Martin in Gatineau Park

Martin in Gatineau Park

Saturday, 12 December 2015

Reserva Nacional Altos de Lircay (Episode 2)

December 11

Despite a sloping tent, Sue's leaking airbed and the dawn chorus of whistling birds and munching cows, we managed to snatch a few hours sleep before breakfast in bed well after 8 am.

Thus we set off after 9 pm on another 'Blue Sky' day of Chile's unpredictable weather. We had several physical objectives, only one of which was achieved. Our main aim though was to enjoy our last full day's walking in the Andes. We succeeded admirably. This was a highlight of our entire trip.

After rising a couple of hundred metres in shady woodland, passing a small yellow flower with a brutal sting, we emerged into heat, with purple and yellow lilies that were new to us.

Views towards the coast stretched lazily into a distant heat haze wherein no particular features were discernable.

A small volcano that we passed on yesterday's mirador walk soon appeared as a shrinking pimple below us as we climbed higher. We also enjoyed good views across to the 2458 summit of Cerro Peine, one of our objectives.

As we climbed towards a ridge we found ourselves regularly pausing to admire the flora and fauna - exceptional on today's walk. Purple flowers with rock coloured leaves, skylark sized birds with white breasts, black and white birds of prey, fat lizards and grasshoppers scurrying and hopping about their business.

Above 2000 metres, patches of snow and a cool breeze. We were walking on the Sendero El Enladrillado, which took us up to the ridge and then down a few metres to a spectacular plateau that amongst New Agers and some locals is a revered site of UFO landings, a UFO landing pad no less. UFOs clearly like to land on high lawns! The area is called Enladrillado, which means 'brick paving', which is what it looks like.

Meandering across to the lily strewn 2225 metre summit of Cerro Divisadero, we got to appreciate this sizable plateau covered in multicoloured volcanic pebbles, enjoying views down to a new aspect of the Rio Clara, before returning to the Sendero Laguna - Enladrillado which should have led us to our next objective, Laguna del Alto. We had hoped to camp there but it's only permitted if you have a local guide, hence our adjustment to a day walk from the campground.

It was a lovely walk along a broad rocky ridge for over 4 km, with good views in all directions but in particular to the white coated volcanoes stretching into the distance behind us. After a couple of path junctions we descended a snow slope to a small tarn, from where Laguna del Alto lay a rocky 150 metres below.

Lunch as out of the wind as we could manage saw another tin of herring and a packet of biscuits bite the dust. Then we descended to a great viewpoint above Laguna del Alto. So good that we decided that the views we'd get at the lake would be an anti climax, so we turned around without visiting our second objective.

Back at 2150 metres, we headed north across Vega El Arriero to a path junction that would take us back to the long ridge we'd come along. A little further on would be the left turn up a route to the summit of our next objective, Cerro Peine, a 300 metre climb. But hadn't we already seen all the views, albeit from a slightly lower stance? Yes! So we turned down the path to the ridge and reversed the morning's route.

The path doesn't actually go over the summits as they are composed of a maze of huge chunks and pinnacles of solidified lava. So it was an enjoyable scramble to reach the highest of a series of unnamed summits. At 2459 metres it sported more fine views. We stayed there for some time, having displaced the resident buzzard, celebrating having reached the highest point of our entire trip.

From there it was a leisurely stroll with a magnificent Andean backdrop, to reach camp by 4.30 pm and enjoy a leisurely meal at the picnic bench. The king crab was especially tasty.

Today's stats - 19 km, 900 metres ascent, 7.5 hours, 6 people seen. A classic mountain day.

Pictures are difficult to choose today, but are shown chronologically and are hopefully self-explanatory.

Reserva Nacional Altos de Lircay (Episode 1)

December 10

There will be more about Casa Chueca in a future posting. Suffice to say we left our little house (Rapa Nui) there after an excellent buffet breakfast, sourced a few essentials from the local supermarket, and headed off some 75 km to the Altos de Lircay National Reserve, where after a 2 km walk from the parking area we were enthusiastically welcomed and registered by Jabriella.

Jabriella was amazed to hear that European national parks are free to enter. Here we are paying about £5 entry fee and a further £3 per person per night to camp on a site with a tap and a toilet. Jabriella reckoned that Chileans might soon wreck their national parks without the controls that are in place.

