Part 1: Coñaripe to El Bolsón – when we came close to starvation and started changing our plans

The start of the expedition

Anne, Hamish, Yousef, Omar, and I left Santiago de Chile for Coñaripe on 16 Nov 2016 on an overnight coach (just called a bus here) at 10pm (cost CLP10,000 each), and arrived the next morning. The long-distance buses are pretty comfortable, if you take a long enough journey they might feed you (more about that later), and they show (Spanish-dubbed) films to keep you entertained. Excitingly enough, about 6am in the morning somewhere along the way, Omar and I were woken up by the police (who were doing a routine search on the bus, I assume?) and asked to step outside for a while with our belongings. It was freezing cold outside, and they searched us and our bags for drugs. I guess we looked like drug smugglers…

Coñaripe to Puerto Fuy

We arrived in Coñaripe (D1), a pretty nondescript town in Los Ríos region of Chile. Volcán Villarica is the main reason why people (local tourists) go there, and there are also hot springs ‘nearby’. After we alighted from the bus, we looked for a cafe to get some coffee and breakfast, as well as a hardware store to get a machete. The lady from the panadería (bakery) was very friendly, a Jehovah’s Witness from Colombia, and told us about visiting Volcán Villarica and some local hot springs that were ‘just 4 km away, past a big bridge’. After acquiring our machete, we headed for these hot springs. And ended up walking 16km along the dusty gravel road, before finally arriving at a hot spring resort, which cost CLP10,000 for entry. That was our first experience of locals giving us wrong information/terribly underestimated distances. We headed towards the lake Pellaifa to set up camp, and passed a smaller hot spring ‘Termas Pellaifa’ which was just CLP3000 per entry. So we spent our first evening soaking in the thermally heated pools (they had one freezing, one luke warm, and one hot water pool). We definitely needed it, having started the hike with some pretty fast and long walking along dusty roads, instead of easing into it. There were a few other travellers in the pool, three Germans on a cycle tour and an American guy doing a work/travel in South America. We later met those Germans again, in Coyhaique (and Anne later met them again in Tierra del Fuego!).

I had also brought some Singapore army ration pack that my mum had acquired from one of her friends, we were so hungry we decided to heat them in the hot water pool and have it as a pre-dinner snack. They are pretty good, I must say. If very heavy and unfeasible to carry on a long-distance hike.

While at Coñaripe, we had also made friends with a little Jack Russell who came along with us the whole way, even to the hot springs. Jackie, as we named her, didn’t even get distracted by other people at the hot springs and followed us back to our campsite. Back at camp, the guys quickly got a fire going and we had a quick dinner of fried rice.

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To start of our first full day on the hike (D2), we made some chapatis, and after a quick  breakfast of a chapati each topped with a fifth of an avocado, we started back on our hike. Realising that we would have to walk another 20km along the road, we opted to take a bus to the next town of Liquiñe for CLP700. While waiting for the bus, we popped into the fancy hot spring resort restaurant for a coffee, and were super excited and happy when they gave some free rolls to go with. After getting into Liquiñe and having a quick lunch of another chapati each, we took a steep shortcut uphill and got to some sort of timber yard to set up camp, and the usual evening chores of making dinner (rice with peanuts and pepper) and chapatis.

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Along the trail (D3), we came to a lake, and a house being built right by the lake front. We asked if we could take a quick dip there, as it was hot and spent over 2 hours there having our lunch, a dip, a siesta, and even a bit of fishing. All in all a very chill, lazy day.

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Having just walked about 6-7km per day the last two days, we doubled our distance covered on the 4th day and got to Puerto Fuy. Along the way though, we came across a bridge that was broken by a huge tree that had fallen right across the middle. And being people who enjoy the moment and clambering over a natural playground, we spent some time there, chasing each other and trying not to fall into the river.

