Los Desnudos en las Montañas: Twelve Steps to Hiking La Campana

by Sarah Maloney

Step One

Don’t press the snooze button. All grandiose adventures occur when the sun shines on the opposite side of the planet. In other words all the time, the Earth is a sphere. 

The dawn’s frost might not have crept into the seven blankets your host mom gave you, yet. The sun might not have begun to pry open your eyelids. You may even be slightly intoxicated from last night’s fiesta. None of these are adequate excuses. Wake up!

La Campana National Park.
La Campana National Park. Photo by Mar del Sur

Step Two

Always check the subway times the day before any grandiose adventure. The hallow tunnels that root beneath Valparaíso are vacant sometimes. Sometimes happens to be 5:00 am Sunday morning. Step One is now an optional step. 

Step Three

Find a jungle themed café and eat palta tostada and Nescafe. Consider the irony that the first time you drank coffee was not in your hometown, Seattle (the apparent monopoly of coffee and rain). Everyone back home told you coffee in South America would be amazing, but all Chileans seem to drink is Nescafe. There is one Starbucks in Viña del Mar, but you prefer the instant coffee crumbles that clumps like dirt. You consider never telling anyone back home that you fervently believe Nescafe is incredible and will indubitably miss it. 

Take a bite of your palta tostada. The toast crunches in your mouth and avocado squishes between your teeth. 

When you step outside a few raindrops fall on your face. Look up at the dawns grey sky. When rain falls, it falls on all of us. Find comfort that rain is the same everywhere, wet.

Retract Step One being optional, it is imperative. 


Step Four

Board the first northbound subway that will drag you out of Valparaíso and to the edges of the urban world. The train is silent. The morning’s tranquil hum causes everyone to stare out the windows. The cement buildings transform into green hills that become cluttered with shacks that develop into small towns that returns to green hills. From behind your window an ubiquitous thought warns you that no matter where you travel there are many fortunes in your life that others have never known. The subway stops at its final destination, Limache. Everyone rushes out the mechanical doors. You are the last one to step off. Green hills recede into mountains which eventually become the Andes. 

Step Five

Ask a public bus driver which micro will take you to La Campana Parque Nacional. Pay around 500 Chilean pesos and sit on the bus with your friends. Everyone chatters and laughs as the bus bumps and bops around the serpentine roads. Your friend next to you pulls out a ball of yarn and circular knitting needles. She is nearly done with her first hat. As she completes a row tell her how your mother back home teaches knitting classes. 

Consider taking out the needles in your backpack.  Falter because knitting does not feel right in your hands. At home, on the couch you can hear your mothers needles click together. Her hands dance to the cadence she creates. Adjust the scarf around your neck. Her hands knotted the soft blue yarn.

Don’t take out your needles, but watch your friend discover her own creative pace. She tells you the scarf is for her boyfriend back home. 


Step Six

Exit the bus and walk up the dirt hill to La Campana Parque Nacional. Deposit a small fee of 2.000 Chilean pesos in a wooden box at the office. In the excitement everyone rushes up the gravel path. After five minutes someone realizes this road is for maintenance trucks. Return to the entrance and find a map. 

Step Seven

Hours later contemplate never walking again. The southern hemisphere in October is much hotter than an October in the Northwest.  Your mood worsens as you watch a friend who constantly smokes practically run up this wall of a mountain. In fact, he is smoking a cigarette as he hikes. In English and Spanish curse everything around you.

Step Eight

Thirty minutes later realize you were being too harsh. Half way up the mountain your group takes a break at Mina de cuarza. There is a mine shaft to peer inside. Take a picture standing behind the No Entra sign. Eat an apple and peanut butter and look at the incredible view. Observe a few zorros scurrying between the trees and shrubs. The small foxes remind you that you had cursed everything around you. Internally apologize and commit to completing the hike. 

Step Nine

Scramble up boulders. The terrain is now mostly rocks. As the incline steepens, know that the smaller the rocks, the closer you are to the summit. Ignore the sweat and push upward. Watch your friends, like a line of ants disappear one by one around the last curve.

Zorro, Fox

Step Ten

Yell in joy at the mountains. You made it to the top and you feel like you can see infinity. As you stand 1,880 meters above the ocean your yell returns, an echo that reverberated against stony mountains and grassy hills.

Lie on the rocks and let the Earth and Sun warm your body. Stay this way until you forget to keep track of time. Realize that the beauty from this moment would be worth a hike ten times as high as La Campana. Know the importance of Step One.

Step Eleven

Everyone strips down and stands atop a boulder. You stare ahead smiling because self consciousness was left at the foot of the mountain along with doubt, pessimism, and anything that has ever held you back. 

The combination of nudity and nature strips down reality to the present, nothing exists outside of each moment. 

The next few hours you have a childlike awe of everything. Though this eventually disappears, the memory does not.

Step Twelve

Six months later buy Darwin’s Voyage of the Beagle at a used bookstore. In between your college courses peruse Darwin’s entries. It has been months since you returned to Seattle and drove up to Bellingham for the quarter. It has been strange hearing English again wherever you go.

Read that in 1834 Darwin trekked la Campana. Consider the possibility that Darwin censured his less scientific adventures; like standing stark naked atop a mountain flashing the universe.