The past days have truly zipped past, seeming to disappear with unprecedented speed as the trip comes to a close.
Lindsay and I left El Bolson and hiked up a magnificent trail, winding our way to the west up through lush forests to the Hielo Azul Refugio; a wonderful handbuilt wood structure nestled in a cirque 3500 feet above El Bolson, and 1500 feet below Glaciar Hielo Azul. It was a great hike to the refugio as the trail was a consistent pitch, not too steep, we were in good spirits, and along the way we had the wonderful opportunity to see a huge condor soaring just below us as we stopped at a vista overlooking a huge Andean valley.
We drank maté with really friendly Argentenians late into the night by the comfortable wood stove in the refugio (think hostel in the woods with really cool people and rad wooden handmade everything) before going to sleep in our little green tent, in the woods, under the rocky cirque bowl, under the glacier, under the stars.
The next day we hiked up the 1500ft climb to the glacier, springing along as if we were at recess in 3rd grade. It is just amazing what a difference it makes to hike without a 40 or 50 pound pack on one's back. We again enjoyed watching condors soar, above us this time, high above the glacier, until the two we were watching swooped down to the glacial tarn where we were sitting and played on the wind currents before disappearing over the rim of the cirque, down towards the refugio below.
Again the maté had me all wired, although Lindsay had gone off to sleep, so I wandered over to the soccer fieid (yes in the middle of the wilderness) to look at the night sky. The stars were amazing that night. Unlike in the US there were no planes overhead, not one, less sattelites (I don't remember seeing any that night), and very little light pollution. I found three 18 year old Argentenian guys out checking out the sky from vantage point of the soccer field, and enjoyed conversing with them as we gazed towards the many stars above. The Southern sky is so different from the Northern Hemisphere, it is easy to feel as if one is on another planet, with all the different constellations and nebulae out there.
The following day we had a lazy start (due to me) for Refugio Cajon Azul (Blue Box Canyon). However our 1 o'clock departure was no problem as the refugio was a relatively short 12 km away, mostly downhill. This said, we did go off the path 3 times as it split apart, dead ending us in the most steep terrain. I was reminded of hiking in the Grand Canyon as we descended steep canyon walls, with loose rock footing, and sharp desert like plants around us in a blazing sun.
Once at the bottom of our descent we were delighted to find the Rio Azul shimmering emerald blue, and to learn the origin of Cajon Azul; a 40 food deep canyon only 2 feet wide in places where the Rio Azul bottle necks down and flows through the dark depths below.
Cajon Azul Refugio was a pleasure as they have a huge garden, sheep, and dinner made from the combination of the two. It was my birthday the following day, so Lindsay and I indulged, and bought the house dinner; fried sheep, mashed potatoes, and a big salad. It hit the spot.
At the refugio we met an excellent young lady from Maine, who is a passionate organic gardener, and had been down here studying organic agriculture on a farm in Mendoza (some km north). I felt an instant connection to her, and was glad to enjoy some conversaion before nightfall. She inspired me to make the most of my life, as she clearly does with her own.
We (I) also met a couple Argentenians on vacacion from Santiago, Louis and Carolina. They were really friendly, interested in picking up some English and American culture, and glad to teach me some Spanish. We decided to meet in the morning for the hike back to El Bolson.
In the morning the sun shone brightly, and we all enjoyed the walk to civilization together. Lindsay and I had pretty well exhausted conversation between ourselves, so it was a great treat to walk with these new aquantances and learn their stories. Lindsay walked with Louis, I with Carolina. Carolina and I traded vocabulary all the way, and learned of each others lives with her limited English, and my less limited, yet still very limited Spanish. Lindsay and Louis were usually ahead of us, but I think they did the same.
We caught a taxi to El Bolson (from the end of the trail where we found a neat little county store and I was surprised one could call for a taxt), and later that night all of us headed north to Bariloche, a bustling city on the shores of Lago Nahuel Huapi. The day was a good one, but Lindsay and I had reached the point of having traveled together 24/7 for long enough, and it was getting kind of stuffy to be together.
The following morning she wanted to head out to do yet another trek, this time in Parque Nacional Nahuel Huapi, and I was more interested in finding a nice spot to chill out for a couple days, so she hit the trail towards the trek, and I found myself once again traveling alone (but for the company of Louis and Carolina), and was glad of it.
However, Carolina and I enjoyed each other's spirit quite a bit, and later that day when Louis had to leave to return to Universidad, she stayed behind to travel with me for a bit longer. She and I caught a bus to Villa La Angostura together on a whim, not knowing what we would find there, but wanting to get out of the city of Bariloche. Once there we found a fun little town near the shore of Nahuel Huapi (na well wa pee) which reminded me of Sisters, Oregon quite a lot what with it's hip center street of log buildings, handmade wares, ice cream shops, and cafe's.
We wandered the town for a spell, had some good food, and found a decent camp ground (sort of a KOA kind of place) just out of town. Morning came and it was raining. She said, "como feo," how ugly. We walked into town, had a good meal, and she caught the next bus home. Our collective language skills had been exhausted, and love was not in the air. That said, maybe it would have been if we could understand each other, or maybe a deeper language connection would have only made us realized our differences yet more.
Before she left she had helped me locate Italian Hostel, a comfortable and warm place out of the rain where I could post up. I enjoyed it a lot, and was thrilled when the farmer from Cajon Azul walked in to the hostel later that night. On further conversation with this elegant young lady, Tess, it came to light that her mom had lived in Oakridge in the 1970's. Amazing.
The next day (yesterday) the sun shone again, and I walked to Parque Nacional Los Arrayanes, a peninsula covered by many old coihue trees and fringed by arrayanes trees. The arrayanes are a beautiful deep red, with smooth bark, similar to manzanita, only huge, with trunks 2 or 3 feet thick in places. I was plesantly surprised to find Tess along the trail, and we walked together for the remainder of the long day, sharing stories and insights along the way.
It was a long day- 30 km, or so, but with the beautiful sunshine and good company of a new friend and old trees it was an easy walk.
In the evening I treated myself to a delicious artesional ice cream of strawberry and mint chocolate, before heading back to the hostel. There I met two other people with whom I share real connection, Gabriel and Pedro. Pedro was running the hostel, I'm not sure if it is his own or not. But no matter. In a short conversation he asked me what it is I do for a living, and when I responded that I am a bicycle mechanic, he asked me if I liked cro-moly frames. I was thrilled to hear the question, and it sent us down a long road of conversation. I told him about Wade, Steve, Hunter, and the artesional frame builders in the states, and he told me of his son; a pro racer from Argentina, who raced the World Cup Circuit a few years ago.
I could go on, but I will just say it was the best Spanish conversation I have ever had, and the first time I have felt truly at home on this trip.
Then, shortly afterwards I began talking to Gabriel, a marketing professional from Buenos Aires. While our lives have been on very different paths, we realized that we are of the same tribe, and talked until late in the morning.
I left the Hostel this morning with tired feet, a gladness that I had found community so far from home, and a sadness that I had to leave just as I was beginning to make connections.
Tonight I take a 950km, 12hr bus ride to Santiago, where I will spend a my last 36 hours of this leg of the trip.
The comments following my last post were great, send more if you feel like it.
North to the Future!