July 19th


When I first saw Volcano Villarrica, I felt drawn to know it. I will remember standing a little over half way from the top and looking back to see valleys below trailed in snow. I imagine the center of the volcano an immense beating heart with each snow covered valley acting as a vein reaching out to the towns below, inviting villagers and travelers alike to experience and understand the natural wonder that it is.

As much as I would like to believe I made the decision myself to hike the volcano, I looked at those snowy valleys below and felt the volcano had equally been calling me, inviting me to explore. One of the guides, Uber, told the group ‘Dios hizo las montañas, así que podíamos subir y ver su creación’, meaning ‘God made the mountains so that we could climb them and see His creation’. Until you start climbing, your reasoning for doing so is simple: ‘the volcano is immense and I want to get to the top’, because from below you can only see two things: the summit and the unobtrusive rocks scattered on the mountain. Of course as you continue up, these details become bold and you realize the little rock you had called your checkpoint could very well be it’s own mountain.


When the trek began, we were a group of six with our two guides. By the fourth hour, only my friend Jordan and I and our two guides were left. I have to give some credit to the Brazilian couple and the Australian who tried to climb the volcano because they had little to no experience walking on snow. It was a tough hike but it’s doable and by doable I mean if you can get through switchbacks in the fifth and sixth hour, then you can get through the switchbacks during the seventh hour, which will end at the top. For me, the end of the fourth hour through the fifth hour was the hardest part of the hike. It’s at the fifth hour when your walking on an ice sheet rather than snow. [I would like to pause and praise God for my crampons and my pickaxe because without them I would have been too afraid and unable to climb the volcano.] About half way through the sixth hour, the switchbacks continued and we climbed over a small part of the glacier to meet the strongest wind I have ever felt. Experiencing such strong winds made me feel so alive. In that moment, the summit seemed to be so close I could have run to the top, yet I had to maintain impeccable footing and balance or the wind would most likely have pushed me back down the mountain. I’m not sure why, but unlike the others I talked to, the wind really encouraged me to continue to the top.


After forty-five more minutes of zigzagging through the ice, we made it to the summit. It smelled of sulfur and every few minutes the volcano would release volcanic gas. It was overwhelming thinking that beneath my feet the earth was alive and could erupt at any given moment. As amazing as exploring the actual crater was, what left me breathless was the 360-degree view surrounding the volcano that allowed my eyes to see out in a radius of 200 kilometers. From where I stood, I could see seven other volcanoes, multiple lakes, and the Andes, which have yet to leave my side in Chile. We took fifteen minutes to explore, take pictures and relax before we started descending the volcano.


When we got down past the glacier and ice sheet, our guides told us to take our crampons off, and instructed us to put on the waterproof pants and this pant-bib thing. We then hooked a little plastic sled onto the pant bib thing and our guides told us to sled down the volcano. I was so confused and somewhat frightened by this, but then I thought to myself: when am I going to be able to extreme sled like this again? Truthfully, it was the best sledding I have ever done in my life, and it cut about four hours of walking off of our trek and again, it was awesome.

Viva Chile.



The Interrobang Day (‽)

A lot of things don’t go quite as planned in Chile. I can only plan so much for something I don’t know and I often have expectations that the execution will be graceful and a smooth journey, but often that is not the case.

So where has this lead me? Well, I have been lost more than a few times, it’s taken me longer to get from point A to point B and I have had to get over my pride of ‘being able to do something all on my own’ and ask for direction or help. I’m learning that although Chileans can be timid and may not make the first approach to talk to me, they are more than willing to help whether they lead me to exactly where I need to go, allow me to borrow their phone or shared with me that I need to be walking 15 minutes in the other direction.


Sunday was a prime example of an interrobang day. My friends and I started the day early by meeting up at the metro station Bellavista de La Florida, excited to spend our day hiking a mountain at Cajon del Maipo- a popular trekking spot which is an hour away from Santiago.

When we got to the town San Jose de Maipo (one of the towns in Cajon del Maipo), my friends and I went in to a little tourist office and began to speak with the woman behind the counter. We told her we wanted to go hiking and she told us about this really beautiful spot just past the river about a kilometer away. She pointed out the directions to us on the map and said, “You are going to go past a private road that says do not enter, enter and cross the bridge and then you will be able to go trekking.” We walked for more than one kilometer and did not find the place we were supposed to enter, so we walked back a bit and found another ‘entrance’ that we suspected would lead us to the bridge. The path led us to the river, but there was no bridge. We made our way back to the street and asked a family near by if they knew where the bridge to the hiking path was located. The mom told us it was about thirty minutes up the road and so we walked.

