We dragged ourselves out of bed at 6 am, but it really wasn’t that bad. The jet lag was basically gone. In the dawn’s early light we had a very quick 15-minute walk to the bus station. As we walked up Calle San Borja, we could see streams of buses coming at us. We kept our eyes open for blue and white ones, the distinct colours of the Cajón del Maipo line, so we could flag the bus down if necessary. We saw none, but as we entered the bus stations we saw one at Bay 36, where Scott had said it would be, and on the front it said “Baños Morales”. Yes! We climbed aboard and paid the fare, only 2000 pesos for the 3-hour journey.
This bus was a regular city transit bus, seating maybe fifty passengers. Initially it roared around city streets, picking up more and more passengers until it was nearly full. After and a half of city traffic it finally made it to the outskirts of Santiago. The countryside there is very dry and brown, much like the San Gabriel Mountains near Los Angeles. The Cajón del Maipo is a big holiday area for city-dwellers, so we passed a lot of refreshment places, horse-riding places, and the like. Passengers kept hopping off, sometimes at the most unlikely places.
At San Gabriel we had to stop at a police checkpoint, where they were on the lookout for border spies or something. The police hauled off a couple of German hikers for questioning but fortunately they ignored us. After San Gabriel the road change from paved to gravel, complete with potholes, washboard, and stream crossings, all the while climbing higher and higher in the Andes. After about an hour of that the bus pulled into Baños Morales, which is a resort village of maybe 100 people. It is 92 kilometres southeast of Santiago at 1950 metres above sea level.
Immediately after getting of the bus we were accosted by people wanting to rent us horses and accommodation. We declined these offers and made our way to the trailhead in Monumento Natural El Morado, a short distance up the hill. We paid the entry fee of 1500 pesos each, then started up the 5-kilometre trail to Laguna Morales.
Even at 2000 metres elevation it was quite hot, and our legs were very stiff, and there were many unfamiliar birds to identify and beautiful views to look at, so our progress was slow. But that didn’t matter because the return bus wasn’t scheduled to leave until 6 pm. Many of the birds were very pretty, especially the Yellow-rumped Siskin, and Paul added 9 lifers to his list. Our trail led up the valley towards El Morado, a monolith over 6000 metres high, which apparently looks purple (“morado” in Spanish) in some lighting conditions. It looks similar in shape to Mount Assiniboine. Once at the lake, we decided to end our hike and not continue on to the glacier. So we stopped there and ate our lunch, admiring the 6000-metre peaks around us.
About half a dozen tents were pitched at the lake, which was still half-full of snow that lands there as avalanches in winter. These tents all seemed to belong to locals who were just relaxing there. At about 3 pm we decided to start down, having been warned that the bus might leave early. On the way down we found a roll of toilet paper in the middle of the trail. Soon after that we caught up to its owner and her friends, so we returned it to her, much to her embarrassment.
We arrived back at the town in plenty of time, so we went down a path to a place that sold handmade chocolates. Neither of us felt like eating chocolate, but we each had a piece of lemon pie. Finally the bus showed up, we and the other passengers boarded, and it left promptly at 6 pm. It was the same driver we had had in the morning—quite a split shift! The return trip was even more crowded than the morning, with the aisle full of standees. At one point the driver even passed up a couple of potential passengers. This wasn’t helped by a party of mountain climbers who had taken up four seats with their gear.
About 9:30 we finally rolled into San Borja, hot and sweaty and tired. Finally getting back to Scott’s shortly after 10, we ended up having Knorr Cup-a-Soup for dinner. It had been a great day, except we didn’t see any condors. Oh well, there will be more chances to see them later. We organized our packs, had showers, then went to bed by 11:30 pm.