You may have seen some pictures of this experience on Facebook or Instagram, but I feel like it’s worthy of writing about as well. I joined two friends from my study abroad program, a park ranger (“guarda bosque”), and a guide (“guia”) on a day-long adventure into the cordillera that borders Santiago in the park of Las Aguas de San Ramón for hiking and canyoning.
The night before, it rained. It never rains in Santiago in the summer. As in, it hasn’t rained in Santiago in the summer for the past 30 years… But it rained the night before I was meant to go canyoning. When it rains at high altitudes in the Andes Mountains, it causes the snow to melt, which then causes mudslides. Mudslides can very easily ruin or destroy buildings and can certainly kill a person in its path. Luckily for me, the mountains nearest Santiago are not so tall, so the rain did not affect my day’s activities.
The only expectations I had for the day were that it would last the whole day and that it would involve waterfalls and ropes. Beyond that, I didn’t know much. I felt okay about not knowing much, though, because, like I said, I was with both a park ranger and a canyoning guide, who have lived here almost all of their lives.
The first leg of our journey was a three-hour hike, starting at 9am. The trail starts at the edge of the city, right at the beginning of the mountains. Because of the rain the night before, it was still overcast and cool, so despite the steep climbs, I think I may have been sweating less than when I take the metro home from school in the afternoons…
I got a bit ahead of the group sometimes, which was my favorite because I felt like I was in a sandy paradise all by myself — just me and the quails and the cows and the cacti. When I emerged from the brush and found an overlook, I could look through the valley and see just mountains and mountains and mountains under the still-not-too-hot morning sun.
We got to the canyon’s entrance point at around noon and received lessons about how to work the rope system. It’s very simple, but it’s actually really hard to go down when you don’t weigh a lot because the cords are so strong and secure. So we one-by-one clipped in and repelled down the rock wall and into the canyon, landing next to a beautiful waterfall of crystal clear water and surrounded by green vines and brush.
That was descent number 1 of 7. Each one was unique, and the waterfalls varied from 6 meters to 21 meters tall. To get between descents, we walked in the river (there wasn’t much of a riverbank to serve as dry land) with our big ol’ hiking boots — lots of squishiness and lots of pretending that my feet weren’t getting wrinkly…
I also may or may not have slipped under a couple of the waterfalls thanks to the wet rocks and the fact that I forgot to “remain perpendicular to the rock” every once in a while… And in case you didn’t know, river water in the Andes generally isn’t warm. And canyons generally don’t get a whole lot of sunlight. And waterfalls come with wind. So I was wet and cold and getting blown by the wind (and a little hungry)… BUT! It was worth it.
Between the walking, the clipping in, and the actual repelling, it took about 6 hours to get to the end of the canyon. We then walked another 1.5 or 2 hours back through the mountains (less climbing on the way back). I walked along the top of a mountain, listening to the birds take flight around me, watching the bright orange sun sink towards the mountains and turn the sand around me orange too.
We reached the end of the trail right as the sunlight really disappeared. At that time, we also heard that a portion of the city water had been turned off… Along with mudslides in the mountains comes the contamination of rivers. Those rivers of melted mountain snow are the city’s water source, so when they’re contaminated by everything off of the side of the mountain, the city has to cut off the water supply as the problem gets fixed.
After a day of hiking in wet boots… To go home and not get a shower… But then my host dad called me to make sure I was okay and to tell me that our house still had water — HALLELUJAH.
We celebrated the end of the day with a miniature picnic of smoked ham, cheese, and “melvin.” Melvin is a traditional Chilean drink: Cut the top off of a melon, take out the seeds (leave the flesh and juice), carve some flesh out and stir it around, add white wine and a bit of sugar, stir, and pass the melon around. Melvin = melón + vino. It’s very good. It’s even better after 11 hours of activity.
I’d like to also recognize Héctor (our guide) and Matias (our park ranger friend) for their generosity and “buenas ondas” (good vibes) all day long. We spent more than 12 hours with them, and they shared their gear, fruit, chocolate, sandwiches, and post-hike picnic while teaching us how to do everything and showing us shortcuts. Matias loved practicing his English with us, and they were also both very willing to teach us the Spanish words for quail (codorniz), slippery (resbaloso), vulture (buitre), and much more. They also drove us home so we didn’t have to take a public bus or uber in our wet and dirty clothes! It was a good day full of good company.
If you ever get the chance to go canyoning, please go. It’s beautiful, it’s new, it’s fun, and you will feel quite accomplished on the other side of the day. And you’ll sleep like a rock that night.
Peace and Blessings and New Experiences x
(From Las Cordilleras de La Reina)