Monthly Archives: January 2004

trek minus trek

i find it a bit boring to write about trails, vistas, trees and rivers… it just never translates… pictures do, so when i get the chance…
until then…
the nuhal huapi traverse has a refugio (mountain hut) set up, so i decided to leave my tent and stove behind in bariloche and rely on refugio room and board. nice to lessen the impact of gravity and to eat a real meal at the end of the day instead of powder reconstituted. all but the last hut were similarily situated by the mouth of a lake just above the point where it became cascade to the river below.
the first thing i noticed upon arrival the first day at refugio frey, besides the stank of my unshoed feet, was the hobbit-like little wooden bulbs that people were puffing on through metal pipe… but wait, they aren’t puffing… they’re sipping… what the hell is THAT thing? and that big bag of herb… and why does every argentinian trekker seem to have a thermos?
…maté
don’t call it tea! sensibilities will be offended.. its a special blend of herbs and “i don’t know how you say in english” everyone seems to say… and then they don’t say. the pipe/straw is sort of an inverse of a tea infusion bulb that filters out the leaf as you sip. variations on the maté (MATtay) experience are plentifual but minute… the idea is that you stuff the bowl with leaf and leisurely replenish the hot water via the thermos as needed… i’m diminishing some ot the magical mystery tour from the ritual, and if i ever truly sort if out i’ll come back and share my new knowledge… not one of the argentinians i met trekking was without their appartatus… and of course when i return home i’ll have my own so that when visitors come over i can impress the shit out of them with my cultural acumen… “oh you mean THIS? really? you’ve never seen one? well it seems…” and then i’ll wind on endlessly in pedantic, knowing terms whatever fable i care to dream up about patagonian ritual of maté, which will then have an accent to give it an exotic, indecipherable flair…
days 2 and 5 of the trek were an insane amount of overly vertical slopes with soft, slippery scree to complicate the relatively short horizontal distance. if you care to revisit my nonsense in march, i will include pictures… i’ve said that… i’m saying it again… why fumble with words when…the other days were much more leisurely as they were the same trails that supplied the refugios via horse train avery few days…
at refugio jakob the second day, they had put a tip jar at the latrines to help the cost of cleaning… i had a better idea… to put seats on the toilets so that people wouldn’t have to hover and potentially miss their target… and a minor, silly request to put up a wall between the two toilets so that people wouldn’t have to share their hovering experience visually with a total stranger. the hut warden had asked me to translate to english the sign on the jar that said “para limpiar los servicios”, but what he asked was, “how do you call this thing in english” pointing to the jar. i told him it was a tip jar. he then instructed his young son who was minding the shitfort, to say “tip jar, please”. i didn’t succed in getting him to understand why someone wouldn’t actually SAY that, and that i confused his request… but he didn’t get it and the rest of the evening his son inadvertently badgered those who would’ve clearly rathered to poop in the woods had THAT not been mandated against also in unintentionally antagonistic signage.
the end of my 3rd day of trekking was always going to have been a compromise. the trail is designed to go directly from refugio jakob to refugio d’italia, but clubandino back in bariloche had told me it was impassible without a guide (expensive) and snow equipment, so the only solution was to trek out back down to the valley, find a place to stay for the night, and then trek back up a differnent trail to finish the traverse. i had planned on finding a hospedaje in nearby colonia suiza, but at the end of the trail was a farmhouse/beergarden… you see where this is going? a liter of beer later i found myself in a collectivo heading back to bariloche for the night… i was afraid that if i did that i would lose my drive and not come back out for the final 3 days of the trail… my B&B was full, as was every other place i went, so i ended up at a youth hostel for the night… the dodgiest one ever, with full allnight ambient-bass eurodisco below… if ever there was going to be incentive to hit the trail again… i was out of there the next morning at 7.30 without the complimentary cracker and butter breakfast and back on the trail within the hour…
that night at refugio d’italia was a bit difficult… argentinian spanish is more difficult for me to understand, aside from the fact that they use the arcane VOS form of YOU and pronounce their double l’s like the g in refrigerator… i was also the only foreigner. it was too windy and cold to spend much time outside after the sun went down, and i found it difficult to find my place where i had no place… fortunately i was saved by cheese fondue
i should just leave the story there to let the “wha…?” linger a few days.
