The land of volcanoes (GPT part 5)
Updated: Dec 14, 2020
We were struggling to put on our wet shoes. There was nothing new to it, but never before we had such a cold morning. The water in the stream was disappearing under ice, and the frosted grass was cracking with every step. With the headlamps on, we were packing as quickly as possible. Fast walk was the only way to warm up. However, as I walked on the hard, frozen sand, my feet went numb from the cold, and I was slowly losing feeling in my toes. The first rays of the morning sun appeared when we reached the mountain pass (2700 m). They have never been so awaited as on that day. It didn't take long to see the effects. It was only a matter of moments, and we were already shedding extra clothes. Suddenly, we were in the middle of a hot summer again. How could we get used to the weather ?! In the morning — freezing cold, during the day — unbearable heat.
We had a post-apocalyptic volcanic landscape in front of us. Huge fields of sand, numerous craters, and hot springs. We were climbing massive lava fields. Some were even a few hundred meters high. We were slowly approaching the massive volcano Descabezado Grande. Right behind it was the volcano Cerro Azul. Both peaks were covered with fresh snow, which was undeniably an amazing view.
To get to the Radal Siete Tazas national park, you have to wait in the morning for at least two hours in the queue to buy a permit. Not to mention the crowds of people at every corner. As usual, the GPT did not disappoint us. We entered through the back "door”, only touching the borders of the park, and once again we felt as if we had these amazing views just for ourselves. It was a surprise to meet the first hikers since we started our adventure. After almost 800 km.
GPT should definitely not be on the list of people who cannot live without company on the trail. Meeting another hiker is close to a miracle. For comparison — in 2019, almost 8,000 permits were issued for hiking the PCT (Pacific Crest Trail), of which about 1,000 people walked the entire trail. There were about 20 people at the GPT last season. However, no one ever thru-hiked it yet.
In some sections, we were walking for hours on the soft sand. Sometimes it felt as if we were going backwards more than we were going forward. However, the descents into the valleys were great fun. It was enough to jump from foot to foot, and the sand itself was pulling us down.
It's been a few days since the last time we met people. In front of us and behind us we had long kilometers of volcanic landscape covered with barren sand. We were approaching one of the many passes. We heard dogs barking in the distance. Herd of goats and sheep slowly emerged from behind the hill. Arrieros followed the animals, whistling and shouting loudly. Wherever we looked, there was an endless wasteland. It would never cross my mind that we could meet anyone in such a place. I can only imagine how difficult must be life for cowboys taking care of animals in inaccessible parts of the Andes. Frost was biting my cheeks. As a warm-up, we were climbing to the Hornitos Pass. The rising sun was coming at volcanoes, and the valley, allowing us to enjoy a wonderful view. Volcano Descabezado Grande (left) and Volcano Cerro Azul.
In Chile, you can find volcanoes almost everywhere. The larger ones can often be seen from many kilometers. We also came across smaller ones that were “hidden” in the surrounding landscape. Can you see the lake in the distance? Right behind it, you can find small volcano Hornitos.
Volcano Hornitos from a distance looked like a small hill tucked between the mountains. When I was looking inside the crater, I had a completely different opinion. Despite the fact that it is much smaller than the volcanoes we have passed in recent days, it still made an amazing impression.
The valley was full of life. At every step we were passing herds of cows and goats. On a well-beaten path, cowboys were travelling with loaded horses. As the lunchtime was getting closer, the smell of roasted meat was coming out from the shadows of single trees. A real torture if you live on canned tuna and pasta for many days. Passing one of them, we were invited to join three arrieros. Before we even managed to take a sit, we got a big cup of sweet wine with the addition of roasted flour, which is a local delicacy. We also got a cup with a delicious mate. Cowboys sat down in front of us and were trying to find out where we were going. Matúš fell into a conversation, and I couldn't take my eyes away from the goat leg that was roasting on fire. When arrieros were starting to prepare for a feast, we decided to go our way. Our stomachs were twisting from hunger. Unfortunately, we knew that this temptation would not end well for us. The method of storing meat in remote parts of the Andes was interesting, it was hanged on a branch. Pieces were cut out for processing, and the rest was hanging and waiting for its time, sometimes even several days, and the days were incredibly hot. Well, you have to manage somehow when there is no electricity. Anyway, the smell of that roasted meat was stuck in our heads for the next few days.
Hunger is a great enemy of all long-distance hikers. The GPT was extremely brutal in that matter. It was very hard to resupply directly on the route. After finding a mini-store, its inventory was usually very limited. The bus was departing from some places only 2-3 times a week, so to resupply in a real shop would take at least a couple of days. We were always trying to stay on the trail as long as possible. Because of that, not tasty, bad quality and low-nutritious food has become our everyday reality.
Section seven was one of the most difficult in that matter. Is it possible to resupply for a very demanding 160 km stretch in a pretty much empty, "shop”? Well, it is. However, shopping in El Medano forced us to be extremely flexible and adaptable. Pasta, some caramel, flour, tuna plus some weird canned fish and semi chocolate bars. That's pretty much everything we found there. The mushy pasta with caramel for breakfast barely made it through throat. Tuna for lunch with fried bread seemed a luxury. But when I was eating dinner, I just wanted to cry. It turned out that this strange canned fish was practically inedible. It tasted as if it had been grounded with the insides and kept a little in the sun to “mature”. With each spoon, I had to hold myself back, so I don't throw up. It ended with my protest and cutting rations, the tuna lunch also had to suffice for dinner.
There was a point marked on the map saying "Puesto Madame Irma — food". From the early morning we were hoping for some addition to our limited food portions. The closer we got to the point, the more goats were around, nibbling on dry patches of grass. From a distance, we noticed a few saddled horses tied to the fence next to the puesto. We heard loud music from the speaker connected to a small solar panel. Several dogs ran to greet us, and after a moment, Irma showed up. Matúš explained to her that we were going towards Laguna Del Dial and quickly pushed the question if she was selling cheese. We left with a piece of delicious goat cheese and fresh bread rolls. Enthusiastic about this purchase, we sat down in the shade of the first tree, and we were stuffing ourselves to the limits.
It didn't take long to walk across El Ingles. The village consisted of three houses and a backyard shed with the sign "shop" on it, but no one was around. The only signs of life we encountered were skinny dogs running behind us. We returned to the first house that appeared to be the only one that was inhabited. From the lady who left the fenced yard, we learned that the bus to the town is not going until the next day. Matúš asked for accommodation. But we were not lucky with it. Shop? The lady asked what we wanted. We didn't know what we wanted because we didn't know what might be there. As a response, we only got a shrug. Tired, hungry and irritated, we searched the side of the road, hoping to pitch a tent and cook pasta. The family camped under a tree on a small patch of grass. Matúš asked if it was possible to pitch a tent. The man pointed to the house we had come from and said we needed a permit. So we went to get the permit. This time we found a gentleman who agreed without a problem. Matúš was quick to add a question if they are selling bread or eggs. Lady that we met before, got out of the house with the keys and headed to a small building. How many emotions were there when we realized that this was a home shop. Coke, chips, cookies, beer ... Sitting under a tree, I was eating canned peaches with delight, washing them down with cold beer. That Christmas Eve will surely remain in my memory for a long time.