Monday, December 26, 2005

Patagonia II: Eight lakes, One day and what a terrifying experience at the end!


Taking a private car to see the fabulous 7 lakes around Bariloche was one experience I would never forget: Great blue lakes, forests and rivers and also one ALMOST deadly curve…

Lakes, Forests and one waterfall
Friday morning me and Lee were already in the rent car agency, only five minutes after the agency unlock their doors. The skies looked great and I was looking forward to see one of the best attractions of the area.
In the office I gave the representative my credit card and they vouchered it in case of damage and when Maya and Barak came we all went down to see the car and check it was without damage (and if it had, to mark it on the agreement sheet). It was a white 3-doors new Gol, 1.6 liters, manual gear. No one had complaints about the car class – we didn’t need anything more than that. After checking all is OK I went into the driver I reversed out of the parking lot and we were on our way out of Bariloche.
Bariloche, and the 7 lakes in this case, is situated in the Lake District area that both Argentina and Chile share. This area is overloaded with lakes among the mountain ranges and the forests which make this area one of the most beautiful in Argentina, and the 7 lake circuit is regarded as a MUST in this area.
Our plan was to do one leg of the route almost all the way up north to San Martin and then taking the eastern leg down south back to Bariloche. Only, as I said so many times, plans aside and reality aside…
The first lake we saw was the Nahuelhuapi lake, which Bariloche rests on its shores and as we rode on it`s eastern coast we missed the first turn toward Villa La Angostura, a small town north-west of Bariloche. We looked at the map and decided to do it the opposite and continued on riding north on the asphalt road, looking at nature at its best (mountain ranges, the Limay river, birds, horses etc) at this northern boundary of the Patagonian range. As we were so occupied on looking on the nature outside our windshield than on the map, we missed the second turn in the road and started to head east till we noticed our error only 20 minutes after turn. Damn! I did a U turn and returned to the dirt road that went westward toward the lake Traful and the little village of Traful.
Once I was on the dirt road I drove very slowly so not to harm the vehicle, as the last thing we wanted was to pay more for what we already paid…The only disc we had already started from the top and after scanning the radio to find some decent radio station (and receiving only white noise) we shut it down and focused on enjoying the backcountry vista. We drove like that when Rio Traful accompany us until I saw that the road broke abruptly with a ditch through a stream pass through. We climbed out of the car and after examining the road we saw an alternative path that we could pass, even with our low manoeuvrability car. But, rethinking it through, we guessed that it would be better to take another route that we saw marked on the map and guessed that it was better. As we came back to the car and performed yet another U turn we saw another private car coming to a stop EXACTLY where we stopped. A European couple came out of the car and as they saw my shirt they started to talk with me in German…Why? Well, Chris gave me a present when he came back from Germany, a sleeveless dark red shirt with SCHNITZEL written on it). Well, that was Very funny, as I explained them that I am not actually German (though Maya knows the language quite good) but I told them that we decide to take an alternative route coz it doesn’t look too promising. The German guy nodded, said OK, and went to check how he will pass it. I shrugged, climbed the car and we all drove back to the main road only to cross the Rio Traful and take another dirt road which was more easy to drive and a bit flatter. We continue on driving for some time till we suddenly came to the scout point over the beautiful Traful Lake. The wind at that scout point was a strong one and after a quick shooting session, we all came back to the car and continued on with the driving till we got to little Traful, which sits on the Lake of Traful and consists mostly of romantic cabins overlooking the lake and the forested mountains that surrounds the whole lake and area. SO BEAUTIFUL! At that point we were debating if to wait we the lunch or to purchase some groceries and do some picnic on the way (the whole area shouts “CAMP, CAMP!!!”). At the end we decided that better to eat here beside the lake, and after purchasing some bred, cheese, ham (for me) and vegetables (plus quarter kilo of cherries!) we continued on our way passing through the thick forest till we found a nice camp area to stop by. The scenery was just magical (they should rename the place to “The Magical 7 lakes” and aside from a freezing wind that blew from the mountain toward us, it was a perfect place to chill out and have a nice lunch.
Wrapping our lunch, we drove on the dirt road, passing through the beautiful forest and stopping here and there to take pictures (A LOT OF PICTURES!). As it happens more than often, we found the road lengthier than we imagined and we found ourselves meeting with the main dirt road that leads to San Martin only around 3 PM…Shit, nobody said it would take SO much time! We continued on north, aiming to see one specific lake that on the way to Bariloche was clear and reflecting as a mirror and I wanted to capture it desperately. At a certain point we saw a scout point with numerous cars and people taking pictures, but from the car we didn’t see anything special…We continued on north until finally we connected with the Asphalt road (FINALLY!). We got to the lake we so much wanted to see only to grip that the wind and the lighting direction eliminated any residues of a reflection and with little disappointment I performed a U turn back to Bariloche. It was getting late and we had a LONG way back. Along all the way and especially now everyone asked if I want to be replaced but I said I am OK and I can drive more (something which was of course not truly 100% true, and the only motive for this foolish stubbornness was that I didn’t want to bother them also…a mistake that I learned later).
All the way back was dotted on both sides with blooming TURMUSIM in various colors: pink, purple, white and also mixed with another yellowish bush. The combination of a line of so many colours was so stunning that we stopped at a certain point and snapped so many pictures, enjoying the blooming of the flowers, the snow capped mountain ranges and the green in the eyes. Absolutely lovely!
While we continued driving back we saw the scouting point that we passed and decided to check why everyone were stopping there. Me and Maya climbed outside only to find a gorgeous waterfall (The Vullinaco Waterfall) that crashes in a splendour of spray and jutting rocks among forested banks. I run back to take my camera and to call the rest but Lee and Barak were not to enthusiastic about it and eventually after snapping several pictures me and Maya returned to the car to continue with our journey back.

A heart pounding turn…
In contrast to the last time I drove a car (2 months ago), this time I drove on the highways at a moderate pace, taking it slowly and enjoying the view, especially because I realize that I am responsible not only for my life, but especially for another three dear lives.
We were already on the paved road, not far from Villa La Angostura, when the road started to curve up and to the left and to the right. Me and Barak, that was sitted in the back seat, talked about stopping for a good lookout to take some pictures of the nearby lake (probably Lake Espejo, the mirror lake). As I was entering a right climbing curve Barak noticed a stopping and scouting point on our right and said: “Oh, you must mean a point like this, right?” At that point I was in the middle of the curve and noticed that the curve turn back to the left in the middle of the climb and I took my attention from the road and looked for a half second at the point Barak was talking about only to return my look and to find myself in a VERY tricky situation. Suddenly, the curve finished faster than I expected and afterwards started the dirt court of the scout point and beyond it – the cliff and the lake.
As it happened to me in the past in similar situations, my instincts were the only one that took control over the situation, i.e., breaking the stirring wheel hard back into the curve and the asphalt road. Luckily (or not, no one really can tell) I didn’t break but just kept the stirring wheel to the left, letting the car to swing it’s ass toward the road in a rubber screeching sound without any real control. Once I realized that the car skids it`s rear toward the outer part of the road and the front toward the rocky wall and the opposite driving direction, I broke the wheel to the right, breaking the skidding only to generate an opposite skidding effect which ended with the car opposing the scouting point and we are dead centred on the road in the midst of the curve, engine shut off. I have no recollection of what was said in the car while all this lose of control happened, if anybody managed to say anything aloud. I was too frozen and too occupied of taking back control of a control less situation that I didn’t really noticed anything else.
Quietly and calmly Barak said from behind: “OK, enough driving for you, take us out of this curve quickly before someone will ram into us”. Hearing his voice, I snapped from my shock, started the engine and gently as possible drove the car into the little scouting point.

Thoughts and Ice Cream on our way back to Bariloche
Shaking, I got out of the car. I blew a quiet long relief as I realized HOW lucky we were to actually stand there, at that amazing scouting place, alive and unharmed when the only proof of what just happened five seconds ago was the black tire prints in the middle of the road. At the same time, we could have been less fortunate and rammed by another passing car, tossed toward the cliff and into oblivion…And maybe the most amazing surrealistic thing of it all, maybe that little thing that distinguish us Israelis from other people, was the fact that ALL of us took our cameras and started taking pictures of this calm place, like nothing did happened just five seconds ago! The mechanism of repression at its best. Maybe I am wrong; maybe most people would have acted the same way. And maybe not.
Not that I was tranquil and at ease afterwards. I sat there on a stone, looking at the lake from above the cliff, feeling the weight of responsibility sitting on me mixed with the bitter feeling of disappointment of my self. And to think that 90 percent of the way thus far I drove relaxed, in control and not fast, only to glitch at one dangerous curve, that only sheer luck parted us from numerous worse scenarios. And even bitterer was the reminder of my conversation with Lee that morning, only less than 10 hours before, about her not liking people’s tendency not to give 100% of their attention to the road and to the cars that drive on them.
“Well, actually I am one of them, so maybe I better not take the stirring wheel…” I replied in a half smile, not knowing that that saying will hit me back smack in the gut.
I noticed the shock on Lee’s face and felt how the weight of responsibility is getting heavier as I felt that her safety is in my hand, and how I disappointed her. I felt that her security is part of my responsibility, and here, I, not another, got her into a dangerous situation. I felt shit. The only thing I managed to say to her was that she was right about what she said that morning.
Maya and Barak, on the other hand, were more at ease with this experience and tried to cheer me up and take off part of the responsibility I felt about all this (“Hey man, you were driving constantly for almost 7 hours, we should have switched with you no matter what you said!”). It didn’t help too much, though I appreciated the motive behind it. I am sure they were not totally at ease with it, but somehow they took it as something that happens and we are just one hell of lucky bastards to survive this. And the irony! The irony that specifically at that marvellous place, at that magical place that you can appreciate the beauty and fragility of life that we almost came to our dread.
We all got into the car, this time me and Lee at the back seat and we drove the 10 minutes before we came to Villa La Angostura and we stopped there for a coffee and Ice Cream. As well as all of them tried to shake the experience out of me, they didn’t managed and my thoughts and also my speech bounced again and again to the same bad experience like a squash ball hitting the wall and the bat. At a certain point, while we rode back to Bariloche when the setting sun accompanies us, we managed to talk about family, feelings and the things that lie in between.
We entered Bariloche around 9 PM and after dropping Lee that rushed to the toiletes, we parked the car near the hostel and talked about meeting later for dinner.
Coming to the room, I found Lee tired and unhungry so after talking lengthy with her about the passing day and, of course, about the almost accident, I left to meet with Barak and Maya to have some meals before going to sleep…

Saturday, December 24, 2005

Patagonia I: When San Martin (de Los Andes) and (San Carlos de) Bariloche meet!


