They rise up abruptly. The suddenness is itself intimidating. They are tall, bushy and sprinkled with a scornful animosity for the rest of the world. The majestic Andes Mountains aren’t welcoming to everyone. Neither are they approachable. No wonder that there are such few residents of these dry cliffs. Human’s keep their distance as do most animals.
But behind the thorny exterior is a loneliness which is hard to notice. The mountains have been sandpapered by the misunderstandings of time. Like the Condor which glides around unaccompanied at the roof of the Andes, the Andes themselves have learnt to live by hiding their desolation under foliage of barbed pride. They don’t want any false sympathy, but that’s probably what they get most often. So the absence of obvious fauna is balanced by the diversity of flora, visible only to a trained eye.
We drove up to the Andes from our hotel at Talca. Our plans were altered at the last minute so as to visit the best sites of mountainous vegetation at this time of the year. We went past the Tabano reservoir, driving further up into the Andes toward the Argentina border. We crossed two of the three checkpoints of Chilean border forces. The façade of the Andes mountains changed as we drove higher up in the mountains.
We started with green deciduous Nothofagus forests all around. We felt like we were cutting through a drapery of green and blue with the reservoir on one side and the denseness of the forest on the other. There were pine trees too though they are not native to the Andes and were planted by the Europeans. As we moved higher up, to over 2000 meters, the vegetation became sparser with mostly shrubberies. In far distances we could see the white peaks of the dominating Andes. We weren’t going that far, but just this glimpse was enough to keep us in awe and reverence.
The objective of the journey wasn’t to reach the end but to absorb the essence of the life on the mountains. For me the drive was a discovery in itself. Up there, there was the absence of the cacophony of traffic or the need to measure time. There was a mild symphony proclaiming remoteness in the air – a sense of awaiting mystery in the shadow of every mountain.
To guide us through these mountains was Professor Stephan and Professor Flavia, from the University of Talca. Whenever something interesting caught the eye, the van was stopped instantly and we would set off to learn about the plants and flowers around the area. We saw plenty of plant life. There were pink Alstroemeria, large Chilean Gunneras, dazzling Rhodophialas, uniquely growing terrestrial orchids, herby smelling medicinal Boldo, tobacco plants, black endemic Barberries and other native species.
On one of our longer stops, we walked upto the top of a waterfall. We saw closely how a gentle stream collected its energy to become a vicious and elegant 100 foot waterfall. Seeing a waterfall from the top was a new perspective. Even the plant species near the waterfall were different, as they are fed by thrusts of water from the waterfall below, by occasional increase in winds.
My favorite part of the trip was when we stopped near a stream. Looking for plants, we climbed half way up a steep, rocky hill which had a stream coming down. Resting, we found a pool of water to gather around. With our feet dipped in the cold spring water, and the sun shining on our already tanned faces, we felt for a brief second that we were a part of the Andes.