While Studying in Santiago, Chile for 3 months, I was given the opportunity to take a 24-hour camping trip with one of my good friends to the hot springs outside of Santiago. We took a midnight bus full of people who spoke only Spanish, we spoke only English at the time, and we had the time of our lives. Here are a few of my favorite shots from the weekend.
Cajon Del Maipo – the full story.
When you have a day off school, you go somewhere. No exceptions. And when you have half a day between two things, you use it. No exceptions. One Friday, a group of students went to Valparaiso to explore and take pictures, returning to the apartments by 8pm, and with two hours to spare, my fellow traveler Lindsay and I were back out on a street corner boarding a bus to the camping trip of a lifetime.
The week before, the entire Lipscomb group went to the hot springs in Cajon Del Maipo, and there were rumors that the bus driver came back at midnight every few weeks. With the help of Magda, our Spanish-speaking professor’s wife, we secured our spot on the next bus: the following Friday.
We left our apartment and hailed a taxi nearby, quickly learning about our driver’s life through our broken Spanish and his immense patience. He dropped us off at a street corner where the bus was supposed to be, and very hesitantly looked at our map directions, cautioning us on the dangers of the dark streets. We got out and called the bus driver in our broken Spanish, attempting to figure out what was happening. We accomplished nothing during that call, but after several minutes of letting the fear set in, we found a large group of people heading to the same place, breathed a sigh of relief, and waited with them.
Finally the bus arrived and we jumped in the back with 40 Chileans who spoke no English, eager to drive up into the mountains in the dark. As we rode further from the city, we could see the mountains illuminated by the full moon with the constellation Orion beginning to show himself above the hills. There was a flashing in the distance, so we spent a decent portion of our journey trying to figure out how to ask about storms in Spanish in case it was unsafe to camp.
We pulled up around 2am and got off, grabbed our bags, and wandered up to the springs in the cold mountain air. We saw a group around a camp fire, so we walked near them and asked if it was safe to camp, because of the “light in the sky”. They responded with relief, casually telling us that it was just the volcano flashing over the ridge. Lindsay and I looked at each other, realizing “we’re not in Kansas anymore.” In our bewilderment we set up our little tent and jumped into the hot springs, steaming in the night. We laid there in the natural waters staring up into the Milky Way shining brightly above the perfectly illuminated Andes, with flashes of Volcan San Jose and shooting stars streaking through the night. It was perfect.
We ended up going to sleep in our little tent around 3:45am, after taking pictures of the mountains, stars, fires, and tents. The morning was somehow colder than the night. We woke up to the sun shining, but not yet touching our campsite. The neighbors had fire, so Lindsay went up to ask if we could borrow matches while I gathered small sticks into a fire pit. There is no wood in Cajon Del Maipo, so this was quite a struggle, but eventually we had a nice little mound ready for flame: just enough to thaw our fingers. We went through half of the matches before our tent neighbor came outside and offered assistance. He lit our fire, which we then smothered, so he invited us to sit around his instead. We ate our granola bars and he poured us coffee, as we sat to warm our hands and hear about his family, his job as a doctor, and so many other things (all in Spanish). Lindsay and I left the hour-long conversation dumbfounded, amazed that we were able to communicate for so long with our minimal knowledge of the language.
Once the sun began to hit our site, we packed up tents and moved further into the canyon. We walked along the river, moving up to a cliff, and rounding every ridge with the hopes of seeing the volcano. We never did.. but after about 2 or 3 hours of walking, we sat for lunch with our 360 degree view of the Andes. It was breathtaking, and we had the whole place to ourselves. After enjoying a typical salami-cheese-cracker camp lunch, we packed up and headed even further until finally the view broke open into a clear river snaking back into the canyon, past a field of wild horses grazing in the marsh. We walked further, amazed by the stallions, until eventually I saw a small ridge and sprinted up to see what was beyond. There was nothing, and sprinting up a mountain at 10,000 feet isn’t the easiest or smartest thing that I could have done. I returned to Lindsay, we grabbed our packs, and began to trek back to the bus. The day was perfect. We were able to catch up on stories from Christmas break, wander in the mountains, be dirty, take pictures, and as if it couldn’t have been any more magical, we crossed back over a small stream and turned around to see a cowboy leading about fifteen stallions through the valley. We ran to a rock to get out of the way as these majestic creatures galloped up the slopes and ran past us, posing perfectly against the Andes. The cowboy rode by a little bit after, whistling a tune and asking us a question. I have no idea what he said, but he laughed at us when we tried to answer.
We came to a bridge at the river and decided to cross it, even though deep down I knew from our previous weekend in the canyon that there was not a way back over. For whatever reason, I guess I was okay with that. We walked along rocks and rivers and massive cliff faces, until finally we came to the intersection of the calm, wide river and the rushing flow from the waterfall in a nearby canyon. I swore I would never encounter these waters again. The weekend before, they had stolen my hat and forced me to swallow my pride as an independent mountain woman and let one of the guys carry my camera gear across a ledge. And there we were, once again. A couple of Chilean guys were yelling and pointing, telling us to go up toward the falls, but I had been there before and I knew there was no place to cross. After about 15 minutes of walking back and forth, knowing we were being watched and knowing we couldn’t get across, one of the guys suddenly appeared on our side. He literally crossed a raging river to save two trapped Americans. This man led us hand by hand across the rocks to the places where he had crossed, and one by one we followed his lead into the icy river and to the other side. I nearly lost all of my camera equipment, we all were soaked from the waist down, Lindsay and I were so embarrassed to accept this help, but all we could do was laugh about it. The entire trip was perfect, and God showed himself so clearly in the beauty and the ability to communicate with people, and then he showed himself equally in our desperate need, in the power of the river and the men who dropped everything and risked health and safety to come help us.
After a wet bus ride through the mountains and the crowded city, we made it back to Santiago. I had never had a weekend adventure like this one, and I’m sure I never will again, but I’m so glad that I did. When given the chance to hop on a midnight bus into the mountains with a bunch of people who don’t speak your language, do it.