The end of the road

I entered Bolivia on 16th of October. I had exactly 2 months to make it to El Calafate (Patagonia) where I was going to end my world trip, meet my family and fly home.

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As it was the last 2 months of my world trip, I decided to surpass myself a little bit. I checked highest and most remote hikes in the country.

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After a quick research, I decided to start with Sajama national park. It is a dry volcanic area in the northern part of Bolivia at altitudes of 4000 m.

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Getting there was already a challenge. It took me 2 days and a lot of different transports to make it to this tiny village.

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It was really an incredible location. Surrounded by three huge volcanoes, the village of Sajama was the only shelter in this wild landscape.

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The Parinacotta volcano (6348 m) and the Pomerape volcano (6282 m) behind Sajama village.

I spoke with a local guide and decided to hike the volcano Parinacotta. As it is a very high summit, I had to train to get accustomed to the high altitude. Therefore, I spent the next few days hiking around the village.

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One of the most beautiful hike I did was the path to the base camp of the Sajama volcano, highest of Bolivia (6542 m).

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There was absolutely no one. Sitting at the base camp and facing this giant was mesmerizing. I gotta come back one day to climb it.

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I kept hiking for a few days occasionally meeting lamas and alpacas.

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Few days passed and I was ready to climb the Parinacotta volcano. I went to a last day of “training” and hiked to one of the most beautiful hot spring (40°) I have ever seen.

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While bathing in this hot spring, I could gaze at the Sajama Volcano just behind.

I came back to the village and at 3 am, Mario (the guide) and two French people I met, left to climb the volcano together.

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Unfortunately, we could not do it !
Indeed, Sajama village is at the border between Chili and Bolivia and a lot of illicit trafficking happen in this area. Last night, smugglers had operated and threw a lot of nails on the road to prevent military forces to come. We blew up 2 tires and had to come back to the city since it was too dangerous to keep on going.

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We waited another day and decided to climb another volcano instead. We woke up at 4 am and went to the Acotango volcano (6052 m). It was by far the coldest temperature I had experienced during my travel.

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We walked slowly and felt very fast the lack of oxygen. Every step was tough.

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For the last 300 meters, we had to put studs shoes as snow turned into ice.

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The harder the hike, higher is the reward… This is what a 6052 m view looks like !

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It took us 6 hours to climb this volcano. We gazed at this 360° view and enjoyed one of the purest air we have ever breathed.

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Few hours later, we recovered from this strenuous hike around lama sandwiches and slept the whole day.

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I left south to my next big objective in Bolivia, the Salar de Uyuni, the biggest salt desert of the world. I wanted to cross it by foot from Salina de Garci Mendoza to Chuvica, a solitary 3 days journey of 120 km.

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I arrived in the village of Salina Mendoza and suddenly felt sick. I might have eaten something bad on the way and was suffering from a severe food poisoning. I couldn’t start this hike until I was completely fit.

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I sat in the first restaurant I saw and met with Don Carlos, owner of the place. I offered to help him cooking and cleaning his restaurant in exchange for food and bed until I would recover from my food poisoning and could start my hike.

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He accepted and took me to the world of Bolivian cooking which is definitely a bit surprising for foreigners, I guess. For instance, we warmed up gas bottles every morning as it was freezing.

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I spent a few days with him, helping him cutting food, cleaning plates and serving customers.

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Little by little, I recovered and started to be stronger than ever thanks to his delicious food.

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For my last day, we went hiking together around the city. He gave me some advice for my crossing and wished me good luck.

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That was it… I was now mentally and physically ready to cross this 120 km long desert.

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The last village I was going to cross before the salt desert was Tahua, a tiny city behind this volcano, more or less 40 km ahead.

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I started in the early morning, very excited.

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Step by step, I was getting closer to the volcano.

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And arrived in the evening at the entrance of the Uyuni salt desert.

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I hardly believed what I saw. I have been dreaming of this desert for many years and was now about to cross it alone for the next 2 days !

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Here is a satellite view of the desert.

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To arrive in Chuvica, the end of the desert, I had to walk 80 km. Fortunately, in the middle of the desert stands a small island called ” Incahuasi” where I could buy food and water… I bought all provisions and started to hike at 5 am in the morning.