at dinner i was pushed into an already full table of argentines on group tour (same group that kind of edged me out of the same table earlier in the evening as i read the liner notes of my lp trekking guide… i was really hurting for task) and quickly became absorbed into the mass feeding and dipping frenzy of ravenous hikers… tangling cheese and then observing unspoken cheese diplomacy of right of way opened the door to conversation… they had all only known each other for 5 days, but they seemed like lifelong friends… once the barrier dropped, they were all incredibly generous, friendly and welcoming and the rest of the evening was a bit of a party. i don’t usually find my self in moments of displacement and awkwardness, but when i do it can be self-feeding and difficult to overcome.
thank you, cheese fondue
okay, the only trail part of the story… the 5th day i lost the trail coming over a pass and accidentally picked up another trail, unmapped, that took me far down into the steep valley before i recognized i was going the wrong direction. it took a few hours of scree scrambling to get back to the trail, but i was certain as i got back to correct path and correct pass, that the difficult part was over. on the way down i encountered 3 argentinians heading the way i came who asked about the trail… i pointed it out, told them it was a bit steep and long, but not very difficult… they then pointed out the vertical mastiff to where i was heading and laughed…
i really thought they were kidding until the trail indeed lead me right up the face of the steepest tower in the range. this is very typical down here for trails to be cut directly up and over… this is intended as a convenience to the hiker as it reduces walking time… but it doesn’t factor in extra physical effort, strain, outright danger and future erosion-related issues. as bad as i thought i had it hiking straight up a slippery slope of frost-shattered shale, it appeared rougher to those descending as they really had no reliable footing and were making far slower progress going down. and yet again the panorama at the top made it all worthwhile… even with the forseeable steep descent down to refugio lopez. i watched as an american i later met below at the refugio, stepped up to the edge of the glacier at the pass, sat down on his pack, and sledded down the face and out of sight… reducing to seconds what took me an hour to carefully negotiate by foot down steep rock. if only i were brave…

road trips

temuco (the little town with a big industrial corporate name) has thoughtfully located their main bus terminal on the outskirts of town, much to the benefit of taxi drivers, without regard to convenience for the traveller. my bus arrived early, so i stowed the gear below and stepped over to a kiosk for road snacks. turning back around i saw my bus had pulled out and was at the far end of the parking lot heading to the main road. shear frozen stone cold panic. i ran toward the bus. futile. i ran to the other side of the station. no access there. i ran around in circles for a second to to complete the full affect of crazed delerium before finally running out of breath to the manager at the bus company. i sputtered unintelligibly the gravity of my predicament: “my bus… arrived, no LEFT… my backpack has left me… the bus it no have me… i have coke… i arrive…no, return… bus it becomes away” they guy looked at me with an amused smile and handled the whole thing so perfectly… he called ahead… “gringo bla bla bla whatEVER”… i had put my bag on an earlier bus to the exact same place… osorno… just had to go retrieve it with the claim check from the agent once i arrived in osorno… okay… relaxed a bit… tried to mentally rescript my panicked rant into better spanish, just for the novelty of it andwandered around til my actual bus arrived…
on the platform, people-watching, i observed a man acting very strangely, talking to himself, slam dunking his empty bottle in the rubbish bun to much phantom fanfare (yes, he made crowd noises) but looking otherwise ordinary… of course, he was assigned as my copilot on the bus as far as valdivia… turns out he was drunk… i didn’t know what to make of him… information came slowly… he spoke in english, then spanish, but mostly english. i asked if he was still drunk from the night before and he told me that rum was only for breakfast… i asked if he was from chile and he showed me his green card… american… and only just 18 with an oxford vocabulary… over the course of the trip, between his sips of rum, i got the story… his father had looked to retire to a place he could afford on his meager pension, and somehow settled on chiloé, an island in the south. the family had lived in portland, oregon before and sought out a place that had roughly the same climate. a bit rough on the kids to retire in another country while they are still high school aged. he was getting progressively louder and sloppier as we went along, so i was happy to see him go… appreciated the solitude even more…
picked up my pack in osorno as pre-arranged… what a relief… walked arund town before the bus arrived for bariloche… another hot, dry, less-than-charming town with a god-knows-why-there-exists a mega supermarket here… (i don’t want to know of the political favor behind it, but it must be a particularily noxious form of sleazy.) reminds me of the huge exxon staion and minimart in the middle of the vast unspoiled rift valley on the road to kilimanjaro…
the no man’s land between checking out of chile and checking into argentina was a stunning 15 km mountain pass of shear rocks faces, lakes and forest… such unspoiled landscapes are a treat… all borders should be like this… heading towards bariloche i got a glimpse of the rain shadow i heard about. one minute we’re passing through forest and then quickly comes dry, scrubby terrain of the pampa.. all the precipitation, usually in the form of snow, gets dumped on the western side of the andes leaving a dearth for the remaing land. such a rapid contrast. not unlike the backside of the sierras.
