Monday, 11 June 2018

Trekking Above the Clouds

Chinancocha, Llanganuco

The air is cold and just light enough to show the outline of a lake lined by bent and crooked silhouettes like old spirits crowding the shoreline in the predawn mist. The vehicle swirls of the air and moves the mist at times to reveal high and towering shadows of some of the highest peaks, still over 3,000m above us. Still ascending, we gradually get more hemmed in by forest, alpine grass and large boulders with glacial streams bubbling over onto the dirt track. Windows frosted over, everyone’s been woken up by the bumpy ascent and trying to see the views still stubbornly hidden by the early mountain fog.

And then we stop...the guide telling us that soon we’ll be able to have some hot coffee, tea or coca tea, the natural high altitude med for those who might not feel well at this altitude. We’ve just arrived at about 4,700m above sea level in the Cordillera Blanca, the highest snow-covered mountain range in the tropics. As he talks, the light outside goes bright and he quickly loses everyone’s attention momentarily as there’s a frantic wiping of windows to see outside but not to be worried, he opens the door to the icy air and with thick layers of clothing there’s almost a rush to photograph the first sun’s rays against Peru’s highest mountains - Huascarán with its two peaks, the highest at 6,768m in Peru. Across the Llanganuco valley, the various peaks of the Huandoy Massif, Pisco and Chacraraju are being lit up by the morning sun.

Cordillera Blanca Bfast
Time for our pre-trek breakfast with scrambled eggs, toast, fruit salad and juice - and more coffee or tea for those hot drink fiends. Finishing off we get the trail briefing and then also importantly, briefing on what to do if anybody starts feeling the effects of the high altitude...drinking water and staying hydrated up here at altitude is one of the most important things to remember. As this trek starts at a high altitude, there’s no opportunity for acclimatisation on the trek like some of the other popular treks here in the Cordillera Blanca.With patches of snow around, parts of the trail are icy so we move a bit more carefully, especially some of the rocks that are covered in ice. Other than for the altitude, the first section is not difficult as it starts off level along a little trail until there’s an ascent where the trail disappears at times between the rocks. Here you might feel the altitude a bit on your breathing which is why it’s important to only go on this trek once you’ve acclimatised more to high altitude. 

cloudy views

This little ascent will bring you to one of the best viewpoints on this trek with views down the Llanganuco Valley and its lakes, Chinancocha and Orconcocha, and then views across to Refugio Peru (ascent to Pisco) and the glacier of Yanapaccha “behind” you. The rest of the view includes the peaks of Chacraraju and Pisco (where Laguna 69 is situated), the Huandoy Massif, two peaks of Huascaran and the almost pyramid shape of Chopicalqui.
Yanapaccha Viewpoint

After all the group shots and inevitable selfies, we continue on the trail in the direction of the Yanapaccha glacier and a winding descent through grass and rock. Keep your eyes open for the deer in and around the queñual forest (Polylepis sp.) further up and the early viscachas warming themselves on some sunny rocks.
Grassy descent

 Due to there being very few people who pass along this route, there’s still a fair amount of wildlife here, not to talk of all the birdlife. The descent continues through a patch of queñual forest and over a ridge where we get our first view of the pale green lake at the foot of Yanapaccha and its glacial streams. In very cold weather, it’s not unusual to have ice on the lake surface.
Green Yana lake

Snack time! ...and time for more photos. From here we only have a short distance of up and downs before we join the main trail to Laguna 69 at 4,200m altitude. This is a lovely section though and one of my favourites with the small river descending from the small lake we were just at, patches of very tall grass and some forest. Of course, there might very well be some local cows enjoying the juicy vegetation but there’s also a fair amount of viscachas around and I’ve twice already come across some puma tracks here - so keep your eyes open.
Laguna 69 trek

There’s no mistaking the main trail to Laguna 69 when we reach it, a wide trail where we might already encounter some of the early/quicker day hikers making their way up. Reaching a little open spot, sort out our clothing - taking off jackets if it’s getting warm or putting on other gear, all depending on the gear. This is also where anybody not feeling up for the next hour, hour and a half ascent to Laguna 69, can start descending and enjoy some time down at the Llanganuco lakes. Many will also remember this as the end of the most spectacular part of the trek which very few people have the opportunity of seeing although, the rest of the trek to Laguna 69 at 4,650m is hardly boring. Not easy, but worth every step. You can read more about the Laguna 69 trek on my post “How Blue is Blue?


This trek is only offered by Akilpo and for trekkers that are already acclimatised to trekking at high altitude. If you’re not sure, have a chat with them as they also offer various other 1-day treks that will help you acclimatise.

Laguna 69

Included with this trek is the transport to and from the trek start and end points, breakfast and an experienced mountain trekking guide qualified in First Aid. You will also be provided with a list of clothing etc required for the trek; if needs be, some can be rented from Akilpo as well.

Contact Akilpo:  via their Facebook page @akilpohuaraz to message or e-mail them.