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I had a GPS on my phone to orientate me as there was no marked trail. Soon enough I was already alone in the middle of the desert.

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The only way to know how much I was walking was to look behind me and see the volcano fade away increasingly.

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I just had to walk straight for the next 2 days.

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The main danger of Uyuni is not the heat but the brightness due to the sun reflection on the white ground. A lot of people suffers deep sunburns and some even become blind. I protected myself and did not let a square inch of uncovered skin.

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Few hours later, I finally saw the tiny Incahuasi island emerging over the horizon. I still had to walk another 30 km until I reach it.

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Every hour, I sat and relaxed a little bit. I could not really touch the salt as it would stay on my skin and itch.

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Hours passed. Now the sun was at its highest and it really started to be hot.

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If I felt tired, I just had to look behind and see all the distance I had already covered. I felt better.

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I thought about many things and got lost into the beautiful salt patterns on the ground.

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I was now 10 km away from my first rest.

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It reminded me a lot about sailing across ocean. I felt like I had finally reached the far-away island.

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I arrived around 6 pm after a 11 hour walk. I was exhausted.

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I just made it for the sunset. I looked at the far away volcano and started to realize what I had just achieved.

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The owner of the shop could not believe I was here walking. He offered me a beer and asked me to sign the book of all the crazy people who go through this desert without a car.

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I slept 12 hours straight and woke up at sunrise. My feet were destroyed and I had many blisters. I covered them with toilet paper (that’s all I had) and went discovering the island.

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It was amazing to see all those cactus because there is no life anywhere else…

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All of them grow 1 cm a year. This means that this 10 m cactus is a thousand year old…

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I went on top and saw my final objective for today… This far-away mountain 40 km away.

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I drank as much water as I could (the day before, I drank 6 L) and started walking again.

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Just like yesterday, the small island started to vanish over the horizon.

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It was not an easy walk at all. However, this constant walking without any noises and distractions gave me plenty of time to think. I naturally meditated on many topics and understood a lot that day.

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The only signs of humans were those roadways that I encountered from time to time.

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I arrived at my final destination at around 6 pm and enjoyed my last sunset in the desert.

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This is the volcano where I started my trip 2 days ago. That’s what 80 km look like.

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The only hotel in the village was a three stars. I did not care and took one a room. I could not see one more grain of salt and realized the whole hotel was made of it. Damn ! I ate and collapsed in my bed. Toughest hike of the trip.

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I went to the closest city and enjoyed fresh juices and hot food. I stayed 2 nights in the hotel since I could barely walk.

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When I finally recovered, I went to San Pedro de Atacama in Chili. I visited it in only 2 days since I did not have much time left to make it to Patagonia.

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It is one of the driest place on earth !

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I stayed in a hostel and met nice volunteers who lent me a bicycle to explore the area as it is too hot for walking.

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This is “la vallee de la luna” which indeed looks like the moon.

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I came back and thanked them for this amazing time ! Good luck for your trip !

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I hitchhiked to the Argentinian border with the goal of going as far in the south as possible.

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It was incredibly dry and hot at first.

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But it cooled down as soon as we went up to higher altitudes (4000 m).

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I crossed the Andes one more time and arrived in a very peculiar landscape. Colors were unreal.

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I did not understand why there was absolutely no one on those beautiful roads !

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The high acidity give to those salt lakes this beautiful azure color.

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I had time to enjoy the view as I waited 6 h until I met Enrique y Jose (from Santiago) who dropped at the border.

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It was the most remote border I had ever seen ! We were 4000 m high and 150 km away from the first village.

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Argentinians custom officers did not want me to go in Argentina without a car. They thought it was too dangerous to go alone and asked me to come back to Chili.
We bargained and found a deal. They would only give me my visa when a car would pass and take me to the first city.

Therefore, I had to stay. They took me to their quarters, gave me the WiFi code and let me alone in my room.

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No one showed up for 2 days. I was walking around the border to pass time.

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Custom officers always dropped their leftovers in the desert for their friend, the coyote. I spent a few hours playing with him and feeding him too.

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At night, I went with officers and watched TV with them. They were actually very cool.

