Huerquehue National Park & Chiloé

After munching my way through that delicious mushy sandwich I quickly passed out. Through a haze of semi-consciousness I realised our bus had pulled over into a service station and thought maybe the driver needed to stretch his legs. I dozed back off and woke up 30 minutes later to find Max not by my side but walking towards me saying, “You’ll never guess what? We have broken down!”.

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It turned out we hadn’t pulled over in a service station but we had broken-down on the hard shoulder right by the slip road of an extremely fast motorway at 3:45am. We had been there for at least 45 minutes and as me and Max were right at the back of the bus, if we had been hit from behind by an oncoming lorry, the outcome wouldn’t have been great. I immediately decided I was getting off the bus and standing well behind the barrier away from the road. There were about 15 other people outside the bus but most people were fast asleep.

Buses and lorries flew by us at over 150kmh and there was no warning triangle or fluorescent jackets in sight. On this occasion we were lucky. A maintenance guy turned up within 2 hours and we were back on the road.

We arrived in Pucon only an hour late which was good considering the overnight palavar. Pucon is the adventure town of Chile, overlooked by the active Volcano Villarrica. It has a buzzing vibe, somewhat like a ski resort and it was full of tourists back in February.

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We didn’t plan on staying in town though, we were heading to nearby Huerquehue National Park to do our first multi-day hike. But first we had to get all our food for the four day trek. This is quite fun for me because I love trawling through supermarkets in different countries. Weird I know, but I generally find it oddly exciting and interesting. Max has done multi-day hikes before but this was our first one together and our first one where we would have no access to food or restaurants so we had to carry everything ourselves.

We bought cheese, salami, nuts, pasta, tomato sauce and over 20 frankfurters amongst other things. My bag weighed a tonne, even though Max was carrying the tent. *Sirens in my head, what have I let myself in for?*

We caught a 45 minute bus to the park only to be told by the park ranger that there was no more room in the campsite within the park, so we had to back track on foot about a mile down the road and camp there.

Now when you talk about camping, you think CHEAP. After all, you are bringing your own sleeping facility and all you’re doing is using the grass to pitch on. Not here, this wasn’t cheap. It was £12 per night. We quickly worked out that we didn’t have enough cash to pay for the 3 nights camping and the entrance to the park which was roughly £18 each. We drastically had to re-think.

The outcome was that without going back to town, getting more cash and returning to the camp ground, we wouldn’t be able to do the multi-day trek. It was already 7pm at this point and getting back on a bus after such a long days travelling wasn’t very inviting. We bumped into a guy who had done this trek before and suggested we do a one day loop and return the same day which still meant we were seeing the nicest parts the park had to offer.

Morning came and we set off on our 18 mile hike not realising just how far that meant until the moment we set off. My bag felt like it was full of bricks. It was so uncomfortable that I was sure it wasn’t the right size or didn’t fit properly.

I told myself, after a number of moments of, “FUCK, THIS IS TOO HARD” that perhaps I just needed to get used to it. It was, after all, the first time I had walked with this monster on my back.

DSC_3375The thing is, no one had told me that the majority of this trek was uphill, a steep steep, never-ending hill. Each time we stopped for a break, I would take my pack off and the pain in my shoulders was awful. But slowly, by re-adjusting my pack, I was working out how to wear this monster without putting all the pressure on my shoulders and my back. Keeping it really high up around my waist, higher than I thought was reasonable and keeping the pack as close to my back as possible seemed to do the trick.

The scenery was mostly woodland with bridges and dips that revealed these kinds of mystical lakes. It was really very beautiful although a little busy with people at times.

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After 4 hours walking, we stopped for lunch.

DSC_3379.jpgMax is fanatic about finding the perfect place for a picnic so we ended up clambering over a few logs and through some bushes to find a little black beach.

IMG_0552.jpgMax stripped off for a swim.

IMG_0550DSC_3385DSC_3382And I fell fast asleep.

DSC_3386.jpgThen we feasted on frankfurters with pasta and sauce. That little red thing that you’ll see in my pictures is our “Jetboil”. It is how we cook everything, from pasta to boiling sausages, to making tea and coffee or porridge in the morning. It boils quickly and is very efficient when it comes to using gas.

IMG_0556.jpgAfter lunch, I felt like the worst of it was over. Then I came across this fallen tree…

That was the last real tough moment. Eventually, we felt like we were heading back towards where we had begun and luckily it was mostly downhill.

DSC_3390We were really lucky to see the volcano’s mouth peak out of the clouds. Within moments it was hidden again.

DSC_3393We got down to the bottom of the trek feeling utterly exhausted. Me more than Max, but even he knew that we had bitten off more than we should have for our first walk.

The upside is that I felt like I had really truly accomplished something that at the beginning of the day I thought I may fail at. Yes, I was exhausted but I had finished, I had walked for 18 miles, mostly uphill, with 25kg on my back. It was a very educational hike. We learnt a lot and would certainly be more prepared for the next one.