Following Maya and Barak, me and Lee went on the bus to San Martin, a little and charming town sitting on Lago Lacar between mountain ranges and forests. The sweet little town left us with a taste for more when the next day we took the 11 am bus to Bariloche, the peak of Patagonia as the commercial states

A costly “loo”
Waking up early the next day, I went quickly to find a bus that goes to Bariloche as I heard from a lot of people that it is very hard to find space on buses that goes to Bariloche now that it Christmas is near. There are two common paths to go to Bariloche, one through Osorno situated at the middle of Chile while the other is through San Martin de Los Andes in Argnentina. The later is said to be a stunning road and is better than the Chilean one, so we obviously took the recommended path. Two agencies fare this route and I entered the closest and was happy to hear they have a bus for the next morning (we were told that we need to reserve a place couple of days ahead…) and without too much hesitation booked the two of us place for the next day 11 am bus. We had some arrangements and we wanted to chill-out on the lake shores after the long climb and eventually after doing and walking all around the place, we finally managed to rest by the lake with couple of bears only at evening time. There we met with Nir, a guy Lee met already in San Pedro de Atacama and was looking for partners for the Caratera Austral. Due to the fact that we were to meet with Maya and Barak in Bariloche (and thought about maybe do it with them) I declined politely. In the mean time, Nir decided to work several days in his hostel till he gathers enough people to travel with to the adventurous Carratera Austral road.
Relaxing on the shores of Lago Villarica, Lee suddenly had the urge to go to the bathroom (“the loo” as the brits say) for a quick one and we started our way back to the center of town. Only, it didn’t take to much time for me to realize she needs to find a place NOW, and we half walked fast looking for a place before she is gonna have an accident. It was clear that she wont make it dry to the hostel, which is on the other side of town so we had to find an alternative. We passed by a police station and I offered her to get inside (now, what kind of a though policemen would say no to such a plea from a nice and about-to-pee sweet girl??) but Lee thinking about the FADIHA of being in such a position decided to find another place…So, we kept on going till I noticed a café on the other side corner (a classic place for a quick run to the toilettes) and Lee, without even pondering about the issue or the place, nodded and dashed across the street and with me on her heels. Stopping short of the entrance, she switched without cracking the gear from a fast run to a tranquil walk on the beach (I almost cracked up a laugh when I saw that change in her movement) and elegantly we entered the café which was mostly empty (and soon you will understand why). The waiter greeted us and even though she was on the verge of loosing control, Lee asked patiently where are the bathrooms. The guy mumbeled some left and right and before I knew it Lee was already half dashing half walking giving me her backpack, which clinks of empty beer bottles spread from it to the whole café hall.
While I was going through the hall I noticed that we could not have chosen a pricer café, with full wood furniture, classic music in the background, and saliva generating tortas in a state of the art fridge’s. And the only thing I thought about when I approached one of the tables was “THIS IS GONNA ONE PRICY PEEING…”. As I was doing my steps on the parquet floor, Lee was doing hers into the bathroom and quickly realized the same thing, as the light clicked open without her touch and the decoration and chrome shining tap brightened her gaze. When I was sitting and going through the menu, trying to guess how much a café con leche (coffee with milk) would cost us, Lee already was guessing the same while she was doing what she had to do.
When I saw her coming out with a bright smile, I mistakenly though it was a smile of relief when it was actually a smile of: “THIS IS GONNA ONE PRICY PEEING …”. She didn’t know what I saw in the menu, so when I told her that a coffee will cost us more than 2 USD (a lot in South America), she giggeled a bit and said that there must be something cheaper. I already accepted the fact that we gonna pay something dearly (the hell with it, I though, at least we gonna have a classy coffee). And then Lee brightened and said:” here, there is something that costs less than a dollar!”
Without even looking at the menu I already knew what she is looking at and I replied with half a smile: “Lee, this is butter, what exactly can we do with butter??” Lee blurted an “Ah!” and then rethinking I replied to her:”Yeah, I guess we can buy it and use it to smooth out our exit of this joint!” We both laughed so much the waiter thought we were two drunken muchileros that mistakenly found themselves in the most expensive café in Pucon. He was even more astonished to our puzzled gaze at the menu, thinking and rethinking what we should take when we don’t have too much to spend on REAL food as he didn’t see us enter and ask for the toilettes. Finally, we decided to go “big time” and order the Torta de Chocolate, which was superb even if costing over 3 USD…This is one Torta de Chocolate we would not forget so easily I can tell you that!

All things happen for the best – San Martin de Los Andes
So, the next day we woke up early so we could get organized before our departure to Argentina. The weather got worse in night and the wind blew cold and strong. Villarica was covered with low grey clouds and the feeling of winter came back after three days of sun and warm weather. I wanted to buy a road map of Chile at Gideon’s place but it was packed with Israelis so I decided to skip it and try to buy this map in another place. We walked fast back to the hostel as time passed and managed to come to the bus agency exactly on time (though the bus was being late). While waiting for the bus we met an Israeli couple which is traveling in Argentina after living in Israel for the past 30 years. We talked with them a bit before we saw Nir coming up with his bike, looking for Israelis as part of his job in the hostel. I asked him if he has the Chile map and if I can buy from him the map and he will buy another map later. He said he got to fetch from his hostel and he will do his best to come back in time before the bus comes. And, as the bus came and we uploaded the bags we saw him paddle up to us in the nick of time! We switched the map with the money and with saying goodbye I boarded the bus.
The way to San Martin passed near lakes and forests, all green and inviting. After some time we came to the Chilean border crossing and quickly were given the stamp-out and returned to the bus. While waiting we saw a heavy motorcycle coming to a stop near us and I think the WHOLE bus was looking with envy at it: a grey big touring motorcycle, most probably a BMW fully equipped with two elderly polish couple boarding it off. As I looked at the boxes on the motorcycle I noticed that they are doing a world-wide tour starting from Poland, through Africa, Asia, South East Asia and South America – the list of countries they visit in their tour was impressive and I could hear the whole bus talking about that “attraction”…
We continued on driving for 5 minutes till we got to the Argentinean border crossing and there we got stuck for an hour and a half! Damn, those Argentinean are SO slow…While we were waiting we talked with the elderly couple and learned that he is doctor that came to Argentina as part of work and she works as a lawyer – the ideal polish mom combination, isn’t it??
Finally we were stamped and climbed the bus to continue to San Martin which we arrived around 4 PM and found out that there are no more busses that leave to Bariloche that day and we had to stay in San Martin. The couple told us about their Israeli hostel (Nahum) so we came after them and lodged in one house with two Israeli guys and an Israeli nice couple: Shaul and Hauvi. The two decided to quite their job and to fly to the US to work there for couple of years before returning back to Israel. Before starting their work, they wanted to absorb some of the South American atmosphere. For Shaul this is his second time in South America and after talking with him Lee realized that one of the family friends were at the same time and they might have met in the past…Small world indeed!
We went back to town to take some pesos out of the machine as well as buying the ticket for the next day bus to Bariloche, as well as buying some food for dinner and breakfast. While going back to the hostel we realized that this is indeed a town we could stay easily for atleast two nights more. This town looks like Interlaken (as Lee and another guy told me), with wooden cabins and shops with the forested mountain in the background and a tranquil lake situated close to the center of town. A really chill-out town with pleasant atmosphere. But I was eager to catch up with Maya and Barak which were in Bariloche after they themselves “got stuck” in San Martin. The hostel itself was very homey and inviting with a bit sarcastic and cynical owner, Itisik. The next morning we met him at the street and Lee asked if she can get his card and he replied in a semi smile: “I give my credit card only after marriage…”
We were quite busy that morning because Lee decided, finally, to buy a decent and fitting backpack after she broke her back for the past 9 months. We scrutinized the numerous outdoor shops and finally found one backpack which was at the right volume, was fit and the most important thing – Lee liked its colors!!
But, in order that Lee will be sure it is fitting her well, we needed some weight to put into it – what can be better than her own stuff? So, we told the vendors we are gonna come back in 10 minutes, took a taxi and went back to the hostel. We took all our stuff and drove back to the store and to the amazed faces of the vendors, we transferred all the contents from one backpack to another, and then Lee shouldered it and walk with it. I helped as best I could to fit it well to her back and physical dimensions and overall she felt it was comfortable. I had only one thing that I didn’t like about that backpack (the fitting system in my opinion is far from being ideal) but as I felt that she felt good with it and it was comfortable for her, it is a small price to pay for all the other advantages.
We quickly walked back to the bus station (good test for the fitting of the backpack) and boarded the bus to Bariloche.

Bariloche, The peak of Patagonia?
The bus to Bariloche usually passes through part of the 7 lakes circuit so we had some good views of some of the best vistas in South America (one lake was so clear and calm, that the mountains and clouds reflected on the face of the water like they were a giant clear mirror). Yellowish bushes and blue TURMUSIM were dotting the whole road and were a good setting to the whole atmosphere of nature at peak of its bloom. A good chunk of the road is a dirt road so the ride was relatively slow so after 4 hours we came finally to Bariloche bus station that is situated outside town. Getting out of the bus station, Lee’s first remark was that she feels a different Bariloche, now that it is warm and sunny. I looked forward to see the city and we quickly climbed the first taxi we saw and drove to La Ciervo Rojo (The Red Deer), an Israeli hotel not far from the center of town. Checking into a two bedroom cost us dearly, 30 pesos (10 USD), some 50% more expensive than the last time Lee was there (May, the “dead” season between the hiking season and skiing season) and she was surprised for the high price. Explaining the receptionist that this is her second visit didn’t convince anyone to give us a discount so we settled with that. Earlier we got an email from Maya and Barak that told us they might check in so I asked if they are there and the receptionist told me they tried to look for a place but the whole place was sold out and they had to look for another place…We went outside to look for an internet and check the email. We found out they are staying in the flamingo and that they reserved a place for us too in a 4 bedroom dormitory. Now that we did check in it was not appropriate to leave unless we pay for half a night so after talking with the flamingo’s receptionist we decided to stay in the Red Deer till we leave Bariloche. We met with Maya and Barak five minutes later and guess what – they have a flight from Ushuaia to Buenos Aires only on the 10th of January which means they have time to do the Carratera! I was very happy because I was not sure Lee would join me when it was only the two of us to bear the weight of the prices. We went outside to the main plaza where good view of the lake and one giant San Bernard kept us busy.
After walking and talking we got into the Touristica café/chocolate shop and had some nice coffee and cheese cake. We decided that we will first look for cars in Yankale’s tourist agency that most Israelis do the area attractions through (Yankale is also the owner of the Red Deer, btw) and try to find a good price for 7-8 days touring the Carratera. Going to the agency, we found it fully packed with Israelis and there was no chance to reach the representatives so we skipped it and instead went to have a steak in the famous Don Alberto (Called El Boliche De Alberto). This was a special day: Not only Barak was celebrating his 27th birthday but also Lee wanted to compensate me for not celebrating with me my own 28th birthday, some two months ago. So, with a good Norton red wine accompanying the whole meal, we all had our pound of meat: Me and Maya had 250 gram of reddish thick Antricot (Bife de Chorizo) while Lee ate the chicken steak (her first meat since Salta…). Barak took the full advantage of the place and went for the complete 450 gr steak, which he finished quite easily). It was a great and delicious meal!
Even so, over the meal all of us felt a bit dissapointed of Bariloche. Not that it isn`t nice, but after all the stories I heard about it, I thought I am gonna come to heaven. Well, indeed the meals were good and cheap, but thats about it. San Martin de Los Andes was much much nicer (even if a bit more touristic...). Dissapointment is THE word to described our impression of Bariloche, and as Lee said, sometimes it is best to visit places off-season. I guess that Bariloche is one of them, as the snow covers most of the ugliest buildings in the city and gives the city a nice glossy shine (as I can only imagine...)
The next day we woke up in order to find a car for the Carratera Austral tour and also for the Seven lake tour. However, after passing through several travel agencies (including Yankale) we found that none of them have a pick-up truck and those that have a 4X4 Jeep demand a high payment for the rental, a cost we can not bear. One agency offered us a Kangoo car that we could rent for 70 USD a day with an option to leave it in Comodoro Rivadavia (a little town on the Atlantic coast, south of Bariloche). As the car was available only from the 21st of December and also the location of return didn’t fit into Lee`s plans and we wanted to do this all together, we decided to put this option aside. Instead, we decided to rent a private car, a Gol (A similar South American version of the European Golf) from this agency and got prepared for the famous Seven Lake tour in the Argentinean Lake District…
After finishing with the arrangements, Maya and Barak went for horse back riding in the hills surrounding Bariloche while me and Lee went to have a good rest as we were quite exhausted...We talked about meeting again at Yankale's agency for the Carratera Austral lecture. Well, Lee was finished from tiresome (and also was not too enthusiastic about meeting all the ISRAELIYADA) and I went outside while the weather cleared after a heavy hail storm that rocked Bariloche for some 10 minutes. I met Maya and Barak in the agency, just to find out that there was no lecture that day. Maya and Barak were also not too enthusiastic about the horse riding trip, as it was too fast going instead of going slowly and enjoying the views. We went outside to have some coffee to wake up when we met with Shauli and Hauvi and after talking on the sidewalk for ten minutes we decided to find a warmer and nicer place to talk. We all got into a bar which had a live band (really nice!) and we ordered coffee and tea (!) and chatted for almost 2 hours! After that the three of us (Me, Maya and Barak) went to check out the Don Alberto Pastas, only to realize it was a TRUE disappointment! That pasta was one of the worst I had, and all of us felt it was tasteless…And with that, we decided enough is enough and went to sleep for the long day that expected us touring the 7 lakes (not knowing what the day will lead…)

