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…

Tuesday, November 22, 2005

Mendoza days: lots of fun and crazy company!


Me, Ravid, Sivan & Efrat in the back of the pickup truck heading back for Mendoza

Short time after parting from Jimmy, I have joined three funny and totally crazy Israeli girls for some great times in Mendoza and the surrounding while preparing for the Aconcagua base camp approach (Plaza Francia)

Meet the loco-trio: Efrat, Ravid and Sivan
A day after I said goodbye to Jimmy, I was already posting adds in several hostels in Mendoza, looking for partners for the Aconcagua trek. Thing is, that the Aconcagua national park is “open for business” only from the 15th of November, and thus I had time in any case to find people to trek with. When I went back to Sosahaus, the hostel I am staying in, I was looking for Sergio, the owner, so I could ask him what can I do in the mean while. He was busy talking with an Israeli girl that I saw coming with a group of another four persons at the same day I came. She was also looking for things to do in Mendoza, and we talked a bit. Efrat, 22 of age, was traveling with her two friends, Sivan and Ravid, which she served with in a mixed combat unit (male and female) and just landed a week before in Santiago, looking for action and trekking. Turned out that the following week they were fixed with Spanish lessons but were enthusiastic to do the Aconcagua base camp trek once they finish with the Spanish lessons. At first I thought that I was better off doing this trek with more experienced travelers, but at the end I found these girls to be an excellent company for any trek, and I once again, told my self to give people more credit…
As I said before, they came to Mendoza from Santiago with another Israeli couple, which they found to be to YAVSHUSHIM to hang with, and at the same day I talked with them (Sunday) we went out to have some drinks and maybe even dance a bit. Well, I already knew that the Argentinean night scene is dead from Sunday night to Wednesday night, so I told the girls, no way, forget about it! No dance tonight! But they were a jumpy bunch, as I found later on, so only after walking across Mendoza they were settled on sitting in some bar and after reading the menu, I ordered my self a beer while the girls ordered some cocktails, that the waiter said they were not so strong…well, lets say that maybe for him, but for the girls…So, we sat outside on the sidewalk of hot Mendoza, waiting for the drinks, as I got acquainted with the girls.
Quickly, I realized I am in good company: While Efrat and Ravid were much more subtle, Sivan was a knocker, laughing and talking loud, talking about things that most people would not dare mention even when alone. Not that Efrat or Ravid were silent. Oh, no! The participation was full, and the combination of Efrat`s and Ravid’s cynicism with Sivan’s childish way of talking was a great humorous combination!
Then we got our drinks, the girl got their cocktails in High-ball glasses, of course, and took the first sip…well, you should have seen her faces! Twisted like they got a punch in their belly...and no shit, it was a really strong stuff! I drank it myself and it burned like alcohol on fire! (yeah, yeah, I am not that of a drinking person myself, but still…). So, like good girls they went on finishing the full high-ball drink, and as they got near to the bottom of the glass, they were getting more and more drunk! Just think, three crazy girls (when sober) getting drunk and one sober male enjoying the scene! And it was SO funny!
At a certain point, somewhere half way to the end of the glass (of Efrat, Sivan already finished hers and was totally out of senses…), the astonished waiters served us some Mozzarella cubes with sweet Cherries on the house. The cubes came with a spike to hold on, and soon Sivan found it hard to stab a one cubic centimeter Mozzarella (a HUGE chunk!) and was stabbing the plate trying to stab but miss every time, while laughing and shaking. Efrat, drunk also, tried to help her so she took her hand but that was even worse because both of them were so drunk and laughing their hands were going all over the plate but not on the Mozzarella chunks. At the end, we decided to go back to the hostel. Well, Ravid was more or less quite sober (she had a lighter drink, lucky for us) so we two tried to hold on Efrat and Sivan, which kept on knocking into each other, laughing as hell. Sivan was the best, calling and saying hello to strangers walking near us or sitting at cafes on the sidewalk, astonished at the laughing-blabbering two drunken girls. At one point she reached with her hand to say hello and almost gave a slap to a row of five sitting people that had to duck from the reaching hand while me and Ravid pulled her to the other side of the sidewalk…crazy, I am telling ya! To make matters “worse”, we were far from the hostel, so me and Ravid had to keep an eye on the two, as they swing from one side of the sidewalk to the other. Mendoza is also criss-crossed with half a meter deep water channels, and every time we neared one of them, me and Ravid went on chaperoning the two so they won’t fall into one of those deep trenches.
Finally, we came to the sleepy hostel around 3 am (I think) while Sivan blabbers and laughing in high volume and all of us tried to shut her up. Once the door opened, the lot came in one burst and quickly I found Sivan and Efrat on the floor, giggling and laughing in loud voices, while the night shift guy tried to lower their voices without too much success…Well, the best of the best was when after they got into their room on the second floor (while waking up the whole hostel, and I mean, EVERYONE!!!) Sivan didn’t want to go to sleep. Ravid and Efrat talked with her, but Sivan was stubborn, keeping on laughing and giggling out loud so Efrat though a “little” push toward the bed will shut her up. Well, she didn’t think that Sivan would fly and land in such a crash, that the bed would break at one side, while Sivan keeps on laughing on the floor beside the cracked bed…I was in my bed, trying to sleep, when Efrat came and asked if she can sleep in my dormitory, because Sivan broke her bed…
”How did Sivan break the bed?!” I asked in amazement, half laughing.
“I gave her a little push but she fell and broke the bed,” Efrat said sheepishly and she went to bed. Even after we closed the light we could still hear Sivan`s laughter in the background…what a night!

