I find myself back in Bariloche, deciding how to spend my remaining… let’s see….18 days. Eighteen days!!! Unbelievable!
After spending the better part of January using cozy, laid-back El BolsÃ³n as a base and exploring the surrounding mountains, Bariloche seems big. Too big and touristy. Funny. After all the time spent in BsAs, Bariloche was a peaceful retreat. Given, it was late Nov./early Dec. when there were far fewer tourists, but it just seems too much now. It’s been nice reconnecting with my friends here and meeting up with friends made in El BolsÃ³n. And tonight my musician pals are going to play. I could use a good dose of funk! It will be nice to get my hands on a bass for a spell as well.
My last night in El BolsÃ³n reinforced my fondness for the place and it’s people. There’s a place called AzÃºcar, which is a bar/music venue. I had dropped in there my first night in El BolsÃ³n and met the owner and his sons who both play guitar. The owner is a carpenter, and built the place himself and it’s really beautiful…nice woodwork. He builds furniture in his adjacent shop. Anyway, that last night I was walking past and heard some good music pumping in there. I went on in to investigate, and there wasn’t a soul to be found. The owner appeared from the back and I asked what was going on. He said they were closed, but then gestured for me to come into the back room. I followed him to find a table full of food, wine and about eight festive people. He offered me a seat, a glass of wine, and a plate of food. Here I was, a foreign guy who he had met only one time before, and I was welcomed as part of the family. I spent a few hours with them, getting a good workout of my Spanish skills. After eating, we went to the stage, plugged in instruments, and played for quite a while. What fantastic people!
I arrived here in Bariloche Friday night and chilled out a couple of days in Kiwilandia, hanging out with Matt and Ruth. The bed and the 10:00 movies on cable were luxurious after spending so much time in my tent. I needed it! Sunday morning at 8:30, the three of us set out for Pampa Linda (a three hour van ride) to hike up to Refugio Otto Meiling just below the summit of Monte Tronador, the highest peak in the region at 3470 meters. It was a pretty grueling hike that lay ahead; 18K to the shelter with an altitude gain of 1500 meters or so.
What a hike! Tronador is capped with glaciers that issue a number of waterfalls of 1000 feet or so down a vertical cliff face. Above are the twin peaks of the summit, that mark the border with Chile. After climbing for about four hours, waging constant war with the countless pesty TÃ¡banos (local horseflies from hell), I emerged above tree line onto a rocky ridge of lava rock, looking right into the chasm below the glacier with it’s many cascades. I looked up to see a Condor in flight. I stopped to absorb it all, and soon there were half a dozen Condors riding the air currents. I got a really close-up look at a couple of them, one with a wing span about as big as mine. Definitely the largest bird I have ever seen in flight. To see such a big and bulky animal flying so gracefully was truly incredible. The sight of these animals in this amazing setting was awe-inspiring. I found myself laughing aloud, and had a split-second urge to just take to the air, feeling for a moment as if I actually was capable of flight.
The hike continued to ascend the ridge to the refugio, which is perched on the rocks above the year round snow line between two of the glaciers. Quite a location! It sits at 2200 meters. The peaks looked so close, but logic said they were not, as the summit is another 1300 meters in elevation. Truly massive! To continue on requires mountaineering gear, so the refugio was as far as we went. It was incredible to actually walk out onto the glacier CastaÃ±o Overo. We spent the night up there, and at sunset I sat and watched a lightening storm over the distant mountains to the north. The sheer scale of the vista induced vertigo at times. In the morning, we made a little breakfast of oatmeal with my camp stove (actually, MatÃas’ camp stove…mil gracias chabon!), passed the mate a while, walked around in the snowfields in the 75Âº sunshine, then began the long decent down. As we viewed the cascades while descending the ridge, they were gleaming with rainbow colors in the morning light. Really beautiful. On our way, we experienced what gave Tronador it’s name (Thunderer). Sure enough, we heard a couple of rounds of the thundering sound of massive chunks of ice falling from the glacier 1000 feet into the chasm below. Down at the river, we took the 45 minute detour to the base of the cliffs and waterfalls. As I exited the trees to reveal the glacier and cliffs, I saw a piece of ice the size of a car plummet to the ground, the sound coming five or six seconds later due to the distance. Thunder! WOW!
We made it back to Pampa Linda with 1/2 hour to spare, which we spent soaking our feet in the ice-cold river and passing a liter of beer.Two days and 40 K of difficult hiking and TÃ¡bano killing (Matt chalked up 76 kills), and it was back to Bariloche to wolf down a cheeseburger, take a hot shower and sleep like a stone.
Since then, the weather’s been pretty cold, wet, and windy. Yesterday I awoke to see a fresh coat of snow on the mountains. Snowing back home in NH… snowing here in late summer. I’ve been spending time with friends from El BolsÃ³n. Andrew is a World-traveled Londoner with some amazing experiences under his belt and countless stories to tell. Joss is an Aussie on an around the world adventure who found herself lured into the charm of El BolsÃ³n for six entire weeks. Her and I have been crossing paths continually…on the tops of mountains, in Internet joints, at parties, on the street, and now in Bariloche. We seem to march to the same rhythm. We just discovered that we share the same birthday, so I suppose we’re just July 2 types. The two of us did a bit of bowling last night, which was a riot.
DavÃd, the singer of the funky band is going down to El BolsÃ³n for the weekend to try to drum up some gigs. I can help him, as my friend at AzÃºcar told me he’d like to meet the band. Anyway, we’ll be staying on the family’s farm with DavÃd’s grandmother, and there was talk of doing some horseback riding. Sounds great! So it’ll be one last fix of El BolsÃ³n.
Matt and Ruth are going to make their way back to BsAs starting Wednesday, with a visit to the Atlantic coast before hitting the city. So I’m deciding what to do. I may ride all the way back with them and get in a little beach time. Or I may go as far as NeuquÃ©n (the provincial capital here), then take a bus up to Mendoza to check out the area which is just under the highest peaks of the Andean Cordillera. It is a reputably beautiful city of about a million people, it’s the wine capital of Argentina, and it’s currently sunny and in the 80’s. But my newest whim…and this is where I’m leaning…is to head up to a little mountain town in TucumÃ¡n province called TafÃ del Valle, which was highly recommended by an Argy friend in El BolsÃ³n. Andrew’s on his way there, Joss won’t be far behind, and now I’m drawn there as well. I’ve got until Wednesday to make up my mind. No matter which path I choose, I’m in for some long-distance traveling across this massive country and, on March 5, back to the opposite end of the Americas to what is now a New Hampshire buried in snow. Looks like I might get in some late season skiing!
So that’s the latest chapter in my Argentinian saga. With so little time left, I’m going to try to maximize my experience. It will be good to see my friends in BsAs another time and, though I don’t feel ready to leave, it will be great to see everyone up in the North Woods and discover what’s changed in my year long absence. I hope all of you are doing great. Until next time…
Besos y abrazos,