Monday, December 19, 2005

Going up the volcano


Hitting Pucon after 11 hours of uncomfortable ride, we went starving to savore ourselves with delicious pizza and a good night sleep at The Monkey Puzzle. In the following days we met with Maya and Barak, good friends of mine from Israel, and approached the active cone shaped Villarica volcano, the local most famous attraction. It was bloody wet...

One monkey, One Pizza and One chill-out met in Pucon...
The bus from Valparaiso got into the station some 45 minutes before our connection ride to Pucon, a small mountain town 1000 km south of Santiago, which we decided to run all the way south to it. After eating some yugourt and sandwiches, we boarded the bus to Pucon with the rest of the travelers and locals that headed also south. We knew we have a long ride infront of us, but we didnt thought it would be SO bad, with no food served, a movie in Spanish (Mr.&Mrs. Smith, a nice movie...) and worst of worst, not too much comofrtable seats and room for the legs... In contrast, the scenery on our way south was amzaing with the snow capped Andes on our left and many green fields on our right, with superb weather and strong sun.
On the bus we met with an American couple, Mike and Orsola (I think...). Mike was just a month ago in Israel, visiting relatives and seeing most of the country, so he identified us quite quickly and we talked with them part of the journey. I have noticed another Israeli girl on board, but only when we stopped somewhere we actually talked with her. Miri, 26, traveles alone, meeting ppl on the way from here to there and boarded the bus at Talca, some half of the distance between Santiago and Pucon. She asked us if we have a name of a hostel and we told her we have but not reserved any place. She asked if she can join us and we said no problem.
Hitting Pucon, Miri and the American couple joined me and Lee to find an hostel. I went to call Brad, the owner of The Monkey Puzzle, a place I got tipped by Scott, the American guy I met in Santiago. On the other side Brad told me that he has only 4 vacant places available and that he will help find a place for the fifth person. We waited maybe 5 minutes till Brad, a red-head South African guy came looking for us and after talking with him we loaded our stuff on his Toyota Trooper Jeep. He drove through town while his little black dog was standing on his knees with its head and forelegs poping out of the window, sniffing and checking out the scene at that early evening hour.
Brad lives in a little two-floors cabin with his Chilean charming wife, and quickly we saw that there were only two dormitory beds and one double size bed in another room. Miri took it well and was off with Brad to find an alternative place to put her head down for the night. Me and Lee were hungry as hell, so after checking out the email (and getting an email from Maya and Barak that they are in Pucon and gonna climb the Villarica the next day) we went to have a great and delicious Pizza (if quite expensive…) on the main street of little Pucon and got back to our hostel. There Brad told us about a guide he knows that can arrange a small group to climb the Volcano on Monday and we could join the American couple we met on the bus. Cool! Before we went to sleep, Brad’s wife saw that Lee played on an African small drum, and asked her if she knows her way with the drum. Lee told her that she has a Jumbay in Israel, and quickly Lee found her self committed to play on Brad’s Birthday the next day night (I laughed at her that no matter where she comes she plays the drums as part of a local attraction). Lee told me that unlike the Bombo she played in Sayta ranch (see October chapters), playing a Jumbay-like drum is more difficult and she would need some serious warm up before she could actually squeeze some nice tempos out of the instrument.
Morning came and surprisingly I have saw that Maya is online on the net and we met the two that morning in an internet point on the main street as they saw my email and decided to wait for us one more day to do the Villarica together. While we talked and I bridged the gap between Lee and my two old friends from Israel, we found ourselves sitting on the black shores of Lago Villarica with the sun shines brightly and warmly and the fabulous cone shaped Villarica gives a Swiss feel to the place. As Lee, Maya and Barak said, Pucon reminds them of Interlaken in Switzerland, with the green thorn trees, the wood cabins and the snowy mountains in the far distance.
Maya and Barak came to South America pursuing a dream to see the continent, and timing could not be better: Maya finished her Masters in Biology and Barak just quit his job several months earlier.
Time passed quickly and we went to buy some groceries only to return to the lago (only in another part of town) and talked more over simple sandwiches. It was so good to meet with old friends after so much time traveling part time with strangers or people you get to know from start or on the move.
On our way back to our hostel we enlisted ourselves to the tour that Maya and Barak were enlisted too and went to do some arrangements before the climb (films, films and more films…). On our through town we passed without wanting through Gideon office, an Israeli that arranges a lot of attractions in the area and as a consequence a local bottle neck of Israeli meeting point. And who I see sitting on a bench, looking miserable? Ravid! Stopping to talk with her, I found out that she got 40 degrees fever (!) and she was feeling bad, very bad…It took maybe five minutes till Sivan got out of the office and literally jumped all over of me, hugging me and screaming “CHENUSHI!!!!” so loud that even the volcano was shaken a bit…All the Israelis were looking at us with astonishment as I crackled the request to breath couple of oxygen molecules while Sivan chocked the life out of my lungs… Efrat heard her from within the office and came to join the warm hug. They just came back from the Caratera Austral (“Nice views, company not so nice, lots of arguments” the girls told me) and where chilling out before heading down south to San Martin de Los Andes and then to Bariloche, both are on Argentinean soil. While I was talking with them I met with the three Israelis me and Lee saw in Santiago on the day we left and also more Israelis I met in Peru and on my journeys through north Argentina. Amazingly, everyone got to little Pucon and sometime I thought I am walking in a little Gallilean town…
We were in a tight schedule as we told Maya and Barak that we gonna meet them later so we said goodbye and went on our way to meet with Maya and Barak. We went to buy some groceries for the next day climb and we walked back to the lake shores to talk a bit (at that point Lee was tired and went straight back to the hostel to catch some sleep before the next day).
Coming back to the hostel I saw that the party was getting organized at the front yard, next to our room’s window and I saw already the amount of noise we gonna have that night from talking and music. Lee told me that Miri was there to tell Brad’s Happy Birthday and suggested we gonna move with her in the next door hostel as she had two spare beds. The only problem is that we gonna have to pay for another night (on top what we pay Brad) and she suggested that we might explain him the extremely problematic circumstances with the climb the next day and his party next door and maybe he could dismiss us from paying that night (high season time when many tourists looking for shelter and he doesn’t have any more beds). At first I was no so happy with this offer as I felt it is a bit unaccustomed to ask such a thing, but on the other hand I knew that there was reason behind our request. And so, we walked and talked with him and he agreed without the slightest protest. We were so happy we went to buy him a bottle of wine for his kindness and understanding, and then went quickly to fetch our stuff and move to the next hostel to have night sleep. The funny thing that I was passing through the commotion of the party (with Sivan taking in a lot of the attention, and hugging me every time I passed by…). Finally, after putting my ear plugs I got a decent sleep till morning came.

