What’s hiding in Yerba Loca valley?

La Paloma glacier Marie Vítková

On the outskirts of Santiago de Chile, at foothills of the Andes lies a natural sanctuary, both beautiful and mysterious. It is called Yerba Loca after so called “crazy plant” which is rumored to be growing here, making people go insane.

What? A crazy plant?

Although I am not sure whether it wasn’t just my Chilean friends making fun of me as we were planning a hike in Yerba Loca sanctuary. The three of us entered the valley through lush green pastures and then followed Estero de Yerba Loca river upstream.

The water of Río Yerba Loca are an unreal blue and taste bitter, a sign that it contains some metals. I couldn’t help thinking that this also could have something to do with the stories about lunatics running around.

High mountain cliffs were surrounding us on both sides all the way and as we climbed higher upstream, the landscape changed to dry land with scrubs and cactuses, rocks and … giant dry chunks of cow poo everywhere.

La Paloma glacier, still in the distance, well, just behind the bend, was changing its colors from white, through orange, to pink, as the sun set down. It was an admirable sight!

La Paloma glacier

It really burns

It was time to set up a camp and when it came to thinking how to make a fire, we asked ourselves that question: “Does cow shit burn?”
We collected a huge pile of cow poo, lit it up, and there was the answer: “It really burns!” It was not smelly, there was a lot of smoke … but we were warm all evening filled with chatting and a cup of yerba maté.

cow shit burns

Next morning we started hiking across the rocky surface, listening to the watter flowing through many streams all around. The sound was so tempting and we found out that we used up all our drinking water for that maté last night. I have never been this thirsty in my life! The torture got even worse as we climbed up the waterfall.

We got into a plateau with pastures, where the creek changed its color to deadly orange and our desperation was growing. But we kept hoping there will be good water coming from the glacier. Well, no! What a bitter awakening, as bitter as the taste of the water.

river of Yerba Loca

Oh those mighty glaciers!

But this was the price for something truly wonderful! As we kept climbing to 4,000 meters, we were rewarded by an incredible sight: four glaciers hanging down from the mountains where they met in one ice field glittering like diamonds in the bright sun.

La Paloma glacier

We finally sat down to have breakfast and make maté with the most possibly safe drops of water in the area. The spot was a small lagune and from this high we were also able to see deep into the valley where we came from, almost 2,000 meters lower.

Yerba Loca valley

Then it was time to descent if we wanted to get out before the Yerba Loca sanctuary closes its gates. We were speeding and did the hike in pretty good time.

Not even an earthquake can shake us

Back in the civilization we enjoyed a glass of beer that tasted better than ever before. Though immensely happy from the adventure we just experienced, we were also desperately tired that we could hardly notice the earthquake that moved all things around us.

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