Daily Archives: 24 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…