Slowly climbing up…
Waking up was a tough one that morning (at 6 am) and from the lower bunk I could Lee cracking something about her soar throat. She told me it hurts but not too bad and we hoped she didn’t got a nasty infection in her throat. As Miri was also arranging for her own climb through another agency, she managed to snap the furiouty out of Lee in one stupid sentence. Calling from the next room she blurted: “Oh, come on, go and climb the damn volcano and stop with the excuses!” eye-browing this remark and looking at Lee in surprise I could detect her furious gaze like two bursting volcano. There was a long pause and Miri poped her head into the room and asked what’s wrong but that was one too many for Lee and bearly hold herself from knocking the girl down. She explained her that unlike a lot of Israeli travelers, she doesn’t do things to impress anyone but only to satisfy her joy and pleasure of making trips. I got out of the room, leaving the two alone and when finally Miri went to the agency Lee told me she was so close to slap her for her behavior. I reassured her that we are not gonna see her, though I knew that South America is too small for Israelis, no matter how little people we are.
We got to the agency to find sleepy Maya and Barak waiting outside in the cool air and quickly we got organized with snow and ice equipment for this approach.
Even though Villarica is “only” 2848 meters ASL, it is heavily snowed from already the first 1/3 of the mountain slope, making this ascend a slow and ardorous climb to the top. Technically, it is a walk in the park, as the slope is clean and curves nicely without the need to use crampons, Ice axes or rops. The catch in the Villarica climb is only the pace – walk slowly and you would get there with a smile on your face and a good tan. Run up and you are guaranteed to pass-out half way up (unless you are in great fit).
In the office there were another two Israelis – Liran and Adi, two male-female friends that after hearing them for 5 minutes got the picture of what to expect…well, I didn’t even realized HOW much I underestimated them and their behavior (in a bad sense that is…).
As we got dressed with nylon pants and examined the equipment, the agency guy told us that if it is possible, we should use our own booths as they are more comfortable than the plastic booths used for snow and ice climbing. Lucky for most of us, our booths were adequate and only Adi needed to change booths. Now, I knew about plastic booths from Huayna Potosi Mountain in Bolivia and how “comfy” they feel so I was quite happy I didn’t need to actually wear those inquisition booths, but Adi didn’t and would know it so good that I don’t think she would ever forget it.
Sunday morning, and it was election day in Chile, so before we could ride to the mountain our mountain guide headed to the nearby to put in the note (Hurray Democracy!!) before we headed toward the white king that puffed his white smoke in a thin and short trail. The scenery was awesome as we passed through the forest underneath the mountain and saw the river bed of the last eruption (1984) Lava passing down the mountain slope. As this mountain has a “eruption cycle” of 15 years more or less, we were not too happy to be in the statistic high risk chart…Finally, after half an hour (and stopping for a five minute peeing in the CONAF office) we came finally to the lifts, the first “base” of the climb. Usually, the life are used to hop climbers to the second lift base (saving a hour and half of climb) and from there start the climb. “Lucky” for us, Election Day meant that nobody was at the sight (apart from the CONAF guy) so we had to climb that part. How lovely…(You have to bear in mind the idea we had about climbing this volcano after hearing so many stories about groups approaching it and breaking up half way up out of exhaustion…so, every meter that we didn’t have to climb counted!).
Going out of the mini van we took out the backpacks, long ice axes and our sleepy bodies to see the lovely sight from the base of the Villarica – an astonishing vista with green everywhere and the grand Villarica lake sparkling in the early morning sun. The snow that spiled from the mountain bounced the sun smack into our faces and we all quickly spread a nice layer of sun scream (our guide was white all the way up – just to think about the amount of sun scream he spread….).
The guide pointed at Adi and told her that she is the front man, thus, she will be the one who dictates the pace of the whole group (the one good thing that made our trip a walk in the park). He could not choose a better candidate, as she made only five steps toward the sloping dark brown ground when I first heard her complain on her foot and how difficult it is to walk. Poor girl, I don’t understand why she didn’t stop there and changed her shoes (she had them in the van) but fact is, she climb that 6 and half hours (!) with shoes so unfit that they have ripped the flesh, blood and shit out of her foot.
Many groups went up that day and as we walked slowly we quickly were one of the last groups to climb up. From the first ten minutes, Liron, a macho blabber who thinks he is superman or something of the sort (typically Israeli), tried to encourage the guide to walk faster but I followed by saying there is no rush – we have all day! And indeed, we walked with a good slow pace, though we had to stop many times as Adi was suffering silently and stopping to relief her sore feet (something I really appreciated as I knew that I would have whined out loud all the way up). At a certain point Liron talked with an American from another faster group and shared with him his thoughts about “how slow the group advance” and at that, Maya, without hesitating too much stated that he is more than welcomed to join the other group. Liron murmured something unimportant and that was the end of his protests toward the group pace but not the end of his protests toward suffering Adi. Talking harshly and sometime with vulgar tone he literally abused her and demanding that she would walk faster on top of her pains. The fact that he walked outside the single file we were told to walk accordingly only added to the already set picture I had of him: a complete Idiot. You can already imagine that if I write about these two persons it is because their behaviors were SO dominant the whole climb.
The walk up most of the time was easy, when the first part walking to the second lift base was mostly on soil and only the last part was through snow. Even so, the many foot paths that were left by other climbers made the snow stiff and the climb was very easy, or as Lee told me at a certain point “easy as climbing stairs”. We stopped for 10 minutes at that second base for food and drink and then continue walking in a single file and with our ice axes in our hands to prevent gliding or falling down. As this was the easiest climb I have ever done in this trip, I had more time and felt better to enjoy the great landscape that spread underneath us, when forests, lakes, hills and mountains served as the “main dish” of this vista. Far away to the north, beyond the low clouds we could see clearly the Llaima volcano and the rest of the snowy Andes range. The weather was great and most of the time we walked with a thin shirt as there was almost no wind.
As we continued on walking very slowly I suddenly felt that my feet toes I starting to get cold and hurt as my boots water resistance probably failed after walking through so much snow and got the socks wet (I can not really be sure about that because when I finally took off the shoes at the end of this excursion all my legs were wet…).
The tricky part of almost every climb to the top is the feeling that you are closer to the top than you actually are, and the Villarica approach was not different in this aspect. When we were feeling that here, we gonna finally come to the top and to the end of the climb (after 6 hours already!) we saw that the actual peak, which white smoke rose from it, is another 30 minutes from us. Poor Adi she was ready to throw it all and sits there but the guide took her by his hand and pulled as all the way up, while the wind started to build and made the climb both colder and harder. In parallel, the last part was steeper and the air got thinner (close to 2800 meters ASL) and I could feel that it was hard to breath.
When we finally approached the last ascend, we saw one of the group skiing or snowboarding the way down in a marvel and we all stop the climb to take pictures and enjoy the sight. The ones that know their way with these sports wished they had gone with couple of skates or a snowboard (though the climb would have been much more difficult). We also saw the more conventional way to go down – on the ass! Only, we saw so many tumble down that we felt that we might want to go down the safer way, i.e., on our feet. At one instance I suggested that I would stop there and take the group pictures when they slide down and Lee asked me half laughing “Ha, you smart ass, you don’t want to slide down so you make up an excuse to stop there, don’t you?! Maybe we can switch and I will take the photos!” Well, that was not my intention, but I laughed at her thought in any case. You have to remember that several days before going up the volcano we heard several stories about people that went down sliding and managed to get their Ice axe stuck into their bodies (stomach, groin and the like!) so we were quite worried about this part of the trip.
Reaching the top, happy and smiling, we walked on the already feet-trenched snow that covered the rim of the volcano mouth, while the roar of the lava and smoke down underneath us making “whoosh” sounds as they met with the cold air. We stopped there to enjoy the panaromic view, to walk to one side of the volcano mouth in order to see some lava eruptions (which we didn’t as the volcano was tranquil that day – maybe it was also occupied with the Election day…) and to rest a bit before the REAL fun part – going down!

…and then sliding down!!!
The guide showed us the appropriate way to slide and to hold the ice axe so on the one hand it would be safe and on the other it will serve as a simple brake. We were not to happy about that, and even asked if we can attach the Ice axe to our backpacks but the guide told us it is imperative to use the axe in order to maintain a reasonable speed and not to over speed and loose control going down.
Approaching the first descent, I agreed to be the first to “test” the already formed sliding path that many asses and backs formed in the past two hours. I sat down on the ice, tightening my legs together and holding the Ice axe with both hands at my left. I didn’t need to push my self to much in order to start sliding and gaining speed, Yahooing almost all the way, as I slide, my ass get colder from the freezing snow and get bumps from the humps of snow that were formed on the way, and snow flakes fly all over me that I almost didn’t see where the hell I was sliding to. IT WAS SO MUCH FUN!! And it was only the start! The rest of the gang went down and managed to snap their pictures going down. When everyone were down, our guide led us to the next slide path, while poor Adi suffers even more now that she was sinking knee deep in soft and virgin snow, and the guide had to pull her. The next slide was a fast and long one, so we did it in two parties: the girls with the guide and the three of us alone. It was so fast and such a fun! All the way down I kept a five meter or so distance from Barak that was the head man and at a certain point his water bottle freed itself from the backpack side pocket and started to slide also between the two of us till at one point it stopped and crashed into it and bounced it further into the sliding path until we all got down to the stopping point. Getting up and looking behind me, I could see the peak above me, and the whole length of the slide – WOW! A real long one. The guide, Maya and Lee were in the distance while Adi was sitting to relieve her feet so we started to walk toward the rest of the group. Reaching them we sat together talking and waiting some 20 minutes for Liron and Adi to come, as Adi walked VERY slowly down the soft snow. From there we slide down more, than walked on the soft snow (falling down into the snow many times as it was not stable to walk into such soft snow) till the next slide path and sliding down. At a certain point, close to the second lift base we found it easier and faster to walk-stumble down then to slide it. Quickly we found ourselves back at the vehicle, wet as hell (walking we could hear and feel the squashing of the water out of our socks) and as we took off our boots Ice crumbs were falling out of the totally wet shoes. Out pant were also wet, of course, and we realized what a mistake we have done not taking some exchange clothing, especially socks. We managed to get dry a bit on the way back to Pucon in the mini-van and take a shower when we reached our hostel. Taking a shower we felt the sun that shone on us (I got really red in the face).
We met later on with Maya and Barak at a local restaurant before they are leaving to Bariloche the next day while we planned to do some arrangements and buying the bus ticket to the next bus to Bariloche so we could do with them the 7 lake tour. More to come…

Monday, December 12, 2005

Valparaiso revisited


After one hour of ride, we came to lovely and sunny Valparaiso, sitting on the shores of the blue pacific. We tasted the down-town mentality and wandered among the colorful houses and alleys of the hills Valparaiso

Valparaiso – Nicer than ever remembered!
Monday morning, I woke up early so I could update the blog and find a place in Valparaiso we could sleep in. I looked for one place but it was full and after the hostel owner looked in his computer we found a hostel, Hostel Patricia, which is hostel that is located near the bus station at down town Valparaiso. When I finished talking with Patricia and reserving a place, Lee and Chris where already down having their breakfast at the kitchen. While we were at the lobby, we met three Israelis that just landed in the continent and gave them tons of tips before departing to the metro, and after that, buying a bus ticket to Valparaiso (nicknamed Valpo, by the way). The weather was great and the noon sunshine shone on the many green vineyards that we passed on our way west to the pacific ocean old town. Coming into Valparaiso, it was so good, as the last time I was there it was foggy for half of the day, and less sunshine (autumn time in Chile) and this time, lots of sunshine and good vibes.
Going down the bus, we found an old lady promoting some hostels and she led us to the hostel, and to the 50 years old yellow two story house. There, through the old and wooden curving stairs we met at the end the lovely and sympatic Patricia, the owner. She led us through a maze-like walls and halls, to the three beds room, with a view over one of the main streets in down town.
Lee went to the internet while me and Chris went to eat in the popular and old Market place, situated in a rectangular old two story classical building. Entering the market, we enjoyed the sight of the place, the feeling that time stopped there for almost 50 years, with tons of wood box lining up the walls up to ceiling and indifferent cats strolling between the different vendors. We went to the second floor and around an open court were many restaurants with many waiters and owners offering food at a bargain prices. We settled at one place and had a very nice lunch, talking and admiring the old building, with rusty tin roof and bars that cross back and forth ten meters above our heads.
Going back, we picked up Lee and strolled in town till sundown time, when Lee went back to the hostel and we two continued to the old pier. While Chris sat and admired the scenery, I ventured to the Pier with two huge cranes that were positioned above it, were lovers were strolling or just kissing and hugging underneath it. A very weird thing, as I saw it back then. After taking some pictures I picked Chris and we came back to the hostel, where we stayed till the next day.

