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On the GPT: Bigger, wetter, further

In Osorno, with nearly 1,000 km down, and it feels like we've really hit our stride. With (usually) cooler weather, we're covering more ground each day (and discovering just how much the heat further north was wearing us out, in comparison). We've also reached Valdivian rainforest in earnest - the forests are huge, dense, dark and wet, and full of new birdcalls. They smell different, too - lots of fragrant plants give a distinctive scent to these new forests. Our favourite so far is a tree with waxy, slightly serrated leaves that smells strongly of something close to allspice.

Our trail began in Pucón (which, by the way, is a prime destination for cake and pie - we ate a lot). An initial paved highway quickly turned to quiet gravel road, to forest path, and eventual alpine. We summitted Volcán Quetrupillán under and over clouds, and descended back into rainforest and down again to valley-bottom farmland.

Next was the imposing Reserva Huilo Huilo, a private reserve where other hikers have been kicked out for trespassing. Not wanting to risk the aggravation, we politely asked for permission. After being bounced around a bit to different offices, we finally encountered a supremely helpful receptionist, who organized a meeting with the reserve director. After discussing our plans (and biologist credentials) with him, and chatting about the flora and fauna of the place with the helpful and friendly staff, we continued south with permission in hand.

Reserva Huilo Huilo was a pretty remarkable place - the unlogged sections of rainforest had tracks of pudú, huemul, and our most anticipated animal track, puma. After keeping our eyes peeled for critters in the flesh, we were also rewarded with a Darwin's frog - quite possibly the cutest frog that exists. Our biggest find, though, was a puma carcass. Mostly skeleton, it was tucked under brush next to the trail. We were sorely tempted to take the skull, but left all as we found it.

Leaving the reserve, however, ended up being a larger challenge than we expected. Forest trail turned into forest tunnel, and finally overgrown bamboo thicket. We smashed our way through (sorely wishing for machetes), finally making it down to a beautiful, glass-clear river for the night. After a brief smashing session the next morning, we found the trail we hoped (but didn't know) was on the other side of the river, and rewarded ourselves with sopaipillas and pie at a surprise sopaipilla-and-pie stand once we hit road again.

After the reserve, our final challenge of this leg was the volcanic wasteland of Volcán Puyehue. Reminiscent of Descabezado's pumice dunes, it did not disappoint. We crossed huge white pumice playas, and skirted enormous fields of twisted, black basalt. Sulphurous fumes hissed out of crevices, and whisped over the whole landscape.

We'd be remiss in not mentioning how well we've been doing in the small-critter department on this leg. As we reach wetter climes, it seems that log- and rock-flipping will only become more rewarding.

Next up, Argentina!

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