La Campana is a beautiful national park, famous for its sweeping views, challenging trails, and Chilean Palm Trees (Jubaea Chilensis). I think it also should be famous for how difficult it is to get to [from where I was, so Concón]. It goes something like this:
- bus from Concon to Viña del Mar
- metro from Viña del Mar to Lemache
- bus from Lemache to Olmué
- bus from Olmué Main Square to the street where the park is
- walk about 1km just to arrive at the entrance.
Bottom line, I haven’t even gone hiking yet, by the time I got there I was already tired and felt out of shape. Note to self: get moving.
After doing some research on La Campana National Park, I got the general message “If you want to get the summit of the mountain, get there EARLY-9AM”. Meaning, you have to be on the train by 6:30AM. Loud and clear. The next day, I was up at 5, out the door by 6, in Viña del Mar by 6:30AM. Guess what, the metro is not opened yet. Oh, why is that? Ohhhhh, it’s SATURDAY. Opens at 8:30…Great.
Here I am, standing there in the dark, trying to decide whether I should cough up $30 for taxi to get to the park or simply go tomorrow/next day/whenever… Finally, I went back to Concón and spent the day exploring the beaches and even went to the mall: needed a backpack, a visor hat, and a rain coat. Although I love my Fulbright bag, it’s over the shoulder and has one strap-can’t really hike with that. So, now I have a proper backpack.
The next day, I went to the park and made it to La Mina: the point that is about 2 km below the summit. Still, the views were astounding yet climbing was tough and it took me about 4 hours both up and down since I am a slow hiker.
Although I did not make it all the way to La Campana summit, I feel happy that I ended up going to the park anyway. The views were so worth it, and I burned quite a few calories -that's for sure! I took the so-called Sendero Andinista - hikers call it the classic trail. All of the trails are very well marked and clear to navigate. I now have a plan to take an early bus from Santiago to Olmué and make it to the summit. Maybe when it cools down a bit here...
As I crawled back into my Airbnb room back in Concón, Eugenia the host asked me: "So, how was your day?" "Awesome!"- I breathed out and fell asleep.
My trip to Concón was quite unexpected: on Thursday, I had no leads and no school visits so I thought, ok where can I go hiking? After a brief google search, I saw that a lot of people go to Valparaiso or Viña del Mar. I heard of both towns before and saw that they are, although smaller than Santiago, still of a good size. A bit more research showed me Concón -- a small seaside town in the province of Valparaíso.
Condor Bus goes directly into Concón from Santiago’s San Borja station. At 10AM I was on the bus heading to Concón.
About an hour and a half later, the driver yelled “whoever is going to Concón, you’d better get off now!” I was startled because I was expecting a bus terminal, like I have seen in other towns I travelled to. Well, Concón is different. A “bus terminal” consists of a bus stop. That’s it. Even locals put it entre comillas when talking about Concon’s bus terminal.
I still wasn’t at my final destination-a private room I booked through Airbnb. After a bit of a discussion at the bus stop, sorry, the bus terminal, I was pointed into another bus stop where I took a local bus.
On the local bus, I showed the bus driver the map and stated the street where I needed to go. He, in turn, said something that I couldn’t understand, an old man with the cane got on, they started discussing how to best get the where I want to get. A lady gets on, she joins. So, picture this: me, with my phone and a map, and 4 Chileans arguing how to best get where I need to be. In the end, I got to Airbnb safely, and quickly. Takeaways: Chileans are very helpful with foreigners and when they argue it’s impossible to understand them.
My Airbnb hosts were lovely as well. Their house was on Las Elenas street and literally within a walking distance from the beach. The room was nice and clean, I had a private bathroom, and could use the kitchen and the living area as I pleased. The hosts were vegetarians and their house was decorated with all kinds of Buddhist, Hindu, and New Age memorabilia: incense, statues, pictures, and plants. A highlight of the stay was their pets: two cats and a small, Maltese type dog. One cat slept at my feet one night. Score!
After I was shown to my room, I worked for a bit, looking for leads and emailing potential sites. It was the hottest time of day anyway. After a while, I went out for a walk around town of Concón, got dinner, and went to the supermarket.