Cold thermals but a hot ride!!!
The next day Ravid and Efrat went to have their first course (after such a night…) while Sivan got bored in the hostel and I went to the Internet to upload my pictures. This routine was Monday through Friday, except for one time when I suggested we gonna go to the hot baths in Cacheuta, an hour drive by bus from Mendoza. So, once the two finished their class at 11 am, we took our stuff, catch a cab and took the 12 pm bus to Cacheuta. The scenery was lovely and in one of the valleys the bus stopped and we saw the baths, located on top of the roaring river, with numerous baths and pools, with a master channels that surrounds the lower complex. We went down and there changed. As I had to take off my underwear, and didn’t have any place to do that, I managed to find a small niche that I hope no one will see and changed there…Shamelessly, I know…Surprisingly, we found the baths to be far from hot and only after an hour in the cold water we thought about going up and check the rest of the pools. Well, they were by a bit hotter and after relaxing a bit we went further up and there we found THE hot pool which we stayed most of the time, laughing at this or that, and sometime going vulgar on some subjects that I can not dwell any deeper…
Well, at a certain point we decided that it is time to go back to Mendoza, only we found out that the next bus was around 6:50 PM and the time was 4:30 PM…shit, what are we gonna do in the mean time? Sivan, as so typical of her, suggested we gonna go with the cute guys waiting for a ride to Mendoza but we felt uneasy coming like this and asking for favors (even Sivan’s HUZPA has a limit…) but after the two guys climbed the green L200 Mitsubishi pickup and the car sped toward Mendoza, our mind returned to what we gonna do in this desolate place. We were surprised, however, when we saw it back up and stopping in a rumble of rubble. One of the guys approached us and asked if we want a ride back to Mendoza as there was one space free in the backseat and the rest can sit in at the back open pick up space. Well, what do you think?! Lets vamos!! So, while I was approaching the green and shiny car, I pondered whether to go backseat or to seat in the pick up. I managed to see the lady behind the wheel, somewhere around her 40s, looking great (!) speaking English and asking what I prefer. The girls already went straight for the back and immediately I gripped how much fun it could be to ride the back of an open pick up truck. SHIT, WE GONNA HAVE SOME JOYRIDE HERE! I said to myself as I jumped over the cargo door and landed on the plastic floor of the pick up.
Before I knew it, the car kicked into gear and the curves back to Mendoza were far from those we saw and felt only 4 hours before. WHAT FUN! The wind whipped us viciously as the car sped the curves and the marvelous scenery of mountains, valleys and trees past beside us at 100 km/h and more. The lady knew her way with the truck, as we went past cars, truck and the like. We were laughing and enjoying the scene, taking pictures of the scenery, and also of us with our hair flung in all direction like being electrified. An hour ride was done in a 40 minutes zoom while we grasped the metal casing of the car while it raced back to Mendoza. It felt AWESOME and so full of power, I wished I had a car like that…Damn!
We we dropped at Plaza Independencia, the main plaza of Mendoza and we thanked the lady and her companions (sons?) for their kindness. I even managed to squeeze a shot of the lot waving goodbye with my oldie camera as a souvenir.

Preparation for the Aconcagua’s base approach
Eight months ago, when I just hit the South American continent and didn’t know left from right in the muchiler life, I knew that I have to run away from stinky Santiago and Mendoza was the main target. Why Mendoza? Because of the highest mountain in the Americas, and actually, in the whole world outside the Himalayan range, which is a lot at that! Not that I had any plans of conquering an almost 7 km high peak (6962 meters), but I have heard and read quite a lot about this mountain and the surrounding park, so I wanted to check it out. I didn’t know that then, but good thing I went to San Pedro instead, because not only I was not acclimatized back then, it was out of season in any case, and no outdoor activity was allowed in the park’s area.
But, now things are different. March was the end of the season and November is the start of the season. I went to check at the park’s offices in Mendoza and found out that this year the snow was heavy than usual and it is expected to be hard to walk to the base of Aconcagua.
Speaking of which, this mighty mountain range, has not one but three (!) major base camps: Plaza de Mulas (4300 MASL), Plaza Francia (4200 MASL) and Plaza Argentina (4200 MASL). Climbers for the normal route start from Plaza de Mulas while those of us who just want to get close to the giant take the three days hike to Plaza Francia, looking at the west face.
We started our arrangements on Thursday, one day prior to our departure (or what wt thought is our departure). We went to the tourist information main office and there three nice girls gave us a lot of info about the park and the different treks in the area. Trekking to Plaza de Mulas requires 5 days while trekking to Plaza Francia requires only 3 days and due to the fact that the permit costs around 10 USD per day, we quickly chose to go to Plaza Francia.
To reach both base camps, we first need to get off on the international route to Chile near Puente del Inca, and walk two hours to the entrance to the park, Horcones. There we were to check-in into the park, and then continue on trekking to the minor base camp, Confluencia, which is located at 3300 Meters ASL, some 4 hours trekking from Horcones. Confluencia is sitting on the Rio Horcones in the split between the western and the eastern valley that “hug” the Aconcagua ridge. Usually people spend their first night in Confluencia, and the next morning hike 5 hours to Plaza Francia, take pictures and return to Confluencia as it is not allowed to spend a night at Francia due to lack of facilities, mainly drinking water and adequate bathrooms (they have a serious thing here with the issue of natural, haaa, relief, and actually it is not allowed to make a “dump” in the whole park except in arranged facilities…yeah, right, I want to see the nut case that will carry his shit 5 hours and even more till he reach Confluencia…)
Snow was not a big issue, they told me, though at a certain point they stressed that we would need plastic boots and crampons to go as high as Francia, but after some consultant with the park rangers at Confluencia, they said it is ok to go with normal hiking boots, “but take extra boots or socks because you gonna get wet feet once you reach Francia”. Well, not really but never mind. We planned on leaving right after Efrat and Ravid will finish their Spanish lessons, Friday morning, sleeping one night in Horcones (for free) and only the next morning check-in with our 3-day permit. Meaning, doing a 4-day trek, to maximize our acclimatization. Cool! Only we found out that the bus leaves twice a day, at 6 am and 10 am, which meant we had to wait for Saturday morning. OK. We bought the permit, only to realize that we need the original passport and I almost went back to the hostel to pickup my passport because they were VERY stiff about this identification shit…man!
Well, after finishing with this issue we went to the streets and while I was looking into buying a wind proof fleece jacket, Sivan started with one of the salesmen and when I got my coat she got a date to the next day’s morning (Friday). We also ride to the bus station to buy tickets to Puente del Inca leaving for us and for two Argentinean doctors that decided to join us to see Puente del Inca and that were staying also in Sosahaus. The next day, we went to rent a 4-person tent and food for the next day, and after the successful date Sivan had with her Argentinean friend (Alejandro his name) she told us she had another one at 11 PM…We reminded her that the next day we gonna leave at 7 am from the bus station, which meant we need to leave the hostel around 6:30 am. She said no problem and I walked with her some of the way to her date meeting location as I wanted to send an email to the family about the trek and some important phone numbers of the park’s offices.
Another trek was underway!

