Two Sundays ago, I rented a car and drove three students to the El Yeso reservoir, high above and south of Santiago.  It was a great day marred only by my cowardice.  We had directions to “go to the end of the road” to find hiking trails.  We encountered a very small stream of water crossing the road next to a beach and a bunch of parked cars.  I was worried about the depth of the stream and assumed, because I wanted to, that what with all the cars parked there this must be the end of the road.

We parked, had lunch, and then walked up the road.  Which didn’t end anytime soon.  We walked for about 90 minutes with still no sign of the road ending.  We then turned around and walked back to the car.

It was beautiful.  It was lovely.  We breathed clear, clean mountain air, soaked in the crisp, bright sunlight.  One student soaked in enough that today, two weeks later, he is still peeling.  It was a fantastic day.  I raved about it here.  But it wasn’t the plan.  We did not reach our goal or hike any trails.

So, I sent out word earlier this week that I was going to be repeating the journey, to see what was at the end of the road, come hell or high water (heh, I crack myself up).  I asked for a small contribution toward the car to offset my renting something nicer and got four students who wanted to go.  The peeling student also wanted to go but is an exceptionally nice person (seriously) and didn’t want to deprive anyone of going for the first time.

As I told this student, being nice never pays.  Life lessons.  That’s my job.

The last trip was held up by our being trapped in the city by the Santiago Marathon.  No such problem today.  I also figured out it made no sense to have students trek to my place as the metro doesn’t open until 8am on Sundays.  I’ve grown more confident driving in Santiago so I picked them up at their houses and dropped them there at the end of the day.  They were grateful but, in fact, it was good for me.  I saw more of the city. I saw where they’re staying.  I saw a little more how the city neighborhoods fit together.  We were on the road earlier.  I was happy with that.

To the reservoir is two and a half hours.  We got out a few times to take in the views but made good time.  Soon, we were at the stream.  I crossed it with ease.  I’ve driven on wet pavement that was more dangerous.  The students made a note to tell the last group.  We kept going, soon passing our previous distance record and, just like that, I was on new ground.  I figured another couple of kilometers to the end.

Seventeen.  Diecisiete.  17.  And the road did not improve.  We continued climbing over roads that narrowed and dropped away to oblivion.  The inside track was rough so I hugged the outside, much to the two students on the passenger side’s displeasure.  We came to a sign for the park.  I hadn’t known there was a park there.  We paids our money.  We tooks our chances.  Seven more kilometers we were told to the “termas”.  I asked if there was hiking and got a nod.  Okay, let’s go.  More rough road.  Steeper cliffs.  A couple of glaciers.  Not on the road, of course.  High above us.  It was amazing.

The road seemed to end in a rocky field – I can’t recall the name for this right now.  It’s when a glacier retreats and leaves a big, wide, flat plain of rocks surrounded on three sides by mountains.  That’s where we were.  We parked and set off.  It was impossible to cross the river running through the rocky plain.  As we stood, wondering how to get to the parking area we could see a couple klicks away, we saw a car, not unlike ours, drive through the river.  I left the students looking for pretty rocks and beelined for where I saw the car cross.  Sure enough, it almost looked like a ford.  I retrieved the car, honked at the students and….away we went.  I was very conservative.  I kept it in first and applied consistent gas.  We got through without incidence.

My poor students last week.  I stopped for a mere trickle.  This week I drove through serious running water.  Our car was right at median.  There were certainly some 4 wheel drive vehicles present in the parking area when we arrived but also a lot of really old, crappy, weak looking cars.  On the way back, I got cocky, hit it in second, nearly panicked and let up on the gas and for one sickening moment felt the back tires come off the rocks.  Fortunately, the drive wheels stayed down and we came through.  Groovy.

We had lunch next to a “hot” spring.  Hot is in quotes because hot is a relative sort of word.  There is no such thing as absolute hotness.  There is absolute coldness (zero) but hot is always relative.  Molten iron is cool relative to the Sun, for instance.  We use hot and cold without qualification because it is understood that we mean it relative to human body temperature.  With that point of view, the spring was not hot.  However, relative to the surrounding air and water, which was runoff from snow and ice not too far away, the spring was hot.  Hence, it’s a hot spring.

After lunch we hit the trail and walked about 90 minutes.  We didn’t make good time.  We kept stopping to admire the view, which was impressive.  I’m getting to where I’ve seen a number of beautiful mountain views and it never gets old.  But it gets “not-new”.  We had one student who, apparently, had never been in a true mountain scene.  And she was awestruck.  It was a lot of fun to see.  She would just stop and demand that we look.  Or not demand, just all of a sudden she wouldn’t be with us and we’d go back and she was just sitting on a rock looking at a stream running off a mountain.  It was hard to pull her off the mountain at the end of the day.

You don’t get the experience of helping students have such a happy revelation teaching organic chemistry.  Very occasionally someone will see you or write you a few years later and tell you your class meant a lot to them.  That is a tremendous feeling, really, it’s hard to describe.  But it’s very, very delayed gratification especially when, on an almost daily basis, you are clearly stressing your students and making them unhappy, at least in the moment.  I can’t take any credit for the mountains’ existence but it was fun to bring someone to such a spot for the first time.

I’m not sure that thought process makes much sense.   It was a touching kind of experience.

Or, it may have been lack of air.  We all felt the altitude.  It wasn’t that high, we poked our heads above 10,000 feet but barely.  However, we had awakened at a little under 2,000 feet.  It isn’t like we couldn’t function but a simple breath didn’t quite do the trick it usually does.

Anyway, you get the idea; beautiful hike, fun drive, some new experiences.  I’ll let the photos do the rest.  Tomorrow I deal with the wreckage of Exam 1.

The “hot” spring.  The water was clearly above the ambient air and there were many folks swimming in the pools.  But if someone poured you a bath this temperature, you’d ask for your money back.

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Along the trail.IMG_6185

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Here you see us coming back down to the parking lot and the hot spring just to the right of the parking area.  Beyond is the rocky plain we drove through.

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The El Yeso reservoir.

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The students arrayed artistically by the stream.  While the pose was not my idea, my not climbing any higher was.

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