With all the dogs now back down at the house there wasn’t so much for us to do. Konrad and I started to build a new dog kennel, complete with two cube shaped dog houses featuring gently pitched roofs and terraces, a masterpiece! The French did very little and it was no great surprise or disappointment when they weren’t around for too much longer. I wasn’t planning on going into any detail on this but they’ve decided they were mistreated by Konrad and Inge and to a lesser extent me. For that reason I’ll give a little more detail as although this blog is about me and my experiences, Aurora Austral deserve a fair representation and Louis and Elodie have provided and publicised anything but that.
The first time I took them up the mountain they were gasping for breath halfway up despite the fact we were driving closer to the cabin than at any other time in the season! They failed on numerous occasions to light a fire, they burnt through the dry wood the rest of us had spent time and energy collecting and replaced it with wet green plants, they simply existed at the cabin eating lavish meals they carried up the mountain in place of dog food and other necessary supplies. On one occasion they refused to carry a sack of sawdust for less than 1km for what reason I can’t understand. Despite being French they both had arms that could have been used to achieve this.
Another day they took a guest to the hot springs featured later in this blog and complained it was very ‘ard…actually, according to Elodie everything was very ‘ard, apparently even existing. I should mention that the description of working with the huskies really stresses the physical aspects of the job and despite having completed marathons, triathlons and other endurance events I was nervous about the physical challenges that came with the job. I have no idea why they applied after reading it. Honestly, deluded doesn’t even begin to describe them. Eventually it all came to a head after they awoke several hours after the rest of us and cooked a lunch that wasn’t offered to Konrad or I (in their defence we were at least 10metres outside the house so it would have been very ‘ard to ask us). I had the (dis)pleasure of taking them to the local bus stop at which point they proclaimed they would not take the local bus as they ‘were not rats’. They eventually changed their mind after I explained it would be a longer walk if I drove back home with them still in the car. Since this debacle they have criticised my behaviour as well as Aurora Austral’s. Frankly, after spending a far longer time working there than them I only have one criticism of Konrad and Inge and that would be letting them arrive in the first place! Anyway, enough of that, we had a far better time without them and we thoroughly enjoyed my remaining time impersonating the dirty rats!
Once the beautiful, fantastic dog kennel construction project was complete Konrad very kindly offered to guide me up the volcano. Most people who climb it go in tour groups and often get cancelled due to bad winds or visibility. We started early and charged up the volcano taking a new and very direct route. I don’t think it could have been any more straight lined. None of that winding up the ascent in zig-zags rubbish, this route was a combination of German efficiency and English grit. Konrad was using skis as he wanted to beat me back down but somehow he was still faster up as well. After 3-4 hours we reached the final part which was very icy and very steep. We stashed his skis and our poles and continued with axes. As we reached the summit, breathtaking, stunning and incredible are just a few of the many, many words that I am forced to use. The problem is that on top of any summit one is usually cold, tired and being blown around in gale force winds. Taking and posing for photos isn’t generally high on the priority list. I took in the unworldly scenes peering down into the volcanic crater with intermittent periods where smoke billowed out.
We found a sheltered spot and stuffed our faces for 15 minutes getting back some much needed energy. The summit of the volcano was ours and ours alone, partly due to the speed we got up there but also the wind and as we later found out, the visibility (or lack of). Konrad took this opportunity to say we definitely should have worn crampons for the final part and that we should do so on the way down. I didn’t need to take the opportunity to remind him that I was shitting myself on the final part of the ascent and was holding on to my axe the way Elodie held her broccoli, or chocolate (insert any other food item here). Either way the descent, with crampons fitted, was far more comfortable! It was a little easier to enjoy the views on the way back down, breathtaking, but from the scenery rather than the exertion. As we got closer to the Land Rover Konrad went one way to find a route with more snow whereas I retraced our footsteps. By this time the views had been shrouded by dense fog. Visibility deteriorated to just a couple of metres and I was relieved to hear the Land Rover engine which I followed until the head lights came into sight.
This was my last time on the volcano, I was very happy that I’d successfully climbed it after spending a season looking up at its smoking top. As we packed up and made our way back home I was sad to be leaving this place for the final time but felt immensely privileged to have spent nearly 3 months working there. I never once wanted to be anywhere else and despite the long days, disrupted nights, physical exertion and dog bites I absolutely loved every minute! I had a lot to thank Inge and Konrad for and luckily they were happy with me too. As a thank you they paid for me to go to the natural hot springs as well as providing fuel and car. The next morning I made my way there, dirt tracks and mountainous views which I appreciated now as much as ever, well aware my time on the continent was running out. I met a girl in Colombia who had been travelling for many months and was returning home. She complained of having seen so many waterfalls, mountains etc that they were no longer interesting. I’m so pleased this didn’t happen to me as I continued to enjoy every experience.
Anyway! The hot springs were of course unbelievable. There were around 18 different pools with a range of different temperatures. They were set in a steep, almost sub-tropical gorge with wooden walkways stretching over 400m. The far end had a natural waterfall and near the entrance was a cafe where I enjoyed coffee and cake (German influence). I chatted to some of the other tourists there including a Spanish chap on holiday and a group of Chilean ladies from the ‘tercera edad’ (OAPs) who I have to say were thrilled to hear I was from England!
After a couple more days it was time to leave Aurora Austral and that meant saying goodbye to all the animals, most importantly the 50 dogs as well as Konrad and Inge of course! I had come to know all the dogs not only by name but by nature, each had their own personality, timid dogs, leaders, fighters and some cuter than others. It was an emotional goodbye to say the least and I still miss them now! We would sit around discussing what would be the best team, which dogs went well with who, just like football managers! Konrad and Inge took me for pizza before my night bus to Valparaiso, my penultimate stop in Chile and of my entire trip. This blog’s long enough so it looks like there’s one more post to come to bring my trip to an end I just want to say a huge thank you to Konrad and Inge for one of the best experiences of the trip and of my 26 years so far!
My bus arrived, I waved goodbye and with that my South America adventure was almost over. Just a few more days left and one last blog post!