About Amsterdam, earrings and one eruption
As I said before, Chris planned on going to the beach for a week or so, and that day was beach time! We woke early because of the amount of noise from the down town traffic (mostly buses and trucks) and after a little breakfast we went down to the port and walked along the main highway leading to Vina del Mar, until we came to a place we could cross toward the beach (A metro railway went along the coast toward Vina del Mar, so we had to cross above it with the pedestrian street). But, before going to the beach we went to eat and drink some beer in Amsterdam, 100 years old bar sitting straight on the main highway. It was really nice and the ambience was awesome, with good music in the background and great posters of Merlyn Monroe, Bob Marley and old skating equipment…really, a special place to hang out.
We came to the beach half an hour later and hanged out there for some three hours, saw the locals splash into the cold pacific waters, huge Pelican fly low over the waves and dogs running after bird’s shadows…it was very funny!
We went back to
Amsterdam to take another drink after so much sun and an hour later we were back at the hostel, having a light dinner and getting ready to go back to Amsterdam to drink some beer and talk.
As I might hinted before, me and Chris were not getting along as I expected or remembered from
Cusco times. I already felt it when we were together in Santiago after a weel, and even after Lee came, but I hoped that once we gonna get going, things will get better. Well, they were not, for my disappointment. I was quite sad, because I really love Chris, his opinions and ideas, but I felt that sometime it was hard for me to talk or converse with him, as I didn’t want to get into an argument because I didn’t want to get into a “fight” with him. I admit that I had made a mistake not talking with him straight when I felt uncomfortable with him, and then trying to figure out a solution. And due to this, little by little frustration and tension kept on building all this time, until it exploded out of me in Amsterdam.
This part starts back when we were in Cusco, after Chris rushed back to Brazil to catch his flight back to Germany, some four months ago. Adi and Lee made earrings holes while Shay made his piercing in a little shop on “Gringo alley”, in a place called
Arica’s place. It looked clean and nice, but turns out that things were not that clean. While Adi was cool with her earring, Shay and Lee were suffering from pains and sensitivity at the places of the piercing and earrings. Shay at the end took it off in Lima, made a new one, only to get even more troubles later in Colombia, and at the end, removed also the second one…
Lee kept her earring all this time, suffering from pain and swelling, until finally she understand that this is not usual and she REALLY need to take them off (her mother was astonished to hear her on the MSN telling her she still wear those little things and still suffering from them…). So, when we were in Amsterdam, Lee’s thought were occupied about her earring and what she is gonna do about it, when she told Chris that she plan to go the next morning to a clinic or the local hospital so they gonna take a look and maybe take it off. Then, unfortunately for Lee, Chris told her some of his friend’s bad experiences with infected earrings/piercing and the like, that made Lee VERY nervous. Now, I knew even back then that Chris didn’t even grip what he was doing to the poor girl but I didn’t want to get into an argument with him, as I had a full belly on him and I didn’t want it to erupt like that at the table. I tried to change subject, but Lee was too worried and too curious to let go, and Chris was too eager to tell his friend’s stories, untill eventually he suggested that we gonna take the earrings off. Now, even though me and Lee thought about taking it off by ourselves, we decided it would be wiser to go to a hospital which has both the appropriate facilities and professional staff that can handle most health problems and the hell with the cost. Life and health is much more important than any amount of the bloody money. So, when Chris asked me what I think about this idea I said I think she should go to a hospital for the above reasons, and if he wants to do something of the kind, I am out of the business (even though I cared very much for Lee and her care). I am sure that Chris also cared very much for her health when he suggested that he will take it off by himself, and I guess that he wanted to relieve her out of her misery of passing one night with thoughts running through her head, but I felt back then that it would be not wise. He asked me this again, and again I told him I am not taking responsibility over this (with a certain of lose of patience) and then I thought Chris blurted something like “oh, you asshole, nevermind that”. Later, I understand that I heard it wrong, but it didn’t matter – hearing this in
Amsterdam was enough - I got REALLY pissed and it took me only one minute more before I rose up, took my coat, blurted that I am feeling shit (which I did). Chris and Lee asked if they want me to come with them, but I didn’t want to ruin their evening so I told them they can stay, I am just going back to the hostel. I stormed out of the place, cursing and making my mind on my next moves. Last time I had this situation was with Itay on Lake Titicaca, and you can imagine that I have learned my lesson..).
Crossing the highway over the pedestrian bridge, I heard a strong whistle, and looking behind I saw Lee coming behind me, flinging her jacket over her shoulders. She explained me she was tired, and more than that, wanted to know what happened because both of them never saw me like this. I explained her all the things, and that I have no choice but to tell Chris the truth that I don’t get along with him and have to take a brake from traveling with him. I told her about my feelings and about what I thought Chris said at the bar, but she said she don’t recall any of this so I decided to leave it alone. In any case, I told her, we are not getting to along and I have to part from him, not before I will spill my guts out, as I loved the guy and felt shit in any case to leave him like this. She told me also she felt the bad atmosphere and she thought it is best to tell him everything, even if it will be VERY hard (as it was indeed). I also tried to calm her down about the earring and telling her everything will be ok, but she was already having nightmares over the issue of taking it off and what would it do to her ear. She had a long and sleepless night…

About hospital session and truth session
The next day we all woke up (no mention of last night) and went down to the internet to check emails and write to Lee’s mother that Lee is going to the hospital. At the end, Chris went back to the hostel because he got burned as hell and was suffering from the intense sun above. We got to the hospital (the dirtiest I ever saw in my life even though Lee told me she saw even worse than that in Argentina…), and I companied Lee with the registration, and also when we waited some half an hour till one doctor came to see her. Lee was VERY tense but one minute after the doctor saw her earring it was out and over. They wanted me to get out of the room because it was a women only room, but I explained them that I need to translate for Lee because she don’t know Spanish well enough (and also Lee wanted me to stay there with her) until they kicked me out of the room no matter what I told them. Ten minutes later she came out, relaxed as hell, and gald even more that finally, it was over, and she would not suffer from her earrings. The ear swell will go down, the nurse told me before we left the place, so there is no need to worry any more. And surprise, surprise, we got out without any need to pay! Free of charge, how lovely!
We went back to the hostel, meeting with Chris mid way and from there we went to the restaurants court in the market place. We had a nice lunch (even better than the day before) but the atmosphere was not so good, and tension was hanging all over us like a black cloud. Chris wanted to chill-out more and me and Lee wanted to visit the hills of Valparaiso, so we left him earlier and were on our way out only to meet with guess who – Wolfgang!
Well, fact is that he emailed me only a day before that he is coming to
Valparaiso and would be glad to meet us there. It was a nice meeting and we talked for five minutes, agreeing that we would meet later at evening.
We ventured back to the streets and went to see the weirdest acsensor of them all, which was more a lift than anything else. On our way to the acsensor couple of policemen stopped us and warned us not to venture out of the compounds of the lift because it is not safe for tourist to stroll around there. Both of us were surprised of this, and indeed, once we were up there we didn’t walked down to the street.
We went back down and walked to the other side of town to the famous, touristy, colorful, and very safe area of Cerro Concepcion. Walking up the nice alleys, we found a very nice café sitting on top one of the hills shoulders, with wonderful view over the harbor and talked for couple of hours, as time passed by. We continued on walking through the twisting alleys and the colorful buildings, while enjoying ourselves very much. Everything about this place was so charming (including the people) that it was actually hard to leave and go down back to the ugly and dirty down-town.
Coming back to the hostel, Lee made dinner and I took the chance to talk with Chris in person, and tell him everything. I told him that I love him and that I waited a long time to meet him but something was not right between us and for our sakes we better split for the mean time. He took it well, and we discussed why this happened and that we would like to meet later on in our travels. We talked almost half an hour before we joined Lee eating and drinking coffee till the time when Wolf was suppose to come to the hostel. Lee felt a bit of fever and shivers, and decided to stay while Me, Chris and Wolf went to have a drink and some food (wolf) while talking about Wolf’s Journeys through
Peru in the 70’s. It was very interesting, and I saw that the two got along quite well, and we decided to meet again the following morning to see the hills.

Meeting the Alchemist before departing for Pucon
The next morning Lee felt better and we all met with Wolf near the cinema, while doing our way back to Cerro Concepcion, talking about this and that and generally enjoying the great weather and the fun of strolling up the hills before Concepcion. At one instance, we all wanted to have some coffee and we made our way back to the coffee over the cliff. Near the coffee place Lee met one of the Israelis she was traveling with on the bus to Santiago from San Pedro. Gai joined us to a coffee over the terrace and for something like an hour we all talked, sometimes Chris with wolf German and we three Israelis Hebrew, and sometimes all together in English. Gai was traveling already for 8 months and planned on extending it for more than a year, traveling through almost all the southern continent countries. He is a nice guy, intelligent, but also far from being modest.
We went down and before parting we decided to meet later that evening, while me and Lee went to buy tickets for Pucon as I got an email from Maya and Barak, two good friends of mine from
Israel that told me they landed in Santiago and have 45 days to see Chile and Argentina. I wanted to meet with them as I saw it as a special event.
After buying the tickets for the next day (6:15 am the bus from Valparaiso to Santiago and then catching the bus of 8:45 to Pucon), we went back to the hostel for a light dinner before meeting with everyone and strolling in the streets till it was too late for us and we said goodbye to everyone and made our way back to the hostel, and to packing all the things, again.
Waking up at
5:30, we managed to take off out of the hostel only by 6:10 (after parting from Chris) and as we entered the nearby bus station we saw a bus with the sign “Santiago” leaving the station. We rushed with our backpacks and managed to stop him only to grip that it was not our bus and that our bus has just left the station….SHIT! the guy came with us and managed to stop the bus right in time for us to board it. PPHHEEWWW!!!!!!! That was a close one! I didn’t want even to think what we have been through to get to Santiago on time to catch the bus to Pucon…And with that, we laid our head on the seat and tried to sleep while the bus rushed back to Santiago and closer toward the adventures of South of Chile.

Monday, December 05, 2005

Santiago revisited – Meetings under Andean supervision

Chris and me, at La Casa Roja at the same day Chris landed in Santiago


While continuing having fun with the loco trio, thoughts and plans were already flowing ahead and
Santiago de Chile was the next mark on my tour map. After 8 months of traveling, Santiago found me again more prepared, more confident and the more experienced, and those were the setting for my great meetings

Parting, again
After the night of the Asado we went the next day to return the tent and to do other arrangements as the girls planned on leaving the next day to Pucon through Santiago.
One night I even managed to meet with Aviran (Cordoba chapter), which stayed in a other hostel close to the bus terminal and although we talked prior to the trek, we could not communicate due to a godly reason…The next day after our meeting he left to Buenos Aires…
The parting event right before their departure to
Santiago was a very funny one, when no less than 4 cameras were used to capture the farewell toast with Dulce de Leche liquor, bought especially by the girls. One of the longest toats I have been part of of…
11 PM the girls went out of the hostel with their bags when the staff and some of the guests accompanied them with laughing and hugging of farewell as they stopped two taxis. As I can guess, they will have lots of fun moments even before reaching Pucon, those funny girls…

Crossing to the other side (of the Andes…)
The morning of the 26th was a nice one, and I woke up early so I can arrange all my stuff in ease. Only when I got down I noticed that I forgot to pay to Sergio for the night, and only the night shift guy was there, and he didn’t have a clue of how much I should pay…oh, brother! So, after he ordered me a taxi he called Sergio and took the payment. As I was putting my shit on my back I found Sergio, half sleeping coming to part from me, with a good hug and a devilish grin…That’s it, that’s how Mendoza times ended and the Chilean will start again…
Almost half of the ride was already familiar to me (that was the third time!) but once we passed the last Argentinean post we quickly entered a long tunnel through which we passed on the other side, already going down the pass as Argentinean workers worked on the continuation of an avalanche tunnel protection like you pass so many on this international route. At a certain point we came finally to the communal border crossing: under one heavy and thick concrete roof both the Argentinean and Chilean officials were passing people from one side to the other. We had to wait inline for some 10 minutes sitting in the bus and finally, the bus advanced and everyone went down to stamp their passport. It was a quick pass, one of the fastest I have been through, and while I was waiting for my turn before the Chilean passport check I suddenly remembered that all my undeveloped film are still in the big backpack, and it passes X-Ray check…shit! I left the line and rushed to the custom area, just to see my pack still waiting last for his turn. PHHEEWWW! a relief sigh came out of me and I hasted to open the rain cover and take out the precious films, putting them safely in the little bag…
After I finished with the Chilean side and also with the tax free refund (really curious to find out if its gonna work…) we waited a bit for X-Ray of the small bags (Ha! took out the films, no worry!!) and finally we were allowed to board the bus and no sooner than 5 minutes later, we were gliding the downward toward the Chilean territory!
The scene was an awesome one! The grand peak near the pass were towering above the deep valley that suddenly opened in front of us as the bus went down the zig-zagged paved road, while passing on the right the Chilean ski resort. Once we came to the opening of the valley the bus rode faster and I fell asleep faster than a falling star…
From time to time I woke up to see the magnificent Andes sparkle and glisten under the shining sun with nummerous vineyard stretching to both sides of the bus, while the state-of-the-art asphalt road take us west and then south toward the suffocating capital.
Coming into town and the bus station (one of many) was suddenly very familiar: the same station I used when traveling to
Valparaiso and San Pedro de Atacama.
I retrieved my bag, not after joking with the local worker that asked for a tip for taking my bag from the cargo compartment to my hands. I said I don’t have any Chilean pesos, so he asked for dollars, which I said I don’t have. Then he moved to Euros (oh, this for sure I have!) and at last I offered him my credit card. He just laughed and smiled with his wide and toothless mouth…
Getting back into the Santiago Metro was less difficult than I thought, though I forgot that not all the staircases up lead to the exit…OOOPPS…All that time I was traveling in the Metro, I remembered my first ride in it with Henry. I remember the feeling of fresh, shock, of not knowing anything on my left or right, of the foreign language…it was a lonesome feeling of fear…But, now that I was grasping the metal bars in the cart, I felt the power of knowledge, of confidence. I wished I could feel so confident in other realms of my life, to feel this great feeling surrounds me, but I evolve all the time so I am optimistic…

