With the haze of Christmas drawing to a fine point in the rear view mirror we set our sights on offsetting the recent heavy drinking we’ve bravely endured. There seems only one true option here, and that’s to take on a few days camping in the nearby Parque Nacional Huerquehue; and we’re still unsure how to pronounce it so feel free to bump over that one dear reader. We’d geared up with all that we would need in Santiago and Boxing day saw a cooking bonanza to make Maggie Beer proud so goodbye adolescent drinking, nature here we come.
On the bus we are loaded and ready to go before realising that we don’t have a lot of cash on us, oops. We shouldn’t need much money if any, but a quick sprint through Pucon streets with seven minutes to spare on the bus sees us all cashed up. Safe to say not a lot of people go sprinting down the main street of Pucon at 8am, got more than just a couple of weird looks. With typical Chilean bus efficiency we leave right on time and we’re off, I can just about feel the alcohol concentration ebbing from me.
After a quick stop at the park office and a surprisingly cheap entry fee we shrug laden shoulders sporting our mobile homes for the next two nights. Starting along a beautiful lakeside is not a surprise, Pucon is in the lakes district of Chile. This whole region of the Andes is tightly packed with endless lakes tucked high in mountainous pockets and hung valleys. Fresh alpine air, birdsong and crystal waters are the hallmarks of this region, picture perfect postcards at every point it seems. But to get right into the park we are greeted by a surprise ascent first up, we had it in mind that this was going to be a more casual trek; wrong. At this point I have very mixed feelings about the cooking bonanza on boxing day with more elaborate food seeming too enticing to pass up. That was then. I’m sure that the 2kg of Ratatouille for one meal will be delicious but right now the weight is kicking us in the ass: think of eating becomes our mantra. Thankfully the climb is first up so while we’re fresh we eat it up like the celebratory chocolate at the crest not without a bit of huffing and puffing to be honest.
Into a small saddle we take in the deep breath of the wild. On the climb up we were treated by glimmering views of a foreground lake to the rising Volcan Villarica beyond, throw another postcard on the pile. As picturesque as that was, the now present sense of separation from civilisation is really what we’re after and it washes over us like reuniting with an old friend. The first thing to strike us here is that we are in the Andes but it’s not the mountains that are captivating us as is the norm. For now our usual obsession is easily swept aside by the trees that have taken over from the lower lands more prominent scrub.
The first captivating factor on show is the size, they’re genuinely big trees and I confess to a bit of a big tree crush. The humble feeling of standing at the base of a truly intimidating tree is uplifting and pure, grace and power are rarely better balanced by nature or otherwise. We wander through gentle paths staring wide eyed at entire groves of Monkey Puzzles and Araucaria trees standing tall all about us. The awesome sight of these trees is amplified by uncontrived repetition, it’s truly awesome; the mountains can wait. At many stages we stop to stare upwards like loggers waiting for a hippie to come down, admiring the lichen slathered trunks stretching beyond where our eyes can reach.
And the trunks do shoot from the earth like arrows from a bow, straight and bold finding their target in the sky. With bare trunks the upper branches twist laterally like tortured bonsais that all got too big for their pots, Japanese elegance in Andean scale. Breathtaking. I can’t help but have thoughts to a drunken conversation on Christmas day, a fellow traveller declaring that Tasmania should just be opened for logging, jobs are important. I ponder now seeing this sight if that headspace could be possible? It raises the dilemma I had in this very same town nine years ago: what value is apportioned to something without a share price and how in fact do we separate and define the coexisting ideals of value and price? Far too heavy a thought for now, considering defined price for this seems like an ideal we left behind at the crest of the climb; there may it stay.
And on, the postcard pile is getting very tall with every turn throwing us at another lake, another mountain peak or another grove of trees all gawk-worthy. We stop a little too often to take photos, lunch by a mountain lake and allow our minds to escape to the places that only the wilderness seems to allow. This escape into the romantic along with our yet to be appreciated heavy food does take its toll, we are spat out of about three hours of bliss into a clearing atop a severe drop into the valley that will be our campsite. Now bathed in sun we stare across at aggressive stone peaks bursting from the tree-line with waning slivers of snow the last remaining defiance of a winter that now seems so long ago. In a step we are no longer sheltered by our giant caretakers, now into the awe striking mountains we know and love.
We grudgingly give up all the altitude we had gained on rapidly fading legs descending into the valley. It’s been six hours with carelessly heavy packs and we’re stuffed, this hike far more of a slog than we thought but exactly what we needed. We set up camp and immediately settle in for a nap, we’re so far from anything that could object to the welcome sleep that takes us. We crack out the new gear we’ve bought as our thoughts turn to relishing food and lighter packs in equal measure.
Sat on our moss covered fallen trees we soak up the serenity we have found ourselves in. The day-trippers, such a dirty word, were left behind hours ago, only 2 small tents share our cathedral of overhead peaks and the sirens call of running water. All around us is a sea of electric blue flying insects moving rhythmically along invisible highways that now have two more roundabouts. They don’t seem to land much, more intent on their monotonous movement and creating a bizarrely surreal tinge to the fading day. And it was all worth it; the curses of the day quickly become the celebrations of the evening with steaming hot ratatouille sating our hunger.
Signing off our first day into the wild we pay our first ticket on the indulgence super highway happy to part with the currency. We are now trading in the etherial marketplace that makes us all human; there’s no share price on things with this much value.