Sunday, December 7, 2014

Smiling in Middle Chile

I've always been really bad with world geography, but for as long as I can remember, I knew where Chile was, and had a vision for what the land must look like. The country spans the relatively small gap between the Pacific Ocean and the Andes mountains for nearly half of the South American continent. I had always envisioned Chile as this razor edge of a mountain range that fell precipitously into the ocean. That didn't exactly prove to be true, but on a grand scale, my vision certainly works. There are, in fact, stunning, precipitous mountains and massive rivers that pour into the Pacific. For the past month we've been exploring some of these regions.

We visited 3 national parks in the "middle Chile" region which doesn't get explored as much as the more famous Lakes District or Patgonia in the south. We were lucky to visit the region during a stretch of blaring, blue sky days and lots of spring snow melt. Lots of snow melt = big rivers and lakes = volumous waterfalls = greenery.

The first National Park was called Siete Tazas - literally, 7 cups [of water]. We found many more than 7 cups! The main river is called the Rio Claro (Clear River) which cuts through a narrow, basalt canyon. It's a famous river for kayakers looking for the thrill of narrow canyons and clean waterfalls.

The namesake of the park - Siete Tazas (7 cups)

We hiked to the base of this waterfall and Scott bravely took a dip - cold!

The water was so clear, and the air just hot enough, we couldn't resist swimming. When I jumped in, my chest tightened, and the icy-cold water took my breath away. Scott didn't have this reaction. He had many deliciously cold swims in the river during our exploration of the park. I was jealous, but wanted to avoid a heart attack, so I just took pictures.


Siete Tazas was the location of our first monster-bug sightings (see below).

Since spotting this tarantula, we've seen quite a few crossing the road while driving and many sunning themselves on the walking trails in the forest.

Next up was a national park, Lircay del Altos, which despite being only 12 miles away, took us 100 miles of driving to reach. The highlight was a hike just outside the park boundary that climbed to one of the taller peaks in the region, Cerro Peine (literally Comb Peak). Along the entire route, we could see mountains, volcanos, rivers, lakes, and at the top, even the ocean in an amazing 360 degree view. This hike ranks among our favorites ANYWHERE. Pictures below:

The view from our free camping spot in the parking lot at Lircay

Scott's favorite mountain in the park, that you could see from many viewpoints

A short walk from the access road took us to this lookout

On the snowy edge of Cerro Peine

Lost at the top of the mountain

Our next middle Chile national park was Laguna del Laja. There are many lagunas (lakes) in the area, but almost all of them are formed by hydroelectric dams, and thus have power lines and man-made infrastructure that takes away from the natural beauty. Laguna del Laja, on the other hand, was formed when the nearby volcano erupted, and lava dammed the river. Everywere you look, rivers and waterfalls are tumbling down the mountains to make a landing in the laguna and river (Rio Laja). We found one of our favorite camp spots here next to the laguna, parked amongst the lava rocks. For several days, we had the place all to ourselves. We hiked, paddleboarded, swam, hammocked, yoga'ed, read, got sunburned (Scott), and smiled... a lot. Middle Chile made us very happy. Picture overload below:

Our first camping stop in the park before getting to the Laguna del Laja

So many beautiful waterfalls on this wall we got a neck-ache during lunch

Laguna del Laja

Holding my nose


Extreme hammocking

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