The camping spot we had chosen was available, and we were soon heading up a rough 8 km track towards 'Point 6'. Purple flowers, Bittersweet perhaps, lined the path together with a multitude of yellow 'lady's slipper' type of plant.

We met half a dozen folk coming down, including a young guide with his client. He enthused about the wonders of his 'small' country. "Come and live here" Jabriella had said, and with all the problems in Europe that might not be as ridiculous as it sounds. We won't be moving, but others may well find a more satisfying, albeit probably not more affluent life over here.

The path rose slowly from 1200 to 1700 metres, contouring high above a deep valley, mainly in woodland but with occasional open areas with miradors (viewpoints).

The camping place is over a wide enough area to be away from the very few other residents, none of whom appear to speak English. The tents are pitched on earth (as usual - ours will need a good wash when we get home), the grass being reserved for a not so well behaved tinkerbell of cows.

Having set up camp, we set off on a short stroll to Vega Los Treiles, a path junction, and on to Mirador del Venado. From here there's a fine view to Rio Claro in the depths of Valle del Venado, and to the summits beyond, notably Volcán Descabezado Grande - standing proud at 3953 metres. We spent some time admiring and photographing the panorama before us, before returning to camp for an excellent pasta meal.

Today's pictures:
The Park entrance
The track
The woods
The camp
The Mirador del Venado
View from the Mirador
A panorama - click to display on a wide screen for best effect!

Wednesday, 9 December 2015

Salto Del Laja and la Casa Chueca

December 9

We drove for 350 miles today, heading north towards Santiago along the plain that runs between the snow capped volcanoes of the Andes and the much lower coastal hills.

The Pan American Highway was much like the dual carriageway of the A556 road that links the M6 with the M56 near Manchester. Except that here there are no traffic jams or traffic lights, but there are fruit trees roadside chickens and volcanoes, cloudless skies, children and bus stops, and the occasional dead dog or cat, but unlike the UK road, no dead badgers, and sadly - what looked like the components of a wind turbine were travelling south.

On a happier note, we passed some beautifully preserved (as national monuments) yellow railway viaducts, on which the train to Santiago was running.

A short diversion at lunchtime took us to Salto Del Laja, billed as "amongst the most impressive waterfalls in Chile, cascading almost 50 metres from two crescent-shaped cliffs down to a rocky canyon". Today's top two pictures show the falls. Not quite as impressive as Malham Cove in full flow, or even High Force, we have to admit. But there are no clouds, and with about 15 hours' sunshine we know where we would rather be...

The afternoon drive saw us here at La Casa Chueca by 4.30 pm. Time for a cuppa, then a dip in the pool for Sue, then a bottle of Sauvignon Blanc, then an excellent vegetarian dinner in the company of Bernard and Heidi and various others. It's a great place apart from the mouse that bit me when I tried to rescue it from the pool.

Sue is pictured, bottom, outside our room.

We received a surprise today that means we'll probably be touring car showrooms when we get home! We'll ponder that (there's a very simple explanation) over the next few days, when you won't be hearing from us as we plan to be 'back country' again.

Some Waterfalls

December 8

This region is peppered with waterfalls. We visited three of them today.

The sun returned as we left Refuge Tinquilco and pottered down to Ojos de Caburgua, some waterfalls near the head of Lago Caburgua. An eruption blocked this southern end of the valley thousands of years ago, drowning it. Waters from the resultant lake now flow out through porous rocks and subterranean streams, reappearing as the Ojos de Caburgua, three waterfalls that plunge from the forest into a deep pool of clear water.

We joined the throngs on the walks around here, before lunching at a picnic bench.

The afternoon saw us divert some way up some gravel tracks to reach two more falls.

Firstly, Salto La China, which plunges about 75 metres before crashing onto rocks and spraying any nearby onlookers - in this case a plump family who seemed to be enjoying a 'wet t-shirt' contest. A flower resembling Touch-me-Not lined the short path to the falls, along with a ubiquitous variety of bright red Waterfall Plant.

Nearby, Salto El Leon crashed down for about 90 metres onto some rocks before spraying uncontrollably across the valley and down another small precipice to flow on as a small river.