Getting into Puerto Fuy, we got some wine and bought churrascos from a little kiosk as a treat. We headed back along the banks of the Lago Pirihueico to camp, and was told by a guy who drove up that we had to pay CLP8000 per tent. Still not entirely sure if we got cheated or if it actually was on his property, but that was the most expensive and crappy campsite we had to pay for, given that we could barely find firewood to start a fire, and there were no facilities.

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Puerto Fuy to Puyehue

Yousef had decided to leave us to head back to London (D5), and having heard that the next section was particularly gnarly, with lots of potentially dangerous river crossings (and threats to our lives), we decided to skip it. This group decision came about from a combination of us wanting to enjoy the hike (and not just complete our mission for the sake of), the realisation that the trail terrain and procuring food was tougher than expected, and our desire to reach Patagonia proper. This diversion would require us to bus all the way across Chile to the coastal cities and down the main highway then back across to get back to the trail.

While waiting for the bus, Carla, a German woman who was hiking the GPT on her own (full respect to her!), found us. She started the hike two days ago, and well, quickly and easily managed to catch up, which is not too surprising I guess, considering how we covered just 6km a day. She was hoping to cover the next section with us, but as we had decided to wimp out skip the section, she had to cover it on her own (which she did in a week, hats off to her!).

We ended up taking a bus to Panguipulli (CLP2500), where Yousef left us for Santiago, then to Valdivia (CLP3300), where we found some nondescript bit of land under a bridge to camp for the night. The next day (D6), we took the bus to Orsono (CLP3500), then to Aguas Calientes, Puyehue in the Los Lagos region (CLP2200) and started hiking.

Puyehue (Aguas Calientes) to Cochamó

The hike started off being really muddy and squishy, which perhaps was the start of having wet muddy feet on trail. We had to find our way to rejoin the GPT, and had to go up and down a scree slope (which I did not enjoy; D7). We passed a ski resort/hotel Antillanca, and decided to pop in for (some rather expensive) lunch (but also found wifi!), before finally rejoining the GPT in the midst of some really thick bamboo forest.

The highlight of the next day (D8) was crossing the Río Aguas Malas, the most and only exciting river crossing we did the whole hike. Coming to the bank about noon, I was hungry and started preparing our usual lunch feast of a chapatti and a bit of avocado. The guys, excited at the prospect of a challenge and seeing a boat on the other side of the bank, swam over and tried to scout out the possibilities, before swimming back with a huge log. After a quick snack, we readied our bags for the river crossing, making sure all important items were in dry bags. The water was quite cold, though thankfully the day was blazing hot, but I still squealed my way across as I swam. We then spent the next hour or so drying off in the sun, and I’m glad our dry bags (even those we got on a £2 offer from Podsacs) held up, including Anne’s garbage bag dry bag 😛

We came across a couple selling some basic items in a little shack by the lake Lago Rupanco, and the guy told us there was great fishing in one of the lakes we will be passing through, and he once caught a salmon that was about 80cm long, which got us really excited about our fishing prospects.

Later in the evening, we came across a house that offered the let us stay in their backyard, use their outdoor fireplace to cook, and their bathroom/toilet in on of their cabins for CLP5000 pet tent. We also bought some eggs (CLP2000 for 10) and wine off them, and they were nice enough to offer us some cake they had made. They were starting their hospedaje business, offering cabins to stay.

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The next day (D9), we chanced upon Laguna Chica, a little lake with lots of reeds about, that we thought might be the one the guy had mentioned earlier. The boys were starving by now, on our diet of two chapatis and rice everyday, and were desperately keen to catch some fish. Eventually, after at least 3 hours, they caught a little trout. Happened to be (American) Thanksgiving as well, we made a fish curry with that little fish, and ended the night in high spirits.

