"Happiness is only real when shared" - Christopher McCandless
Temuco, South of Chile. The light of the gap between my short blinds and my bedroom window wakes me up in a mix of an insane amount of love for my bed and a rush of excitement. Today, Juancho and me are hitchhiking to Conguillio National Park, it’s going to be a good day.
We head to the rural bus terminal in the heart of the farmers market area in Temuco, Chile, surrounded by locals and older people mostly, we sure stand out from the crowd carrying big backpacks full of food, clothes, two colourful sleeping bags, and a tripod that sticks out from my backpack, leaving it pretty clear that we are carrying some camera gear. It’s a wet and cold morning as usual in Temuco, summer time is already here, but you can still see your breath if you wake up early enough. Rural people are in line waiting for their bus that brings them back and forth from the big city to the other villages and towns around, and we mix in the crowd.
2 hours later we find ourselves in Mellipeuco, after a full bus ride, with at least 20 people standing up. We make it to one of the small towns that surround Conguillio National Park. The sun has come out, my forehead is already wet from the heat, and we can a glimpse of the enormous Llaima Volcano through the bright bus window. Getting off the bus is not an easy task as a line up of local people is immediately rushing to get on the bus, same time as I am getting off.
Happy and thankful for the weather, we make our way to the highway that connects Mellipeuco with Conguillio.
Surprisingly, an hour after, a French Aquaculture scientist who was also heading to the national park picks us up in his truck, leaving us bouncing with the wind in our faces, sitting in his pick up, smiling from ear to ear, knowing that we already achieved what our friends in Temuco told us would be the hardest part.
Mental note: Listen what others say, but trust in you more than anything else.
It just felt like we were in Dinosaur land, It truly did. I could not believe the landscape we were looking at from the pick up of this funny French scientist as we were entering the park. Like a slow-motion movie scene of two happy kids with backpacks that have escaped the city and turned themselves into a glimpse of another planet, an unknown land where we were new, and where it seemed there was almost nobody else than the truck, our French friends and us. We had mad our way to the park and it was not even 12 am. It all became real, on one side we had the enormous Llaima active Volcano, literally in front of our faces, looking so close it felt you could run up to the summit in no time. The Araucaria Mountains on the other side made the scene an original landscape from the south of Chile. Araucaria Araucana trees are sometimes 1000 years old or more, and they only grow in the Araucania Andina (Andes mountain range of the region in the South of Chile.
Our first stop was at Laguna Verde, (Green Lagoon) same place where we said good-bye to our scientist friend. We were now on our own, with a huge green “pool” just for us, an active volcano in front of us, a massive national park to discover in the next two days, and a empty stomach to fill in the next minutes. As professional as it can get, pasta was the menu of the day. As a photographer I have developed photo skills, but every now and then I feel like a beginner when I am in the mountains or in a remote location on my own. I am not the highest skilled mountaineer, or experienced hiker, and I love it. I just have an addition to be out there going somewhere I have not been before. It’s all a big learning process. We spent the day playing around, enjoying the sun and hanging our bodies in a travel pocket hammock we had brought with us. It was an enormous nature temple.
During the afternoon we decided to head a bit further into the park, making our way thanks to a fisherman and his family that took us in his truck to the big Conguillio Lake. The main road in Conguillio is surrounded by big Araucaria Trees, and while being in the back of the truck, we imagined as if a T-Rex would be suddenly chasing us.
The lake became instantly became a big fountain of freedom, where while being hit by the afternoon light, I climbed up to a big rock to get a full view of the lake, with Juacho making his way in, giving the place a sense for scale. Next was me, swimming naked in this cold lake was nothing else than a rebirth and rush of cold adrenaline and excitement.
Day one was finishing in a way we could not be happier about it, and the fact that we got picked up again by a couple in their truck to make our way to Laguna Verde (Where we planned to spend our first night), was like the cherry of a big cake, as cliché as it sounds.After a good night of sleep, and a good pasta dinner with canned fruit as dessert, we headed early in the morning to the big and main trail that we had in our minds while we plan our trip back home. The Sierra Nevada.
Sierra Nevada is a long mountain trail that surrounds Conguillio lake and from the top you can get one of the most amazing views you will see in the south of Chile. The 2 hour hike ended up being a snow covered trail with a view that made our jaws drop, our mind to ease and our soul to be in peace. Once at the top, it seemed like we were the only two humans in this huge nature sanctuary, this massive wild area that it seemed more like a lord of the rings scene, and hard to believe it’s just two hours from my birthplace.
Hiking the trail, we met a few other people who were on their way up the Sierra Nevada. Higher up, sun was about to set, and we realized we were the only ones left. Everybody else went down and we finally had this moment, just you and your childhood friend, both quiet sitting on the edge of a rock, looking at the earth itself, as if suddenly we could go back in time and just come back to the origins of this world, and had the chance to contemplate it and take it all in. Not much words were necessary, just a endless of wow’s and man look at where we are..
The night caught us, and we had to improvise and set camp next to the main road of the park. With no water left, one tuna can and one canned fruit, we slept early to avoid getting hungry or thirsty, besides the fact that we missed by seconds the last car going back our direction that night.
In a few words: up early, hitchhike again to the main road, hitchhike to Mellipeuco, catch the next bus and make it home safe by 3 pm. We could not believe how good everything worked out, and how little we spent.
The trip itself is 200 % worth it. It’s funny how good you feel when you go on a trip like this, and once you come back to “routine”, you look at things with a clearer vision. It usually happens to me that slowly during the week I start feeling the pressure of city life and I need to get away again, not necessarily during the weekend, but in general. So let’s keep it coming, it’s a good time to be alive. Enjoy the outdoors, be safe and thankful.
During the months of January – February you can take buses that depart from Temuco to Conguillio national park directly.
www.narbus.cl - Bus services that depart from Temuco to Conguillio
www.parquenacionalconguillio.com Official website that includes acomodations, services, and information about the park.