Hostal La Tetera, back in Pucón, was full, so we went upmarket to Hostal Geronimo. It's a further block back from the main street, so hopefully the barking dogs we heard whilst staying at La Tetera will be a little more distant tonight.

We have a fine view of a smoking volcano - Volcán Villarrica - from our room and balcony.

Today's pictures:
Patricio outside Refuge Tinquilco
Looking out over Lago Tinquilco
Ojos de Caburgua waterfalls
Salto La China waterfall
Salto El Leon waterfall
The view from our balcony
Teatime outside Hostal Geronimo

Refuge Tinquilco and Cerro San Sebastian

December 7

Patricio had always wanted breakfast to be at 9.30, and so it was. There was no hurry though, as the cloud was down. It was expected to clear later. All very relaxed and in the true style of being on holiday.

By 10.45 Sue and I were on our way to climb the highest nearby peak, Cerro San Sebastian, 1905 metres, and David and Anne had set off on the Laguna El Toro circuit that we walked yesterday.

The cloud was very lazy. It didn't dissipate. We ascended 1100 metres in beautiful surroundings without seeing very much beyond a few metres. The flowers were nice. So were the beetles. Sue wasn't so keen on the large hairy Araňas pollos, which look like giant tarantulas and stand on their hind legs with a menacing air. They are quite cuddly really.

Lunch at about 2 pm was on a sharp wooded ridge before the final steep ascent towards the summit. The hills around here seem to have a habit of starting with nicely graded paths and finishing with something of a thrutch.

This one finished with a sharp rocky ridge that finished me at 1750 metres. Sue got up another 50 metres before turning back. A young local Chilean couple returning from the summit told us it was just another 500 metres away, and they kindly offered to accompany us. But whilst the top was just about clear of cloud, they said there was no real view, so we decided to continue on down.

Some views did at last appear, but the summit remained in cloud until 5 pm.

An uneventful descent saw us back at the refuge at 6 pm after a 19 km outing, with plenty of time for R & R before another excellent meal from Patricio in the company of Anne and David, and Cecilia and Jan, a French couple who live in Sydney and are on a long trip.

We later debated the difference between a 'traveller' and a 'tourist'. Does it matter?

Today's pictures:
Flowers and a 4 inch diameter spider (4)
Sue nears the summit
A view from the descent
Dinner with Patricio 

Tuesday, 8 December 2015

Forest, Lakes and Mountains

December 6

Refuge Tinquilco (www.tinquilco.cl), nestled comfortably near Lago Tinquilco, had been recommended by Sharon and Rich. We headed up there - 30 km from Pucón, much on gravel, and the last 2 km from the Park entrance on foot as Sparky's ground clearance is questionable.

Patricio welcomed us with a pot of the best coffee we had tasted for some time. We seem to have adopted Chilean time. Breakfast at 9, elevenses at 12.30, lunch at 3 pm, dinner at 9.30 pm. You can only resist for so long.

By around 1 pm we had set off on today's 22 km ramble with about 900 metres ascent. It took us through wonderful forest, lakes and mountain scenery in the Huerquehue National Park. There were plenty of people around. For good reason, this is a minor classic.

Chico, Toro and Verde are the names of some of the lakes. There were others, small jewels in the forest.

A Magellan Woodpecker completely ignored us. Glossy beetles were trapped and photographed. The lakes were surprisingly duckless. Monkey puzzle trees draped in old men's beards rose majestically above us.

At one point we met Thomas, who had shot off to an unknown destination immediately after breakfast at Hostal La Tetera. We chatted for some time before bidding our final farewells.

Mirador Renahue was the furthest point reached. Here at over 1400 metres the mountain views were at their best, and we enjoyed a long look down a deep canyon to distant Lago Caburgua.

The loop walk continued along a path that was officially shut due to fallen trees. We managed to clamber over them, hampered only by a severe bout of cramp on my part.

A short diversion on the final descent took us to Cascada Trufulco, a long, thin waterfall that didn't photograph very well in the low light that had arrived with some thick cloud late in the day.

Back at the refuge by 7.30, we discovered that our 'Presidential Suite' had a low water pressure problem. Never mind, after a quick wash we were soon enjoying our usual cuppa, slightly envious of Anne and David, a couple from near Sheffield who had lived near Puerto Montt from 1988 to 1992 while David built a salmon farm, as they tucked in to their Pisco Sours, skilfully produced by Patricio, who is also authoring a cookbook.

