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Cajon de Maipo

Cajon de Maipo

Last weekend, Theo and I went camping in Cajon de Maipo, a valley in the Andes about an hour away from Santiago. We got there on Thursday afternoon after taking a bus from the end of the metro. Unfortunately for us, it was May 1, or Día del Trabajador, also known as Labor Day. Due to this, all of the main grocery stores were closed, forcing us to buy our food from an overpriced convenient store. A nice girl on the bus gave us some advice on where to go and what to do in the valley. She recommended going to El Morado, a glacier just off the border from Argentina.

The bus took us to San Jose de Maipo where we bought a little more food and went to check out the tourist center. As we expected, it was closed, leaving us with only the girl’s information on what to do. Like good travelers, Theo and I did hardly any research about Cajon de Maipo. We only knew how to arrive to San Jose and from there we were winging it. From my experience, traveling works out better this way. You never know what to expect and a lot of surprising and cool things end up happening.

We hitchhiked (which is perfectly legal, common, and safe in Chile) from San Jose heading deeper into the Andes and closer to the mountains. Along the way when we told people we were going to El Morado we got some strange responses. A woman in San Jose told us we were very brave men to be doing this, especially with the weather (it was raining all day). Later when we were deeper and higher up in the mountains a taxi driver stopped and asked us where we were going. After telling him, he asked if we were prepared, warning us that it’s dangerous and we should notify the police that we were going there in case something happens!

Wow! At this point we started to think what is El Morado? We definitely were not prepared for any intensely cold weather. We did not have winter hats or gloves and Theo’s tent is not made to camp in the snow. We started to have second thoughts but decided to keep going until Baños Morales, where the park entrance to El Morado is and where we could get more information. At around 6PM, we stopped at a man’s house who lets people camp in his yard. Fortunately, he let us spend the night in his house. His name was Josepe and he helped us out a bunch! He let us stay inside, gave us food, made us a fire, brought us mattresses, and then played guitar with us for two hours!

In the morning, I woke up and looked outside to an incredible view! Less than a kilometer away on each side of the house stood mountains with the top third covered in snow. Outside the house there was a flock of sheep, with sheep dogs and shepherds directing them, and a flock of goats fenced in. There were also pigs, horses, chickens, and dogs. It was pretty much a farm for animal husbandry. Josepe told us that another man owns the animals and uses them for milk (to make cheese) and wool mostly. On top of his generosity, Josepe made us breakfast and let us keep our backpacks in his house while we continued on our hike.

We walked the eight kilometers to Baños Morales on the dirt road surrounded by beautiful scenery. This was a Chile I had never seen before. It was very rural, with about a house every 400 meters that usually had some flock of animals. There were little to no cars, only big trucks passing us by that were working on construction up ahead. At one point, a man even passed us riding his horse and accompanied by two dogs. He greeted us in a very thick, mountain accent that was tough to understand, which we laughed about and imitated later. It was a beautiful morning, clear of rain, cloudy and with fresh, unpolluted air (unlike Santiago). We were also ascending deeper into the mountains and it was getting colder and colder because of the altitude.

We reached Baños Morales, a cute little town built on the summer tourism season from El Morado and las termas (the hot springs). Unfortunately, the park was closed due to the rain. Every time it rains there is a chance of rock and mud slides and they close the park for a few days. A little disappointed that we couldn’t get to El Morado, we went to las termas instead. That was even more disappointing. The hot springs were man-made pools with water running from pipes into the pools. Furthermore, the water wasn’t even hot – it was room temperature. With it being probably 40 degrees, starting to rain and no clothes to change into, we didn’t get in. A Chilean couple did though, although they did not stay in for long.

We hitchhiked back, stopped at Josepe’s to pick up our bags and said goodbye to him. He gave us a big, warm, circle loaf of bread as a gift (check my Facebook pictures) and told us to come back and stay there again. He was very nice and we thanked him many times for everything he did for us. For the day we hopped around the valley, checking out the small towns and trying to find a spot to camp. Finally we camped under some trying conditions (nighttime, no lighter, limited food and water) a little bit past San Jose. In the morning we tried to find a trail to hike but to no avail, so we hitchhiked back to Santiago.

Overall, I had a great time in Cajon de Maipo and am really glad I went. It was my first time in la Cordillera (the Andes) and I saw a part of Chile completely different from what I had already experienced. Once again, my travels have given me with many stories to tell and have introduced me to amazingly kind and wonderful people.

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