through. They have been around since the time of the dinosaurs, and have lava resistant bark; which makes sense as we are surrounded by volcanos. I wish I could identify plants nearly as well but I can contribute in my own way, and I tell her we are on land that the guy who started the North Face Outdoor Gear company bought, protected, and turned into a park. It was a contested issue in most of Patagonia at the time. An American coming in to buy up huge parts of land in the name of conservation. In theory it is great, and from my western perspective I understand need to protect magnificent old growth forests, and celebrate the biodiversity where we are walking through that probably exists no one where else. But I get it was controversial. The land cut Chile in half north to south from the coast to the border, and fundamentally changed the parks system here. Chile has both private and public parks and I’ve been reading about the benefits and draw backs of both.

Jo stumbles upon a red haired tarantula first a few meters ahead, Maddy naturally picks it up, and I take a few photos. Tom’s eyes pop out of his head but he knows both of us are too stubborn to tell us not too. Maddy casually says “not enough venom to kill you” and that settles it. We break to put more sunscreen on. The hole in the Ozone layer sits nicely over southern Chile and us Canadians freshly off the plane are still as white as winter. Here in the southern hemisphere winter feels like a world away.

We don’t make it to our campsite at 22kms like we had planned. We stopped at around 18 by the first and only stream we’ve seen since we started. Jo and I arrive ten or so minutes ahead of Tom and Maddy and we break out screaming and dancing. For the last hour we have been contemplating what we do if we don’t find any, so the two of us finding water was a little bit like finding treasure and we are hysterically happy. The backcountry makes everything feel a little more immense. We fill up our water bottles and drink almost a litre each right there. The water is so cold I can feel it slide into my stomach after I swallow. We can see the glacier in the distance its melting from, and Jo says “Junger Gots” and I look at her like she is crazy but really she is just speaking german and translates for me. “Young Gods.” its a saying. Tomorrow with this water we will be as strong as young gods, and the water tastes like gold or maybe the elixir of life which it is, and I get it.

March 8th Day 2 Morning-

The others are packing and I’m scribbling fast in this journal because the memories of last night won’t be as fresh after today. I don’t want forget the whiskey we shared in a plastic cups last night as the sky burned around us. I don’t want to forget how tired my legs were as we climbed out of the crater we had pitched out tents in, to see the best sunset probably of my life over the Villarrica Volcano,  Jo yelling in the distance “Is this heaven?”, or Maddy saying quietly in our tent before we fell asleep; “Best Sleepover Ever.”

I never want to forget how happy I was last evening with my best friend, and two no longer strangers.

I also don’t want to forget the large amount of pleasure I’ve taken in my single combined spoon, fork, knife camping utensil. Its genius, don’t know why I’d ever use any thing else ever again.

March 8th Day 2 Evening –

It is getting dark now, and Jo is cutting up cucumbers. Tom is making pasta, and Maddy is taking photos down by the little waterfall next to our campsite. We haven’t seen anyone else all day and it feels like all of Chile is ours. Lake Azul, fields of igneous rock, the desert, the impact crator from an asteroid, new landscapes every few kilometres. This is what I came to Patagonia for and we aren’t even officially in Patagonia yet.

I’m wearing Tom’s shirt because I missed the sunscreen on half of my arms and my sunburn is really quite bad, a friend who will give you a shirt off their back that is something special.

We stopped in the desert for lunch, and I was at the lowest point of the past two days of straight walking. We tried to make a little shelter of our backpacks to block but the wind as we heated our water but it didn’t really work. We ate shitty rice soup with dirt and more sand than I like for texture, but calories are calories and I felt better immediately. It is a feeling that I miss all too often in the city when I eat regularly and don’t need the energy in the same way.

After lunch I led up the next ascent, the sand land we were leaving stretched out behind us. I used the last of my iphone battery to listen to a little Missy Elliot for moral support, attaching it to the top of bag so Jo who was behind me could hear the speaker over the wind. It died before I got to the top so for the minute that I crested the ridge it was silent. The others caught up not long after, and with all of use standing there in awe the light broke over the most incredible view I have ever witnessed. Exhausted and wind beaten I cried. I asked Jo take a picture of me.

Validation – this is real. This was the world before humans placed a hand on the landscape; untouched, and rugged, we all knew it.

We dropped out packs for a break and I took a few more photos that will never do the moment justice. I bandaged up Maddy’s blisters and told her her I am her one and only wilderness first responder. A strange thing to say at the top of the world.

March 3rd – Day 3

Tom tells us about the Israeli army and a little bit about spending part of his early twenties in special forces. He shows us a scar on his leg where shrapnel hit, and even seeing something so tangible it is still hard for me to comprehend what it means to be in a war. We make fast friendships travelling, friendships that cross cultures and break all the regular social norm of getting to know a person. Jo is all about the German efficiency, and gets so frustrated that there is no signage in this park to tell us which way to go. I find it endearing, but I like that there are no signs. Like all Europeans it seems like she speaks at least three languages. I could almost kiss her when I realize she speaks the perfect amount of Spanish to get us a ride back to Pucon with a park worker. It’s hard to imagine we didn’t know Tom and Jo last week and that in a few more days we will all go our separate ways. This is the best hike I’ve ever done, and there is no one else I would have liked to share it with.

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[Am I in Heaven?]
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