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  • Writer's pictureAnna Liszewska

Private property, no entry!! (GPT part 2)

Updated: Dec 14, 2020

GPT is not an official hiking trail. Among other things, this means that you often enter private property. In fact, the first thing we had to do to get on the trail was getting through a tall metal gate with barbed wire at the top. We stood in front of it and didn't understand where to go. We looked around for a trail at first, but then realized we really had to walk through the fence. The gate opened and some men drove out in the car, it was obvious that he was extremely angry that we were standing there. Matúš made a huge mistake and started the conversation with the sentence "Do you speak English?" The discussion ended before it began. However, the gate reopened and this time we immediately handed the driver a sheet of paper explaining why we had to walk through his property. He read it and then asked, "El Chalten?" "Hmm ... Yes," Matúš replied, cursing why he had not entered anything closer than a city 3,000 km away. "Fine!" he said suddenly and opened the gate with the remote control. After a few months it seemed completely normal to us. Jump over the gate, crawl under the fence. At one point, we even stopped paying attention to the "private property" or "no entry" signs. It was also a fact that no one has ever had a problem meeting us in their private property. Usually, people waved at us in a friendly manner or asked with interest what we were doing.

When we started the trail, we wanted to disappear in the mountains for as long as possible. In Santiago, before we set off, we decided to combine a few sections. In the next couple of towns, instead of going off the trail, we just wanted to stay in the mountains and hike. So we bought food for 10 days. However, it quickly got to us what a big mistake we made. The heat pouring from the sky, soft sand under our feet, and on top of that, the lack of shade that would give us shelter even for a moment, from that strong sun. We both didn't really realize what it was like to hike through hot semi-desert terrains. Passing another dry stream, we were terrified that we miscalculated and took too little water with us. Our supplies were shrinking at an alarming speed, and we slowly became convinced that we would not find any that day. At the moment when we started to be seriously worried, we finally came across a "stream", or rather a puddle, which still had some cloudy, thick water.  After filtering it had a strange flavor and color, but to us it seemed to be the best drink in the world. There was no need to debate the decision to pitch a tent.

In the morning we started our trek almost in the dark, hoping that we would be able to cover a solid stretch before the strong sun starts to torture us again. On the top of everything, Matúš developed a throat infection and had been on an antibiotic since the previous evening. We were passing a town with a few km distance, and we gained company of four homeless dogs. They stick to us as if they had always been part of our family. We were moving slowly up the valley. It was well before ten, and the temperature was getting unbearable. Despite the early hour, we pitched our tent at the end of the valley, just before the next climb which was supposed to lead us up to 3300 m. In this heat there was no chance of continuing. Resigned, we tried to find a solution. We left a large part of our supplies at the campsite, thanks to that the backpacks became significantly lighter, and we started the next climb with headlamps at one in the morning. Unfortunately, we had to add to our backpacks six liters of water per person (For the next 100 km, water was marked only in two places). When packing, we were surprised to find that the dogs were also getting ready and going with us. The attempt to chase them away ended up with them overtaking us. As we walked in the dark, we only saw eyes shining in front of us from time to time. As if they were checking if we were still following.

We met a local cowboy for the first time.  We exchanged glances full of interest. He had two more horses tied to his saddle, and they nearly crouched in fear as they passed us. Behind them was dragging a really skinny dog. We did not know back then that for most of the northern part of our journey, the cowboys would be the only people we would meet on the trail. In Chile, they are called "arriero" or "puestero", Argentinean term for this profession and lifestyle is also "Gaucho", occasionally used in southern Chile. These men (never women) are employed by people who own big areas of the land high in the mountains. In late spring arrieros herd animals high up into the mountains and look after them for all summer until fall when they herd them back. In summer they live in very improvised conditions, it is usually a shelter often made from branches. Such structures are called "puestos". From this base, they regularly make horse trips to the cattle, goats and horses of which they are responsible. The animals they watch over are usually owned by a few farmers who pay for the service during the mountain grazing period.