Instagram: @akilpo_trek

Office: Parque Ginebra 30-B, 02001 Huaraz (Ancash, Peru)

Tel:  +51 433 906

Laguna 69 panorama


Friday, 1 June 2018

I Dream of Africa

Click AQUÍ para el versión española 

1: Mariu

It's been awhile since I've done any interviews about #followyourdream but I just could not miss out on sharing this inspiring person's journey with everyone. 

Recently I came across the Facebook posts of Mariu, and the thing that struck me was the absolute passion with which she wrote, showing a love of life that would do everyone well to have. Even more striking was how she seemed to energise people through this and awaken/rewake their will to live. 

Follow Mariu on her Facebook page at (Mariu Pachamama) and read more on her website at (
Instagram:  @unsuenoviajero

Hola Mariu, and thanks for letting me do this interview with you. We've been chatting a few weeks and I'm very excited to share your story with people.

I know already that there are some questions that drive you crazy haha so I will try to avoid those. 
2: mariu

Marcell:  As an introduction Mariu, please give us a little background of where you're from and if there's a place where you're based at the moment? An introduction to "Who's Mariu."
Mariu:  That's one of the difficult questions!! Haha Those that I have to think about to answer. Where am I from...? I was born and lived many years in Asturias, a small paradise in the north of Spain. I love Asturias, it's a magical place without any doubt, and part of me is and will always be from there. But, where do I feel I'm from? A percentage of me is from Asturias, and the rest (the biggest percentage) from the world. From all the places I got to know and loved, and all those others that I've not yet got to know, but will do, and also will love. I'm a little bit from everywhere. I feel air, and almost almost can fly. I don't feel absolutely anchored to one place and sometimes I feel anchored to all of them. It's something a little difficult to explain. 

My base, difficult question as well! I don't really have one, currently it could be Asturias, but everything is in a process of change. I am change! I very much want establish my base somewhere in my beloved Africa. And, who knows...!

Marcell:  If you have only wish at this moment, what would that be?
Mariu:  Only one! One that encapsulates all,  I wish to continue feeling free. I wish I could in one or other way continue living free, today and always. I want to be able to choose each day of my life. All this forms part of the same wish

3: mariu

Marcell:  You told me that two and a half years ago, the medical doctors gave you bad news and a really big surgery. 
- but then you said your dream saved you! Can you tell us what happened and how your dream was able to save you?
Mariu:  Effectively yes. In February of 2016 I found out that I had a huge brain tumour that was already showing symptoms for more than three years. However, I wasn't paying attention to it, I'm not a hypochondriac at all! In my case it was affecting the motor skills, I was progressively getting weaker and losing the ability to move like the right leg at the moment. I had to leave everything I enjoyed (the gym, dancing, and even yoga) and finally I couldn't even walk well without my foot twisting and bending to one side every two to three paces. 

In addition to that, during the year and a half also had an extreme headache, a pain that would wake me up every night crying. In that respect the medical doctors alleged that it was stress and recommended that I do sport... Never did they do any test until finally, it was a Chinese doctor who suggested that I might have something in the brain. 

When I found out I had a tumour, it was already very very big like I said and had to be removed and removed soon. My life changed in two weeks. I left everything I had in Valencia, (I was living there) rented house, friends, and partner. I asked for permission from my work to go to Asturias to be with my family for the operation, I knew that neither the surgery or post-surgery would be easy, so I wanted to be with my family. I went with one suitcase that I didn't know what to pack in. It was winter in Spain but I didn't know when I would return, or how, or if I would return. So I got some warm clothes, some t-shirts for the heat and little else. I didn't know anything about anything. 

mariu 4

Before I found out I had a tumour, a long time before, but with more strength in the last year, I wanted to leave my job. I was an official (civil service) and somebody told that Spain was in a big crisis - and that I had a secure job for life and a salary that permitted me to do what I wanted. But not many people understood that I didn't want that, and didn't want to live like that. I have always seen life as a great gift and did not want to waste it working in a grey office, that I detested, for 40 years! How could they understand it?!

So the day of my birthday (7 October), four months before I found out I had a tumour. I tattooed a "free" and little birds on my right arm and promised myself that I would leave my work forever and realise my life dream - travelling the world, to be free. 

Later life blessed me with the tumour, it made things easier for me after the tumour and everything I had lived through, there was no turning back. If all went well, I would leave everything and go. I clung to that through the most painful moments, physically and emotionally, there in the hospital. Also clinging to this before my surgery when I didn't know how things would turn out, or if I would have neurological damage as it could've happened and also when I woke up in ICU after my induced coma. I clung to them when I felt I would die of the pain (I also had problems with my lungs and the drainage that was tearing them apart). Also when I felt useless in the hospital, when I couldn't even eat by myself, they had to do everything for me.

My dream saved me from falling into the drama, the self-pity and complaining. My dream reconnected me with the healing, with the happiness, and the love of life. Not one day did I abandon it, it was my light, it was my everything. In the most painful moments I clung to it even tighter, clenching my teeth and thinking of those songs that reminded me of those parts of the world where I'd been first - Latin America. So that connected me to the happiness, despite the pain. 