the bus popped a tire 30 km outside of bariloche and we were already slowed down by the border crossings, so we arrived at a crawl a few hours late just before 11pm. i hate arriving in a new town so late. limits options. after a few dead ends and outright disgrujntled doorslams i ended up at a B&B (hosteria)… the family run kind that puts chocolates on your pillow, origamis the towels and presents a new family member each and every time you enter… it took me a while to get used to the fact that they just weren’t going to accept spanish when they speakeded englishs so wells, so i acquiessed… i was able to catch the news from cnn…it was the business wrap up and larry king… not the news at all… ooh look, money train is on tnn dubbed in spanish with portuguese subtitles… didn’t bother with the planned rest day… met an american/austrian couple at the hosteria who gave me all the information i meant to look for the next day, so i woke up, shopped for supplies, caught the bus and was trailbound in the parque nacional nahuel huapi for the next 6 days…

we're okay… way

lago huerquehue, phonetically enhanced in the title for easier digestion, provided the location for trek number 2.
arrived too late in the day to begin the trail as planned so i had to camp by the lakeside below the ranger staion… it sounded okay in theory, the whole lakeside thing, but regimented camping, even in an idyllic setting, isn’t what i came here for… granted, i really, secretly, deep down inside wanted to share nature with several groups of kids on holiday playing battle of the bands with their shitty shitty boomboxes in a valley so acoustically attuned that one could hear squirrels on the other side of the lake belching out the alphabet and then giggling over it… so what i’m getting at is that i didn’t sleep so good that night… i finally got to sleep as the sun was coming up, but was soon awoken by the abuela in the campsite beside me reciting mathematic flash cards with her granddaughter… they were really sweet, so how could i get angry? oh yeah, i hadn’t slept… was irritable climbing out of my tent, but melted when the grandmother gave me a sweet smile followed by a sweeter buenos dias… okay… won’t stay mad at the world today… best get hiking.
wasn’t my favorite day… the kind of hiking that wears me out pretty quickly…hot, uphill, too much patagonian sun and humidty radiating from the scrub along the trail… whine whine whine… it was the last bit down a very steep, exposed, no-longer vegetated, dry, dusty trail that sank the hike for me… but far down below, back in the forest, the grassy plateau that lay before me at the end of the day compensated the drudgery nicely… set between two flowing streams, it was the perfect place to camp… nice to lay back in a grass after a long day of walking and let my body slowly melt into the meadow
in total i had filled and drank my 1.6 liter bottle 6 times that day… serious hydration issues… one thing contributing to my overheating was that the dying sunburnt skin from my first trek was trapping the sweat beneath, forming a nice bubbling pox-like mass across my arms and legs… my cooling system just wasn’t working like it should… i’ll spare the details, but it was really interesting in a freakish way
day two was quite a bit more relaxed ambling through forest slowly upward before another steep descent down exposed slopes… took a side trail down to laguna verde for a much needed swim… nice to have a small lake all to yourself… that is, if tábanos aren’t factored in
tábanos are big slothfull bloodsucking flies… imagine a common housefly, double it’s size, give it a blood-sucking mosquito-like fang, and then give them the reflexive instinct of a doorknob… thats a tábano… the bad part is that they swarm en mass, they seem to coordinate their attacks at the least opportune moments (shoelacing, for example, becomes a contact sport) and it really stings when they get their chance to dig in for el menú del dia… the good part is they are slow enough to smack dead with even the least dexterous flailing limb and that upon landing they take their time sorting out their gear before the drilling begins. i have left a trail of tábano coprses in my wake, secure in the knowlege that i keep the lizard population well-fed. tábano guts also make for an effective sunscreen… so it would seem.
so i shared the lake with many tábanos… but they let me swim in peace before giving me the chance to diminish their numbers as i hit the trail again.
