After a busy week and a half in confinement in our hotel in Santiago, we are spending our last few days in Chile writing up the blog posts that are still overdue. Despite the early interruption of our journey, we have been very fortunate in being able to visit many incredible places and in meeting truly wonderful people over the past few months. Our story would not be complete without sharing our last week of travel experiences (first half of March 2020) prior to our auto-confinement in Southern Chile.
Following the 90-day state of emergency announced by the Chilean government in mid-March, the country closed all its national parks, natural reserves and monuments for an undetermined period of time. We had just spent the preceding days camping in the Parque Nacional Laguna del Laja and the Parque Nacional Conguillio.
The Laguna de Laja was formed when a lava flow from the Volcan Antuco (2985 m) dammed the Rio Laja and the eerie landscape of the park is made up in large part of old lava fields. Chile has an estimated 3000 volcanoes of which 90 still currently exhibit some level of activity, and many can be visited in its national parks. Laguna de Laja is filled with emerald colored water but it was dry in many places during our visit.
We spent a couple of days in the park relaxing, hiking, and Laurent tried his hand at fishing (unfortunately he did not catch anything and ended up losing a few lures). To my surprise I discovered the soothing and therapeutic effect of the sound of light and porous lava rocks crunching below our shoes!
The wind in this particular area of Chile is incredibly strong when it picks up in the late afternoon and we had to search long and hard to find a suitable place to wild camp in the evening. Although we did not make it to Southern Patagonia in the end, we had a preview of what might have awaited us had we been able to continue down that far. The beaches along the lake are made up of volcanic sand and although they look inviting, driving along them with a 3.5 ton truck is not recommended! The one and only time we had to take out the big shovel and dig ourselves out of the sand was in this park! I think Laurent was secretly pleased to use the equipment that we had brought with us.
Volcan Llaima 3125m, one of Chile’s most active volcanoes, is found in the Parque Nacional Conguillio. The park also showcases the majestic araucaria (monkey puzzle) tree, an evergreen tree native to Chile and Argentina that can grow up to 50 m in height. It is Chile’s national tree and once you see it you cannot forget its spiky and stiff scale-like leaves arranged in spiral formation along the branches. It is difficult to describe the beauty of this park as the landscapes are quite diverse and contrasting depending on the sector. The volcano dominates the scenery in many places and a huge lava field running around a green grove of trees can be seen at one end of the park. There are several lakes within the park and the transparent turquoise and emerald colored waters are simply astonishing! The park has many hiking trails and even the short ones are packed with natural attractions. Not much more to say…the photos speak for themselves!
Our last bivouac before heading back to urban life and 6 weeks of confinement (although of course we had no clue about this at the time) was along the northern shores of Lago Caburga, not too far from Villarica and Pucon.
This particular spot holds a special place in our heart……a huge flat grassy plain with a small stream running through it, a few friendly cows, amazing lake views, and at night absolute silence and a spectacular backdrop of stars in the black sky. If we had not made the split decision to head south when the border closures started in neighboring Argentina we would have gladly spent several more days in this little piece of paradise!