Hiking La Campana
It was dark when the alarms went off. We had packed the night before, but with 10 hours of daylight, 7 hours of hiking, and an unknown amount of driving, the margin for error was slim. Sam Berger, one of my closest friends from DC, made the trek down the Chile to visit, and I thought there was no better way to see Chile than on foot from very high up. I did not, however, anticipate exactly how high up we would be getting. More than a mile, to be exact. But I'll get to that later.
Hiking in Chile is, surprisingly, one of the least foreign experiences of being here. CONAF, Chile's version of the US National Park Service, is well organized and hires friendly and knowledgable people. There are very few surprises when dealing with CONAF, which is really nice and doesn't reflect on other branches of government in Chile (more on that in another post). We arrived at 9am to the CONAF station, just in time to put on some sunscreen and set off. The first two hours of the hike were really enjoyable. It was steep, but not out of the ordinary for a challenging hike. A brief walk on a fire road was a nice respite from the constant switchbacks. But then, well then things got a little vertical.
The path we were on, Sendero Andinista, had been hiked by Charles Darwin in the late 1800s. At the top of the mountain he said Chile lay before him "like a map," with the Andes to the east, and the Pacific Ocean to the west. His description didn't disappoint. When we reached the summit 4 hours later, with the final 90 minutes more of a climb than a hike, the view was breathtaking. The mountain range (cordillero) sprawled out before us. There are no trees, or any other foliage, giving the peak an otherworldly feeling.
Of course, as chances would have it, there were two girls at the top from Oklahoma who were willing to take our picture and invite us to their "smile club." We had also made a friend. He was a cute black dog whom we named José. He followed us everywhere until a young couple caught his attention and he was lured away, likely because we didn't have any more snacks to offer.
That was just the first section. Last weekend I returned with my friends from Hawaii to a completely different sector of the park. Being that all three of us are from Hawaii, palm trees aren't exactly the most awe-inspiring things to see. However, we weren't prepared for the sheer number of palms in the Ocoa sector of La Campana. The entire valley is filled with wild Chilean palms, and the trails lead straightthrough the thicket of these intimidating and beautiful trees.
When the sun began to drop and the lighting changed, the valley took on a surreal quality. The grass began to appear nearly fluorescent green and the trees began to cast their long shadows across the trails. Although the palms aren't living animals, it was clear that this valley is their territory, and we started to feel like interlopers as their fronds crackled and swayed in the wind.
Hiking has always been something I've enjoyed, but I find as I get older I like it more and more. Finding these incredible trails only an hour from our apartment has made my time vastly richer here in Chile. If you ever find yourself in Valpo or Santiago, I highly recommend you make the trek, so to say.