A Day in the Andes

As one of the bonus services offered through Robin’s language school, students are able to take part in weekly activities, offered through a guy by the name of Pastor. He has a degree in ecotourism, and seems to be really into outdoor activities, which makes him a great guide. Oh, and “pastor” in Spanish translates to “shepard”, so it’s in his name to herd people around the place 😉

On this Sunday, we had arranged to go along on a trek in the Andes. I don’t know exactly what we (Robin and I) were thinking, but we were pretty unprepared for the trip, turning up without a backpack (to carry our food/water), not much water and no extra sun-screen. We got it sorted out though, and had an amazing day; here are the details.

The plan was to meet at the language school in the morning, so we dragged ourselves out of bed and got a move on. Since we got up late (and neither of us are too big on breakfast first thing), we skipped breakfast and headed straight there. The group met up, we briefly introduced ourselves, then headed off in a completely-full minivan to our destination. Along the way we stopped at a gas station to pick up some snacks, water, etc, then we were out onto the roads. Our driver was apparently either a retired rally driver, or really excited about the fact that the Dakar Rally was in Chile, because he was driving fast, the entire time.

Our first destination was San Jose de Maipo, a small town halfway between Santiago and the San Francisco Glacier, which was to be our trekking location for the day. In SJdM, we stopped to get food for our lunch. We picked up salami and cheese with bread rolls so that we could make sandwiches, plus some fruit for snacks. We also grabbed some water, for some reason not really thinking about how much we needed or anything. It would have been good to get more.

From there, it was back in the van and off towards the mountains. The roads got rougher (unpaved, corrugated dirt), and we were joined by a group of about 4 moto-cross riders in full body-armor who looked like they were heading out for the day. Our driver decided that we needed to be there before the guys on the well-equipped motorbikes, so we overtook them in a Kia minivan, on narrow dirt roads, in a cloud of dust on blind corners. I’ll let you decide how exciting that was.

Needless to say, we made it alive to the “town” at the base of the mountain/area we were going to be climbing, and were greeted with some impressive views.

Los Andes Los Andes

We re-grouped, stopped off at the bathroom, then set out on our hike. It started with a steep section to get up into the main plain, created by the San Francisco glacier. From there, we continued to make our way higher (a little more slowly), and towards a lake (laguna) where we were to have lunch. Along the way we stopped at a small spring which was heavy in iron, so everything around it was red — quite amazing.

Los Andes Iron Pools

Trudging along in the sun, carrying our lunch in plastic bags and our water bottles in our hands, I was really wishing we’d brought a backpack to carry some things. Oh, and some sunscreen, since I hadn’t put any on my arms (which were now burned a deep red) and the rest was rapidly sweating off. It was worth it when we reached the top though, as we were greeted by the beautiful (and icy cold!) lake below. We dipped our heads, ate some food and relaxed for about an hour and half.

Los Andes Los Andes

There was the possibility of continuing up the mountain a little further so that we could actually touch the glacier itself, but we decided against it as time was running a little short, and we really didn’t have enough food/water to do it comfortably (not to mention that it was likely we’d be approaching heatstroke soon :-/ ). Luckily for us, there was a small spring/creek crossing the path right near the “top”, which was clean, pure water. We filled up our water bottles (which were now completely empty) for the return trip, and enjoyed almost-ice-cold, glacial waters direct from the Andes, bottled at the source!

Stumbling back down the mountain, we all kind of went at our own pace, so that Robin and I spent a lot of time on the trail “completely alone”. It was quite an experience to be traipsing around in one of the greatest mountain ranges in the world, with no one in sight. At the bottom, we all met up at the small shack/store there to enjoy a hard-earned, and much-enjoyed celebratory cerveza with the entire group.

The Successful Trekkers

Back in the minivan, back down the winding, dirt roads (this time minus the motorbikes) and we rolled into SJdM for some dinner. Most people ended up getting empiñadas, but for some reason I decided to try their rabbit. I’ve eaten a lot of rabbit in my time, but this was pretty tough/chewy unfortunately. I topped it off with a delicious icecream (helado).

Heading home ended up being a bit of a drama, as there was some sort of accident on the road out of town ahead of us. That completely shut down the street, and meant that we had to take a massive detour to get back to Santiago, which took forever. Eventually (I think some time after 9pm?) we got home after our massive, most excellent day in the mountains and crashed into bed after rinsing off (we were filthy from the dust on the trail).

A huge thank you to Pastor, and everyone else on the trip — I think it was both of our favorite mini-trips so far.

There are a couple more photos in my Los Andes set on Flickr as well.

  1. Sounds fantastic! Although I'm surprised… you'd think that an Aussie would be well prepared for a walkabout. San Francisco must be making you soft – you're turning into a true American city slicker. 😉

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