During the third week of February, we made our annual pilgrimage to Lago Lleu Lleu to rejoice in life and appreciation of being protected during the 8.8 earthquake. Although two years have passed, our experiences are still ever present in our thoughts and conversations. The recent series of strong tremors centered in the vicinity of Concepcion, one of which was only 20 km deep, keep us on edge, wondering whether another major one will strike. Before leaving home, I made certain that all available water bottles were filled with filtered water. There was no need to take chances.
Unlike the previous two years, when an unfettered rhythm of life reigned, this year´s adventure was wrought with daily challenges. On the first day of our stay, torrential bursts of rain set the tone for a stressful fight of man against nature.
We had arrived late in the afternoon, and the tent was barely set up, when the first drops of rain could be felt. Our friends, who had arrived the day before, had planned for the weather, and had huge clear plastic tarps draped over their tents and the quincho (a rustic, mostly open, wooden shelter). We were not so well prepared.
I had barely prepped the salmon for the grill when the skies began to open. The men carried the half-barrel grill under the tarp, and someone stood guard with a stick to periodically drain the plastic coverings as they buckled with the weight of rainwater. The torrents of rain created muddy rivelets between the tents and under the table of the quincho, leaving everyone feeling soggy and miserable.
When the salmon was ready, we dispensed with trying to set the table for dinner, and just consumed the salmon directly from the foil. A little wine and a lot of conversation helped to compensate for the lack of agreeable weather.
The mud made the rest of our stay a struggle for cleanliness. It took two days for everything to sufficiently dry. For the remainder of our time camping, I found it exceedingly difficult to relax. While I don´t mind getting muddy when gardening, there´s not much that I detest more than having to live with a big, muddy mess.
In spite of my underlying state of dismay, there were many moments of pleasure and recreation. Rising early for a morning swim in the crystal clear water reigned supreme. The water was surprisingly warm on the surface, and the coolness below was even better to revive the senses than the day´s first bracing cup of coffee. The lake was all mine for a brief time, and it´s embrace was thrilling.
The Mapeuche people revere the sacredness of the lake, which is now nationally protected. Harmful chemicals, including soaps and other detergents, as well as non-electric motorized vehicles, are not permitted to enter the lake. Unfortunately, not all who choose to camp along its banks were equally as respectful.
During our stay, some campers chose to display little regard for the magnificence and preciousness of the lake. Not only did they use soap in the water, they also proceeded to do so at faucets designated as soap-free. Trash and cigarette butts also littered areas near the lake. More accustomed to the carry-in, carry-out trash policy in Yosemite, I found the lack of consideration and respect deplorable. Sadly, one of the challenges in camping is that you don´t always get to choose your fellow campers. The best that one can do is wait it out, and see who leaves first.
When not fretting about things that I couldn´t control, life was wonderful. The best part of camping was that we were able to travel with our four-legged family member, Teddie, who is an endless source of entertainment. This year, Teddie, a Perdiguero (hunter/pointer dog) by breeding and a human-in-training by desire, decided to demonstrate his aquatic abilities. Other campers, who were more accustomed to seeing dogs as ferocious guards, or mangy street mutts, were quite amazed as he dove into the water and swam along side me. While his paws flailed away under water, just his white head with brown spot on top was seen skimming the surface. They laughed when he later stood at the water´s edge, crying like a little boy, because we were in a rowboat on the lake without him. All it took was one call for him to dive into the water, and swim desperately to be with us.
When not swimming or bathing in the sun, we took long hikes around the lake. Although there are several campgrounds that dot the lake, the landscape is primarily natural and untouched. It is a true pleasure to wander along the trails, pausing periodically to enjoy the views, or sample the wild blackberries.
Just prior to leaving for vacation, Chile had issued an alert for hantavirus, which is a pulmonary infection contracted from rat urine and feces. Three people had died; two were prisoners and one was a camper in the Bio Bio region. There were several others who had also become infected. While we were more mindful about where we hiked, we didn´t let it impede our enjoyment.
Lago Lleu Lleu is truly breathtaking to behold. When the water is still, it is easy to see to the bottom along the shore. During my early morning swims, I would walk slowly into the water, stopping when the level reached chest-high, to watch small minnows encircle. I imagined that they curious to see what kind of white creature that I might be, and whether my toes were edible.
During the afternoons, we played tennis on the lawn near the water, while others in our group enjoyed football (soccer) further up on the hill. Without a set schedule to follow, each of us followed our own inclinations for spending the days. Dinners were the one time that everyone came together. Afterwards, we would sit around a campfire, talking, playing music, and enjoying the endless array of stars. Simple pleasures for a simple lifestyle.
As we had planned to explore other parts of Chile, our stay at Lago Lleu Lleu was brief, lasting three nights and four days. We departed for Concepcion, early on the fourth day, eager to wrap up whatever work remained and water the plants, so that we could head back out on the road. Lago Lleu Lleu had prepped us for the next segment of unfettered vacation, and we were ready to embrace what lay ahead.
Packing List for Camping
To make sure that everything makes it into the car, I keep a general list, which can vary depending on destination and time of the year. It helps to keep us organized, and reduces the stowing of excess equipment and baggage. For this trip, we packed:
Gear: Tent, sleeping bags, thin inflatable mattresses, pillow, camp chairs, fishing gear, roll of painters drop-cloth (used this in front of tent as doormat to keep mud and debris outside; each day, I rolled a new section out; it´s reusable too), towels, dishes, utensils, cutting board, platters, cast iron tray, pasta pot w/ strainer, small pot for rice, camp stove & fuel canisters, aluminum foil, tennis rackets & balls, guitar, violin, mandolin, cleaning/dish supplies & rubber gloves; flashlights & extra batteries, garbage bags, citronella candles, toilet paper, paper towels, paper napkins, French coffee press, dog food & bowls, work gloves, one shared suitcase of clothes.
Food: We prefer a “pescatarian” diet, essentially vegetarian with seafood, which can run contrary to the heavy meat diet preferred in Chile. So, with advanced meal planning and preparation, we can adhere to our preferences without causing a burden to our traveling group. For this trip, I prepared a spicy fish curry and froze it into block containers. We enjoyed the fish for one dinner, and then add mushrooms and other veggies to the remaining curry sauce for the next dinner. Rice is served as an accompaniment. We also brought a frozen side of salmon to enjoy the first night. Breakfasts were simple, and featured eggs, cheese, avocado, crackers, and/or bread. Lunches were veggie burritos or pasta.
Our food supply included: salmon, fish curry, pasta, rice, homemade pesto, lettuce, tomatoes, avocado, cucumber, olive oil, salt, pepper, other spices, burrito wraps, tortilla chips, homemade salsa, onions, garlic, lemons, hot peppers, mushrooms, zucchini, mango and other fresh fruit, dried fruits and nuts, crackers, eggs, tortilla bread, cheese, cranberry juice, water, coffee, wine, beer, yogurt, and food for Teddie (our dog).