Oh’ sweet companion of the night, call me
onwards, although the light falters;
and drag me on towards your merry restitute.
Lead laden are my lids, and milky,
the thoughts of this late hour;
drifting oft, past consciousness.
Betwixt the waking and the dream,
thoughts await to be redeemed;
by the mind awakened from this slumber.
And nether fears to be relinquished,
with the coming of the dawn;
and smoked to death upon the hearth.
K.c Dorney (noviembre 2010)
We had finally reached the col which would lead us down into the Cochamo valley, in its bosom lay a small lake of unknown depth. Our last opportunity to bathe. Three Huasos (Chilean gauchos) stopped with their train of horse, fully laden and began to prepare a parilla of beef. Our eyes bulged at the sight of the beef, and the jaws of the huaso’s simultaneously dropped in disbelief at the sight of two naked gringo’s swimming in the lake.
They unburdened their horses and allowed them to feed freely by the lakeside.
After swimming in the mid afternoon sunshine Ed and I cooked the last of our pasta, and hastily made our departure, bidding farewell to these noble men of the Andes glaring back on the side of beef roasting by the fire as we departed into the scrub. I thought Ed had said something then realised it was grumblings of my own stomach.
Though we were now descending the trail was getting much more difficult, generations of horsemen have traversed the trail, the hooves of their beloved beasts had cut a gorge to the height of a man and exactly the with of a stallion, it was muddy and extremely slippery, we fell countless times coating our decrepit clothing with clay which hardened into heavy cement like casts on our legs our arms and arses every time we fell.
A few hours later we came to a refuge, the first for several days. It was filled with day hikers from Cochamo, people venturing no farther than Lago Grande at the top of the mountain. But we were not yet ready for civilised contact. six days in the mountains, alone, save for the kind huasos we met en route had accustomed us to tranquility. We steadily walked on, atop boards placed along the mud trail to save it from the devastation cast upon it by countless horses.
The human traffic increased as we descended. Armies of hikers, demanding to know “how far?” “how far to where?” was Ed’s response, they were unaware that we had walked 80 kilometres, from Argentina, for us it was a very subjective question. “To the refugio, claro” was their bemused request. We didn’t have the heart to tell them it was already full. Ed painted for me a vivid picture of of 40 or so, tired, cold, hungry, dirty hikers, spooning together on the floor of a dark windowless wood cabin. We could not imagine a worse fate for ourselves than to be there amongst them.
It became obvious to us we were not going to make it out of the mountains on this day. Unbeknown to us we had detoured from the trail, not far, but enough to know we were not on track.
Then, amongst the trees, in the middle distance, I spotted a roof, clad with wooden shingles. Upon arrival we found a small wooden doorless structure, with 3 makeshift beds, and a straw covered floor, a small paddock in one corner, enough for maybe 2 horses. It was a Huasos refuge. Somewhere to shelter when harsher weather makes it uncomfortable outside.
It appeared as though its occupants had just recently vacated, and could be back at any given moment.
Ed and I decided to make camp under the thick boughs of nearby tree. We feasted on what was left of our meagre supplies. 3 courses, all rice.
The first was a soup, deliciously made with a vegetable stock cube and merken. The second, fluffy rice with a spicy condiment. The third a rice pudding made with powdered milk and the remains of our wild honey. Followed by a digestive of coffee flavoured whisky.
Content with the state of affairs and the knowledge of all we had accomplished we dosed in the wilderness one last time.
We awoke early the following day knowing it was to be our last in the Andes.
We crossed the river and passed through a crowded campsite for rockclimbers. The valley being, apparently a mecca for the exponents on the sport. By the early afternoon we were on a dirt road heading for Cochamo, in scorching heat. we took a short break in the shade, when 3 hikers we had met earlier on the trail passed us in a four wheel drive, they pulled in and offered us a ride. Taking us 70 odd kilometres on the road towards Puerto Varas. Daniel a young engineer from Santiago and his father a banker along with their guide. Somewhere near Lago llanquihue in the penumbra of the Osorno volcano they let us out to catch a bus the final 20 kilometres or so to our destination. We explained we would walk because having just arrived in Chile on foot, we had yet to procure any Chilean pesos. Daniel promptly stuffed $4000 pesos into my hand and bade us farewell. half an hour later we back in civilisation.