Sunday, March 20, 2011

Patagonian road trip

Well well, how plans change. You know great idea I had to 'walk into Chile', hike up some volcanoes, wander my way north and back to Bariloche? Hmm... didn't quite happen. Instead, now a month later, I've not set foot in Chile, only seen some volcanoes receding into the horizon and instead had a great time wandering through back roads around glassy lakes, soaking in mud and hot springs, staring out into endless desert landscapes and picnicking in dusty oasis towns. But... to backtrack...

The chocolate to celebrate being in Bariloche turned out to be a rather nice ale with Max – who I had met back in Parque Nacional Los Alerces. Beer turned into plans for doing the Nahuel Haupi Traverse – a 4 day trek just west of Bariloche, and then to add to the mix, I heard from Julia – a fellow Antarctican traveller, who was arriving in town the next day and was interested to do some hiking. So, while keep energy levels up with chocolate and the BEST icecream on earth – Jauja – you've got to try lemon pie (literally like a lemon cheesecake), tiramisu (seriously with actual tiramisu in it) and chocolate profundo (the darkest most delish chocolate), dulce de leche (plain or with nuts or brownies), coco, banana – ok ok, going on a bit but if you could just taste it....and lest I forget, very very tasty choripan (chorizo sausage in bread), Max and I whiled away a couple of days camping and climbing and preparing for the trek. The traverse itself was actually really quite a nice surprise – after all the trekking down south in wind and rain, the varied terrain, sweeping views of lakes, various mountains was all done pretty much in sunshine, and even with the slight detour we did off the trek (yes a wrong turn along a ridge), the now 5 day trek was I think one of the more relaxed and enjoyable treks so far. Pics from the trek.

Tucking into choripan in Bariloche! yum

Heading up to Frey

Intrepid trekkers -me, Julia and Max
During post trek steak, biscuit and coffee indulgences a new plan was hatched... Max was on his way back north – after spending a year and a half driving from Montreal down to Ushuaia, he was making tracks back home to Canada – and so I decided to change pace and play passenger.

It was fantastic – instead of the nose against the bus window / snooze to the next city, we crunched our way along gravel roads, found hidden camping spots alongside pristine lakes, soaked in hot springs (well one was a volcanic mud pool), sampled the local chorizo and empanadas, ate copious amounts of Frutigran biscuits, listened (for me the first time) to some crazy Quebec folk twang, battled truckers tan, camped up high in the mountains and down in the quarry, drove through canyons, snacked on sneaky pehuen pine nuts, drove slow around potholes, zoomed along the asphalt and when it all just got too much, chilled out for a couple of days to recharge. I'm very thankful to Max for letting me come along for the ride – I was definitely able to see a different kind of Argentina, get off the tourist road and just travel at a different speed. Some pics are below - but there's more with some of my bad captions also.

At the hot springs at Lago Queni

Morning mist at Lago Quillen

Max cooking up a parilla storm!

Ancient Pehuen trees
Max at the mud thermals at Copahue

At Canon Atuel
Another great thing was being able to more of how Argentinian families spend time together – and although their choice of places (alongside a freeway?!) didn't always seem the most inspiring, on many days we'd pass families out together clustered around a table or asado (grill) , looking settled to stay there in the sinking sun just chatting and drinking mate.

Also, the level of curiosity of other drivers and people in the towns when seeing the car – usually flagged by a driver peering over his steering wheel trying to decipher the Quebec plates – was funny to see. Well for me I think Max's impersonation of them was even more entertaining. We wound our way from Bariloche, through the Argentinian lakes district, then up through Parque National Lanin and a bit further into the more arid landscapes around Chos Malal and up north of Mendoza through Valle Calingasta to Rodeo.

So after about 3 weeks travelling together, Max has zoomed off and is probably already in Peru, and I spent some days in San Juan and am now in Mendoza. It's definitely odd being back in the old mode of travel, I'm missing being able to take off and explore different places, and now more than ever I'm thinking about how I could either cycle or drive more of the trip. One of the most inspiring campsite conversations we had with another traveller was with a Dutch guy who was cycling – the way he talked about the Patagonian winds, how they changed and worked with his body while cycling along the Pampa, then up towards a pass and then shifted again coming back down; he shared a beautiful balance and respect for nature that so often we succumb to just rattling on about without any real understanding. Even me with my, the wind and rain blah blah, the way he spoke about how he interacted with the elements was utterly inspiring. Not quite ready to trade in my backpack for paniers, but... you never know....

San Juan was my first city since leaving Buenos Aires – and Mendoza is even bigger; I'm not sure how I feel about being back in a speedier pace of life, and I'm actually craving being back out in nature. I have though drank a lot of fantastic wine here – both Mendoza and San Juan are major wine regions, and in San Juan I was lucky to have a go at picking grapes at harvest (cabernet sauvingon and bonarda – beautiful little buds of sticky sweetness).

I'm here for a week of wineries, baths and eating – Dana who I met in Antarctica is coming over from Uruguay where she lives and we are going to hit the town! After that, the plan at this stage is to do perhaps a 6 day trek in Cordon del Plata (which has a number of 4000-6000m peaks), then head across for some beach time to Valparaiso in Chile. Then, um, I don't know – north? Or the original plan of working more in the harvest... but surprise surprise – work? Am I ready? Actually I probably am but am desperate to get out into the mountains again to recharge so we shall see.

Ciao chicos! Susanxo