Monday, November 14, 2005

Going west to Shady Mendoza


After getting crazy of doing nothing in Cordoba, I managed to pick up my package and to catch the night bus to Mendoza. Shady Mendoza kept me busy for some time while I was looking for trekking partners to the Aconcagua National Park.

About Argentinean bureaucracy
So, after waiting so much time, Monday bloody Monday has arrived (on the U2 theme, “Sunday Bloody Sunday” song) and I woke up early to be on the spot first thing first. I came to the post office and found out happily that indeed, the package branch was open for business. Great! I went inside, took a number and waited patiently till my turn came. When it did, I approached the middle aged clerk, which from the start didn’t look too symphatic. I told him that I want to send a package and receive one from Israel. I handed him the number of the package and after a minute he told me that the package is not in the post office. WHAT??
Now, you have to understand that I have checked the location of the package over the internet, and it already registered on Argentinean soil from the 1st of November.
So, what’s happening here? I tried to ask the guy but with my shameful Spanish he didn’t understand what the hell I want from him and what is to understand here. There are more than your package in the airport, mister, so you should have to wait patiently he replied finally. You have to get a form notifying of a package delivered here, he added pointing to a pile of forms waiting on his desk. Of course, like in Israel, what the hell I was thinking for myself??
So, frustrated, I just handed my package that I wanted to send and get it inspected. I filled the form of the custom about the different contents that were there and then I got my package wrap. Well, after shipping the package, I had nothing to do but to go the internet point, of course…Later I met with Aviran and Moran, both came to play on the machines and already checked-out of the hostel as they had their bus to Mendoza around 10:30 PM. I managed to pass the day somehow, not knowing what else to do and around 10 PM I said goodbye to the guys, telling them that we might meet again in Mendoza.
The next day, Tuesday, I woke up early and on my way out I asked the hostel staff, out of curiosity, if there is some mail from me. He looked around and said that he don’t find anything posted for me. I was about to leave, when another staff member came in and the guy asked him also if there is some mail for me, and the later guy replied with a yes, and popped a form similar to the one I saw the last day. HURRAY!! I was so happy, that I took it and went outside to grab a taxi to the post office. Time was around 8 am, when the post office just opens, so I won’t have too much people waiting and I could take the night bus to Mendoza. Traffic was heavy but finally we came to the post office and I went straight into the package section. I showed the clerk, the same one from the last day, the note and he went into the back to fetch it. I was so excited! Finally, after two weeks I am gonna get it and take off out of Cordoba! He indeed came with the all-familiar Israeli package box with the post office symbol of white on blue deer hopping. When my turn came, I showed the custom man the note and he took the package, and as he was opening the package he asked for a passport. OH, SHIT…I forgot the passport in the hostel, some 10 blocks from the post. And get it, I took the passport with me the previous day because I knew that they ask for Identification but that day I forgot it. Well, I had a copy and I showed it to the custom man, but then he said that he need to see how much time I am in the country because I am suppose to pay 50% tax on the package content if I am more than 6 months in Argentina. FUCK! That meant that I had to take ANOTHER cab to the hostel, fetch the passport, and get back, and with all this when I need to check when is the next bus to Mendoza, buy a ticket and do a checkout by 11 am from the hostel. I tried to argue, but I was smart enough to stop short with that, as bureaucratese around the world don’t give about arguments – they need a written proof! While I was fuming on my way to the door, the custom man added that he needs also a copy of the passport. Great! The package was 20 cm from me, and still, I could not take it. Damn!
I rushed to the other side of the street and quickly waved for a cab parking at the side. It took us some more 10 minutes to get back to hostel, as traffic was even worse then getting to the post office. Just fuckn great! I was SO agitated! Finally, we arrived to the hostel and I told the guy to wait one minute and I rushed out into the street and into the hostel, went upstairs, taking my passport out of the locker and heading back down into the street and the waiting taxi. We headed back and soon we were back in Colon Street, where the post office center building is. Before leaving the cab, I asked the driver where can I do a photocopy and he pointed to an Internet point and I thanked him and paying for the service.
When I was copying the passport, I was debating whether I should also copy the stamp of the entry to Argentina. Naa, I said to myself, it is not possible to match the front page of the passport with the later pages (Yes they can, Chen, that’s why each passport has serial number pinched at the bottom…). So, I crossed the street and got back into the post office, and luckily for me, no other people where waiting for service so I immediately showed my passport and the copy of the front pages. “I need a copy of the stamp” he said and I was like going, why, why I had to be such a smart ass?! Lucky for me, he took the passport and went to photocopy the stamp with their own machine…finally, after filing some more forms (I like so much to fill those little things…NOT!) I received my package. YES! Done! I took out the stuffs, put them straight into my backpack and head out of the place, not willing to stay there even one more minute. I had to go and to inquire about the bus, so I walked across the city and after asking here and there I found a company that had several departures, but the cheapest ones where leaving either on 12:40 pm or on 11:30 pm…Now, time was around 10:00 am so I had some 2 and half hours to pack everything, check out and to climb the bus. It was possible, but I didn’t felt like rushing things, and more than that, the bus would have reached Mendoza by 11:30 pm more or less…Not such a good time to come into town, I would say…So I bought a ticket for 11:30 pm and went back to the hostel to pack my stuff.