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I even befriended the cook. He came at every lunch and dinner to give me a meal. I could not believe how nice they were.

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All good things have an end. Three engineers from Argentina came and took me with them to San Antonio de los Cobres, first city after the border.

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From here, I followed the road 40, going all the way from northern Argentina to Patagonia. It was gorgeous.

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Hitchhiking in Argentina is fairly easy. I met amazing drivers such as Rodrigo. We drove a whole day together and he invited me to his home in Belen.

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He was also a big traveler and hosted people from many countries. We spent 2 days together and cooked amazing meals every night !

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I had a last long ride of 800 km with a truck driver and finally made it to Mendoza, the wine city.

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It was the 9th of November. I did all the road from Bolivia to Mendoza faster than I thought.
Indeed, I went at this speed because one of my friend from France was arriving on the 17th of November in Santiago de Chili (a few hours away). I wanted to make sure I was not going to miss him.

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However, I still had a few days before his arrival and decided to spend a week in Mendoza enjoying the great wine and the beautiful parks.

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As I really want to discover the culture of Mendoza, I went on Couch surfing instead of randoms hostels and met Martina.

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She introduced me to most of Mendoza’s parks (especially the San Martin park) and took me out at night to listen to local Argentinian bands.

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As a matter of fact, most of my requests on Couch surfing in Argentina were only accepted by women and no men at all. That’s how I met Tamara and her friend, two scientists with who I drank a couple of Malbec !

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I might have tried the famous Malbec wine but still have to dance Tango before leaving Argentina.

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I met Guadalupe, a tango amateur from the surroundings of Buenos Aires, living in Mendoza for 2 years.

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We went to traditional Argentinian Chacarera music.

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And tango classes together. I only took a picture of the room since I did not want to disturb tango dancers.

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I left Mendoza and crossed the Andes to go to Chili. It was going to be the last part of my trip where I would be alone. I decided to take a last hike to enjoy those lonely moments.

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I went to “El Cordon de Plata”, a volcano close to the highest mountain of South America, the Aconcagua (6962 m).

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It was a 3 day hike going to a 5500 m volcano.

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I reached the base camp on the second day and dropped my tent and most of my equipment.

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The base camp was at 4800 m. A lighter backpack was not such a bad idea since I was planning to reach the top of this volcano.

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However, as it has snowed the night before, I could not climb the last part which was too dangerous without wore shoes.

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I went to another summit.

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And enjoyed this beautiful sea of clouds for the rest of the day.

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I felt the end of the trip was getting closer. I have had many memories but had none of them with my family. It will be time to come back home soon.

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However, even if I was getting physically and mentally tired, my trip was not completed. There were still a few things I had to live and learn before I came back.

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I finished my hike, left Argentina and arrived in Santiago de Chili just in time to catch my friend Remi, who was joining me for a month.

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Remi is one of my oldest friend from my home city yet, I hadn’t seen him for many years. It was insane to meet him in Chili.

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We went to visit Enrique, a Chilean who had given me a ride earlier (in San Pedro de Atacama) and we spent 2 days with him. As he was an amateur of fine food, we cooked with him the whole time !

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Remi and I did not really have a plan. We just had to be in San Carlos de Bariloche, 1500 km south of Santiago in one month to catch my oldest sister Marie, arriving 2 weeks earlier than the rest of my family.
Therefore, we decided to take our time and start our trip in Valparaiso, the city of street art.

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Our arrival coincided with protests against the government and Pinera (president of Chili).

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The situation was tough. Chileans were exhausted by 30 years of corruption and privatization. All generation from teenagers to retirees were protesting in the street.

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Carabineros (Chilean police) were repressing the population in a very hard way.

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For all those reasons, there were very few tourists in the city. However, this sensitive situation has created a specific bond between everyone traveling in Valparaiso.
When we arrived in a hostel (couple of blocks away from protests) we found an amazing crew and connected with them very fast.

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As it was “dangerous” to go out, we were always watching for each other.

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It did not prevent any of us to visit the beautiful street art district of Valparaiso.

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This part of Valparaiso is a true labyrinth. There were thousands of streets to explore and each of them had different graffiti.

