Once you have travelled, the voyage never ends, but is played out over and over again in the quietest chambers. The mind can never break off from the journey.Pat Conroy
This was definitely a special day!
Marc met Ivan in his jewelry shop in Pueblito Los Dominicos, a craft fair area in Santiago at the end of the red metro line (http://www.piedraflor.com/english/joyas.html). Marc was looking for a unique piece of Lapis Lazuli to remind me of Chile because he knows it’s one of my favorite stones.
Ivan is super friendly and charismatic, and Marc and him must have hit it off, because 30 or 40 minutes after entering the shop, he came out and let me know Ivan would be taking us on a tour of the nearby Maipo Canyon to go mineral collecting a few days later.
I’ve never been mineral collecting, so I wasn’t sure what to expect but we had heard Maipo Canyon was a beautiful area so it seemed like a great side trip. This was also the last day Mom & Dad Mckinnie would be in South America, so it seemed like a nice way to end their leg of the journey.
Ivan came by our apartment the day before our trip just to check in and make sure we had the proper attire. He kept telling us about the crazy burs and spiked plants we’d encounter on this journey. He told us our soft bottom tennis shoes (and boat shoe’s in Dad Mckinnie’s case!) were less than ideal, which should have been a warning that this would be no regular hike. Incorrectly, I wrote it off as him over reacting.
Tuesday morning rolls around and Ivan arrives at 7am to pick us up for 1.5 hour drive from Santiago. We drive up the winding pass and Ivan stops periodically to point out interesting flora and fauna. Maybe it’s just a west coast thing, but this part of Chile really reminds me of home in Northern California, particularly the Mt. Lassen area… complete with quails and orange poppies! We also saw free roaming horses with their colts and tons of little fluffy wild rabbits. We got to the end of the road and park at an out-of-season ski resort. We were greeted by a pack of friendly dogs and their owner, Fritz, a Swiss expat who owned the nearby Refugio Suizo (https://www.facebook.com/pages/Refugio-Suizo/231278993579287) Ivan made arrangements with Fritz to serve us a snack and coffee after our hikes.
We parked, enjoyed an abundance of homemade sandwiches and juices that Ivan had packed for us, before we started out first of two hikes. This first one took us through the ski resort, which at the time was being used as a horse pasture for Frtiz’ horses and two, ambitious donkeys (I call them ambitious because one of them was super loud and would chase the horses around the hill like it was the king of the herd, it was pretty adorable).
This part of the hike was strenuous, but nothing my tennis shoes couldn’t handle. This part followed the tracks of the ski lifts, so there was a well-trodden path to follow (Side note: this is also a popular place for mountain biking, not that we tried this). The hike through the pasture was beautiful, but it saves the best until you literally reach and crest the very top… where you are rewarded with a unexpected and breathtaking panoramic view on the of the Andies (ALTITUDE: ~8,000ft). Marc’s pictures are great but don’t capture the emotion a view like this causes when it’s 100% unexpected.
Once we all made it to the top (Mom & Dad Mckinnie were troopers!), that’s when the mineral collecting began! We started walking down the other side of the hill; following rather steep horse paths. We’d walk along and Ivan would tell us about the different stones, in this area it was primarily beautiful red Jasper but also a few white agates. I’ve never been mineral collecting but Ivan’s passion for it was infectious and unwavering. Over the course of an hour, he’d call us over for each find, sharing information about the stone, noting its color, then he’d hand us his geologist hammer to crack it open (Marc was a big fan of smashing rocks lol). After collecting pockets and handfuls of rocks, it was time to walk back to the car so we could drive to the site of our next hike. After a water break and some delicious, fresh melon tuna (A sweet, green melon, similar to a honeydew), we headed off.
This second hike was some backwoods shit. We basically just parked the car on the side of the road and started fighting our way through buckbrush and star thistle. No easy trail to follow this time, besides a few rabbit paths (Which we had to keep an eye out for snare traps). After about an hour we arrived to the next mineral collecting site, this time primarily of copper samples.
The best part of this tour was Ivan’s passion for these minerals and Chile. We spent about 8 hours walking around and his level of excitement never waned. He was so happy to share this part of the country with us, because it’s an area not many tourist visit. We also had some conversations about philosophy, using minerals obviously as little metaphors for life and how everything comes back in an infinite circle.
After this final hike, we headed back to Fritz’ chalet for one of the best cheese omelets I have ever had in my life, before piling back into Ivan’s car to head back to Santiago. (SIDE NOTE: we didn’t stay at Refugio Suizo, but I wished we had. It was super remote, peaceful and scenic, a great place to get away from the city… but also with perfect cell service!)