Hitting Mendoza
So, after finishing all this arrangements I took my pack to the little niche they have in the hostel for packs deposit and left for, guess what, the Internet point of course! I stayed there almost till 11:00 pm, with occasional hopping to eat something and then returned back. I managed to do some last minute arrangements and then headed out, catching a taxi to the bus terminal. When I bought the ticket I forgot to ask which lane does my bus depart from so I had to look for it like 10 minutes before departure…I was so in a hurry, that when finally I found the bus I hurried and in the process of passing over some luggage left on the flower, I didn’t lift my leg high enough and stumbled over one bag. I remember that I started to collapse over my legs, making one effort able step after another, but still keeping loosing control and balance under the heavy 25 kg of shit I had on me. At the end I fell on my knee and cursed in Hebrew, while anger sparked in me in a millisecond. But, that held only for a minute, as I heard the roar of people laughing behind me, and the stares of those in front of me. Then, after I lifted my self with all the weight and started walking, I started laughing also, trying to imagine my self, a half man, half black elephant, stumbling like a huge stone falling from high ground, cursing on the way down…I kept on laughing even when I was sitting in the bus, and I was happy. Happy to get out of my usual getting-pissed-about-the-world.
Well, the bus left the station and another sleepless night ride started again.
We arrived to Mendoza around 10 am and when I went to look for a taxi, I saw that there is some kind of a line formed in the exit. Turns out, that the taxis were also lined in a row and a work manager was getting this line with the other line. When I went to the end of the line, I saw a guy wearing a T-shirt of a local hostel arranging some young people. Spotting me, he asked if I wana join in. I politely said that I don’t think so, as I didn’t felt like joining all those British people. And in any case, I had a place in mind, Sosahuas, which I knew absolutely nothing, but it looked ok from the flies I picked in Cordoba.
The cab driver was a talker and we talked about this and that while he chauffeured me across town to the hostel. Immediately I saw that along most of in all of the sidewalk in Mendoza were trees lined up, shading almost across the whole street. Sergio, the smiling owner, greeted me and told me they have room, for only 16 pesos. OK, I am in! I dropped my stuff in the empty dormitory and went outside to check, yes-yes, the internet and my emails. I was quite tired and not long after checking my emails I returned to the hostel for a quick rest.

Touring the city and wine tour
While I tried to see what I can do in Mendoza, a guy came into the hostel looking for a room. Jimmy, a 32 year old Belgian guy who works as a flight attendant, just came from Foz de Iguazu, and planned to stay a month or so more in Argentina. We had a beer together and also advised with Serge about things to do in the city. At the end we went out to eat something together. We chose a Tenedor libre, an eat-all-you-can restaurant, and while we savored over steaks and Choirzos, we talked about our life and about our trips experience. As Jimmy was pressed with time, he was going the next day to see the city and a couple of wineries, and asked if I want to join in. Why not? To finish up, we visited an Internet point, where I had a good surprise – email from Chris! What so good about it, you ask? Well, here is a copy of the email:

hey chen,
got my ticket! at 28th of Nov ill be in santiago.
looking forward, cu

No need to say I was happy to read this email! No one who knew about our plan really believed Chris would have come back to South America, and there where times that Me and Lee had little hope of seeing the guy again. But still, when Lee would think about the possibility Chris will be back, I replied her that Chris is a man of a word, and if he said he is gonna be back, he is gonna be back. I just hopped that we two will be still in the neighborhood when it happens. And, amazingly great, it will happen! But, now I had to reschedule my plans so I can at least find my way to be in Santiago more or less in the proximity of the 28th of November. On the one hand, I had on my hands two weeks in Mendoza, which is more than needed, but on the other, not only Santiago is much-much more expensive than Mendoza, but also I have nothing to do there, as I was already in the city at the start of my trip (see March archives). I discussed this with Jimmy and we pondered about what are my options.

As I am writing this, the guy that works here asked me how much more I have here. Well, I told him, at least 2-3 hours more (and I am already 4 and half hours here!) and he was, oh no, no…aside from me, nobody is in the joint, so he wastes his time here…We agreed that I will have 30 minutes more…

The next day we woke up lazily and went to tour the city, see the main plazas and the pedestrian street. After walking so much, we stopped at the San Martin Park entrance (a huge park, 700 hectares!) and had some coffee. As he was very calculative, Jimmy suggested that instead of seeing the park we might go to see a winery. I didn’t mind, as I had a lot of time to spend in Mendoza. So, after looking for the tourist information, we were shown a map and directions to one Bodega (Winery in Espanol), which is outside town in a little town called Maipu. This Bodega held also a Museum about Bodegas in the Mendoza area, so it sounded really good. The tour is, of course, free of charge (just remember the name is what important) and we came to the winery, we waited for some time till a young and alert guy named Pablo took us and merged us two with a school tour, some 15 kids with two adults accompanying them. Pablo had to work a bit hard as I asked if he can give the explanation also in English, but that’s what he is paid for, right?
The tour started at the vineyard and then continued into the elaborated museum containing numerous artifacts and historic tools used in the wine industry at the late years of the 19th century. It was interesting to see how they used to make wine in the early days and that part of the technology was used back then is still utilized in our modern days (for example, the separation of the stems from the grapes themselves prior to crushing them and extracting the grape juice). Mendoza region is responsible for more than 70% of Argentina’s wine production and is considered one of the best in the world due to a unique combination of altitude, relative humidity and rainfall.
After an hour and a half the tour ended in a wine tasting, and after that we said goodbye to Pablo and did our way back to Mendoza.

