Was there ever any human? (GPT part 6)
In Europe, hiking through mountain ranges that are sharing a border of several countries is easy. In Chile and Argentina, things are a bit more difficult. Border control was often located many kilometers away from the actual border, sometimes 20 km, sometimes even 60 km. It was making situation difficult even if we just wanted to hike along the border without crossing it.
"RUTA! RUTA! RUTAAA!" the border guard was shouting at us. He was also nervously poking with a pencil into a sketch on the wall. Drawing looked as if it had been done by a two-year-old child. On the "map" all lines were going in one direction. However, we just wanted to hike along the border, we didn't plan to cross to Argentina. Matúš put his finger to the hole carved by the pencil and moved it slowly along the wall, following the blank part of the paper beyond its contours. Standing on the side, I was just watching the guard. Blood rushed to his cheeks, and his eyes got even more narrow, filled with anger. Our lack of knowledge of Spanish was not very helpful here. Eventually, we convinced the ranger that we were walking down the path towards the volcano Chillan. Surprisingly, he didn't care (the volcano was in the orange alert, and it should not be approached since it is almost the highest on a five-point scale). If we told him that we were going to hike some cross country along the border with Argentina, he would not let us do it, even though it is not illegal. It took a little nerve and time before we were finally allowed to leave.
To get around volcano Chillan, we chose an optional path that led to a parallel mountain ridge. The problem was that the route was only mapped out last season, and it was done only on the basis of satellite maps. We had no information about anyone who walked through it, and we didn't know what was really waiting for us there. We had to prepare for the possibility that after a few very hard days of hiking, we would find an uncrossable obstacle, and we would have to turn back. Due to the fact that this section was 140 km long. We got a big amount of extra food and carried plenty of spare water all the time.
On the mountain ridge, the only signs of life we found were puma paw prints. We tried to stay as close to the coordinates as possible, but the terrain was not easy. Our path had technically difficult ascents and descents. Soft sand, alternating with stony ground, slowed down our journey. We also occasionally crossed some snow fields. Despite the difficulties, it was really worth it. The views were breathtaking. Whichever way I was looking, the mountains were stretching all the way to the horizon with some snow-capped volcanic peaks in the distance. The feeling that maybe nobody set their feet there was quite strange. That evening we pitched the tent almost in the dark. Physically exhausted to the limit, I fell asleep buried in a sleeping bag, listening to amazing mountain silence.
We hiked across the dry lake. Scorching sun and almost no vegetation made me feel as if I would be walking in a desert. With each step slowed down by the dark, soft sand, I cursed the day. I glanced at the road that ran parallel to our route at a considerable distance. The cars were passing, raising clouds of dust, but the journey on the road would have been much easier and shorter. So why didn't we walk along the road? It was crossing a border control that we wanted to avoid. It is the real pain of GPT hikers. The border is more than 30 km away from it, but the guards stamp everyone's passport, so if you want to stay in Chile, you would be there illegally. After a few kilometers, we wanted to turn into a dirt road, and we wouldn't even get close to the border with Argentina. What we were doing seemed super strange to us. The dry lake was flat like a table-top, and we could see the small border control building from a distance. I think it wasn't hard to spot us, even from many kilometers away. We only wondered when the guards on horses would appear. But nobody chased us. The silence was broken only by the wind, that was creating whirlwinds, carrying the sand high into the air.
We were slowly entering more inhabited areas. We passed makeshift buildings almost every day, more often the path was wide and well-beaten. We were able to buy cheese, bread or eggs from people living along the route. Sometimes we got lucky and were able to rent a room or cottage from local people. After many days of washing in the icy streams, even slightly warm shower brought indescribable joy. Taking care of hygiene on the trail was a real challenge. The most difficult part was the laundry. Electricity was a luxury itself, we rarely came across a place where the locals had a washing machine. It took a lot of time and energy to make dusty and sweaty clothes usable again. Washing them by hand, I was losing hope when after countless times the water poured out of the bowl had still black color.