Meeting #1 - Chris
I went to La Casa Roja, a well known establishment here in Santiago, even though I was not feeling really good getting there, with so many people buzzing around…It’s a BIG mansion, with a huge kitchen, several bathrooms and dormitories. I passed the time with two Americans and one Australian guy till the 28th of November came at last!
I woke up around
7 am to get arranged quickly and to catch the bus to the Airport that leaves near the Metro station of Los Hereos. Before leaving the Hostel I checked in the internet the expected landings that day and saw that there are two Iberia flights landing In Santiago that morning: one at 9:30 and another at 9:50. I remembered that Chris told me about that he is gonna land around 10 am, and I felt that something is not that good…Well, I grabbed a piece of croissant on the way and after half an hour, around 8:30 am I came to the Airport with the bus. The bus dropped me off at the departures level so I had to go down one level to the Arrivals section, where I found a coffee shop located straight in front of the time table screen. I read a bit, listened to lots of music and finally, 9:30 came and I waited beside the arrival exit. As it was possible to leave from another exit, I was always on the lookout across the platform to see if Chris emerges from another exit. Nearby a group of Israeli girls were also waiting for their friend, but as long as I stayed there (one hour) they didn’t find their friend.
After seeing so many passing passengers, I finally saw the familiar face of Chris walking with his backpacks, with a shock look on his face (maybe because they didn’t serve beer on board..?). It took me a sec to realize it is Chris, coz the man grew a Sheih beard but it took him 2 seconds to realize who is coming toward him…We hugged warmly and patted each on the other backs. he was surprised, of course, as he didn’t actually think I am gonna make it, and I told him I am already two days in Santiago and that I bullshited him. He gave one of his “Angry”-like look and then burst out in laugh and together we looked for the Iberia representatives in the Airport, only to find out that they don’t give any service at that time of day because they are at the check in counters…We were directed to the office in Santiago, and with that we climbed the bus from the airport and then the metro to the Republica station.
From the moment we entered La Casa Roja, Chris didn’t really like it, and in his mind was another hostel, Hostel
Chile, which resides near the night life neighborhood, Barrio Bellavista. Well, actually I can’t blame him coz I didn’t really felt there at home my self, but it was the cheapest you can get in Santiago, 9 USD, while Hostel Chile costs more, 12 USD. Even so, when we left the next day to the hostel I didn’t regret it, as it IS a better hostel.

Meeting #2 - Valy
After dropping our stuff and Chris refreshing in the shower after the landing, we hit the streets and found the Iberia offices in one of the many business districts that dot Santiago. It was funny to go in the elevator which was from the 40’s, I think, with an Elevator man that open the gate and operate the old machine. We stayed in the office some 20 minutes while the nice Iberia representative changed Chris ticket and told me where are the Lufthansa offices. We stopped by an internet point and while checking my email I saw that Valy have told me he was looking for me in the hostel and I wasn’t there so he will meet me around 5 PM in Plaza de Armas. Well, checking the time we saw that our time was short, already it was 3:30 PM! We tried to reach the Lufthansa offices but due to a mistake we made by recognizing the numbering of the street, we thought we are far away from the offices, so we skipped it and made our way to the Plaza by metro. We were 5 minutes ahead of time and Chris wanted to check out a coffee bar, and en route I suddenly saw a familiar face, no other than valley exiting a passage. I called him and we embraced warmly, after 2 and half months. It was great meeting him after so much time and quickly the three of us sat at the Plaza with cold beer. I was glad when Valy and Chris were quickly making friends with each other. Valy was just coming from the north of Chile and was pondering what to do: to join us south with Lee or to go now to Mendoza and trek to the Aconcagua base. He felt quite exhausted after he walked with his backpacks across half of Santiago, and his legs started to deliver pain. At the end, after we checked the Hostel Chile, Valy decided to move into that hostel and we told the guy at the reception that we are coming the next day and at that, Valy went back to his hostel, and we to ours, before we meet again at the evening. It was some walk, as our hostel is on the other side of the center of Santiago (and the center is quite big), so coming back to the hostel, we didn’t have to much time to rearrange before we left to take the metro back to Baquedano station, which is straight under Plaza Italia.
We went to Bellavista to have some drinks, and beside from a guy that played miracaously with a drum on his back and another which tried to sell Pussycats puppets and made a lot of people jumpy with his MMYYAAAUU! and the puppet jumping, nothing special happened that night.
The next day we prepared ourselves and checked out of La Casa Roja and did our way through the metro to Hostel
Chile. Valy already did his packing as the previous day he decided finally to go to Mendoza and afterwards to learn Spanish in Cordoba.
We passed the day by going to Lufthansa offices, which were quite secure – it was possible to enter the high rising building only with an ID or passport and as a consequence, Chris was left outside waiting for me half an hour till I finished and went down. Not that I had any success, as the branch in Santiago needed my ticket terms from the Lufthansa branch in Tel Aviv, and the later didn’t actually replied to the Buenos Aires Branch message when I talked with them in Mendoza. Thing is, that in order to make ANY changes you need to be in the branch office, and there are only two in the vicinity of Santiago – Santiago and Buenos Aires (and also Lima, but I am not going back to distant Peru..). So, the representative told me she would contact them ASAP and send me an email when they will have the needed information. Going back to the hostel with Chris, I have decided that I will contact my tour agency and shake the tree so things will start moving – I didn’t have the time to fuck around now! Once I am leaving
Santiago, I am not planning on being back here only before departure time…
In the evening we met with Valy before he left for the bus station, and had a nice beer with another British guy name Andy. We met with Andy another night before he himself took a flight to
New Zealand (and forgetting his wallet in the hostel in the process, with Credit card, money etc…a shitty situation, no doubt about that!)
The next day I called the office of Lufthansa but no one answered and only after I talked with my agent I gripped that the office in
Santiago got the information needed and I could go and change my ticket information. Great!
I went there, this time alone, and after 30 minutes I managed to postpone my ticket to
the 21st of March, 2006 (with the addition of 50 USD…).

The “Café”
Chris and me passed the time in boredom, as for both of us this was out second visit to Santiago, and in Santiago there is not too do in any case (unless you are a business man with world wide connections…).
One day Chris told me about a café, with beautiful girls that serves you coffee and that he wants to check it out again. Well, I didn’t really know what he was talking about (naïve as I can be, still, in the age of 28…) so I said, fine, lets go as I was more worried about my pocket loosing money than on any other thing.
We arrived to one of the streets that connect to Avenida O. Higgins, and after walking some blocks we reached the joint, a black covered window-glass place. Chris told me about the black covers, but I never really did the necessary connection. When we entered the joint, and only then I gripped what was this place.
Apart from several TV screens and several ultra light fluorescents, darkness ruled the place inside, especially when coming from the outside world. As we came in, I saw what Chris meant by saying beautiful women: Less-than-Bikini-dressed women, of course, with the appropriate body measurements of being elected as Miss
Chile. As I was in a kind of a shock (in the bad sense of the word), we were approached by one of the hostess, who kissed us on our cheeks in such a way, I felt disgust. Not that she did something wrong, she was fine, only that it was a 100% fake gesture. Kissing on the cheek is something which is related, in my opinion, to long-time acquaintance with a woman, a gesture expressing happiness to meet again after so much time and usually is following a warm hug. Of course, when you are paid to do such a gesture, happiness is not part of the overall feeling, and the combination of a business-as-usual with this kind of gesture was extremely out of place for me.
Well, she took our orders as I was more interested more at the TV screens than on a the half naked women that strolled back and forth between customers, cashier, coffee machine and chatting here and there with the customers. I was surprised to see Many customers coming in, mostly businessmen which acted casually like it was an ordinary cafe. As this was my first visit in such a sleazy place, I was surprised of my feelings and reactions, as I am a man who loves good looking women, and also quite horny too. But, at that point I preferred those women would have been dressed, I would have felt better. Even though some will think I am the fucked up man here, and I should see a shrink, I know that these joints are not for me, and THAT is the most important thing of all.
Needless to say, I wanted to flee the moment I came in, but I knew Chris enjoys himself, and I didn’t want to be a selfish bastard. After we finished with our coffee, we went outside back to the light, and to the normal world where women hide more than they expose...

Meeting #3 - Lee
And finally, we are left with the third and last (but not least!) member of the trio, Lee.
All that time that we were waiting for her in
Santiago, she emailed us that she still didn’t get the package from Israel and she hopes she would not have to leave it in San Pedro. Thank god (that I don’t really believe in), she emailed me that she is coming on Sunday, the 4th of December on a TurBus bus coming into Alemeda Bus Station at 12:45. I replied her that she is welcomed and that me and Chris will wait for her in the terminal.
Finally, around
1 PM the bus came into the platform and she waved us from the front window as she came down the stairs. When she touched earth, she walked to hug us while blowing a long UUUFFFFF!!! Looking at her surprised, we heard her account about the long distance bus.
Well, her first 24 hour ride started bad, already when the bus entered Calama bus station (the same Calama that Rotem’s bag was stolen couple of months ago) and almost all the bus emptied out of people and only Lee and two Israelis stayed on board close to the entrance. While talking to the Israelis, she noticed that a man sits in her seat, when she didn’t had any other person sitting beside her when they left San Pedro, and add to that that she didn’t see her pack. She walked back to her seat while looking at the man, and as she did that, he came out of her seat and tried to pass through. She stopped him for a minute, asking him in Spanish where is her bag, but he managed to mumble something and pass her, empty handed. She went frantically looking for her bag in the whole bus, as she didn’t saw it in her seat, till she finally saw it open and its all content was spread on one of the seats in the bus. Luckily, she kept her money/passports and all on her and was saved from an indeed unpleasant experience of getting all things back (unlike Rotem, which lost money, Credit card, Passport, Travel Checks and had to return to Santiago to do arrangements with the embassy, credit card company, American Express etc.). Needless to say, that he vanished like a shadow in mid day and as fast as the wind blows on a high mountain peak…
From that point on her ride was safer, but not as pleasant, as it usually happens in such long bus rides, people kept on getting on and off the bus in odd hours of night, with a food menu which she preferred to pass. And this is without talking about her melancholic mood after leaving San Pedro and her loved one…So, when touched ground on
Santiago’s Alemeda bus station, she just wanted to see familiar faces and be on solid ground.
We were very happy to meet together and were very excited, as I didn’t see Lee for a month and half, and our trio combination was full of craziness and having fun when talking Hebrew, German, English and Spanish in some sort of a funny way that people looked at us in a sort of way you look at a crazy man…
We first took the metro back to our hostel, so we could get rid of the packs and after she checked in and did a phone call home, we went back outside to chill out with a drink and talk about all that time that passed some 4 and half months. The trio was back again!
We also gripped that each and everyone of us had his own plans ahead: Chris wanted to go to Valparaiso beach to hang around for a week on the beach while Lee told us that her money is running out and she don’t know how much she can travel in expensive Chile, while I knew I had little time and money to see South of Chile and Argentina, and maybe do a visit to Brazil. We decided that we gonna flow and wont make any of us to compromise his/her own trip plans…

So, today, the fifth of November we are leaving for Valparaiso, with clear horizon and no clue of where our road will lead us to…

Thursday, November 24, 2005

The way to the base of the roof: When Ice, Mud and Wind come together!