High mountains scenery
On our way back from the winery, Jimmy told me that he plans to go to a tour along the International route to Chile and asked if I want to come along. Now, as I saw that I have so much time on my hands, I thought that maybe I could do all these things apart, even though it would have cost me more than this tour would. At the end, I listed my self and the next morning, 7 am, me and Jimmy were already drinking coffee and waiting for the bus to come and pick us up.
First to climb the bus, there were only the guide and another tour guide that was taking notes and learning this tour before he takes responsibility for the next tours. The bus continued on to pick other tourists, from different countries and ages and finally, almost full, the bus took a west turn and headed toward the international route leading up into the mountains and the Chilean border.
The ride was very scenic, seeing the black low ridge of the first cordillera and in the background, the Andes with the Aconcagua jutting like a huge white table, dominating the scenery. We had a short stop at the little town Uspallata and then continued on toward our next stop, a little bridge from the time of General San Martin, which is the liberator of Argentina, Chile and Peru. Actually, what happened is that I was so preoccupied with the scenery and thoughts, that I didn’t listen to what the guide was saying and when he said that we gonna do a stop to take some photos, I was surprised and asked him with all the serious one can ask, what is so special about this place that we stop to take a photo. The guide looked at me in a half surprise, half offend look and said that this is an historic place that was part of the Argentinean national history. Jimmy was already laughing from my tactless question, as I didn’t listen to a word the guy said in the past 20 minutes. I apologized several times and the guide said it was not that important and went ahead to show the group the old bridge, sitting across a river where the army of the Andes crossed on their way to Chile, where they liberated Santiago de Chile on 1818.
We continued on with our driving, and after much more driving we came to the ski resort of Los Penitentes where we stopped for sight seeing. We were given the opportunity to take the chair lifts to the first stop, a 200 meter high hill that usually is covered with snow but was barren when we were there (the skiing season was officially terminated around mid October, so we were almost a month after the end of the season). Almost all the bus agreed to pay the extra 12 pesos and take the chair lift. It was my first time to take this Chair lifts, and it reminded me a bit of the skydiving, or more accurately, the parachuting stage, when you feel floating in mid air, all is close and the immense feel of freedom…
The view from the first base was amazing, scouting across the valley from one side to another, above the little ski resort houses with their green tin roofs and the different facilities, and of course, the view above toward the still snowy mountains. It was not as cold as I thought, as I was with shorts and T shirt.
We continued on west toward the Chilean border, passing the Puente del Inca (Inca bridge) and coming close to Las Cuevas, a little town sitting several km from the border with Chile. On the way, we could see the tin and wood fortifications the Argentineans built in order that snow avalanches would not block the main road, as even now the snow was everywhere around the road and the fortification were half buried with snow.
On the way, we stopped for a photo op of the southern face of the mighty Aconcagua, a place I am planning to visit again…
Finally, we came to La Cumbre, the border checkpoint at 3834 meters ASL, where we stopped for photo-op. 20 meters below the road the valley was continuing north till the start of the ridge, and all this space was totally covered with ice and I, of course, went down to ice to take some photos, while the melting snow formed a small river that continued on east, toward the low land. Standing there on the edge of the glacier near the freezing flowing river was not one of the most intelligent acts I have done, but I got a nice perspective there and I didn’t stayed to long to see if the melting glacier will keep on holding my 64 kg much longer. I went back up the hill and back into the bus.
Noon time already passed so we were a bit hungry, so the plan was to east near Puente del Inca.
Puente del Inca is a famous attraction as it is both a legendary location and also a part of the area history. The site is very touristy and is surrounded around a natural mineral bridge that spans over the river that goes down from the mountain pass. Geologists explain this amazing natural phenomenon due to the flowing of the river carving through the mineral rock of the thermal waters that flow through the rock down to the flowing river. Near this amazingly colorful bridge is an old hotel, dated back from the 20s, that was a luxury place for the noble of that time. However, this hotel was devastated by a massive avalanche at 1965 and miraculously, the owner with his guests were saved as they stayed in the nearby colonial chapel (that still stands till this day).
This site is also part of legend: prior to the arrival of the Spaniards, the son of an Inca chief was suffering from paralysis and the chief seek cure for his son. He heard about this area and with a group of warriors they all journeyed to this high pass, to find the thermal waters flowing through the colorful rock. Only, alas, a river flowed in between and there was no possibility of safely crossing it. So, the warriors in respect to their chief and goal, hold each other and formed a massive bridge that the chief could cross on with his child in his hands and thus reach the thermal waters. After his son was cured from his paralysis, the chief looked back to find his warriors turned into stone, forming a permanent bridge across this river.
After taking some pictures, we went to eat in a close restaurant and started our way back to Mendoza. A long, almost 4 hour drive back! On the way hail storm hit hard the area, with huge lumps crashing down on the road and on the bus windshield…

What next?!
The next day Jimmy went to do some rafting in the area while I went to visit the San Martin Park, with its long-long avenue of green trees on both sides and an elongated artificial lake. I met Jimmy in the evening, just before he departed to Bariloche, while he was all full of stories about the rafting and his experiences.
And what next? Well, looking to walk to the base camp of the Aconcagua, only I need to find partners to do that, and I am still looking…

Sunday, November 06, 2005

Northern Argentina VI: All about passing the time


After doing the jump, I found myself waiting for Monday so I could receive my package sent for me from Israel. Aside from living in the Internet point, I also went to have some fun at night in clubs and saw the magnificent and out of this world show of the famous De La Guarda. It was wet and crazy!!