So that's why I always say my dream saved me. 

Marcell:  I've noticed in how you write about Africa that it has a very special place in your heart. 

Now you're planning on taking small groups with you to introduce them to those places you love in Africa. What kind of trips will these be - I don't think I can call them tours?

Mariu:  Yes, I found my "home" in Africa and loved that part of the world unconditionally since the first day. I totally think that I belong in part, or completely, to Africa. They told me that Africa changes your life, and now I say that's for sure. It changes you, it's inevitable, of course for the better. 

I hate travelling in groups, and have always hated it - that's why I travel alone! So what I want to do with my trips is far from the "typical group travel" which is overwhelming, exhausting and in a hurry. I want us basically to be like a group of friends travelling, that's why the group size is smaller. I want us to create this union and every night we sit down in a circle, sharing with the others what we wish. Of course, there's total freedom to choose to do it or not, including being alone if you wish. There's nothing obligatory, total freedom to flow as one wishes. 

Apart from that, I've called my trip an EMPOWERMENT trip, because whoever wants will also have the opportunity to travel in my hand. They can talk to me, tell me and I can accompany and help in any process of change or blockage through everything that I've learnt and lived through over the last years. It will be for someone who wants that, a type of coaching that can boost them in anything they need. I'm an expert in that!


Marcell:  #followyourdream  is about finding out what people’s dreams are and how they are working towards them. What dream is at the top of the list for you - how does your passion for travel and Africa fit in with it?
Mariu:  Like I told you before, my dream is to be able to continue living free and in my way. To be able to choose each day and live the life I want. No more working in "grey offices" and do what makes me passionate about living. So, as part of this dream of a free life, is to try the trips to Africa, joining my two largest passions. However, I have more other projects, that if it goes well, will allow me to live where I want, moving and travelling- but for now that's Top Secret!
mariu 7

Marcell:  What have you done/are you doing to achieve your dream or at least get closer to it?
Mariu:  I am doing everything for dream for a couple of years, from my tumour. Currently I live the way I want to and how I want to carry on living. 

Marcell:  Is what you're doing now getting you closer to that moment where you can stop for a moment and say "This is my dream!"
Mariu:  My free life, my dream of a free life. 

Thanks very much for not only sharing your dreams with us but also your inspirational journey to realising them. 

Thursday, 31 May 2018

Yo Sueño de Africa

Click HERE for English version 

primary: Mariu Pachamama

Hace tiempo desde mis últimas entrevistas sobre #followyourdream (sigue su sueños) pero simplemente no podía perder la oportunidad para compartir con todas el viaje de esta persona, una súper inspiradora. 

Recientemente me encontré con las publicaciones en Facebook de Mariu, y lo que más me impactó fue la pasión absoluta con la que escribió, mostrando un amor por la vida que a todos les gustaría tener. Aún más llamativo fue cómo parecía energizar a la gente a través de esto y despertar nuevamente su voluntad de vivir.

Sigue Mariu en su página de Facebook (Mariu Pachamamay puf ede leer más de ella en su página web ( 
Instagram:  @unsuenoviajero

Hola Mariu y gracias para permitirme hacer esta entrevista. Hace unas semanas ya hablamos y estoy muy emocionado para compartir su historia con la gente. 

Ya lo se que hay preguntas que te haces loca jaja entonces trataré evitarlas. 

Marcell:  Mariu, como introducción… cuéntanos de donde eres y si tienes un lugar ahora como base? Algo de ¿"Quién es Mariu?"
Mariu:  ¡Esa es una de las pregunta difíciles! Jajja… De esas que tengo que pensar para contestar. ¿De dónde soy…? He nacido y vivido muchos años en Asturias, un pequeño paraíso en el Norte de España. Amo Asturias, es un lugar mágico sin ninguna duda, y parte de mí es, y siempre será de allí. Pero ¿de dónde me siento que soy..? Un porcentaje de mí es de Asturias, y el resto (un porcentaje aún mayor) es del mundo. De todos los lugares que he conocido y amado, y de todos esos otros que aún no he conocido, pero que lo haré, y también amaré. Soy un poco de todas partes. Me siento aire, y casi casi podría volar. No me siento en absoluto anclada a un solo lugar y a la vez me siento anclada a todos. Es algo un poco difícil de explicar. 

Mi base, ¡difícil pregunta también! Realmente no tengo, actualmente podría ser Asturias, pero todo está en proceso de cambio, ¡yo soy cambio! Me gustaría mucho establecer mi base en algún lugar de mi amada África. Y, quién sabe…!

2nd: Mariu Pachamama

Marcell:   Si tuvieses en este momento solo un deseo, ¿cuál sería?
Mariu:  ¡Uno solo! Uno que lo engloba todo, deseo seguir siendo libre. Deseo poder de una u otra manera seguir viviendo libre hoy y siempre. Deseo poder elegir cada día de mi vida. Todo eso forma parte del mismo deseo.

