Today is another marathon day, and we put our noses to the proverbial grindstone and hike our butts up the hill, steady in our rhythm, determined in our steps.
There is only one way to cover today’s 16 km, and that is by putting one foot in front of the next.
The skies area overcast and drizzly–shocker–which means I am less apt to photograph and slow us down, only except when, drumroll, please, we encounter pseudo-wild horses, pretty and romantic in the fog, their black and brown manes dewy and fantastical.
Before us, the edge of the park stretches forward, the river its connection to the outside world, the lanyard we criss-cross before taking the unmarked shortcut to Chileno, a junction of trepidation and aggravation and exasperation, or so it seems, for here, we meet Spencer, an unfortunate hiker who for a week sees nothing but torrents of rain, and now, on his penultimate day, finds himself doomed to a vista-less experience down south.
Graham assures him that if he turns right, he seals his fate, certain to miss the towers, but if he chooses the blue pill, he just might catch a glimpse.
We feel for the guy, not entirely pleased ourselves with the roll of the meteorological dice, a total crapshoot of cosmic proportion, for, truth be told, I will likely not be returning for a repeat exposure.
Up the hill we go, me half-jogging to meet Graham at Chileno, the perfect stop along the way, half-way between our campsites and half-way between the day, a refuge from the rain where we wait out the chill and dry out the tent, warm with tea and with the happy stumble upon our Canadian friend, Frederic.
A long lunch later, and we are back on the trail, me resolved to beat my prediction of rolling into camp at 5 PM, Graham certain that his slow-poke girlfriend would be anything other than early, even with a two-hour lunch.
To my horror, we cross paths with a posse of MDs, their vernacular the same type of body medical speak I hear Graham’s family profess as if it were just another, mundane conversation about this or that procedure, and I see the light bulb blaze orange in Graham’s eyes and before I can stop the train, he does it–
Here, essentially in the middle of the Chilean wilderness, my boyfriend propositions a gang of American doctors to have a look at the ginormous welts oozing on my front and back, my mystery bites from Iguazu anything but healed, midpoint black, puffy and swollen, a nagging voice deep within me whispering that maybe this is what a recluse bite looks like and that maybe, just maybe, I should seek medical attention before my insides liquefy as a hole the size of Mick Jagger’s mouth tears through my midsection.
Terribly embarrassed to request such services in the middle of the Andean forest, I am, truth be told, slightly relieved and barely hesitate to throw off my pack and roll up my shirt, mega bite exposed in all its fleshy nastiness.
Two female docs crowd around my belly, the blond one with long nails points her finger towards me, pausing just enough to ask if it is okay to touch me, and a few pokes later, she assuages my fears and tells me it looks like an allergic reaction to a spider bite.
“So, I’m not rotting from the inside out?” I insist.
“No,” she reassures, “you are not rotting from the inside out.”
Phewf, I must admit, although I had a sneaking suspicion it was more cortisone than flesh-eating, but damn, feels good to have someone with years of medical training confirm that unless I experience a full body break down like a high-octane fever, all I need is a mega-dose of hydrocortisone cream, available at your local Chilean pharmacy.
And, just like that, even with this mid-trail doctor’s visit, we break my prediction, strutting into our final campsite at 16:30, a whole half-hour to spare before the magic hour.