The reason I mentioned the supermarket is because I was going to be in the area for three nights so going out to eat every night wasn’t an option. I got a nice dinner at the seafood place my first night, but the rest of my stay I cooked in Eugenia’s kitchen. By the way, our Walmart is called Lider here.
Although the purpose of this trip was to go hiking in La Campana [see next post] it was also fun to explore the town of Concón. Among the highlights were the Dunes [yes, DUNES]. These dunes were created in the Quaternary period, about 25 million years ago[!!]. Climbing these dunes is quite steep but the higher you go, the more traction you gain. I was lucky because I just happened to visit the dunes in the evening-just in time for the sun to set. The views were astounding. Here is just one:
On my second day I roamed around the coast [yes, have been walking a lot on this trip!] and went to Concón's Humedal. You ask what is Humedal? Let me put my teacher's hat on. Humedal comes from the Spanish word "húmedo" or humid. Humedal is a swamp-like eco area in the northern part of Concón. Think of it as a self containing eco-system/nature reserve where you can see local flora and fauna. I saw plants native to this region and birds nesting right there in the Humedal. This park reminded me of the Great Swamp Nature Reserve in New jersey-minus the beach.
On a side note, I have started sketching out how this visit to Concón be used in our classes? Yes, talking to you, WAMS señoritas. We can do verbs, animals, descriptions, and even weather.
Lastly, let me conclude with my first Chilean empanada-it was to die for.
After La Serena I made my way into a small town in the heart of the Elqui Valley- called Vicuña. I stayed with a lovely lady called Teresa who is running a hotel in her family home. It looks small but inside its huge! And so beautiful. Here is the "living room" - with access to the sky:
Vicuña turned out to be a beautiful small town, dedicated to their hero and much loved poet, Gabriela Mistral. There is a very comprehensive museum that talks in detail about her life and work. Although the museum is not big, it is thorough - I learned a lot. Like many others, I always thought that Gabriela Mistral was a poet that received the Nobel prize in Literature. That's it. Well.... I can't express how behind I was. She was a traveler, a diplomat, a writer, and, most importantly, a teacher! She lived and worked in many different countries, including the United States. She reformed Mexico's and Nicaragua's education systems; she was a prolific writer that wrote both prose and poems. She had Pablo Neruda es her student. And yes, she did receive the Nobel prize in Literature.
Vicuña also offers a lot of outdoor activities: trekking, biking, and star gazing (remember, the skies are super clear). Around Vicuna there are dozens of observatories. I did go on an Astro-tour to Mamalluca Observatory and it was breathtaking. Saw the Milky Way, Sirius, Orion, and other stars and planets. Tried taking pictures of the nigh sky, well, you know how that went. All black!
On my second day in Vicuña I took a self guided bike tour. I was given a very detailed map of the area with the designated route and places I can find along the way. I did 18 km in 3.5 hours. The ride itself was very easy and flat, but there were ascents where I had to get off the bike and walk.
Just the scenery alone is worth taking this tour! Mountains, vineyards, trails, small pisco plants, and cacti. Isolation, mysticism, strong energy, clean air. Will remember this ride for the rest of my life.
After returning the bike, I rested for a bit and made my way into Vicuna's downtown. I really lucked out coming to this area this week because they are having the Gabriela Mistral and Astronomical festivals! I didn't see much of the astronomical activities but the Gabriela Mistral festival was awesome. In the main plaza, there were talks, presentations, and musical performances. Free of charge and very interesting. A rock band honoring Gabriela Mistral! It's like Guns'n Roses honoring Maya Angelou.
The next day I took a bus ride to visit a small town located even deeper in the Valley-Pisco Elqui. The bus ride was very inexpensive (2,000CLP one way) yet it offered some breathtaking scenery! The mountains with cacti on them, the blue sky, and the valley below looked really magical. In fact, people say, that Elqui Valley does possess strong healing energy. It certainly healed me-I was ready to stare at the sky and mountains for the whole day! My plan for next time is to bypass La Serena and Vicuna and go straight to Pisco Elqui to spend more quality time with local population and scenery. Below are just some of the images I took in the valley.