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…

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