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No matter where we went, we found amazing street art.

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My friend Remi attracts and federates people. Wherever he goes, people follow him. We took the whole hostel with us and went exploring surroundings of Valparaiso.

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Just like those beautiful sand dunes, couple of kilometers away from the city.

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We stayed with this group for another 3 days.

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And kept exploring the whole graffiti district.

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Sometimes, we stumbled upon some “nuggets” ! People from Valparaiso are always living outside and remodel streets just like their home.

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You can’t beat the view from this couch !

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Few days later, it was time to move on. We followed some friends from the hostel going to Pichilemu, a great surf sport, 200 km south.

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That was the first time that Remi was hitchhiking and it went very smoothly !

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In only one afternoon, we made it to the surf city, meeting amazing people on the way.

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One of them was Mathias, a 23 years musician we met on the road and took with us.

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He blended very well with our group of friends !

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We went out fishing, hiking and swimming for the next 3 days.

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We could have stayed in this beautiful beach longer but we had only 2 weeks left.

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We started to hitchhike on the way to Pucon, our last stop in the mountains before going to Argentina.

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We covered 700 km in 2 days.

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We met some very welcoming Chileans who offered us a place to sleep in their house from the first night.

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And kept hitchhiking the next day. It was going a little bit slower than with Iulia … 2 guys together is not as attractive as a woman !

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We did not get a ride on the second night. It did not matter as we were prepared and had everything ready to sleep by the highway.

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We finally made it to Pucon, a beautiful village in the lower Andes. Remi did travel a lot but still had not try long hikes.

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Therefore, as a farewell to Chili, we decided to hike around the Massive Villarrica volcano for 4 days. We bought 5-6 days of food (just in case) and headed straight for the volcano.

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It was a remote hike. We did not know this at that time but we were not going to meet anyone for the next 4 days.

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We were going to follow the huge lava field and the glacier surrounding the volcano for the next 4 days, crossing from time to time forest and rivers.

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At night, we always tried to go into the wood to find protection from the wind.

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And cook our dinner !

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This is our first sunset on the volcano.

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When I come to think about it, I do believe it is one of the most beautiful trek I have ever done in my travel. The diversity of landscape was incredible.

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We went from snowfields with incredible views (this is the volcano Llaima 3125 m).

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To deep sub-tropical forest in only one hour !

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From time to time, the Volcano reminded us his existence. Huge lava flow have redesigned the landscape.

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Creating a 15 m deep trench into the forest.

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We spent 2 days in total inside the forest.

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There was not that much life except those inoffensive tarantulas.

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We left the forest and spent the next 2 days crossing a huge lava field called “vallee de la luna”.

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It was the side where most lava had flowed from the volcano, burning everything on its way.

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Volcano Lanin (3747m).

A recent lava flow had made our crossing much more difficult. It took us most of the afternoon to cross the last 2 kilometers.

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It was so demanding that we settled our tents as soon as we reached a non volcanic ground.

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We had been hiking over 4 days now and were quite exhausted.

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We finished our hike in the afternoon and hitchhiked back to Pucon.

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Where we used our last energy to cook a well deserved burger.

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Next day, we left Chili and started to hitchhike towards Argentina. Our first drivers took us with them and introduced us to the famous Argentinian asado (BBQ)…

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They have a very specific way to cook meat in Argentina. They grill it very slowly (couple of hours) only with few coals below the grid. It is by far the best meat we have tried and the best introduction into Argentinian hospitality !

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That was it. We made it next day to San Carlos de Bariloche and did welcome my oldest sister, Marie Lacharme arriving from France ! I hadn’t seen her for 2 years…

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Marie’s arrival was just the beginning of long suite of reunion. In one week, this would be my little sister and in two, the rest of my family !

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2 thoughts on “The end of the road

  1. J’ai hâte de regarder sur tout ça sur autre chose que le Smart phone les photos sont splendides ! Quelle aventure !Envoyé depuis mon smartphone Samsung Galaxy.

    Like

  2. This by far has to be the craziest but the most memorable adventures I have read of and that too in countries I only know on a map. The photos were incredible and just imagining your trek through the salt desert, alone , was mindboggling . What an trip indeed!

    Like

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