We had passed a very happy looking pig on the way to the refuge. She hadn't noticed that one of her relatives had been snaffled by Patricio and converted into the best braised pork ribs you could imagine. Served on a bed of deliciously lubricated mash after a very tasty salad.

Patricio had earlier mentioned that he had recently visited Europe. It took a while to drag some of the facts behind that trip out of him. But then they flowed. From his early days as a leader of student uprisings in the Pinochet era, Patricio graduated to film making and had been invited to Geneva to attend a festival in which his award winning 90 minute documentary, 'The Judge and the General', on General Pinochet was a 'headline act'. The film has still not been shown in Chile, where there is still quite a lot of pro-Pinochet feeling.

Today's pictures:
Refuge Tinquilco
A ubiquitous red flower of the forest
Thomas and Sue
The view down to Lago Tinquilco from one of several miradors
Sue in the forest
Monkey puzzle trees
A view from Mirador Renahue
Typical lakeside vistas (2)

Sunday, 6 December 2015

Pucón

Here's another image of Pucón's too hot for bare feet beach.

Just to let you know, we are unlikely to be in touch for a few days due to another 'back country' trip.

Bye for now...

To Pucón

Saturday 5 December

Today began with a leisurely departure and a 200 mile drive, featuring the Pan American Highway, a two lane motorway that looks a bit like the original M1 between London and Birmingham, for those that can remember.

That motorway has changed a lot from the days when, as a student stunt, some of my contemporaries painted a pedestrian crossing across the motorway near Watford Gap. That sort of prank could still be played, in complete safety, on this quiet highway. Once you leave the highway, unless you are heading to one or other of a handful of sizeable towns, you are on dirt/gravel roads.

As the motorway, a toll road, is the only surfaced road heading north/south, none of the usual restrictions apply, so cyclists and walkers frequently occupy the hard shoulder, if not the road.

But on the motorway we might have been virtually anywhere, with rolling hills, woodland and pasture, but little by way of habitation. Rural mid-Wales comes to mind.

Even the service station was modelled on the central European style of petrol station with attached café, where we enjoyed coffees and croissants.

But the Black-faced Ibises and the Southern Lapwings in the fields would give away the location to any ornithologists.

It was a blue sky day apart from a little fog over Lago Puyehue. Very hot by the time we reached Pucón at around 2 pm.

Grietzen welcomed us into Hostal La Tetera, another of the 'Backpackers Chile' recommended hostels. We have a 'cosy' (ie small) double room with an en suite bath. Perfect.

Grietzen recommended a 5 km stroll around Pucón, which we ambled around. Most of today's pictures are from that walk, apart from the first two, taken from our lunch bench in Villarrica, in front of a rare tractor and our view of its eponymous volcano.

Volcán Villarrica features on a few of the images. It erupted in March and has only just reopened for climbing. Sue fancies going up, but the £85 it would cost would be wasted on me.

It has been hot and dry for some time. In fact we've not seen any proper rain since we entered Chile over three weeks ago. And this in a place where everyone asserts the weather forecast as being 'unpredictable'! Just like the English Lake District, with whose residents we now sympathise with regard to their current flooding problems. All this fine weather makes it a bit hazy, so the 250 volcanoes that Sue says can be seen from Volcán Villarrica may not all be visible.

At the start of our walk around the town we met Thomas, last seen in Aguas Calientes. We hadn't expected to see him ever again, but another dinner appointment was fixed. Thomas is struggling with cash machines that limit him to the equivalent of £150 per transaction and charge him £5 for the privilege. It seems that unlike in the UK, Pesos are hard to get hold of in Hamburg.
The 'sandy' beach was enticing. We took off our shoes and socks, intending a paddle. "Ouch, that's not sand, it's ash. Hot ash." So I gave up and took a promenade route but Sue persisted, going down to the lakeside before taking off her shoes and paddling the length of the beach. "It would be a cold swim" she reported.

Later, the cemetery provided good views over the town, from a tall figure of Christ on a high promontory.

Dinner with Thomas at Trawén was very tasty but, in this place that has been likened to New Zealand's Queenstown, rather pricey.

Rest in peace, Laurie, we were thinking of you today.