What do you mean no packages today? Or tomorrow??
Somehow I thought I am a person that learns from his past mistakes. Well, surprise, surprise, I still have a lot to learn and to master. I have asked my mother to send me some stuff as I already forgot Cusco times, when i got stranded there for no less than a month and a week! Well, as I asked my mom to send it to me EMS (Express Mail Service, a fast way to ship things from here to there without loosing your pants to UPS/DHL/FedEx special couriers...) so I guessed that in 5 days it will reach me. Well, think again, as what happened to me. The package didn't reach my hostel, so I went to visit the main post office here in Cordoba on Friday morning, only to hear the lady in customer service saying something about the package department not open till Monday. MONDAY!? Shit, that's three days from now! And I am already here for almost two weeks! I need to move ass, here!! Damn...
So, I am stuck here for the next three days, hopefully the packages section WILL be open (and nobody can guarantee anything here, believe me, especially after the Peruvian post office lost me 10 rolls 0f developed films somewhere between Arequipa and Lima..just wonderful!). What am I doing here? Well, suddenly I have more time to write and change blog, aint I?? Well, now you know why!

De La Guarda – when humans, water and color meet mid air in a crazy frenzy!
Once, over five years ago, a new and original show came into Israel. It was a sensation, and all tickets were sold out several times and the show was prolonged for several weeks due to high demand. It was called, De La Guarda, and at that time made me curious but with not too much of enthusiasm and lack of cash, I preferred to do other things. Turns out, I came to the origin of this show...
Funny thing, already when I was traveling with Lee in a month ago some people we met talked about a show that will be held on the fifth of November and it is a MUST! I understand that it was a rock show, and I was not sure I would stay in Cordoba so much time...well, surprise, surprise..
And then Aviran and Alon told me about this show – Aviran decided to skip it but I decided that missing it in Israel is a good reason to see this show, here in Argentina.
Some words about the De La Guarda show and group: Started at 1993 days in a music bar among the many bars dotting Buenos Aires`s streets, it made a breakthrough in the 90`s and also in the start of the new century, and had a wide world tour, including in Israel.
Well, the time has come, and I went back to the hostel to arrange myself. Alon and Moran (A friend of Aviran and Alon) were not at the hostel, and after looking for them in the Tango hostel (and not finding them there...) I comprehended that they didn't wait for me...Well, I didn't know but it was for the best.
I went out to the streets and stopped a caby that took some ten minutes, while driving through streets I was never familiar with (turns out, he was just wasting time so he could make more money on the counter...). I arrived five minutes before the show started, and after depositing my jacket I entered the place, a people crowded black-walled square arena with a low-ceiling cover of some sort. I only knew that it involves flying performers and water sprayed all over ya. Well, looking up at the low cover I could not figure out how the hell they will move this so the performers can go down and grab you so you can fly with them...A magical-like tunes were poking from speakers all around the arena and people were amassed together, standing and looking around, passing the time. Alon or Moran were not to be seen and frankly, I didn't bothered to look for them.
And then, suddenly the little light that was in the arena has dropped to nil, and suddenly the music changed to another nature-like tunes and the screen above have been lighted with colored spotlights, showing figures and shadows cross from one side to another, speeding across, in an out of this world scene. The crowd roared with enthusiasm as seeds of some kind, balloons and florescence were tossed, released and sprayed all over the cover and made everyone curious as to what will happen next. And then came the flashlights scene: through little hols in the cover, flashlights shone, here one, another there, and in the background you could hear a mumble jumble in an unfamiliar and nonexistent language, which went along with the behavior of the flashlight. It was a funny scene and we all laughed. And then, smoke was released into the cover and suddenly a head burst out of the cover, 2 meters above the head of the crowd, shouting and continuing on the mumble jumble language. Another head popped out and then was pulled back behind the cover. And then, the cover was ripped at several locations, and behold, we were facing a ten meter high hall, with construction pipes build till the ceiling, way above our head. All the balloons, confetti and other things that were on the cover, was sprayed all over us and felt like a combination between Independence day and a wild show of bizarre acting. The performers, athletics wearing suits and very short skirts, were swinging five meter in mid air, flagging their hands, legs and heads in a crazy frenzy. All the while, tribal-like tunes and songs were keeping coming out of the speakers and, for my amazement, were originated from the swinging performers and other participants that were hiding among the elaborate constructions. At one point, a soft spray of water sprinkled all over us, and two stages were pushed into the mass of the crowed at two different locations, and on those stages, one at each, a show of solo performer was conducted under a shower of water, with colored back light and appropriate tunes. Amazing and wild!
At another point, a performer with only ass-exposing underwear, went from the construction in a tarazan like swing almost all the way down to the crowd, shouting and mumbling, and some times on the way down to the crowd, grabbing and tying some “fortunate” victims, usually girls and then swinging with them in the air while fonding there ass in a horny way...How Latin!
The show continued on also with a mass jumping dancing thing, with the performers amid the crowd, picking up atmosphere and hands and making the whole crowd jump and yell in a mass frenzy. A wild-wild show, I can tell you, especially when 200 people jump, push and pull one another to stabilize themselves. It might sound like a total mess, but it is less violent then it sounds. Drum playing, tribal singing and surrealistic scenes of human movement in mid air were also on the menu, and for an hour and a bit, there was not a single moment of silence, relax, and darkness. When one show was finished, another one was starting on the other side of the arena, transferring the attention from the old scene to the new one.
Somehow, it was possible for me to comprehend that those enthusiastic performers, some 8 people all in all, were living this kind of frenzy, and it could be hard for me to actually see them strolling in town like normal human beings...THEY WERE THAT CRAZY!! All was wild, full of good energies and simplified. An original show, one that is hard to conceive or to forget.