Even before leaving for Chile, we read about cattle that escaped from humans. They live in the wild in remote parts of the mountains, often get into herds, but you can also find individual animals. Due to very harsh conditions and a large population of pumas, they are eager to attack as soon as they feel threatened. Therefore, we were not sure how to behave when in the distance on the trail we saw a young, massive bull. Noticing us, he lazily rose from the ground. At first he looked surprised by our presence. We were slowly approaching him, and the closer we got, he tensed more and was more intensive in digging a hole in the ground. It wasn't looking very good. We decided not to test our luck, we left the path and bypassed at a safe distance. The bull didn't take his eyes off us till he was satisfied with the distance between us.

In a sandy and rocky valley, we pitched a tent under the only tree we could see. How great was it to stretch out on the mattresses after a very hard day of hiking.  Suddenly we heard screams, whistles and dogs barking from outside. Matúš quickly ran out of the tent. Outside there were two Arrieros sitting on their horses. At first glance, it was obvious that they were already nicely drunk. The older one was barely keeping himself in the saddle. Excited dogs were running around. One of the cowboys started shouting words that we couldn't understand. In addition, he was excessively gesticulating. Matúš quickly handed him our magic card with a translation. The cowboy didn't even look at it and didn't stop shouting even for a moment. After a long while, the only thing we managed to catch was "El gato" "lion". We were wondering if we should get scared, pumas aren't likely to attack humans, but for some reason they tried to warn us. Matúš finally managed to explain to them that we don't speak Spanish. They continued their journey, leaving us alone.

The next morning we started at sunrise.  Walking along a swift stream, we were thinking whether to filter the water. We were already quite high, and we thought it should be OK. A moment later we came across a dead cow in a small pool created by a stream. After that, we had no more doubts.  While approaching the highest point of the GPT (3300m), we noticed a huge shadow slowly moving on the ground. "It's good that in the morning we managed to force the dogs to turn back towards the town," we thought as we watched the huge Andean Condor circling just above our heads. He was so big that it would not be difficult for him to snatch a dog of a decent size into the air. Condors are the largest flying birds. Their weight is up to 15 kg, and the wingspan is up to three meters.

After spending the night by the river, we filled all our bottles with water again, we will not find a drop for the next 50 km. Another hot, tiring day, but at least we have less food, so the backpacks are a bit lighter. The sandy road led us to the outskirts of the El Teniente mine, which is the largest underground copper mine in the world with over 3,000 km of underground corridors.  With disbelieve, we watched the amount of rock debris lying in the valley, almost leveling it with the surrounding mountains.  At the point where we should get out of the road, we met a group of workers building a high fence. We were on the private property of the mine, and we weren't sure if it could  get us any trouble. Surprised by our presence, workers gathered around us with curiosity. This time the paper with the translation turned out to be reliable. With the help of an application on his phone, Matúš showed the direction of our journey. We ourselves looked surprised in that direction.  There was no trail, and the dried patches of vegetation were practically lost in the sea of sand. The workers couldn't believe that we were walking in that direction, and so were we. Finally, they asked if we needed anything and waved us goodbye. We were guided by GPS and were trying to stay as close to the coordinates as possible. We climbed an ordinary hill. After reaching the top, to our surprise, we found ourselves on a beautiful ridge. Which we followed the rest of the day. In the evening, covered with a thick layer of sand and dust, we decided to use a bit of our precious water supply to rinse a little. Especially, from the ridge we watched the sunset over the town of Coya, where we were supposed to arrive the next day.

We finally started to feel good on the trail.  Matúš felt much better after a few days on antibiotics, and our bodies slowly began to get used to the high temperatures.

The last descent towards the town turned out to be more difficult than it seemed. The sandy slope was covered with dense, half-dried bushes that were very sharp. We were getting scratches on exposed parts of the body, and our backpacks and clothes were getting torn. We tried to maneuver as much as possible, but many times we were forced to turn back and look for a better passage.

The "shower" in the town seemed to be something very luxurious, it was okay that first I had to heat up a large amount of water, and then Matúš poured it on me with a cup.  Who would pay attention to such tiny details?

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