Trekking in the Andes: Yes, Fresh Air Exists in the Santiago Area

If your time in Santiago thus far has left you struggling to remember the sensation of breathing clean air or yearning for a short respite where the calming sounds of nature replace the sounds of stress-inducing waves of traffic, a simple and easily-arranged trip to the nearby cordillera makes for an ideal solution.

Santiago Chile
Photo by Nadine Custis

Less than an hour’s drive from the commotion of downtown Santiago, one finds the majestic, even ominous at times, presence of the Andes mountains. There are countless agencies willing and eager to expose the tourist crowd to the lesser visited side of Santiago; my personal adventure took place through Andes Terrae, a locally-based ecotourism company founded by a handful of amiable and personable santiaguino college friends.

Santiago Chile
Photo by Nadine Custis

My hike to Cerro El Durazno involved two days of walking and one night of camping. Our first night we camped below the snowline on a flat plain that stretched out, like a canvas delicately painted by the golden fingers of the setting sun, towards the canyon wall. The dry brush and a few herds of cattle dotting the landscape contrasted oddly with the stately omnipresence of the looming, snow-drenched peaks surrounding us. I found myself contemplating the silent power of nature: in the continual chaos of the city, the fight to gain a sense of control, of understanding, is at times defeating. But there, where the buildings are towers of rock and snow and the streets are pristine rivers, it was the calm, not the chaos that overwhelmed.

Our second day of hiking both literally and figuratively dwarfed the demands of the first day. As if ascending straight up on solid, dry ground wasn’t enough of a challenge (considering I hadn’t worked out in months), we then reached the snowline, where the incline only increased and the terrain became more perilous. We followed in our guide’s footsteps (literally) because there was no path, nor any sign of previous human interaction with the landscape. The cold, distant, taunting dare of the mountain was manifest in the physical cold of the snow and the biting air, eliciting some sort of inexplicable desire to defeat the hill, driving us to press on.

Santiago Chile
Photo by Nadine Custis

After hours of trekking through the snow, falling into the ice, and scaling rocks whose only support for its climbers were puddles of mud and thorny roots, we reached the summit. The sight of our tents as tiny dots of color on the barren plain below us, humbly belittled by the canyon, made our journey all the more real. Drinking pure snow from my severely beat-up water bottle, playing Fleetwood Mac’s “Landslide” in my head, and thinking how strange it was to stand on the top of a mountain having actually walked there myself made me infinitely happy in my selection of Chile as my study-abroad destination.

Arranging your own trip is a simple process, and a wide variety of options are available according to your preferences, level of physical fitness (which, I can say from experience, is something to take into consideration) and the amount of time you have.

Andes Terrae, whose website (www.andesterrae.com) provides information about pricing and trip options, offers everything from simple hikes that last only part of the day to multi-day treks that involve overnight camping and more advanced trails. The company boasts an assortment of terrain as well, with trips available to about fourteen different locations. According to Juan Francisco “Pampa”Bustos, one of the company’s knowledgeable and professional guides, “We are flexible and offer excursions according to the desires of the client, not necessarily only the ones offered on the webpage, which are merely the ones most recommended by us.”

Pricing includes virtually everything you will need for your trip: tents, breakfast and dinner for overnight hikes, fees associated with entering national parks, and transportation to and from your hotel or place of residence. Sleeping bags and sleeping pads can be rented for a minimal fee. These guys have thought of everything!

Andes Terrae
http://www.andesterrae.com

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