Thursday, November 03, 2005

Northern Argentina V: When a man falls (and for a good reason)

Half a second after leaving the need for more commentary here


Even before I knew what my travel destination was, I knew I am going to Skydive where ever it will be. About 4 hours ago I have done so, and in this entry you will get my way of experiencing such a unique experience. Pour yourself a drink, sit down comfortably and start reading...

Around a year and a bit ago...
Skydiving for me was not only about enjoying or dealing with the most basic fear a human feels. As my father was a paratrooper himself in his past, and almost fifty years ago, at the 31st of october 1956, he participated in the single large scale operative airborne deployment over the Sinai desert, I felt that there is some kind of closing a circle. Unfortunately, my father past away two years ago, and since then I planned to jump and to "connect" with him, even if partially, at this adjacent point of life.

Around a month ago...
While I and Lee where staying in Salta, she asked when is my birthday and what am I planning to do. At first I didn't had any good idea, but then, when I saw how the time flows and where I was, it suddenly dawned on me that I can combine the skydiving I planned to do in Cordoba with my birthday. Once in a life time you are 28 years old on the date 28th of October, right? So, that was settled! I am gonna jump on my birthday!

Plans are God’s amusement
Well, as you well know by now, I have arrived to Cordoba a week and a half ago, plenty of time before the scheduled jump. However, not only the weather was bad, there was another problem: the plane was being repaired, and for my big disappointment, it was not ready on my birthday. I have called the parachuting club almost everyday, asking about the possibility of jumping, but every time they told me, call later, it is still under repair. And even after I have completed with the fact that I wont jump on my Birthday, I was still on a hold and postponed several times, sometimes also due to bad weather. Finally, the club called my hostel and left a message for me, that today, Thursday, the 3rd of November, 2005, around 6:30 am (!) I will perform the jump. FINALLY!

Things you should know before you go jumping out of an aeroplane...
For the past five days, I accompanied two great Israeli guys here in Cordoba, Alon and Aviran, both at age 23, and both paratroopers (of the same regiment my father belong too, by the way).
Yesterday, after seeing the movie “The Skeleton Key” (I think), we walked back to the hostel and we talked about the upcoming jump. “It is such a frightening experience,” Aviran told me “that there is the smell of fear in the air while going airborne with airplane”. He also told me some stories he heard about past events that happened while performing military parachuting, which is different then skydiving. While military parachuting is performed at 400 meters above ground, in Skydiving it is possible to reach very high altitudes, in the case of this jump, a little above 2500 meters. Also, the military jump is more risky and of course, much scarier, as you have to push yourself out of the plane while in Tandem Skydiving, the instructor actually pushes both of you out of the plane. “Even so, " Aviran continued “it is scary as hell for me to jump, even now after I have parachuted 7 times and under much riskier conditions and parachuting profile”. It didn't encouraged me too much, even though I must say, I didn't think about it too much and I was eager to “finish with it” as I was waiting for this jump for more than a year!
When we returned to the hostel, I got a message from the club that invited me to come at 6:30 for the jump. Fantastic, finally it will happen! We went outside to eat some junk food and then went to celebrate an Israeli guy’s birthday at a bar. As I had to get up at 5:30 am (!), I left the bar after one hour, and half of a drink. I slept like a baby!

I say, Jump, Jump, you go, Jump, Jump!!
Waking up was not that difficult, and I could feel myself excited. Fear? Well, I was more excited about it than the fear of doing it. I was also very curious as what is it like being up there, falling like a huge lump of stone.
I dressed quickly, took some money (around 150 USD...a shit load of money!) and went down to the reception to order a taxi. Driving there was fast, as the city was just waking up (it was even before 6 am..) and the sun spread some stray of first light rays across the dark blue sky. It was a beautiful morning with clear-clear skies, without any clouds. A perfect day for skydiving!
The club was also just coming into life when I came and quickly the man in charge showed me the paper of withdrawing any legal suites against the club if something tragic will happen...I read it while thinking this is a waste a time for me, as I will do it no matter what I am suppose to sign. Yeah, people can die from it, so?
Another three people came, Israelis also, as I talked with them, and after I got dressed with the suit the instructor, a fifty year old cool guy, lead the way to the little Cessna that was parked outside the hanger. The little Cessna cockpit was a narrow and short square of space, barely possible to hold three paratroopers and one pilot at the seat. “Three important things you should remember,” he told me and the other guy that was alos jumping “One, when you pull yourself from the sitting position, dont touch the Pilot’s chair. Second, when outside of the plane, cross your arms and lower your legs beyond the landing gear. Once falling, arc your knees backward till your legs hit your buttocks and on my signal spread your hands wide. Third, and the most important, when landing, bend your knees toward your chest so we wont tumble down and crash our legs.” Now, after hearing these precautions, I felt a reminder of the thing I am about to do! Damn, it is serious, isn't it? I asked my self as we walked back to the hanger, waiting for the pilot. A bit before 7 am the guy appeared, talking on the phone, and the instructor called me so he could dress me up with the harness that would attach me to him (I remind you that this is a tandem jump...). While I was dressed, the cameraman was shooting the video and as I don't like being photographed or filmed, I preoccupied myself with the harness adjustments that the instructor kept on pushing, pulling and tightening. In the background Moby was singing his great song "We Are all Made of Stars", a song that fit so well with the situation, and I knew this is the song I am gonna ask them to put in the background of the video. As so many Israelis are doing this skydiving, the instructor knew a few useful words in Hebrew: “Sababa-Egozim” (Cool), “Beizim left, Beizim right” (Move your balls to the right or left...), “Matos” (Aeroplane), “Yalla Kadima” (let`s go) and so on. Finally, the time has come to climb the plane. We moved out of the hangar to the already propelling plane, and while the instructor climbed into the tiny cabin, I felt the fast wind of the propeller whip at my face and hair and I glanced inside and then backward, to see the cameraman smiles and filming me. I thought about something to say, stopped my self and then decided to say it, hoping people will hear it in the video over the roar of the idling engine. “It is a shame dad can not be with me now, I wished he could” and with that, I climbed into the cabin sitting between the instructor legs, waiting for the takeoff.
The cameraman climbed also, closed the door, and the pilot taxied toward the little strip of grass that was the runway. After five minutes waiting for clearance, we were granted, and the cameraman filmed the takeoff and me and the instructor with the famous “Thumb-up” gesture, both grinning. I was of course very excited, as this was almost it, and as the plane rushed down the runway I thought about my father, and how he would have liked to jump with me, and to close almost 50 years since his combat deployment back in the fifties, when he was younger than me, and full with adventures spirit.
The plane rose with the motor at full speed (by the sound of the engine whining) and little by little we gained altitude and good view over the whole surrounding area, and of course, of the grand city, Cordoba. We had a decent visibility today, and I could see for km’s away, all the city spread underneath. I was keeping on plodding through myself, looking for fear or excitement, but surprised to find more excitement then any real and paralyzing fear. I enjoyed the flight very much (well, I like flying) and the scenery that beckoned me out of the small windows.
As we neared the altitude of deployment, the plane was already heading back toward the airstrip and I saw that both the cameraman and the instructor were organizing themselves. Suddenly the instructor told me to sit on him so he could attach me to his harness.
Even now I can feel the excitement rising in me, similar to the feeling I had in the plane, amazing!
As I sat on him, and he attached the required buckles, the Cameraman came to aid and said/asked with a grin that I am very relaxed and if everything is OK. I said, of course I am OK, look at the beautiful view outside the plane! (or something like that with my poor Spanish).
Then the time has REALLY come: The cameraman opened the door and a burst of wind rushed into the cabin, playing with my hair and carrying with her the howl of the roaring engine and wind. Suddenly, when nothing screened or blocked the landscape, everything became real and evident. YES, YOU GONNA JUMP AND FALL FROM 8000 FEET, CHEN! THIS IS FUCKN HAPPENING!!!
And, before I could absorb this moment, the instructor already signalled me to pull my way toward the open door, where the cameraman was standing just a moment ago and now was holding himself against the wind, standing on top of the landing gear.

