Writings by Deia Schlosberg
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Writings by Gregg Treinish
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Chilean Struggles
By Gregg Treinish

April 20, 2007


This month has been amazing, I think I say that every month. We have had a visitor from home, met and stayed with many new friends, and watched as the land has changed beneath our feet from desert to wetland to salt flats. Again we have moved more than 100 miles per week doing our best to keep a steady pace towards the North.

It was one of the tougher sections mentally, one of the easier physically, and man have I eaten a lot of grapes.

As we hiked out of the tiny town of Rivadavia, Chile we would continue the recent trend of beginning our sections along dirt roads. They are simply unavoidable as every valley is owned and occupied by either a vineyard or a mine. The first of this month would belong to Raul Viches, a man in his mid-thirties, who monitors his vineyard on a red motor bike. It was from him that we would have to gain permission and vouch that we were not searching for mineable copper in the area. There seems to be somewhat of a feud between the vineyards and miners over who has rights to take the very limited water in the area. As a backpacker, I would have liked to be part of that discussion.


Despite greatly diminishing our water supply, the vineyard workers turned out to be some of the greatest guys we have met to date. We spent the night high above the grapes with Raul, Hector, Wilson, and six or seven other workers both from the vineyards and from the goat cheese factory located above. After a BBQ of goat, finally a meal of all I could eat, some incredible tunes, and freshly baked bread straight out of the wood burning oven, we regretted that we would have to say goodbye in the morning and move on to the next valley to the next encounter.

It would be two days of climbing before we would reach the top, again having ascended well over 10000ft. Along our climb we would meet miners searching for higher concentrations of copper, we would see pastors bringing supplies of wood from the mountains above for the upcoming fall season, and more of the lonely men living high above their families for the summer. Weaving through narrow canyons, emerging into open valleys, it was not long before I was in tears exclaiming to Deia how much I love what we do. It isn't so much the walking, isn't so much the adventure, moving from place to place, from family to family, slow enough to take it all in, slow enough to appreciate how the land changes, slow enough to become part of it. As we walk to a horizon and continue to the edge of the next, it is the people we meet, the general feeling of being explorers traveling into the unknown, the belief that no matter what we encounter, it will further our experience, allow us to grow. This is what moved me that day. I really love what we do.

It would not be a full day later that we would find ourselves sleeping in a 65 degree angle canyon. Waterfalls below, unsafe rock walls on both sides, and being out of daylight would force us to camp on a lot of rocks inside of a stream; 'twas quite the way to bring in Deia's birthday. Regretting that we would have to backtrack, we climbed up the 2000 ft we had come down and cursed the map for telling us there was a trail where there wasn't; it wouldn't be the last time.

Throughout this section, we have seen many signs of the very elusive Puma. Viewing tracks, prey, and even the occasional hairball on the trail would not even begin to compare to our closest encounter one night. I fed the core of a pear to a street dog in the tiny town of Chanchoquin. The dog followed the first two people that had been nice to it, surely in years, and we soon found it and ourselves five or six miles out of town. We had made the decision not to be nice to the dog as we feared that if it followed us we would find ourselves with a starving dog unable to feed itself in the middle of nowhere. Well, the dog wouldn't make it that far. As we drifted off to sleep, dog under a nearby tree (shrub anyway), we were startled by what sounded like a horse stampede. Is it a rockslide? Is it a cow? Too fast, too small, too dark. As the object passed us moving 30 mph or so only 20 feet away, we wondered why the dog wasn't barking. We would get our answer about ten minutes later as we heard yelping from a nearby hill. The yelping continued for far too long and gradually got softer and softer until it eventually just stopped. The second pair of eyes moving closer to me was enough to remind me not to mess with the prey of a Mountain Lion, and to scare me back to my sleeping bag. In the morning we would find only tracks of both a dog and a cat, a very large cat. Better than starving to death I guess.

Again finding ourselves on a road climbing out of town, I began explaining how much I missed trail magic to Deia. It was not long after that we would be in the company of three miners, Sergio, Sergio, and Waldo. They insisted we eat fried dough with them. They insisted we stay the night, They insisted we share a bon-fire with them. They insisted on becoming our friends, on becoming three people we will never forget. The conversations with the people we find deep in the Andes Mountains continue to surprise me. These are not people without knowledge of the world going on around them. On the contrary, they are extremely intelligent and many times very well researched people. Our conversations often spill into the topics of politics, science, and family problems. So many times I find myself saying, "Wow, if only more people at home thought that way." Sergio was even able to help Deia draw a moose; they don't have any moose down here. Again we would pull ourselves away from great company and continue on up the road. While walking we were given cokes, cookies, yogurt, and the ultimate, fried chicken. Turns out trail-magic does exist here too.

The Rio Manflas is one on the more beautiful areas in the world. With 2000-3000ft high canyon walls resembling the big brother of the Grand Canyon, and a beautiful trail beginning at its mouth, why would anyone want to go anywhere else? Well here is why. Some number of years back there was a flood, a big flood. As we descended the Rio Manflas for about 15 miles in less than 5 hrs, we would reach that flood and find ourselves moving less than 1 mile in the 5hrs to follow. After a lot of swearing, Deia stabbing her eye and tearing the sheath covering her eye, and a lot of cuts from the endless bushwhacking, it was time to camp and come up with a new plan. Our only viable option was to climb directly up a very steep, very long rock chute. It would take four painful hours of rock-climbing and scrambling over scree to reach the top, 3000 feet above and less than 1 mile from the river. It felt good to finish that climb and descend nearly 8000 feet to the vineyards in the next valley north. It was time to go meet Paul in Copiapó.


Paul is a friend from Colorado who also appreciates the opportunity to learn from experience, here are his words about our week with him:

Gregg and Deia told me to meet them in Copiapó, Chile on Saturday, March 10. The location they gave me turned out to be nonexistant; so at 2:30 am, my cab driver drove me in circles around Copiapó as we both raised our hands to the ceiling of his car. I speak no Spanish and have been to South America once- enough to know that anything goes and near-death experiences are common. As the cabbie raised his thumb to his neck and pulled it across his adams apple in the obvious throat slitting gesture, he made clear that that is what would happen to me should I sleep about in the city. Being the nice man he was, he brought me to his garage, a bunker not unlike what I imagine Saddam´s final hideout to be, and locked me inside with clean sheets for the dusty bed in the concrete back room. 8 a.m. he told me, and sure enough he reappeared to unlock me and drop me in the sunny city. What a relief to see these 2 dirty gringos, Gregg and Deia, stroll into the town plaza like a couple of professional travelers. For the next day and a half we arranged cargo boxes at bus stations, starting points for the next hiking section, maps, food, gear, and did a lot of catching up in between. We took a bus out of town and hitched a ride from some vineyard workers after that, going I don't know where. They gave us peaches and listened to Gregg and Deia commandeer them to where we were to begin. In the first day we hiked about 15 miles until every muscle in my body was totally spent (initiation= carry the whiskey) and we had arrived at the shack of a man named Dago. Inside he was baking bread and sitting by a small fire. Before long, he had turned the place over to us and rode his horse back down valley to his other hut. Dago has lived high up in this seemingly endless valley for over 50 years and didn't quite know what to make of us. On Tuesday we hiked on, northward through the same valley that seemed to landscape to all of us, I am more incapable of comprehending this cross -country feat than I was before. As Gregg and Deia push on, they appear fearless amidst a laundry list of unknown dangers and detours. Cheers you guys and thanks for having me.