Enchanted Forest

Today was freaking crazy… I actually got a touch o’ frostbite and it freaked me out!

So we’re in Quelat National Park, just hiked 3 hours to see the awesome Ventisquero Colgante, a bad-ass glacier, hopped on our bikes to tackle a mean and curvy climb through the Qualet Pass (7km straight up), to get through the toughest remaining part of our Patagonian tour.

Ventisquero Colgante

We camped in the mountain pass last night, windy and frigid, crazy beautiful, mountain peaks so close, surrounding us, like mammoth rock walls shooting up, topped in snow, waterfalls and lagoons, tall dead trees bleached-white in a wind-swept plateau of shrub with patches of red and orange moss. Perfect. We set up camp on a fluffy spot of moss-covered gravel on a cliff and celebrated with mulled red wine.

I was awake before dawn, listening from within my sleeping bag to the driving rain, and noticed I was in a puddle. Parched from being too cozied up to run for water before bed, I got up to drink from a waterfall, froze my hands filling the bottle from a stream of the coldest water, but was rewarded by the sunrise, the landscape glowing in the most beautiful yellow light. Oooh, pining for my camera, could see the freshly covered peaks so nicely, looked behind me and a huge rain cloud & winds came barreling through the pass, soaking me before I got back. Trying to wait out the rain and hail storm, we made a cold breakfast in the tent and packed-up slowly. Eventually, with plastic bags on hands and feet, we started down the mountain.

Frozen, only about 2km down the road, we stopped at Sendero Bosque Encantado, (or Enchanted Forest Walk), 2.5 hours through a grove totally covered in green growth, soooo magical, and SO WET I didn’t dare take a picture. Crossing streams, jumping over puddles, ducking through a labyrinth of dripping furry fallen trees, slipping on rocks and shimmying across log bridges, the rain forest in a mountain pass was a tramp to remember. We got drenched throughly, and with feet in plastic bags soaked, and me walking most of the way with my hands under my shirt (on warm belly), we froze our asses off. Coming out to a funnel of snow coming down between mountain peaks, from which a glacial river of bright cloudy blue water came rushing into a field of boulders… it was intensely beautiful and quite worth it, but damn we were cold.

un bosque, no El bosque
(some woods.. not THE enchanted woods, but it helps some ya?)

By the time Jeff and I doubled back, each slipping many times but not busting our asses too bad, I found my hands didn’t work. I couldn’t do anything with them, and it scared the crap out of me. So frustrating not to have any control, couldn’t press my forefinger & thumbs together, like they were dead! Finally, with teeth, pulled on gloves again, descended hill, so freaking gorgeous, real cascading falls and snowy peaks, but of course couldn’t stop & take any snaps. We stopped at the bottom, took refuge in a bus stop to get out of the rain, shivering hard and freaking out slightly and for the first time considered hitching. Some friendly men stopped their pickup to see which way we were heading; I think it’s customary for Chileans to offer rides in inclement weather, but they were going up into the pass. Needing food, we ate a sandwich. Lo and behold, sun illuminated the closest facing mountain, blue skies appeared; 34km from the nearest village, there was no alternative but to hit on the road again.

Funny thing about Chile is its schizophrenic weather, at least this time of year in the Lakes Region and Patagonia. When it’s nice, you can’t imagine it being any other way… you go to sleep under a billion-star sky and think No way, it can’t rain tonight. No sooner than you zip up the tent and say goodnight, it’s that familiar pitter-patter again! Likewise, when it’s gray, you’re under a blanket of clouds and rain is coming down, you can’t see the light at the end of the tunnel. But in only five minutes, sunny and dry again. Drives me mad & always keeps me guessing, (like a good girl should!) But damn it’s so good when it’s good.

I know I’ve written much about the rain so far but I haven’t expanded that it’s really been half-and-half: typically two days of bliss (with a shower or two thrown-in) and two days of rain (with some sun mixed-in to keep you going).

Even on our way out of the Enchanted Forest today, the sun smiled on us through the dripping green canopy, enough to give me some of the most perfect memories of its splendor… freakin’ Chile.

As for the bike tour, Jeff and I have pedaled about 550km so far, after 2 weeks, but keep in mind it’s been ALL dirt & gravel roads — Not easy. That and we’re easing-into a rhythm, still riding 5 or 6 days a week, but not stressing the distance, only going for a couple hours some days.. we’re big on taking our time & enjoying things, cooking mad good food, starting late by the time we go through our whole morning routine & living it up in our repeatedly picture-perfect campsites. Jeff’s a pretty awesome partner, and this tour is full-on, more so than any for me.

It’s hard though. We’re weather-beaten, sun and wind-burned, getting grizzlier but loving it, and I think gaining some finesse at this as we go. It takes some time getting into a tour, and I feel we’re hitting our stride, learning much as we go. Next general store I find, I’m buying dish-washing gloves! It’s the little life-hacks that excite. Feel like McGyver out here. More on that next time…

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