Accuracy: 9 meters
Altitude: 74 meters
Visitors: Dana Dopp Weniger and Andy Leach
Plant life: Mainly sedges mixed with grasses, asters and legumes
Animal life: Cows of the small family farm when they are rotated to this field
Nearest road: Hwy 270 passes about 200 meters away from the point
Regional economy: Small cow and vegetable farms surrounded by large pine and eucalyptus plantations
Reaching the confluence point:
Having finished writing the route guide for another hike, we were excited to attempt our first confluence visit, an unvisited point only a short distance from Valdivia.
"We want to go here." Andy said in broken Spanish as he laid the map down on the counter of the bus company's stall. "Can we buy a ticket to go there?"
The woman on the other side of the counter looked at him blankly, stating that her bus only went to Paillaco, and directed Andy to the tourist information booth.
The man at the tourist information booth was just as helpful, saying that the company who went along that road and thus could bring us to where we wanted to go was the same one who Andy had just visited, and directed him back that way.
Buses in Chile are the main form of transportation for the people living in the countryside, and will stop at every driveway or even just on the side of the road or highway when requested. We had been on many such buses between trek endings and supply towns, but we had always gone to the ends of the bus lines, never to the middle of one.
It was my turn to try and Andy sat down with our backpacks. I decided to try the bus drivers directly. Finding a bus with the correct sign, I asked the driver if we could get off the bus at the dot on the map. He and a man standing nearby began a long conversation that seemed to be about the area on the map, how the town shown on the map wasn't really there, it was only a region. How there were no hotels or no treking routes in that area. Perhaps we had family in the area? My limited Spanish was again proving to be a problem. One of the men spoke a little English and I waited for the driver's verdict. Finally that time came and the verdict was negative, we would have to go to the next town and walk back along the road. I asked why and was told it was because there is nothing in the area for tourists, and that I should consult the tourist information booth for more information. In my broken Spanish mixed with simple words in English where I didn't know the Spanish equivalents I explained about the confluence project as my reason for going to the dot on the map. Suddenly the mood changed completely and a third person joined the conversation, interested in where we were going. I was told this was the bus for us, with smiles and gestures to enter the bus.
Andy and I grabbed our bags and ran back to the bus. The conversation had taken the entire fifteen minutes before the bus was supposed to leave. Once on the bus, we realized that in our rush we had left the GPS in the bags below and would have to guess where to get off by the contours on our horrible map alone. Watching as closely as was possible through the arms of those who had gotten on the bus after all the seats were taken, we thought we had seen the side roads that marked we were getting close to our dot. Counting about five minutes, we stood up and started to make our way to the front of the bus. The man who had entered the conversation at the bus station stopped us, and said that we should wait a few more minutes and that he would tell us when we should exit. He called the bus driver to stop at the point he thought was closest and waved us good luck through the windows as the bus pulled away, leaving us at the regional rural school of La Paloma (not on our map).
Turning on the GPS we were delighted to see that his guess was surprisingly close, and we only had 1.71 km to walk back along the road to the confluence! It took us about twenty minutes to reach the western most point along the road because the blackberries were in season and though we were excited about the confluence Andy is utterly incapable of passing by ripe fruit.
Standing at the cross point on the road, we looked south down a slope straight at a farmhouse about 200 meters away. We were nervous about finding the point to be directly inside the house though the land is a sparsely populated valley with small family farms raising cows and vegetables in the center of the valley, and pine and eucalyptus plantations covering the slopes on either side. The driveway looked to be back a little way along the road, back past the four women standing the bus shelter who had eyed us suspiciously as we had passed the first time. This time they were friendlier, laughing as we passed, surely wondering how it could be possible to get lost in an area with only one road.
The driveway crossed a small creek before heading up a hill to the house. Three dogs ran down to greet us and barked alongside us until we reached a man waiting for his wife along the driveway. He was very friendly, and thought we wanted directions to Valdivia. We tried to explain the confluence project, but it didn't seem to be making sense to him. His wife soon appeared and understood what we wanted, giving us permission to pass on their land and showing us where the gates were to the fields where the GPS seemed to be pointing from this vantage point.
Finding the confluence was almost too easy. It lay in the first field directly down the hill from the house, and though the fields are used in rotation to feed the farm's cows, the one with the confluence wasn't in use. In the springtime it would have been a muddy mess as was evidenced by the telltale clumps of sedges that covered the land with a mixture of grass and a sprinkling of asters and legumes, but this late in the summer it was dry and provided easy walking.
We found the spot soon after realizing that our projected point and the actual point weren't one and the same. We took photos and waited in the field for an hour or so for the sun to set so we could take the westward photo. The traffic flowed fairly constantly along the road, a mixture of buses, logging trucks and cars. Besides the noise from the road, the only other sounds in the field were the calls of bulls and cows from the other fields. Bugs flew silently back and forth, backlit beautifully in the setting sun. Finally the sun set and we took our last photo of the area. Walking back up through the stacks of firewood among handbuilt trailers with wooden wheels wrapped in metal for tires, we marveled at the mixture of modern and ancient items in the culture of Chile in this area. After thanking the owners of the land, who seemed to be amused at having two foreigners spend an hour in their sedge field, we headed off to find a place to camp for the night.