Rain was tailing me as I forged on through the lakes district. The dark clouds and damp air I had attempted to abandon leaving Patagonia had no intention of releasing me. Disembarking a bus in the tourism hub of Pucon, I found myself in a familiar situation; a planned hiking itinerary had been dismantled by Mother Nature and I was relegated to waiting it out in the hostel. With time to pass and a well equipped kitchen on premises I took on a task I had been thinking about for a while. In prior accommodation, a similar rainy day situation encouraged a French cyclist to spend the day preparing a feast for herself and her cycling companions. It had been their first real kitchen in weeks and she went all out, which included baking a fresh loaf of bread. Though delicious in appearance and smell I thought, no, knew, I could do better. I don’t like being second fiddle when it comes to my hobbies and took her public bread display as a personal challenge. Wallowing in a grey state of fog and precipitation I grabbed a bag of flour and got to work.
I’m a slow cook and even slower baker. I spent the day mixing and folding, approximating my at home precision methods as best as possible with the equipment on hand. Slowly but surely medium tight rounds of smooth elastic dough made their way into floured pots, where they could rest for a final proof. I cranked the heat in a small toaster oven, red lining the unit to get my crumb just right. I rigged up a dutch oven approximation made of a sheet pan and metal colander insulated with a tinfoil, Area-51 believer headpiece. A couple quick incisions were made to a slightly under proofed pre-bake loaf for visual effect and into the oven it went. After 30 minutes, my moisture catching dome was removed and a perky, plump, slowly browning boule sat proudly on the rack. Interest began to build amongst others in the hostel, a mixture of confusion and intrigue over the low key operation occurring in a corner of the kitchen I had quarantined for my creative process. Out of the oven came the first loaf, and it was not half bad for the situation, but it could certainly be better. Second loaf up, proofed to the limit, better scoring, more flour for color contrast, extra weight on top of the cover to prevent moisture loss, set it and forget it. 45 minutes elapsed and for the first time since departing New Jersey I had a homemade loaf of bread I could proudly call my own. Butter, salt, jam, delicious. I’m confident somewhere down the road my French inspiration could feel that the duel was on; her move!
Culinary adventure completed it was time to get into the woods and Huerquehue National Park was calling my name. Hosting what is supposed to be one of the most scenic trails in the lakes district I was ecstatic to get back into hiking mode after the great success that came in La Junta. Up early and with good weather, I took the first bus possible. Boarding I found two friends who had hiked Torres Del Paine with me a month and a half prior, they had been bouncing around Argentina since, and only recently crossed back into Chile. After arriving to the park, acquiring a plot of land for the tent, and sorting out some logistics I embarked on the demanding climb to the top of Cerro San Sebastian. It’s billed as a difficult walk up steeper and steeper grades until a final root and rock scramble brings you to the ultimate vista point. It was a well-manicured, well-marked, and well-trodden hike; but the intensity of La Junta simply wasn’t there. At the top, I again encountered my friends from Patagonia and they were awe-struck by the views. From atop the peak seven snowcapped volcanoes and nine emerald and sapphire lakes could be seen in an engulfing 360 panorama. The public sentiment was of inspiration and majesty; I landed on pretty good. At any other junction in my life this would have been an absolutely stunning scene. Even looking back on photos I relive the remarkable beauty, but at the same time remember my feeling of, dare I say, disappointment. I had done a lot of hiking in Chile, and seen many amazing natural wonders, but never before had I felt jaded, never before had I been uninspired to see more.
I blamed this feeling on La Junta. I felt the view, challenge, and intensity of that place had forever tainted my expectations of nature, setting an unrealistic bar for what I would encounter around the next turn. But the fact is, standing at the summit, my mindset was all wrong. Too busy creating metrics with which to compare present and past to truly appreciate the beauty of my surroundings. I Tried to score intangible feelings in a binary manner. It was a situation I do not want to find myself in again, and a phenomenon that may ultimately precipitate the end of my travels in the future. It was time for a change of scenery and mindset; I could feel my Latin American adventure reaching its denouement.