About our weekend, let's start somewhere in the middle:
Confident that we had missed our stop, we rattled onward. The driver reached the end of the line, veered through the mud to turn around, and abruptly let us out. And there we were - Altos de Lircay Nacional Park, the gateway to the Andes. We had made it! A sign greeted us and told us that the visitor center was a mere two kilometers ahead.
It turns out we weren't even prepared for the walk to the visitor center. Mud turned into knee-high snow as we slogged upward toward the building. I was ill-equipped for the hike with tennis shoes, and Patience had boots that looked effective but still got soaked. Many of the power lines were downed, trees had fallen into the road, and the path had an air of apocalyptic silence to it. But we were not alone.
Several local construction workers had ventured into the snow to start re-erecting the power lines. They stared at us puzzled as we walked by, but reciprocated our greetings. When we finally got to the visitor center, the only person in sight was a construction worker smoking on the steps of the building. It was 4 pm, and the visitor center should have been open. We asked the guy what was going on. He shrugged, and casually explained that the entire park had been shut down for some time because of the snow. "No hay nadie," he said, there is no one here.
Now we could either go back down the ice slope to a collection of houses or forge onward to a presumably snow entrenched campsite that we had read about in Lonely Planet. We tentatively decided to continue, and followed the downed power lines to an utterly abandoned campground. We hopped over the gate of the camp and surprisingly found a spot with no snow, setting up camp as the chill of darkness descended. The setting was tranquil and eerily silent, and I was unnerved by some scat I found near our site, convinced that it was a mountain lion's. The sunset was fantastic, and we had truly escaped humanity in a mountain oasis.
Gratuitous sunset pics: campsite + Patience [left]
mountain valley [right]
My sleeping bag had its temperature limits tested during the night, and at sunrise we broke camp and decided to hightail it out of the park. Though beautiful, the trails would be suicidal in the snow drifts, and we were out of food. We descended to the park entrance, and the walk was better than before because the snow had iced over. Patience felt like Legolas, skimming on top of the snow instead of sinking. Ian felt more like a mentally impaired penguin.
After returning to the collection of houses below, we found a cabin serving hot tea and coffee. We were poised to catch the next bus, an infrequent occurrence! To our shock, a tour bus arrived, and let out a bunch of people at the entrance of the park. Who were all these tourists entering the remote snowscape that we had just survived? We immediately felt less awesome. Onward to the beach!