After about forty-five minutes of walking, we reached the bridge. The bridge was frightening, fifty yards long, with pieces of wood of different lengths and only wire on either side to keep someone from falling in. Thankfully (also unfortunately), there was a door to the bridge that was locked, and so we were unable to cross it. Even though I wanted to be hiking in the mountains, I was glad we didn’t have to cross the bridge. I was really disappointed though. This day that was supposed to be adventurous had turned out to be a bust and even though it was only 12:30, everyone was tired and unmotivated because what we came to do was out of reach(even though mountains were all around us).


We decided it was time to go back into town and start over-we thought we could find somewhere new to hike for a while, since the bus didn’t leave until 5:30. One problem, it was going to take a while to get into town, and no one wanted to walk back. Being in the situation that we were in, I stood on the side of the road, stuck my thumb up, in hopes of some kind person to give us a ride back to town. While I was standing there waiting for someone to pull over, I could not help but question everything from the morning up until that point-the website made this place look easy to navigate, but why has it been so difficult?-I would call this the interrogative point of my interrobang day because I had no idea what to do.

After ten minutes or so, a young woman pulled over and asked us where we needed to go. The situation seemed safe, and so my friends and I got into her car and rode to the town. The woman was so kind, she told us how she was working at this festival at one of the campgrounds near by. When we asked her what kind of festival it was, she told is it was a Cannabis festival and invited us to come. We declined because we had to return to Santiago later in the evening and also had no interest in going to a Cannabis festival.

Once in the town, we waited for another bus to take us to another hiking trail. While waiting, recognized my friends two French students, Margot and Flora, who are studying at La Católica this semester and we asked them where they were headed. It turned out that they too, were unable to navigate the area because the tourist office was closed and one of the girl’s credit cards was not working. We told them to join us on our adventure for the rest of the day, and they did. Once we got on the next bus, we were dropped off at this dark tunnel and were told to walk through to get to a hiking path and observatory. The tunnel was pitch black, comparable to Gollum’s cave. I had no ability to know if my next step would be solid or not and could have easily fallen into a hole in the middle of the tunnel if one had been there. At one point Margot was holding onto me out of fear, a girl I had barely just met. What a weird day. I’m learning how easily and quickly friendships can develop, and for that I am grateful.


Once we got to the other side, we hit another roadblock. The hiking path was closed and locked. It was at that point where I really started to lose faith in the thought that I would be on top of a mountain that day. We asked someone else about a hiking trail and were told that there was a path up the road, ten minutes by car. We were not masters of hitchhiking, but we stuck our thumbs up in hopes that someone would pick us up. I wasn’t very hopeful though because we were in a group of seven people, we would have needed a van to fit us all. Thankfully a bus was driving by and pulled over and took us up the road free of charge.

We made it to our final destination around 3pm. It was an abandoned town that had been evacuated in the past because of a volcanic eruption. I was really thankful for that abandoned little town, because as eerie as abandoned places can be, they are aesthetically pleasing in my opinion and they allow me to imagine the lives once lived in that place. We didn’t really know how to get to the mountains, but thankfully a man who lived in the area was walking by, and led us to a path that he said would lead us to a trail. A few minutes went by and we walked across a bridge over the clearest river I have ever seen, and were finally making our way up toward the mountain. Unfortunately, we only had two hours until our bus would leave for Santiago, and we knew that wasn’t a sufficient amount of time to hike to the top of the mountain and back, but we decided to hike as much as we could in the next hour before making our way back.



We hiked up towards the mountain for about forty-five minutes and then took a break. I sat on a boulder and thought about how the day hadn’t quite gone as I thought it would have. I had expected to be on top of a mountain that day. I had expected for trails to be simply navigated and for simple transportation. As frustrating as the first half of the day was, I sat on that boulder admiring the mountains that surrounded me-the way some of their outlines curved and others were sharp and jagged. I looked at the rocks on which I had hiked up to that point, and was amazed by their natural purple and green colors. My Chilean friend, Kevin, had joined us for the day and brought maté to share. I need to take a moment and say how thankful I was to have had Kevin with us that day, because he was able to understand the people who were helping us get to where we wanted to go and when I couldn’t understand, he could. It was at this point where I experienced the exclamatory part of my interrobang day. Today may have been difficult in the beginning, but look at how it ended up!


I’ve decided to make my catch phrase for each day in Chile: “Here goes something‽” Because I am learning that in order to better understand Chile, I have to do things even if it means getting lost a few hours longer or being uncomfortable. Although Sunday in particular was an interrobang day, every day in Chile is an interrobang day filled with mistakes and difficulties but also excitement and joy. Execution is everything.