Sunday, February 14, 2010
And the excursions begin: El Cajón de Maipo
After an hour and a half of driving away from the capital we stopped at the village of San José del Maipo, a world away from modern Santiago. A grocer in a hair net made us jamón y queso sandwiches that we packed for lunch. We continued into the wilderness for two hours, where the road soon dissolved into a dirt trail with the sort of bumps and curves I've only seen on SUV commercials. I felt my organs bouncing inside me and avoided looking down at the steep ledges and thinking about blown out tires and other vehicle malfunctions. The dust our van stirred up was so thick I could taste it. The path is impassable in the winter due to avalanches, so the few goat farmers that live in the area move away during the dangerous season. No one bothers to make a real road because it will inevitably be destroyed every winter.
The wind blew and the sun beat on us as we climbed along a waterfall up a mountain. (Despite repeated applications of SPF 30 my nose is now so red that it glows.) I had to use my hands to crawl up at times, and we all stopped every five minutes to adjust to the altitude. Nick the Canadian guy, who periodically paused to chug his liter of Fanta, lagged behind and heaved with exhaustion.
On the drive home we stopped at a small goat farm. Inside the shanty-like house I bought a kilogram block (one-size-only) of goat cheese made the day before for $5 to share with my host family. And less than four hours later we were back to Santiago, civilization and the world of metros and public bathrooms.