Marcell:  Me contaste que hace dos años y medio los médicos te dieron malas noticias sobre tu salud, y que tuviste una gran cirugía.

¡Pero también me contaste que tu sueño te salvó!  ¿Puedes contarnos qué pasó y como tu sueño te pudo salvar?

Mariu:  Si, efectivamente. En febrero de 2016 me enteré que tenía un enorme tumor cerebral que ya me estaba dando síntomas desde hacía más de tres años, aunque yo no hacía caso ¡no soy nada de nada hipocondríaca! En mi caso me afectaba a la parte motora, progresivamente fui perdiendo toda la fuerza y la capacidad de mover como ahora la pierna derecha. Tuve que dejar de hacer todo lo que me gustaba (gimnasio, bailar, y hasta yoga) y ya por último ni siquiera podía andar bien sin que mi pie se me torciese y se doblase hacia un lado cada dos por tres. También tuve un dolor extremo durante año y medio en mi cabeza, un dolor que hacía que me despertase llorando cada noche. Pero al respecto de esto, los médicos alegaban que era estrés, y me recomendaban hacer deporte… Nunca me mandaron hacer ninguna prueba hasta el final, fue un médico chino el que me sugirió que podría tener algo en el cerebro.

Cuando me enteré que tenía el tumor ya era como digo muy muy grande, con lo que había que extraerlo y extraerlo pronto. Mi vida cambió en dos semanas. Dejé todo lo que tenía en Valencia, (vivía allí) casa alquilada, amigos, pareja, pedí una autorización en mi trabajo para ir a Asturias a operarme con mi familia, puesto que sabía que tanto la cirugía como el post operatorio no iban a ser fáciles, y quería estar con los míos, y me fui con una maleta en la que ni siquiera supe que meter. Era invierno en España cuando me fui, pero no sabía ni cuándo, ni tan siquiera cómo podría regresar, ni si regresaría. Así que metí un poco de ropa de abrigo, algunas camisetas para el calor y poco más. No sabía nada de nada. 

3rd: Mariu Pachamama

Antes de enterarme de mi tumor, mucho tiempo atrás, pero con más fuerza en el último año, yo quería dejar mi trabajo. Era funcionaria, una privilegiada me decían en España que estaba muy en crisis, tenía trabajo fijo para toda mi vida y un sueldo que me permitía hacer todo lo que deseaba, y no mucha gente entendía que no quisiese eso, que no quisiese vivir así. Pero yo siempre he concebido la vida como un gran regalo y no quería desperdiciarlo trabajando en una Oficina Gris que detestaba ¡durante 40 años! ¡Cómo iban a entenderlo!

Así que el día de mi cumpleaños, (el 7 de octubre), cuatro meses antes de enterarme de que tenía un tumor, me tatué un “free” y unos pajaritos en mi brazo derecho, y me prometí a mí misma que durante ese año dejaría para siempre mi trabajo y cumpliría el sueño de mi vida, viajaría por el mundo, sería libre. 

4th: Mariu Pachamama

Luego la vida, me bendijo con ese tumor, y me puso las cosas fáciles, después de mi tumor y de todo lo vivido, ya no había marcha atrás. Si todo iba bien, dejaría todo y me iría. Me aferré a eso en los momentos más dolorosos físicamente y también emocionalmente allí en el hospital, me aferré antes de mi cirugía, cuando tampoco sabía como saldría, si tendría daño neurológico de algún tipo como podía haber sido, y también cuando desperté en el UCI después de mi coma inducido. Me aferré en esos momentos en los que me quería morir de dolor desgarrador (porque también tuve problemas en mis pulmones y unos drenajes que me desgarraban por dentro), y también cuando me sentía inútil en el hospital, cuando ni siquiera podía comer yo sola, cuando tenían que hacerlo todo por mí. 

Mi sueño me salvó de caer en el drama, en la auto-lástima, en la queja. Mi sueño me reconectó con la sanación, con la alegría, con el amor por la vida. Ni un solo día lo abandoné, era mi luz, era mi todo. En los momentos de más dolor me aferraba a él más fuerte, apretaba los dientes y pensaba en una de esas canciones que me recordaban a la parte del mundo a la que yo iría primero. A Latinoamérica. Y entonces eso me conectaba de nuevo con la alegría, a pesar del dolor.

Por eso siempre digo, que mi sueño me salvó.

5th: Mariu Pachamama

Marcell:  Me he dado cuenta, que tal y como escribes sobre África,  sientes aquella parte del mundo como algo muy cercano a tu corazón. 

Ahora estás planeando unos viajes para llevar grupos pequeños contigo a los lugares Africanos que amas. 

¿Qué tipo de viajes serán? - no creo que puedo llamarlos "tours"...

Mariu:  Sí, en África encontré “mi casa” y amé incondicionalmente aquella parte del mundo desde el primer día. Totalmente, pienso que pertenezco en parte o en todo a África, aunque de casualidad haya nacido en Europa. Me decían que África te cambia la vida, y yo ahora digo que es cierto, te la cambia, es inevitable, por supuesto para bien. 