Cerro Aconcagua (6962 meters) (Taken by Efrat V.)

Starting from Puente del Inca, the legendary and mystical bridge, we did our way to Horcones base, continue on to Confluencia where we passed one night in the Rio Horcones valley before attempting an approach to Plaza Francia, at 4200 meters, which ended in a wind shelter hideout and a glorious view over the roof of the Americas

Riding back to the pass
Five thirty in the morning and the alarm clock snapped me from the dream I was in into dark reality. Everyone was more or less a sleep and the first thing I though was, did Sivan got back from her nocturnal date. I pulled my self up to her upper bunk, only to see that it was as it was before turning off the light – empty. I started to worry, where is she, what she has been doing and if she is ok?? In the darkness I pulled out my headlamp and started to get dressed with butterflies in my stomach: today we gonna trek! After two months, again we will visit nature up close! Efrat woke up and asked me whats the time and where is Sivan, and I told her that she didn’t come yet and I don’t know where the hell she is. No sooner than I finished the sentence, I heard the all-too-familiar laughter of Sivan roaring from down stairs and I let out a whisperously relief sigh and continue on rearranging my stuff and getting my tooth brush and paste for a quick teeth rub. Then, I heard the door opens above my head and, there she was, peeking into the room, looking at me and immediately, what else but, laughing her mind out.
“You look so funny with this thing!” she managed to say between one gasp for air and another, and of course, half of the hostel was again on its feet (and I remind you all, the time was before 6 am…).
“Did you have some joints with Alejandro?” I asked as I continued managing my stuff, and she replied she had couple of drinks but no more. She was, obviously, half drunk. And then she continued with her roaring laughter, while Efrat switched on the light and we all got to work.
Turned out she had a nice date, by the way, but instead of staying there and start a cross investigation and examination, squeezing out the juicy parts, I made my way to the bathroom to prepare my teeth for a yet another interesting day that lay ahead. Two Argentinean girls, Nadia and Maria, both on the verge of getting their M.D., were also suppose to join us to Puente del Inca, and maybe, to Horcones camp also. The bus left this morning at 7 am and not at 6, so around 6:30 am we all took out stuff out and grabbed two taxis and rode to the bus terminal. We got to the terminal and waited with the other passengers to the bus to Las Cuevas, which on the way, dropped passengers in numerous locations. While waiting, Sivan with her vulgar talk about things I can not describe here, and with her high pitch voice and laughter, attracted the attention of the most people in the station at that early morning, even the one who were close to a good sleep...
The bus came in and we boarded it while putting our massive bags into the cargo bay. We had a 4 hours drive ahead of us, so we made ourselves comfortable and went to sleep, while the Aconcagua snowy peak gleamed in the early morning sun from 100 km away and beaconed us to come and explore…The bus passed through country side settlements, towns and passed vineyards on his way up-up toward the high international pass which Argentina and Chile share. Finally, the bus came to a stop at Puente del Inca, and a continuous gust of vicious wind greeted us. While we prepared ourselves, Nadia and Maria went to check if they could camp near Puente del Inca instead in Horocnes, where we planned to stay the first night.

Day 1 – Surprise, Surprise - Going all the way to Confluencia (2700-3300 MASL)
After visiting the Puente del Inca (again) we shouldered our backpacks and made our way back to the highway for the next 2 and a half km walk to Horcones park entry. A local guy tipped us that there is a path that goes in parallel to the main road and it will be a bit easier. We thanked him and started our walk on the highway. Soon, we realized that a small black dog was accompanying us, running here and there with great enthusiasm, with his tongue slips between his parted jaws and his gleaming white teeth. Thinking about him, the first name that pops into my head is Sharky so for convenience, this will be his name. At first we laughed and said that Sharky will accompany us all the way up to Plaza Francia…well, truth was not THAT far from…
After crossing a bridge over the Rio Mendoza that runs from the pass down toward Mendoza, we left the main road and took a small path that lead 500 meters into the country side. The mountain ranges on our left were partially covered with ice and as we walked we found a stretch of 30 meters of a slope covered with Ice and the girls went to do some sliding on a nylon bag, cheering and yahooing all the way down. After we finished taking the pictures and sliding, we continued on only to meet with a French guy walking alone along the trail. Nico, 28 of age, was a nice companion and Sivan quickly introduced herself with her French, and as we continued to move along the valley the two talked a mixture of French and English while the rest of us talked about this and that, till we saw the amazing mountain (the same spot, by the way, where the high mountain tour stopped for us to take pictures). Nadia and Maria said goodbye to us as they had to return, and we five continued on to Horcones, a one triangular building with couple of antennas and a big hanger-like nylon tent. The door of the nylon tent was open and a park ranger was standing there, greeting us in Spanish. The wind already was whipping us in the face and we hurried inside, where the wind could not penetrate and I explained the ranger what are our plans (first night at Horcones, second and third in Confluencia). At first he said no problem and supplied us with an unmarked nylon bag for our garbage. But, no sooner than five minutes later, the guy came back and said it is not possible to camp at Horcones because the bathroom facilities at the moment are in order…What!? So, what’s the problem, there is nature, I said…No, the ranger replied, that is NOT allowed, only in a facilitated bathroom.
So we had two options: either to go back and sleep one night in Puente del Inca (a dumb idea) or to go forward all the way to Confluencia, a 3-4 hours hike. The time was 2 PM so we didn’t have too much time. I tried to explain him that we are not acclimatized and it is better if we could acclimatize in Horcones, but he said in reply that we can either acclimatize 100 meters down the road or either go up to Confluencia where there is a doctor that can take care of us if we feel bad. Great! We didn’t have any choice so we went on and checked into the park.
Each one of us got a nylon bag with a number written on it with a marker. On the back of the permit it was written that loosing this bag can get you fined dearly (200 USD!!) but I was a bit skeptical they would charge such an amount of money from a returning backpacker. In any case, we took our bags and went on our way with Nico and Sharky. Quickly we saw signs explaining about this unique area geology and the formation of the rock formation due to glacier movement in the Ice age period. We continued to walk on till we reached the Horcones lagoon which the mountain ridge was reflected on. We took some picture and continued on till we passed the scouting point on the mountain. Nico came only to see the mountain and after 20 minutes of walking decided it was time for him to return to Puente del Inca. And, with that we continued on with Sharky along the path going up the moderate incline while people, mostly one day hikers, greet us as they passed by on their way down to Horcones. We walked some 4 hours, very slowly, and made several stops to ease the packs on our backs. After knowing who I am dealing with, I was not surprised to see that the girls were in good condition and tough, and not a single whine could be heard all along. As we continued on, I could feel the exhaustion of the pack on my back as my legs felt tired and it was hard for me sometimes lifting my legs. The scenery, on the other hand, was superb with the Rio Horcones roaring on our left side, and Ice fields covering several parts on the sloped on our right side nearby. We also crossed several large Ice fields, which were stiff to the foothold and even so, were easy to slip on…At mid afternoon numerous convoys of donkeys lead by local Gauchos passed us by, and so differently from the Bolivian/Peruvian Arrieoros, this Gauchos were horseback riding while the donkeys were running like crazy down the path, sometime going the wrong way while the Gaucho shouts at them and pursuit them down the ravine to fetch them…
As it happens in most treks, the whole company got separated and we walked with big gaps of hundreds meters as each one walks in a different pace and ability. At one point, me and Ravid were walking together and we saw a guy coming down and talking with Sivan a bit and then continues on. When he came close to us we greeted him and asked him where he came from.
“Oh, I came from Plaza Francia now, very beautiful, very!” he replied vividly. Plaza Francia!? He was only with a day pack on his back which meant he did not stay the night in Confluencia…The invitebale question came immediately:
“You went to Plaza Francia in a one day trek!?” and he answered with a tired smile saying: “Yeah, I started at 10 am and it was ok and very beautiful, though I am very tired now…” yeah, well I was tired also from walking only from Puente del Inca! Only this guy ascended and descended 1500 meters each direction, a total of 3000 meters in one day!! THAT WAS CRAZY! While he continued to descend I was still in amazement how he made it so fast…
Finally, I saw the silhouettes of low buildings in the distance and I was happy that soon I will take the heavy bag off my weary back and legs. When I got into the camp grounds (last by the way), I noticed that several expedition tents were pitched as well as backpackers tents, along with the rangers permanent building. I saw a sign directing me to the check in point where the ranger building was standing with the door open, and I could hear already from a far the rolling laughter of Sivan. When I finally was close enough to see the faces inside the office, I could see the girls sitting by and sipping tea looking at me in a mixture of an amuse stare with the stare of “what-took-you-so-long”.
After dropping my back with the rest of the pile I entered the office and the girls introduced me as the “fourth chica, the wussy-pussy”. We all laughed and I added that after walking with the girls I started to turn into a woman. “I don’t want to think what would happen to me in the next few days after sleeping in the same tent with them…” Everyone laughed their heart out and I pulled out the necessary permit so it would be stamped. One of the rangers showed us the camp site, and we quickly found a place and hurried to pitch the tent before it will get colder than it was. We saw some of the Israelis that were with us in the hostel and that the next day were planning on going down to Horcones. They told us that on the way up to Plaza Francia one of them got dizzy and went down while the other two kept and went up all the way to Francia.
After I changed to some warm clothes, we sat to prepare our dinner: pasta with tomato sauce (now we had a lot of food, because we shortened our trek by a day). However, cooking 500 gr’ of pasta in one pot was not that smart, as not enough water were in the pot and the whole thing was not cooked enough no matter how much time we put it on the stove. So, we ate as it was with great sauce Efrat made and after a sweet tea we cleaned the utensils with the freezing water and went to prepare ourselves for sleep. As I was a gentleman, I took the one of the sides of the tent (the most exposed part of the tent to cold and wind). I didn’t know how cold its gonna get there, so I dressed myself as usuall, thermal shirt and pants and hope for the best. As the girls stated, “you started snoring the minute you closed you’re flashlight…”, and indeed, it was a good night sleep that I had that night.