By a stroke of luck, as we got to the entrance to the park, now the ‘finish line’, Max put his thumb out and we hitched a ride back to Pucon. This was the first of many hitch-hiking adventures which I will tell you about in other blogs. Andrew and Selina from London, both retired GP’s, picked us up and took us back to town. We had a fascinating conversation about the cool 6 week trip they were doing and trips they had previously done. What cool retired people.

Back in town I was already feeling very stiff, particularly in my pelvis. Walking tomorrow was going to be interesting. We booked a 6am bus out of Pucon the following day and headed to Puerto Montt, a 5 hour journey of which I am sure I slept for most of it.

Puerto Montt was an odd town, and slightly creepy. This was probably made worse by the fact we saw a man carrying a sleeping bag over his shoulder which we are 99% sure contained a child. Max followed the man for around 25 minutes, spooks style, but he didn’t open the bag again. We did our best to explain what we had seen to a policeman, I even drew a diagram, before catching a short boat to Chiloé, a small island off Chile, famed for its wooden chapels built by the jesuits.

On the short boat journey over, seals danced in the sea, not phased by the boats.

After another short bus journey, we were in the centre of Ancud.

A popular spot to take a nap!

IMG_0580We had read about a typical Chiloé dish called ‘Curanto’ and found a very smart little restaurant to have dinner in. We did deserve it after all the efforts of the previous day.

Traditionally prepared in a hole in the ground with red hot stones at the bottom, this dish consists of  shellfish, meat, potatoes, milcao (a kind of potato pancake), chapaleles (a kind of potato dumpling), and vegetables. Its all mixed together with some herbs and makes for a delicious warming and comforting meal.

DSC_3399Feeling terribly stiff, we then walked, up more hills… to another campsite.

Luckily the view was worth it.

IMG_0632IMG_0586The night was filled with howling dogs and both of us needed earplugs. There seems to be a thing in Chile and Argentina where people just let there dogs run free at night and the dogs just have a barking competition. Being in a tent, you really feel the brunt of this.

We packed our stuff, which was soaking wet because it had rained most of the night, and left the campsite with the view of heading south to Chiloé National Park. Just as we were leaving the park, feeling a bit down by the weather, a chap wound down his window and offered to give us a ride to Castro, the next town. We hadn’t even put our thumbs out so we felt very lucky. A warm dry car was just what we needed.

Mike, who offered us the ride, is a Canadian on a 6 week holiday exploring some of South America. Well, it turned out that Mike also enjoyed hiking, in fact he was a very experienced hiker who had already completed Torres Del Paine and he didn’t have a specific plan, so we decided to join forces and we headed down to the National Park together.

We stopped along the way to shop for food and discuss a plan. Once we had agreed on the hike we wanted to do, we picked our camping spot. We set up our tents, grabbed a bottle of vino and headed to the beach to watch the sunset. Quite different from those in the Philippines, but enjoyable all the same.

IMG_0594IMG_0612IMG_0613The next day we packed our things and got moving. Luckily, we could leave some things in Mikes car so our bags were not as heavy this time. Plus we were only carrying 2 days food, not 4.

The first 6km was along the beach.

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Then we climbed up over a hill to get a real view of things. This island really didn’t feel like part of South America. It is hard to describe but it just felt different. The landscape and surroundings, except for the more exotic birds and flare, could have been in the UK or France.

DSC_3423We walked through narrow passages with walls covered in moss. I swear it could have been something from ‘Lord of the Rings’.

DSC_3429Finally, after 5 hours, our campsite had come into view.

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DSC_3459The campsite was very remote. It was literally just a beach with little protected areas to camp and tables to cook on. After initially thinking there were no facilities, we did find a tap with running water.

Some nosy neighbours came to check out our patch!

DSC_3460Making dinner! Vino at centre stage!

DSC_3463The next day we walked back, but the weather was less kind. We got very wet!

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IMG_0624We smashed 12km in 3 hours and arrived back at Mikes car feeling very ready for a bit of warmth and comfort. I already felt fitter and stronger on this trek and more comfortable with my backpack, although obviously it was a little lighter this time.

As we drive back to Ancud we felt rather smug but also very sorry for all the hitch hikers we passed who were also absolutely soaking with no way of getting out of the rain. Chiloé by bus, rather than chauffeur (hehe), would have been entirely different.

We stopped for lunch; another curanto for the boys and salmon for me.

IMG_0627We spent our last night together at the Ancud campsite enjoying more vino and cheese before packing everything up the next morning and heading back to Puerto Montt.

DSC_3465Our experience on Chiloé wouldn’t have been the same unless we had met Mike. It is in times like these, when someones generosity is so overwhelming, that it reminds you of all the good people in the world. He didn’t need to pick us up but he did and thats just so kind. Mike, you are a legend and full of wise advice, especially hiking related! We miss your banter and Max misses the intellectual discussions on politics (because he certainly doesn’t get that from me!). Hope to meet you again someday!

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