Odios los viajes en grupo, siempre los he odiado ¡Por eso viajo sola! Así que lo que quiero hacer con mis viajes dista mucho del “típico viaje en grupo” agobiante, agotador y con prisas. Quiero que seamos un grupo de amigos viajando básicamente, por eso los grupos serán reducidos, quiero que creemos esa unión y que cada noche nos sentemos en círculo y compartamos lo que deseemos con los demás. Por supuesto habrá total libertad para elegir, hacer o no, e incluso para aislarse y estar solo en algún momento si apetece. No habrá nada obligatorio, total libertad para fluir cada uno como desee. 

6th: Mariu Pachamama

Aparte de esto, he llamado a mi viaje EMPODERAtrip, porque quien quiera, también tendrá la oportunidad de viajar también hacia dentro de mi mano. Podrá contarme, decirme y podré acompañar y ayudar en cualquier proceso de cambio o bloqueo con todo lo que he aprendido y vivido en los últimos años. Seré para quien lo desee, una especie de coach que le podrá impulsar en todo lo que necesite ¡soy una experta en eso!

Marcell:  #followyourdream (sigue su sueño) se trata de descubrir cuáles son los sueños de las personas y como están trabajando para realizarlo. ¿Cuál es su sueño número uno y cómo encaja tu pasión por viajar y África con este sueño?
7th: Mariu Pachamama
Mariu:  Como te comentaba antes, mi sueño es poder seguir viviendo libre y a mi manera. Poder elegir cada día y vivir la vida que quiero. No más trabajar en “oficinas grises”, y sí hacer lo que me apasiona para vivir. Entonces, como parte de ese sueño de vida libre, está el probar con mis viajes a África, ¡uniría mis dos grandes pasiones! Aunque también tengo otros proyectos más, que si salen bien me permitirían vivir donde quiera, moverme, viajar, pero eso de momento es Top Secret! 

Marcell:  Qué hiciste/estás haciendo para realizar y cumplir su sueño, o por lo menos para acercarte a él?
Mariu:  Lo estoy haciendo todo por mi sueño desde hace ya varios años, desde mi tumor. Actualmente vivo a mi manera, y así quiero seguir viviendo.
2nd to final: Mariu Pachamama

Marcell:  Es lo que estás haciendo ahora, acercándote a ese momento en el que puedes detenerte por un momento y decir: ¡"Este es mi sueño"!
Mariu:  Mi vida libre, mi sueño de vida libre. 

Muchísimas gracias Mariu para no solo compartir sus sueños que tienes, pero también su camino con inspiración para acércate a ellos y cumplirlos. 

Friday, 18 May 2018

When Nature says - Not yet!

Lago Espejo - cloud mirror

Stretching out in front of me is a mirror, a glassy smooth water mirror reflecting everything on and around it...and above it. There’s hardly a breathe of air moving, the clouds hang motionless - it’s as if nature itself is holding its breath in awe of this canvas of tranquility. The Huet-Huet bird scratching and foraging in the wet ground cover stops and looks at me...asking for my approval? The loud piercing call, almost a scream, of the Chucao Tapaculo breaks the silence although only briefly. I find myself holding my breathe too, involuntarily before breathing out slowly and the Huet- Huet continues foraging through the leaf litter for another bite to eat. Lago Espejo (spanish for mirror lake) is showing spectacularly how it earned its name.

Lago Espejo fence
The lake is one of many here on the route and area known as Siete Lagos (seven lakes) and between the villages of San Martín de Los Andes and Villa de La Angostura in Neuquén Province in Argentina. The Rio Barrancas forms the northern provincial border of Neuquén also the northern border of the Patagonia Region in Argentina. After the drier northern part of the province, one arrives at the Andes along the Ruta 40 (Route 40) which runs is the main artery from the south to the north of western Argentina.

Hitchhiking from San Martín de Los Andes, I’ve arrived at Lago Espejo with my tent to camp a couple of days before going further south into Patagonia. The scenery around me leaves me speechless and when I get something out, realise I can’t find the adjectives to describe it. The weather forecast is for rain in two day’s time and then two days later, snow. I’m hoping to get away from here before the snow to where I can more comfortably, relatively speaking, sit out the snowfall.The first night already there’s a good amount of rainfall but I’m happy to see that the tent inside and my things are dry. Everything well wet in the morning still as I make a coffee around 9am, (sunrise was only at around 08:40) enjoying the amazing view over the lake. A fox appears out of the forest and hangs around near where the visitors stop, clearly accustomed to getting something to eat.

Lago Espejo fox

Into the forest across the road, there’s a 1.6km trail to Lago Correntoso which I head for and explore, with some birdwatching along the way. (later more about this lake and the walk) Getting back to my tent later, decide to take a stroll along the lake see what birds I can find but, just reaching a patch of forest, it starts raining - conveniently a large log in a covered forest section, so sit down and relax. Next to me is a bush of mora berries (blackberries) and super sweet they are as well. It lessens a bit to a drizzle and a brief moment when the sun peeks through the clouds, enough so I can get back to the tent without getting too wet, and boil some water for coffee.