Day 2 – Looking for the path to Plaza Francia (3300-4200 MASL)
We set the alarm clock to 8 am as the other guys told us it is enough to get to Plaza Francia and coming back before sundown. Well, fact is that those guys didn’t really reached Plaza Francia but stopped some 2 hours walk before actually reaching the base of the mountain (not that we actually got there too, but that’s another little reason – we didn’t have enough time!).
Back to the first morning – beautiful! The sun shone across the whole valley and we got out with no need for all of our warm clothing, even though one of the Israelis told me that when the sun didn’t hit the area it was dead freezing…We quickly went into preparing tea and afterwards, the oatmeal. Well, even though I think it was good and tasty (I was the chef) the girls had a bit of a hard time eating the gooey mash even with the granola added. As there was so much left in the pot, I finished it all, not thinking what it would do to my stomach functionally (I have gone to visit nature three times in 6 hours!) and quickly we arranged ourselves to the upcoming walk. We prepared sandwiches for lunch, and took two backpacks (one me and the other one Efrat) and started walking around 10 am.
The walk from Confluencia to Plaza Francia is technically easy going and not demands any navigation at all, but even so, finding the path was not an easy task and it was a mission we failed several times.
We walked maybe half an hour till we reached the first confusing ending of the path into the flowing river of Los Horcones and after we sank ankle deep into the soft mud, went up a ridge, we saw the path running on the other side of the valley. We continued to walk on the main path (what we THOUGHT was a main path..) only to be confused again after only 20 minuets of walking, when again the path disappeared and we had to scramble up and down the slope to find the continuation (actually, another path). Several times we crossed ice fields that covered great parts of the slope, walking on the foothold of previous trekkers and the animals that passed through. On the slopes on our left and right we saw fields full with triangular ice spikes jutting a meter above ground, partially covered with dirt that made them look like earthly pillars more than any glacier. It was such out-of-the-world sight, and we took lots of pictures of these interesting forms, as well of the snow capped mountains that surrounded us. The air was crystal clear and visibility was perfect. We continue to move up the path (once we found it again!) and we pondered numerous times why the Argentineans don’t put some sort of a path sign so we could identify the path (The simple answer we got later is that the park officials are working hand-in-hand with mountain guides and expeditions companies, and want to encourage hiring guides and mules, with outrageous fees like 120 USD for a mule per day!!!). In any case, we all started to feel the height already as our pulse was getting faster and pounding and we moved slowly forward. Soon, we saw the start of the grandiose glacier that dominated a great chunk of the whole valley and which was covered with dirt and was brown as the land we were walking on. At that point we could see already the west face of the Aconcagua stretching for almost 2500 meters upward. An amazing sight, I can tell you that, to see the huge dark rock jutting like that with such massive size with ice covering major parts of it. Some of the ice shelves were a sheer cliff of about hundreds of meters, just hanging there in the probably freezing wind at that altitude (at 4000 meters, where we were walking, the wind whipped us remorselessly so I can only guess what is the situation a thousand and more meters). At that point we entered the wide and flat valley which curved toward the west side of the mountain, hugging it with snowy sheer cliffs jutting into the air some hundreds of meter above our head. The wind blew strong at our backs and lucky for me I was well equipped, and except for my head, I didn’t feel the wind too much. But, the height, well, I felt it really good with annoying headache that started an hour and half before we stopped at the high part of the valley. At that point I felt shit, very hard to explain exactly what was it, but I just felt shit and tired. It was 2 PM, and I just looked for a place the wind would not reach me coz my face was half frozen. I found a shallow ravine that one path lead up several hundreds of meters to the edge of the rising valley before it sloped down toward the glacier, some couple of km away toward the base of the massif. I laid down and eased the weight on my back. The girls came after five minutes and it didn’t take too much time for us to decide to eat lunch there instead at the bottom of the glacier…We ate our sandwiches we prepared before leaving Confluencia, and quickly we slipped into such a relaxation under the burning sun that we decided that this place will be called “The Nueva Plaza Francia” and with that we went into a doze for an hour before we raised ourselves and started our way back to the valley and to Confluencia camp.
We found the way back to Confluencia much easier to find, as we came from top, and we could easily detect the right path. Of course, this time the wind hit us straight in the face and almost half of the hike back our faces were freezing little by little. When we finally reached Confluencia, it was 4:30 PM and the Israelis company were gone, like most of the other hikers, and most probably were catching the 4:40 bus back to Mendoza from Puente del Inca.
We passed the time till it got a bit darker (around 6 pm) and then we started preparing some mashed potatoes while another company of four Israelis just came from Horcones. We talked with them a bit and then went back to finish the dish and eat it with some sort of delight (well, it is not like the real thing so…). The wind kept on chilling us out so quickly we found ourselves back in the tent, arranging ourselves for a good night sleep. Not that it happened, not for me in any case, coz apparently, I drank to much tea and I turned a lot that night (the girls claim I slept good, by the sounds of me snoring, while they had a hard time sleeping, for the second time).

Day 3 – The way back to Mendoza
The next day was expected to be a relaxed one: walking down from Confluencia to Horcones was expected to take between 1.5 to 2 hours and walking back to Puente del Inca was a 1.5 hour walk more. There are two buses that ride back to Mendoza, one at 11:40 am and another one at 4:40 pm so we quickly realized that if we want to catch the early bus we will have to wake up REALY early in the morning, and due to the fact that it is freezing outside before the sun goes up, we decided to catch the later bus.
I woke up early, around 7:30 am and because it was very cold (the sun still was hidden behind the mountains) I decided to walk to a part of the valley that the sun has reached and sat there for maybe ten minutes before a wind started to build, and before I known it I rushed back to our tent, just to find that it was also cold there, even when the sun rays washing the whole camp site. I went to clean the pot so I could make some tea to warm myself and when I returned I saw that Efrat was awake and outside. I told her that I am going to make some tea and she said she would join me when suddenly the wind got stronger, and Efrat changed here mind as fast as the wind strengthened, and blurting something about getting back into the sleeping bag, she was out of sight. Not that I can blame her, it was damn cold!
When I lowered the pot on the windshield we built from small rocks, I grasped that no way I can keep a stove working in such a wind. So, I took my diary and went under the nylon cover of the tent’s porch while laying back on one of the backpacks. I though of preparing the tea in the porch, but I knew it would wake up everyone in the tent due to the whoosh of the flowing and burning gas. But, the wind on the other hand grew stronger and the nylon cover was pushed so hard I though the whole tent would tear apart and fly to high heaven! A lot of sand grains flew with the wind and everything was getting grainy and covered with a thin layer of sand. As things developed, there was no chance of cooking anything in that wind!
So, when I heard the girls move and talk, I went outside and brought in the tea bags and the pot full with water. While I prepared the tea the girls got arranged while Sivan popped her head through the narrow slit of the tent’s opening zipper, commenting on this or that and nudging me to prepare her tea (“I AM preparing tea, god damit, go back to sleep will ya?!” I commented half laughing while she continued on to tease me out of sole boredom…). Breakfast was also prepared under the covers and at a certain point it was less cold (but not less windy) and we started to wrap out things before we descend to Horcones. Don’t think that it was easy to wrap the tent, as the wind blew the cover and the tent itself, and we had to use all our limbs to keep the two parts from flying toward Horcones…Finally, around 10 am the packs were ready and we strapped them on our backs. Suddenly, out of the blue, I noticed that a big whirlwind was built in a second some 20 meters from us, gathering and spreading brown sand grains to all directions. I shouted to the girls that there is a sand storm and took off running away from it with my 15 kg pack on my back. As I turned back to see where the sand storm was heading, I saw that it passed Sivan and Ravid by half a meter, filing and covering them with sand grains while Efrat ran by my side. The sand storm continued on and broke on a pile of equipment with a crashing and flapping sounds of nylon flapping under the blowing wind. The camp people popped their head to see the commotion, and quickly went back to their own business. When we regrouped, the two proclaimed in a disappointed voice as to me “escaping yelling Sand storm without saying RUN”.
“Hey, you had enough time to look and run away, why you stayed planted in your place, in any case?” I answered half laughing as they brushed off the sand grains. I didn’t get any reply beside the sound of the wind still blowing in the background, so with that we started our descend to Horcones. Amazingly, the wind continued to blow all the way down to Horcones, while we met several trekkers coming in the other directions, mostly climbers of a tour to reach the top of Aconcagua. We wished them lots of luck. At one time we saw three trekkers and no other than Sharky, that disappeared after the first night in Confluencia. The little dog ran toward us with joy and enthusiasm, rattling his tail and flanging his pink tongue as the wind blew. What a wild dog! It reminded me of my own dog, Shoshi, that died at the age of 14 some twelve years ago (wow, am I getting old or what?!). It especially reminded me of all the times I was coming back from school and as I entered the walkway to the house she would wait patiently on it and when spotting me, would run with joy similarly to Sharky, and would be happy as hell!
Well, Sharky continued with the three climbers he was accompanying and we continued walking down till we finally reached the Horcones lagoon and the park entrance. We went straight to the rangers permanent tent only to see that it was empty and no park ranger behind the desk. We waited there for ten minutes while Ravid dressed her blistered ankle and once this was done, we decided to go without doing the check-out that was required from us (well, what they think, that I am gonna wait for eternity??). So, I scribbled a little note saying something like this:

21/11/05, 13:00

Hello park ranger!
We were here BUT you weren’t:
Chen G
Ravid L
Efrat V
Sivan M
Attached are our garbage bags.
Thanks for your hospitality!

We took our backpacks and while a school tour came into the park we headed out, back to the international road and from that cross walked all the way down toward Puente del Inca. On the way we met four Israelis coming up the road, hauling ass with a full backpacks (turned out that they carried also small backpacks on top of the other things they were carrying). We gave them tips and information best as we could and after talking like this on the side of the international highway, we continued going down the asphalt road till finally we reached the complex of Puente del Inca. And, who do you think we find sitting warming in the sun and talking to a local chick?? Nico, just waiting for his ride to Santiago! We talked with him a bit and afterwards retured to our original plans as we had one and half an hour ahead of us, but quickly the original plan of making pasta there transformed into sitting in a local snack joint and munching on hamburgers and empanadas.
Time passed slowly as enormous tiresome feeling landed on me and almost crushed me into sleeping on the dirty table but at the end I managed to stay awake till the bus came.
Well, this part was quite funny…When it came, I went straight and first to the entrance with my backpack on my hands. I immediately noticed that this bus didn’t had a cargo bay so I asked the driver where the put the bag and he pointed toward the depth of the bus. So, while still moving and asking I continued naturally into the bus and threw the bag on the last row of seats, as I guessed that the bus would be filled with people and trekkers backpacks. As I turned to meet with the girls, I noticed through the bus windows that they were going with their backpacks toward the ticket office…OOPSS, I realized that I should have boarded the bus with a ticket…When they returned, I decided that I am not gonna sneak like this, so I went forward and met with the girls that bought the ticket from a middle aged man standing at the entrance to the bus. As he finished writing Sivan’s ticket, Sivan continued into the bus, but put her foot over mine, lost her balance with the big bag and fell backwards toward the surprised driver. Everybody started laughing (especially Sivan) and the ticket man asked me why did I do that “did what?” I replied back…
I am not sure why, but this bus ride was a very jumpy one, and the bus jumped all the time, as well as we the passengers with it. But even so, I slept like a baby for the first half an hour, till we had our first stop at Uspallata and lots of children boarded the bus, making me move the bag from the seat and putting it near me in the passageway. Of course, every time someone would want to pass through I would had to lift the heavy bag and let people pass. And it happened to often in my taste… In addition, this 4 hour long and tiring ride was accompanied by a babbling group of women sitting behind me, which made it even worse and when the bus finally got to the station, they didn’t even waited till it come to a full stop and went into the passageway anxious to get off (and of course the bag on me…).
Getting back to Sosahuas was great and we were greeted warmly by Sergio who invited us to Asado. What a good timing! So, while the girls went to shower I went to send an email to my family and when I finished my shower the grill was just prepared so I sat with the Israeli gang we met at Confluencia on the first night, and we talked and laughed. The Asado was splendid and afterwards we went to bed tired but full and happy…