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We were to arrive at Lago Todos Los Santos at the end of the day (D10), and having stopped by a few local settlers to ask if they sold bread/honey/food (they didn’t, despite signs advertising otherwise) who told us that by walking along the shore for a bit we could get to a hotel and a cafe, we were super excited. In high anticipation for some proper food and coffee, we reached the shore in the evening, only to discover that not only was there no hotel or cafe there, there was also just no one, and no scheduled ferry that departed from that shore. You have to call to arrange transport out. It was starting to piss down rain by this time, and we decided to just set up camp and start cooking while we figured out an escape plan. There was that feel of being stranded on a deserted island, the knowledge that we might be able to find some civilisation about 5 days walk away along the shore didn’t help when we were running low on food. Thankfully enough, as we were preparing dinner (more chapatis cos mash potatoes were insufficient to fill all of us apart from anne up), we heard the distant sound of a motor boat, and the guys sprinted to the shore to try and hail it down, and managed to arrange an escape for us to Petrohúe the next morning.

The motorboat ride to Petrohúe (D11; CLP10,000 each; a diversion from the GPT, but the only arrangement we could get) was freezing cold and took over an hour. We have no idea how that local lady thought it was possible to get there by walking along the shore (granted our Spanish understanding was limited but it isn’t that bad), but we did manage to find the hotel and cafe she talked about. After an expensive but pretty awesome lunch in the hotel (Petrohúe lodge), we tried to get back on trail, taking the bus to Ensenda (CLP1000) then Cochamó (CLP1500). We then had decently priced dinner at La Ollita, the staff of whom probably noticed our hunger and gave us a second serving of free bread.

Cochamó to Segundo Corral

We made friends with an American climber, Nick, at La Ollita the night before, and met him again having breakfast at the same place (D12). Cheekily, we asked for a ride, to save us walking along the road, since we were all heading towards La Junta, where the climbing action is. The road doesn’t go all the way to La Junta though, and we had to hikeabout 13km to La Junta itself, taking about 2-3 hours. Considering it’s lack of accessibility (and lack of shops/food procuring potential), it’s surprising that La Junta/Cochamó still attracts as many climbers as it does. Though I guess climbers are hardly deterred by a long access hike. The rocks there are world-class though, and if access was made easier, it would easily see lots more people. Though apparently in high season (mid Dec to mid Feb/mar?) the few campsites that are there are packed with tents. With no option of wild camping, we stayed at one of the campsites for CLP4000 each.

Despite not having any climbing gear on us, being close to crags and not even touching the rock would be sacrilege, so together with Nick, we tried to find the crags (D13). He had some spare slings, and we managed to fashion some crude harness from it (this should probably have a ‘Do Not Try This At Home Kids warning), and did a climb at La Luna.

Not wanting to stay another night at an expensive campsite (we’re all running out of money by this point), we decided to pack up and move on in the afternoon. The trail from henceforth was very muddy, with lots of alternatives paths of varying dryness, and ditches which horses use. Trying to keep our feet from getting wet was a constant challenge; on one occasion, the guys made a leap across a flooded ditch, which I thought I might be able to accomplish if I threw my bag across first. Which obviously did not happen; it merely landed with a splash below, and I was just thankful it didn’t land on my GPS communicator (InReach Explorer). Combined with two river crossings that required me to take off my socks and shoes to wade across, it was a pretty draining day for me.

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Day 14 was an exhausting day, with a constant headache, but we met another German hiker also doing the GPT but starting from the south and heading northwards. It was nice chatting and exchanging information on what lay ahead for both our parties, and we got the idea of perhaps supplementing our diet with some granola for breakfast and pasta at night from him.

Most of the day (D15) was spent walking along Lago Vidal Gomez. Everyone was in high spirits after a particularly good breakfast that included leftover rice from yesterday’s dinner, and ‘chowbows’ – a name we made up for chapatis that had rice mixed into the dough. The German guy told us he had a really good asado (barbecue, usually lamb, typical of the Patagonian region) in one of the settlers houses on the further side of the lake, and we were hopeful as we approached. Along the way, we passed another settler who advertised that they were selling food, and for once that was true. For a can of beer, a jar of marmalade, some buns and boiled eggs, we paid CLP12,000. Food ain’t cheap around here. As we arrived at the other end of the lake, we found the settlers whom the German had dined with, but to our dismay they had run out of meat and was not able to provide an asado. We carried on to find a campsite, and for the first and only time in the whole trip, Anne and I made fire while the guys went off to scout for other asado possibilities. That they found, but the settler wanted us to camp on his land as well, and so they politely refused and bought 4 eggs for CLP2000 instead. That’s about £2.35 for 4 eggs, undoubtedly the priciest eggs I’ve had in my life.