Lago Espejo afternoon

Waking up the next morning, I don’t hear any rain and think “Fantastic, I can get the tent packed up, even if it’s still a bit wet, and head off.” But, 06:30am the heavens open up and the rain is just bucketing down, sounding a bit worse at times than it really is with it pounding down through the forest. Right! I’ll wait till the rain stops and then bite the bullet packing the wet tent and groundsheet, and head off. By 10:30am though, it’s still a constant curtain of water coming down - I need to at least get myself to Villa de La Angostura, about 12km away. Tough luck, get the rain gear on, make sure the tent is closed up well and start walking along the road, hitchhiking and hoping for a quick lift. A truck driver stops and I get to warm myself a bit in the cabin before we get to La Angostura.

Making sure I have airtime on my mobile (in case I need it), I head back and this time spending much more time walking back - getting wet from the pouring rain and a bit on the inner layers from the exercise. The tent is still standing and things are mostly dry inside but I settle down and do a major repack in case of more rain - not that it’s stopped yet! Important things first into the ziplock bags I luckily had a bunch of saved up for the proverbial rainy day. The backpacks will get wet when I go, no way avoiding that but at least I can keep a lot of things dry inside them.

Cooking inside the tent has never even been a consideration for me as it certainly does not have fire-retardant fabric; now there’s no other option. Thus, clearing around me and on the sleeping mat, I boil water, not moving the rest of my body in case I accidentally knock the hot water or worse, the flaming stove over. All ends well though, and I have a good soup. The next time went a bit more relaxing than the first.

Lago Espejo rocks
Three nights down, and the morning early once again only wind and 6:30am on the dot!... rain comes pouring down again! No! Surely there must be a window between the rain sessions to get out other than 2 hours before sunrise. Keeping, or trying to keep a positive mood, at 10:30am I pack all my things other than the sleeping mat for me to sit on. Ready to up and go when the rain stops. The bottom third of the sleeping bag has already gotten wet and a large part of the rubber sleeping mat, other than a small part that I’m sitting on. It’s just silly to try and leave now while I still have some things that are dry. Getting everything out in this pouring rain will for sure get everything soaked while I pack the tent.

Now sitting in a tent while it’s pouring outside is one thing, but when you’re way past a solid 24 hour session, the situation starts changing. For one, you’re thinking and over-thinking way too much, and then keeping yourself occupied other than just lying down trying to sleep...different set of challenges all together. The space I have is enough to lie down although half of that is wet now, so keeping to the driest of the wet spots...and it’s cold, very cold!

Lago Espejo flowers

Being alone for extended time and restricted/limited to one place is not something new to me although admittedly no occasions have been the same either. Writing the diary, sharing your thoughts and literally having a conversation with yourself in the diary with intermittent doodling - or can it be classified as some obscure art form in circumstances like this? I did come out here in this time of the year to see how and what the weather will do, that was one of the reasons - but, I need  to get myself out of this now and first get a proper extreme weather tent as going into snow with this tent, will just be plain stupid.

It’s 7pm, and the rain’s not letting up - no other option but to get the sleeping bag out again and prepare myself for a long extended night listening to wind-driven waves breaking on the lakeshore, wind tearing through the trees and blasting the tent with rain.

Lago Espejo tent

Yet another morning breaks at Lago Espejo, waking up with a bit of a start...something’s not right. It’s absolutely dead silent around me other than the odd drops of rain dripping on the tent from the trees above. Can I go? Is it happening?

Yes!! I almost fly out the tent once I got my rain gear on, bags under the one tree as I start to take down the tent. The air is freezing cold and I need my bare hands which very quickly have almost no feeling from the cold and wet tent and groundsheet. Rolling it up gets interesting, apparently I’m going with some mud samples from here.

Argentina border hitchike
Out on the road I get a lift pretty quickly although it’s only to the junction from where the road goes to the Chilean border. Standing here, a bit of low cloud rolls in and a drizzle, enough to ensure there isn’t anything dry. Then, out of the blue, an icy wind blows the rain in and I think to myself “What more?” - wrong question! Exactly at that moment it starts snowing - I look up at the sky, totally lost for words and then start laughing. What just happened here not only took the wind out my sails but so surprised me, I was just totally lost for thoughts even to the point of it being hilarious. At this point I did remind myself not to ask that question again...who knows what will happen next time!

Snowy 4x4 ride

Eventually get a lift to border post from where I check in with the Gendarmerie and walk the 300m to the buildings, same out the other side to my next hitchhiking point. A Chilean couple give me a lift on the back of their 4x4 pickup after 2 hours of alternating sun, wind and rain. 

