El Morado: Back to the Andes

Summing up last weekend in a few words: spontaneous, new friends, full moon, intense sun, glacier, hot springs, and lots of laughter.

On Thursday after class, I decided to join a group of four friends from my exchange program for a trip to Parque Nacional El Morado. We headed to the grocery to store to pick up the essential food for the weekend, and planned to meet back at the Vina del Mar bus terminal at 9pm. Boarding the bus to Santiago, we had one 2 person tent, our adventurous spirits, and no plans other than to hike El Morado (3,100m).

Upon arriving in Santiago around 11:30pm with no hotel reservations, we searched as a group for a place to stay close by. Our first attempt to sneak five people into a single room did not go unnoticed by the hotel staff. They were not in the mood for bargaining with us, so we abruptly left and continued the search. I noticed a dimly lit sign down the next street that seemed like a hotel. We rang the bell and found rooms for half the price of the other hotel, and decided to crash there. We calculated that we’d need to wake up by 5:15am to ride the Metro to our next bus station in time to catch the bus headed east toward Cajon del Maipo. I set my alarm, and quickly fell asleep in my sleeping bag, not wanting to risk bed bugs. Surprisingly, all five of us were able to wake up on time. Apparently we were a little too excited for the journey, because the hostel owner had to call our room to tell us to quiet down at 5:30 am. We hopped on the metro at 6, and took 2 more buses heading east from Santiago. DSCN1006We ended up in a town that was still another 30 minute drive from our goal location. We split up the group, and made our first attempt at hitching a ride to Los Banos Morales, the starting place to hike El Morado. Both groups got picked up relatively quickly, and we met up again at Morales. Searching for info about the hike we were about to attempt, I found a small house with climbing photos plastered to the walls and maps pinned in the spaces between. There, we met a super nice couple who knew the area well, and who gave us a ton of tips on where to go. We were pretty tired from our journey, so we made lunch a took a little siesta in our hammocks in their backyard. DSCN1014

Lunch at Banos Morales

Lunch at Banos Morales

Our group and all of our new friends at Banos Morales!

Our group and all of our new friends at Banos Morales!

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The Jeep that managed to hold 6 people in the backseat..

We learned that there were some hot springs close by, and luckily enough, a couple arrived just after us who were heading to the hot springs. Later that evening, half of our group went with them to Banos Carolina, the hot springs, while the others found another ride there. We set up our tent right next to the springs, and relaxed in the thermal water all night.  Luckily, it was a full moon,

In the hot springs!

In the hot springs!

and it illuminated the water and the surrounding mountains as we shared a cheap box of Chilean cabernet and chatted with the other people escaping to the mountains for the weekend. The following morning, the same couple that drove some of our group to the hot springs was heading back to the base of El Morado, and we convinced them to drive all five of us, plus a friend we made at the hot springs, back to El Morado, with the classic “SI SE PUEDE, SI SE PUEDE!” chant. With our backpacks completely filling the trunk of their Jeep, all six of us somehow fit into the backseat for the rocky ride to El Morado. Back at Banos Morales, we fueled up with a big lunch and re filled our water bottles, and began our hike. Hiking up El Morado, the air and soil was desert-like. No trees, no shade, and intense sun made us question if we’d have enough water to safely make it to the next water source. Each time we crossed paths with a group of people, we asked how far they thought the glacier was. After about a solid four hours of hiking DSCN1042and getting different answers from everyone, we decided to set up camp next to the trail. A few large plateau shaped rocks surrounded our area, and we laid out on top of them gazing at the stars. When we woke up on Sunday morning, we were greeted by a lovely arachnid surprise!

Spider at the campsite

Spider at the campsite

We left our packs behind a rock and continued our ascent, which in less than two hours, led us to El Glaciar Sanfransisco. A few of us jumped into the lagoon for a “glacial tune-up,” a glorified cold water body cleanse. We made friends with a few other groups of hikers who had also reached the glacier that morning, and were lucky to find that some of them were heading all the way back to Santiago in the afternoon, which is where we needed to go to catch the bus to Valpo.

Glaciar Sanfransisco, El Morado

Glaciar Sanfransisco, El Morado

The people that drove my friend Camille and I back to Santiago were an incredibly nice brother-sister pair who chatted with us the whole way and took the time to make sure to take us directly to a metro station. We navigated the metro to the bus terminal with ease and were on a bus back to Valpo to make it home in time for dinner.

This trip was completely unplanned and unpredictable, which was totally different than how I usually travel, but I enjoyed every second of it!

Figuring it out, one thing at a time..

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