Day 16 was filled with lots of uphills and downhills, with a little break in a valley before finishing with a particularly horrible uphill.

By this point (D17), we were once again running low on food and needed to stock up. According to our maps, there was a little place called El Manso where we should be able to get more supplies. Arriving at the first building we saw, Anne was overjoyed to find that despite it being a tiny minishop, it stocked snickers, and everyone (but me) was glad to have some cheese. We then tried to get to El Manso, and found out to our amusement that all there is to El Manso is another mini market about 4km from the other. From there though, we decided we were not keen on hiking along similar landscapes for another few days and decided to speed up our progresss by hitching rides to Llanada Grande, then Segundo Corral which was on the Chilean-Argentinian border. Two guys on a fishing trip picked us up, and after spending a while fishing along río manso, they dropped us off outside one of the two supermarkets in Llanada Grande. That evening, we had one of our nicest dinners of really good sausages (not the hotdogs which are cheaply and commonly sold everywhere in chile as part of their national cuisine, the completo) with pasta and some wine.

We spent most of the next day (D18) loitering outside the other, bigger and more popular supermarket in Llanada Grande, hoping for a hitch to Segundo Corral. Unfortunately, as the (asphalt) road ends slightly before the village, no one really heads that way and we eventually took the bus (CLP3000) to where the road ends, and walked into the village. Tried our best to find the supermarket there, which was strangely elusive, but ended up finding Hospedaje Margo (kinda like a B&B in someone’s house). Margo was the best, served us an amazing lamb ate dinner for just CLP3000 each, and also told us thatt he boat across Río Puelo, which we needed to take to get back on trail, doesn’t run on weekends so we’d have to wait till Monday.

That gave us a lazy Sunday (D19) to spend in the little (but bigger than El Manso!) village of Llanada Grande. We went back to Marco’s for breakfast (CLP2000), and since it started raining, spent the rest of the morning and early afternoon loitering around her house, getting lunch (CLP3000) and some bread (CLP6000 for 20 buns), and picking cherries (so many cherry trees!). She kindly offered her kitchen floor for us to sleep that night as well, but we opted to stay in a refugio that was located closer to the river.

Border crossing: Segundo Corral to El Bolsón, Argentina

The municipal boat to get from Puerto Segundo Corral to Puerto Lago Puelo apparently runs from 8am, and so we got there (D20) for that time and waited for about an hour before the boat arrived to drop off a few school kids. Unexpectedly, as it was municipal, it was a free ride! We quickly got to the carabineros (police in Chile), got our passports stamped, crossed the border into Argentina and then reached the gendarmeria (police in Argentina) to officiate our entry, which were maybe about 11km apart. We found the trail in Argentina (though it was one continuous path) to be much broader, well-kept and signposted than in Chile.

The last day of this section (D21) took us a few hours of hiking to get to Lago Puelo town in Argentina, where we got a bus to El Bolsón (ARS8) to figure out our next plans. By this point, we were still constantly hungry and weren’t sure if we could actually complete the hike as planned (even with the bits of skipping on buses), running out of money and finding that we weren’t keeping very well to the itinerary as our pace was too slow.


More to come – took ages to get all my photos from the trip up on Flickr, but discovering Flickr Uploadr halfway through the trip made my life much easier, but photos from the first half wasn’t uploading properly. Check out the trip album here.

About Jocelyne Sze

I'm a Nature-lover, aspiring conservationist, and wannabe traveller in search of outdoor adventure.
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