As we get closer to the pass, the official country limits of Chile and Argentina, it’s snowing and then starts the wind- driven snow...hey, it’s blowing mostly over me and is rather stunning albeit freezing cold! They stop to take some photos - then, make some space for me inside the cab from where I watch the snow blowing past as we descend into Chile after 20 days in Argentina.

Dare I ask “What next?” 

Puyehue: Argentina-Chile


Friday, 11 May 2018

Where not only the forest is green

The forest trail

The forest is dense and there's a slight chill in the air and the only sounds are the leaves rustling in the breeze, water dripping from last night's rain, and the occasional scream of the little Chucao Tapaculo. I move slowly along the path in case I see one of the little Chucaos, only the volcanic gravel crunching under my boots. 

Am I in some remote and secret forest? Not at all, in fact I'm about 2.5km from the village of Ensenada near the shore of Lake Llanquihue, the 2nd largest in Chile. The forest is referred to as Valdivian forest, a type of rain forest here in Chilean Patagonia. 

Laguna Verde

The trail, albeit the short one of two trails, winds down a path to the side of Laguna Verde - the green lake. And you better believe it's green, very green. Certain times of the year the algae will make it appear even greener. 
Early morning at the lake is just spectacular, birds are only starting to move around and as the sun fights its way through the clouds, its rays hit the water through gaps in the forest that surrounds the lake...a large trout lazily and cheekily swims right past me almost at the water's edge. Here at the edge the water is crystal clear. 

Sun rays onto Laguna Verde

A little further along the trail and I reach a platform on the shore of Lake Llanquihue, a few meters from where there's a little "beach" between Laguna Verde and Lake Llanquihue. In total this walk is about 2-300m return but the tranquility and peace in the forest is tangible. 

Lake Llanquihue

Walking back to the parking area and rangers' office, there's a trail Los Pilleyos heading off to the left. Only 1.2km long but mostly dense and high forest with a short section along the eastern leg that's more open scrub and volcanic rock; also brilliant views from here of the snow-capped Volcano Osorno right there. 

Trail sign

These two trails are easy and a good relax in some amazing forest. I spent probably over 3 hours here, taking photos and birdwatching although afterwards it felt like I had been in some spa, totally refreshed!  At the parking area there's also a little shop for those looking for a hot drink, or cold one for that matter, and maybe something sweet like a cake catches your fancy. 

How to get there
Located in the Vicente Perez Rosales National Park, only 2.5km by road from Ensenada (which is 42km east from Puerto Varas). The CONAF (Chile National Forestry Service) who manage the national parks. 
Micros (20-25 seater buses) from Puerto Varas are 1,300 Chilean pesos one way to Ensenada. 

Is it Worth Carrying On?

Waiting for wind

There are times when I’m in a moment thinking “What the heck am I doing here?” or “Is it worth carrying on with this?” (whatever I’m doing or where I’m at). In reality these are thoughts that bother me as I see them as precursors to getting negative or less motivated. But, as the one saying goes, “...when you’re tired, learn to take rest, not give up.” This is when I do actually sit down and/or just stop and pay attention to where I am as I’m there voluntarily, nobody forced me to go this place or put myself in this situation. Usually there’s also nobody to talk to and/or ask advice which I think is a good thing. This is something you and only you can sort out with yourself; what somebody else says is not going to change the situation you’re in or how you’re feeling.

These moments have, especially in the last few weeks, provided me with intense experiences and I’m talking of an intensity I’ve not been accustomed to in relation to relatively normal days. Intense experiences like jumping out of a plane for your first parachute jump/skydive - that intense! It’s as if my senses were on super alert and I was mentally a dry sponge and the experience which I then have becomes a total body and mental, might even call it spiritual if you want, experience.

Calbuco ascent trail

What are these intense experiences I have, you ask? Using as an example my recent ascent of the slopes of Calbuco Volcano. The trail is pretty much non-existent with dense forest and washed out sections, the volcanic gravel is deep and for every two steps forward, I slide one back. I stopped...weighing up whether it was worth continuing on this route or going back and finding another. At this moment, I saw near me a Chucao Tapaculo, a very shy undergrowth bird but with lovely plumage, and actually said out loud “Oh hello!” and talking - there was nobody else there to tell me I’m crazy! The bird actually then started coming right up to me, followed by another two.Within the space of no more than 20 seconds, I had three of these birds about 30-40cm from my feet just looking up at me, foraging a bit, then looking up at me again. This continued for probably no more than 1-2 minutes before they foraged deeper into the forest again.

Volcan Osorno sunrise

THAT was the type of moment I live for and go off the beaten track! This moment which would otherwise maybe just been a cool birdwatching moment, burnt itself into my mind so intensely that in the evening thinking about it, it surprised me by its intensity! This was also something which gave me incentive to carry on, in this case with the difficult ascent.

Lago Espejo, Neuquén, Argentina
The evening thinking of this I realised how many moments over the last few weeks there had been like this, sometimes more than one a day, that was so intense but rekindled the urge to carry on. Maybe I’ve now subconsciously started looking out more for these kind of these - my next reason to carry on further and possibly even harder. Maybe I’m getting addicted to them which I don’t think is a bad thing either as I go to sleep at night, wake up the morning, ready for another day - mostly with no idea what I’ll specifically be doing or where I might go.

