An Andes Mountain Field Trip

An Andes Mountain Field Trip

With one day to explore Santiago, I decided to book a privately guided tour to get up into the Andes Mountains. Today’s field trip did not disappoint me!  Led by Martin, my awesome guide from ECOCHILE Travel, it was the perfect way to see a small bit of the Andes Mountains and more of Chile outside of a large city.  For sure, this excursion made me want to spend more time in Chile someday!

As we left the city, traffic fizzled and we started to see more of a rural environment as our driver Sergio headed into the Maipo Canyon.  Martin pointed out a lot of features along the way, with a couple of short stops to look at local vegetation with some pretty cool adaptations.  One plant, called coliguay, was especially interesting. When Martin broke off a leaf from the stem, a white substance oozed out.  He told me to go ahead and touch it…it was like glue!  In fact, he said that school children used it for that very purpose.  Another plant, named chagual grows in clumps and sends up a long stem with a flower at the end of it.  After the flower blooms, that stem kind of self-combusts and looks all burnt and dried out, while the rest of the plant looks green and healthy.  Crazy!

Another thing I noticed is that there were goats grazing in the fields…free range, so on their own just moving as they please.  Martin mentioned that people in Chile prefer goat meat to sheep/lamb, and they also prefer the milk and cheese.  One other agriculture fact:  they grow a lot of walnuts and almonds here.

We reached a dirt road, winding its way back into the Andes Mountains, which is the longest above ground mountain range in the world.  It’s 7242 km long (about 4,300 miles), compared with the Rocky Mountains at 6035 km in length, followed by the Himalayas/Karakoram/Hindu Kush range which is ranked third at 3862 km.  The Andes stretch from north to south through seven countries:  Venezuela, Colombia, Ecuador, Peru, Bolivia, Chile, and Argentina.  The tallest peak in the Andes is Aconcagua, which is located in Argentina.  It is a staggering 6,962 meters (22,841 feet) above sea level.  Remember, the tallest peak in North America is Mount McKinley, part of the Alaska Range.  It is 6,190 meters (20,310 feet) above sea level.  It is considered one of the most prominent and isolated peaks in the world, along with Mount Everest (8,848 m/29,029 feet above sea level) and Aconcagua.


This narrow road wound around sharp turns and every now and then large trucks would meet us along the way….yikes!  There was barely room to pull out of the way, so I concentrated on the view!  And what a view it was, a beautiful blue-green lake/reservoir at the base of the mountains.  There was a quick stop to see the buildings/bunk houses leftover from when the Yeso Dam was built.  This reservoir enlarged the original lake and it is the main water resource for Santiago.


Yeso Dam, Maipo Canyon


These are the old barracks for the workers who built the Yeso Dam.

As we reached a stopping point near a sandy/gravel beach, we pulled off and took a short hike to the shore of the lake.  Martin and Sergio set up a wonderful picnic snack and we sat by the lake in the warm sunshine, feasting on local favorites and chatting away.  Martin’s English was fabulous (he has spent a lot of time traveling and as a kid attended a school in Santiago where he learned English at a young age) and we talked about everything from culture, food, politics, school systems, and traveling.  He was wonderful company!


Martin on the left, Sergio on the right.


We had picked up this picnic snack at a small café this morning where we stopped to have hot cocoa and slices of delicious apple cake.  The sweet girl whose parents owned the café was carefully packing everything in a cooler.


As we sat by the lake, heaps of beautiful birds sang to us and flew nearby, many of them yellow finches such as the Grey-hooded Sierra Finch, and the Black-chinned Siskin (also yellow, with a lot of black on its head and wings).


Reluctantly we packed up and hiked back up to our vehicle…time to start making our way back through the Maipo Canyon toward Santiago.  While walking up the trail I noticed some very colorful wildflowers.  It’s interesting to compare the wildflowers here to those we find in the Rocky Mountains when hiking in Colorado!  Each type of flower has amazing adaptations, enabling it to survive in its habitat.

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On our way back down the canyon, we stopped by a gushing waterfall to take some photos.  It’s spring here in the Southern Hemisphere, so the melting snow high up in the glaciers and snow fields on the mountains provides plenty of swiftly moving water to tumble down the rocks.  Martin also spotted three Andean Condors, soaring gracefully high overhead.


Next stop:   a small village for a delicious lunch of more typical food of Chile….empanadas and a delicious fresh juice from the fruit cherimoya, which is found only in Chile, the Andes, and Central America.  By this point, I was stuffed! I loved being able to try the local food, especially when Martin knew the best places to stop!


It was a really fabulous day and a great way to get out into nature and enjoy the sunshine.  Many thanks to Martin for being an outstanding guide and a fun person to talk with.  Thanks to Sergio for carefully driving us along that narrow road along the lake.

Here’s one of my favorite quotes, from the famous naturalist John Muir. It’s a quote that I often think about when in the mountains…no matter where those mountains are in the world.  It reminds me of why I love being in nature in general.  I’ll leave you with Muir’s words and I’ll be back with you tomorrow.

“Climb the mountains and get their good tidings.  Nature’s peace will flow into you as sunshine flows into trees.  The winds will blow their freshness into you, and the storms their energy, while cares will drop off like autumn leaves.”


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