On the GPT: Listo! Finished! Valmista kauraa!
After spending an extra night in Osorno to make sure Piia was recovered from a stomach bug, we felt rested and ready to return to the trail. We left the road and headed to our last volcano area crossing, in Puyehue National Park. The moment we left the shady forests and started climbing we were joined by dozens and dozens of horseflies that followed us all day while we crossed another moonlike terrain. At the summit there was only a little time for posing for memories until the buzzing drove us forward again, which was a shame considering how incredible the view was (volcano peaks in two different countries). In the late afternoon we were finally saved by trees although our ears still rang, or better yet, buzzed.
We knew that hiking the rest of the GPT included some uncertainty along the way but nothing that Canadian politeness couldn’t deal with. Hence interactions with locals continued to be friendly and pleasant. The first night of camping that we needed to pay for was at a campground in the middle of nowhere, the owner of which took us across Lago Todos Los Santos the next morning with his sturdy motorboat. The breeze felt nice in otherwise hot and humid climate that made us sweat the kind of streams that would burn our eyes.
Heading south also meant sharing the trail with other hikers, basically for the first time since we started walking. Mostly we passed youngsters who were wearing clean clothes and smelled like fresh shower, odour we always failed to maintain longer than couple of hours even after a resupply. We blamed the sauna-like climate.
One of the highlights of the hike was arriving at the Pacific Ocean, an event further brightened by delicious roadside chocolate cake (in Chile you can find all kinds of food just beside the road, sometimes even in smaller communities). We then entered a land of Valdivian temperate rainforests and steep river valleys and enjoyed the shade of the huge beeches and Alerces (Fitzroyas). Occasionally we felt hint of hot sunshine on our skin and felt relieved to escape most of it.
Things started to get a bit more tricky at Río Puelo where we were, for the first time, denied access to the trail through a private property. Due to this we needed to follow a gravel road for longer than we wanted. Little did we know that this was only the beginning of the series called Weird Things Just Keep On Happening. Against all odds the border crossing to Argentina was very fast and easy though, and we felt lighthearted to arrive in Lago Puelo, our (supposed) last stop before the last section of trail.
For some reason our troubles started to accumulate from there. We couldn’t get Argentinian pesos in Lago Puelo. Everyone we spoke to agreed we’d have better luck in El Bolsón, but without cash, we couldn’t take a bus. So we hitchhiked. In El Bolsón we could get cash (well, eventually…), and were assured by the hiking information centre that the trails we were headed to were open. So we took a bus back to Lago Puelo and paid an entry fee to the National Park just to hear from the Parks information centre (but not, handily, the Park entrance staff) that the trail from there was closed, due to a severe forest fire in 2015. So we took a bus back to El Bolsón, stayed another night at a campground where a loud band played until 2 am. These sore oldies weren’t taking it (Oliver accumulated some language points for telling off the management en Español).
The next day we took a bus to closest town near the trail, and at the visitor information centre were told to register our trail itinerary first with the police, and then told by the police to register with the visitor information centre, and were given the wrong information about the trail ahead to boot (again). Next we needed to hitchhike to the trailhead, hike the next part until we were dealing with a hard decision between bushwalking in steeper or more gradual hills. We chose, or our legs did, the more gradual one which meant following a river valley up for a day and another one down for a day. Finally the last hard part of the GPT was done and we could relax thinking the trail ahead was easy to follow, mainly because it followed the Argentinian Huella Andina, pieces of trails put together, marked and maintained by the government.
Which in Argentina seems to mean, well, nothing. Five of the eight trails of Huella Andina that were part of our GPT hike were closed (though in some cases we were only alerted to this by signs at the far end of the trail, once we’d already hiked it). We ended up following complicated network of trails that zigzagged through Los Alerces National Park which included some outstanding views to clear water rivers and glaciers on the mountains. Forests were interesting to walk through and we managed to make good progress. But misinformation and disorganization took a mental toll and at the end of the day we were pretty exhausted.
The last day included one more hiccup in the trail plan: the last part of the trail couldn’t be hiked because there were no boat transfers to get you there (nor had been in three years, though the trail signs for how and where to catch the ferry were still in great shape). So we finished our Project Greater Patagonian Trail walking on a dusty Park road instead, bodies and minds tired, but suddenly lifted by the idea of actually coming to the end.
We started planning this hike a year and half ago and the last months before beginning it was mostly what we were thinking about. Gear, calories, routes. Starting it and actually doing it were the next steps. Getting up and walking all the ups and downs. It was an incredible way of seeing the backcountry of Chile and getting to know its environment and culture. Incredible way to test ourselves. Incredible way of spending time together. The next step will be reminiscing.
In Villa Futalaufquen there were, or we needed, no other ceremonies than kisses, hugs and the words “I’m proud of you. I’m proud of us.”