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On the GPT: Whoa, we're halfway there!

Greater Patagonian Trail: rain clouds south of Lonquimay

We started the third part of our hike in the late afternoon of rainy New Year’s eve. There were no fireworks in the sky but having something else than pasta, meaning bread and cheese, for dinner was our way of welcoming the year of 2017. And milk jam candy, of course.

This part of the Greater Patagonian trail has been different, firstly because the pace of changing environments and landscapes has slowed down. For a few days we were mostly climbing passes while passing puestos and variety of domestic animals, and descending into valleys while passing more puestos and cow concerts (they sound very much like an orchestra tuning their instruments).

Secondly it has felt like occasional jumps back in time, like 65 million years. We’ve been walking through deserted areas where ground is mainly sand and bedrock is sticking out in high rocky patches. The vegetation is mainly low and spiky, but the most striking feature must be the araucaria trees. These giants are considered sacred by indigenous Chileans, the Mapuche people, and are surely impressive thing to see. Their spiky needles and monkey tail like branches make them very unique looking coniferous trees. Also, see bonus section about cooking and eating the nuts of araucaria at the end of this blog!

Thirdly the climate, and ecosystems overall have started to change as we continue towards south. It’s not as hot anymore, in fact there have been incidents of frozen clothing in the morning once or twice. And the climate becomes more humid and we’ve encountered rain like we’ve never seen before. It’s not that it’s raining heavily, or like there are ten garden hoses pointed at you. It’s like the sky just released all the spare water it’s been saving for the past ten centuries and it’s all coming down, right now. We’ve been very impressed by our tent that has kept us nice and dry, cozy even when we’ve needed to stay in for a whole day. Let’s face it, we can only blame ourselves for the smell.

We’ve established nice rhythm for the mornings, days and nights and even though the routine is occasionally messed up by the weather (like rain described above, or winds that pull your hair out), small injuries (blisters, minor infections, major bangs) or generally ourselves (like when Piia said we can resupply in one town that was nowhere near, and we needed to make a quick stop on the way) days go by fast. We also have time to stop and wonder about creatures and mini shops.

Some of the most memorable moments on this part of the hike include a morning with a lifting fog revealing tall araucaria trees and rays of sunshine; steaming ground on the hill of a volcano; interactions with the locals and always learning something new; seeing the biggest hardwood trees we’ve ever seen, beeches, that seem to be ancient; and of course araucaria nuts!

Bonus - Auracaria nuts!

As weeks go by and we become more and more hungry we’ve been happy to discover foods we can find from the wilderness and add some calories to our menu. As we approach more southern latitudes we seem to leave fruit trees behind which means no more ciruelas (plums). But we’ve possibly discovered something better: the nutritious araucaria nuts.

People in Chile, especially the Mapuche people collect them and use them for food and you can also find them in the markets. We discovered plenty of those seeds and collected a good amount to have as part of our dinner and also for snacks. To cook them all you need to do is boil them in water about 30 minutes, until the peel comes off and they are ready, and tasty, to eat - like a cross between pine nut, sweet corn and roast chestnuts.

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