the end of the day opened into a valley of numerous hotsprings. the property containing the most thermal sources was also the least developed and i was able to set up camp alongside the rio blanca (at termas rio blanca) where the family had arranged stones to create pools of differing intensity. there was a concreted tub that was very hot, a shallower pool that was medio caliente and then yet another which had two streams flowing through… one from the termas and one from the river. it was in this pool that i spent the final hours of the day… laying against a large rock in the shallows… a constant tug-of-war between cold and caliente while the final day’s sun radiated warmth upon me from between the gaps in the trees across the river… it was in this moment of bliss that i decided not to follow the trek as planned, which would have me repeat the first two days in reverse, but instead, follow a seldom-used dirt road to the town of reigolill where i was told i could get a bus back to pucón for the night…
at some point i finally had enough of utopian weightlessness ( more accurately, my fingers had shrivelled to octegenarian levels ) so i dragged myself heavily from the pool and headed back up to my camp. i forgot to mention that camp was a cherry orchard. the family had gathered beneath one of the larger trees and i could see beyond the ladder propped against the tree that one of the children was filling basket upon basket full of cherries and then lowering them down by rope… against a sunset sky it was a beatiful old-world sight. a moment where i could only be a spectator while i really wanted to flop on the ground with them and eat cherries and tell cherry tales and sing cherry songs and trade cherry confit recipes… the mother lulled me toward this stupid fantasy offering me a huge bagfull, which i readily accepted and which she readily charged me for… did you all hear that bubble pop? it jaded the moment a bit, but only a bit… 300 pesos (50 cents) is hardly upsetting…
so i fell asleep that night with a bellyfull, still with plenty left over for breakfast on the trail as i walked, spitting seeds and stems along the river creating a tree-lined avenue for future generations…(that stupid oldschool johnny appleseed cherry fantasy again… i must let go… i must…)
and so my 3rd day diversion was the longest 18km i have ever walked… it took me through some beautiful terrain… i only saw 5 or 6 cars the entire day and each of them stopped to offer me a lift… even if they were going the other way, and all shook their heads incredulously when i told them me prefiero a caminar… and nearly all used a similar combination of the words “gringo”and “whatEVER”… my last kilometer was a neverending 2 km down a valley’s flat dusty road… at some point i saw an elderly man beneath a shady tree by the side of the road as i heard invisible children screaming and playing down by the river. my throat was so dry that when i approached to speak he replied, “yo no comprendo” i got a laugh from him by saying that i didn’t understand me either, so i tried again to ask him if reigolill was far… only another 400 meters he said and then asked where i began my day… though it remained unspoken, i could see in his eyes that he too was saying yet one more combination of the words “gringo” and “whatEVER”. he also told me that i had missed the one and only bus that passes through town… at 7 AM… 400 meters further along indeed was the sleepy god-forsaken dustpatch of reigolill… the population, less than 20 if you don’t include the fire department staff (which doubles the count), seemed like a crew that had either been born there without the ability to conceive a broader world, or that had come to escape happiness, for whatever strange reason a person might seek that out. the comatose shopkeeper pulled the cold drink i had selected from my hands offering me a much warmer container he declared to be más frio… get me the fuck out of here…
i downed the liter of juice a bit too quickly and noticed that a fruit truck parked in the town’s only shade was preparing to leave. i hit them up for a lift and the driver pondered it a bit too long before agreeing to take me to the nearest town, some 30 km away, where i could catch a bus to pucón. i don’t think he spoke spanish. i know he thought he spoke spanish, but i didn’t hear spanish and i certainly couldn’t read even one obvious communication of body language… must have been one of those born in the dust. only 5 km down the road, he stopped to do business by an open meadow where a group of tehuelche indians were assembled for a 3 day horse-racing event. we stayed there for an hour before the driver thoughtfully arranged for someone else to drive me to curarrehue. my new driver was friendlier… so friendly that he stopped for each and every stranger on the side of the road… at one point it was to attempt push-starting a tractor… 6 of us couldn’t do it so he applogized to the stranded group as he smoked their last cigarette and we drove off eventually picking up another 4 strays. a collectivo in curarrehue, which again stopped for any and all who needed transport (the way things go in such a remote localle), got me back to pucón for the night.
in pucón the woman at the hospedaje was surprised to find that i was american because i spoke spanish.
but i don’t speak spanish that well.
i know, she said in english, but you really tried…
pucón is a charming enough resort town set upon a lake, but chilean tourists are as annoying as the american flavor and there were many of those as well, me included i suppose… i like to believe i’m not one of THEM…
back in temuco the next day i relaxed, did laundry, internetted, bought a ticket to bariloche, argentina for my next trek: the nahuel huapi traverse… started reading bruce chatwin’s In Patagonia… i know, such an obvious and dorky thing to do, but having regional context makes the book so much more alluring… i don’t think i could ever have enjoyed it so much without the experiential context…
enough
thats if for now
shall post the next bit within a few days
those with knowledge of the special “button” can access my most amusing annecdote yet… you know where to click…