Drop of red

Sharing this, I can only say; look for those little lovely things, something that might seem ordinary but stopping and spending a few seconds with it, might let you realise how extraordinary it is. Smile, or even laugh out loud, it’s your moment and nobody can take it away from you. These moments collectively will make everyday feel like it’s been a winner, regardless of what else may have happened.

Remember, you and only you are responsible for your own happiness. There is nobody on this planet that can make you happy although they may contribute to your happiness, it is ultimately you who has to find, and decide, that smile that comes to your face.

Summit dreams


Monday, 7 May 2018

Threesome: a desert, a river and me

I had been 10 days in Argentina already and loving but the last few days been gagging to get to a remote spot where there was a river or stream and nobody else; just some mental therapy as I call it and getting myself and mindset back on track. Trying to get it though had proved to be a bit of a mission as I was slowly hitchhiking a huge loop through the San Luis Province to get onto the Ruta 40...that famous road that runs from north to south the length of Argentina. I hadn’t wanted to be on the road during the long Easter weekend (Semana Santa) but as is many times the case, my plans didn’t hold out well with the reality.

It was no the 2nd of April and I was I hitching from the city of San Rafael which would get me onto the Ruta 40. After about 3 hours, two guys with their offroad bikes on the back of the pickup, gave me a lift and invited me to to go Lake Nihuil where there’d be heaps of people and place to camp for free. Problem is getting out the next day when all the holidaymakers have gone home.

I consequently got off to the junction to Nihuil and then not long after got a lift to the town of Malargue. Even though I was at the exit of town, more or less, I was not very positive of getting a lift this late in the afternoon to anywhere great. But, things were looking up and a guy working on one of the fuel drills gave me a lift and as we were chatting and I mentioned the remote place with water I was looking for, he said that where he turns off to go to the drill in the mountains, there’s a perfect area where the Rio Grande (river) runs and he’s sure I’d like that.

Around 18:20 we stopped where the Ruta 40 went over the Rio Grande in a rugged and remote semi-desert area...well, bone-dry other than the river, and Roberto (the guy giving me a lift) said to me ‘Here we are.” I was speechless but with a massive smile though, this place was even better than what I’d been hoping for! It was better than perfect! Roberto was smiling although shaking his head a bit and asked if I’ll be fine and I said I’ll be absolutely perfect thanks. With a wave he headed off into the mountains and I went for a walk to find a place to pitch my tent...after hiding my bags behind some rocks first, this was after all a main road albeit deserted.

I find a hollow near the river in the dunes and making sure it’s above the high water/flood mark and debris - don’t want to get washed away during the night with a flash flood! It’s a nice hollow protecting me from the majority of the wind and well hidden from the distant road. This was just heaven for me, I couldn’t stop smiling. Going down to the river to wash my face and fill up drinking water I notice how strong flowing it is, reminding me how much kayak experience I still need if I want to attempt anything like this. Admittedly this section has some serious whirlpools so I wouldn’t play around in there.

Cooking some rice and veggies, I enjoy dinner under a total blanket of stars (moon hadn’t risen yet) and thinking how the tranquility and calm I felt sitting at the river was something I hadn’t had for a very long time, not at this level anyway. The words can’t really describe that incredible feeling everything just having rolled off your shoulders and dragging with it anything that was milling around in my head. The phone is switched off and only the gps was used to mark the spot. My first night with the desert and the rushing river will be an amazing night. How many nights will I stay - no idea and don’t care right now.

The next two days I was up early, having coffee at my tent during sunrise and for the spectacular sunsets, the latter usually seated down next to the river somewhere. Early mornings and late afternoons walking around and exploring the dunes and rocky hills and seeing what animal tracks there are and then watching the Torrent Ducks coming down the river, fly back up to a point and come riding the waves down again - in my opinion clearly enjoying themselves! I found some fox tracks and then a variety of lizard/geckos tracks, with sightings of two different kinds too.
A very confiding Dark-bellied Cinclodes (little bird) would wander past me on the riverbank where I’d got my clothes off and had a bath. also washing my the clothes out in a little eddie. The water was considerably cold, so I wasn’t swimming much really, even in the mid-afternoon blazing sun. Bit of a siesta was in order then.

The third day I did have to turn the tent as the wind had started turning and was blowing straight into the little hollow where my tent was and piles of sand into the tent. The weather was starting to build up for a storm I thought so decided reluctantly that the morning of the fourth day I would pack up and head further south along the Ruta 40 (little knowing that my following night would be -6 degrees Celsius in the town of San Martín de los Andes, but more about that later.).

This had been seriously one of my most amazing remote camps i’ve ever done and if I had the chance, I’d go back and spend at least a week there! A desert and river with me made the perfect dream threesome! 

For more photos of the time I was out here camping along the Rio Grande, visit my album on Flickr HERE