Falling like a stone, soaring like a bird
Approaching the edge of the cabin, I could see the ground moving slowly underneath, all the details merge together into a perfect billion pieces of puzzle made of brown, green and yellow colors. The Cameraman was filming already and seeing it, I acknowledged with a grin. I crossed my hands and as the instructor pushed his legs across the open door, I was already half sitting in midair, and could not see the edge of the plane. This moment, this very moment, I felt fear coming up and seizes me like a watch dog bursting out of his chain viciously and grabbing his target lethally. Yes, it was a paralyzing moment, a moment but not more than that. That is, because a nod passed between my two companions, on the count of less than two the Cameraman loosed his hands on the edge of the door openings, and before I could grasp the amazing speed he was going down, I felt gravity pulling me in an amazing and accelerating speed and force, such a force, I felt my stomach bouncing up into my throat.
Shouting of partial joy, partial of inconvenience, I could count maybe a second before that feeling stabilized into nothingness and at that I suddenly saw that my hands were already flung in the air, and the wide world spread in front of me without nothing beneath. NOTHING!!!! Just an almost infinite number of gas molecules and a decreasing 8000 feet separated me from the heavenly place I was falling from to the earthly place I should have been in the first place.
Looking up, I found the Cameraman looking at me, grinning like a little devil with a white helmet, gesturing like as if asking me to do something. Well, I just grinned, thumbs-up, roaring with genuine mixture of joy, excitement and adrenaline rush at this amazing experience!
Similarly to what I have imagined, the mind could not perceive what the eye was keeping on sending back like a frenzy little worker, doing it`s job at a tremendous work flow but with no partner on the other side of the factory. Thus, I looked everywhere, at all directions, looking to absorb and to keep those 20 or 30 seconds of physical freedom inside me, inside my head, inside my heart. The wind that whips at you at an amazing 200 km/h speed, the sight of nature, nothing BUT nature surrounds you, the joyful helpless feeling like a stone falling from a high rising building and which can not avert or defy the most basic and strongest forces of nature, gravity itself.
Suddenly, sooner than I thought and in complete defiant to the above saying but not as instantaneously, it was over. I felt a light “hand” pulling me by my torso, holding short gravity like a giant Genie coming out of the great blue, and pulling me and the instructor back in a gentle but sustained pull. The Cameraman was there for a second and as time continues on his routine and unstoppable journey, he was out of my sight, falling like a giant white stone toward earth with a great grin spread on his face.
Suddenly, the mind and the senses returned to normal speed and synchronization, and all laid almost as still as my photographs. The sound of the passing wind subsided in my ears and only the sound of the flapping parachute continually dominated over the silence. Peace spread in me like water flowing through a net of pipes, after all that adrenaline rush, only a couple of seconds and some hundreds of meters before. I took a breath of relief. I TOTALY DID IT!!!
The instructor pulled on the strings and we turned sharply to the right or to the left, feeling like a bird with the cool air flowing through the gaps between my fingers, legs and hands. Flying was never easier than at those moments of descend, when the houses near the strip were getting closer and closer, and I offered the instructor that we can land in a swimming pool and take a swim…
Finally, we came to the final manoeuvre, and the instructor turned into the wind approach, while the ground neared faster than I thought. I bent my legs as instructed before and as he aimed toward the V marking the landing spot, I could see the cameraman filming and I gave another grin and Thumbs up. As the land rushed underneath us fast, we glided almost horizontally as the instructor body rubbed the smooth grass and my torso was leaning on him. And, at that, everything came to a full stop. Earth and life returned to normal at an instant.
Damn, that was fast!