Tuesday, January 31, 2006

Patagonia VI: Hanuka & Christmas with Fitzroy


Finally, after almost 9 months of traveling, I finally came to one of the two most famous and popular treks of Patagonia: The Fitzroy trek. Together with Maya and Barak we embarked on a 3-day easy going (most of the time) trek near the monstrous giant granite rock with superb weather and clarity all along...

Criss-crossing El Chalten
The light came early, a typical phenomenon in the summer of the far south, and while Maya and Barak were still sleeping, I got dressed and went to the reception to check if we could have a smaller room, which was indeed possible. While talking with the receptionist, I have saw for the first time the immense and spiky erect Fitzroy with a grey overcast in his background. Everything was grey-colored and the overall feeling (with the low temperature) was a bit depressing. Is it like this all the time, I asked the receptionist and she replied that I am actually very luck to see the peak as it is usually heavily shrouded by clouds. Oh, than I better capture it before it vanishes behind clouds! I told her and went into the room to take my camera…
While Maya took the shower, me and Barak went straight to the ranger´s cabin, which serves also as the park information point. We had A LOT of things to arrange before the departure to this trek.
Getting into the cabin, we were approached by a serious park ranger, radiating importance and authority…Asking him about paths option, he offered us a route that later on we will realize was a less popular one to see the mountain range, but nonetheless, an amazingly beautiful path.
The trek route was a simple one: We could take a bus to a point northern of El Chalten called El Pillar (which is the name of a hotel near the dirt path that leads north), and from there start walking south with the valley while the Fitzroy range towering on the other side of the valley, till we reach the first camp, where we were suppose to make the first camp. At that point, he explained, you can climb 300 meters to a hill over looking the mountain over a beautiful lagoon, Laguna de Los Tres. After that come down, sleep the night at the camp and the next day continue on south till you reach the second camp, very close to Laguna Torre, which overlooks Torre spike, one of the spikes in the Fitzroy range. Sleep another night there and return the next day to El Chalten.
When I asked about the weather, and the possibility of this and that, he turned to be all to serious (more than I mentioned the weather) and as bluntly as he could, he said that “I will be bullshitting you if I would say ANYTHING about the the next day´s weather as it is IMPOSSIBLE to predict ANYTHING about the future weather here…I only trust this” and he knocked with his finger’s ring on the circular clock-like instrument that hang from the opposite wall. Looking closely, I saw that it was a barometer that showed 960 Millibars of atmospheric pressure. The ranger continued “If it stays like this, it is a very good weather, no rain, but I can’t tell you anything about tomorrow or even tonight.” And with that, we left the cabin with an uncertainty feeling but hoping we gonna have a good weather. It’s not like we had a choice, in any case, right?
Returning to the hostel, we switched to the 4 person dormitory and ventured to the small town’s dirt streets looking first for places to rent a tent for all the three of us and also, to rent sleeping bags and mattresses for Maya and Barak. We found three shops which sell and rent outdoor equipment and eventually, after walking the length and width of town, we rented sleeping bags and mattresses from one shop and the tent from another. At the later, we had a kind of, ha, argument with the lady in charge.
What happen is that we wanted to rent the tent for 2 nights from the next day (as we have accommodation for that night), but the lady demanded we pay from that point onward, even if we plan to use it only the next day. I asked if the shop will be open the next day morning around 7 am, and of course, it was not as it was Christmas…So, what the hell you want us to do?! If we can’t take it now, when do you think we can take it?? Seeing me starting to get pissed off (as usual), she made “a face” and stated that she doesn’t want to argue and that she is here to sell service and not fight. She tried to squeeze my conscience, and she managed to do that only by a bit, and even so I was determined I wont pay a night I am not using the tent (especially as it was outrages and not the custom I have encountered thus far). We had also the same situation with the sleeping bag/mattress rental in the other shop, BUT, they assured us they WILL be open at 7 am the next day as they are open 24/7 (so we agreed to pick the equipment the next´s day morning).
While doing all these arrangements, we also reserved ourselves a place on the 28th bus back to El Calafate– We had to be very calculative so we could pull this off as best as possible under Maya and Barak´s time limitations. We took the time to reserve a place in different hostel for our return from the trek (the current hostel was fully booked) and also in America del Sur hostel (El Calafate) when we return to town on our way down south. We also had to check transportation to El Pillar, only we found that no bus company ride to El Pilar on Christmas, so we had to find an alternative option, which was a taxi car. Only, when we found the place we found it to be also a Garage (how typical for a small town). I asked him if he could chauffeur us to El Pillar and he said he could, and named a reasonable price. OK, so I fixed with him a time, 7:30, to be at the hostel front and we continued on with our arrangements. The rest of the time till evening we focused on arranging our backpacks for the walk. Barak and Maya decided to take only one big backpack and one day pack, to ease the weight on Maya´s back. That was a mistake I should have anticipated to be a problematic one, as each one have to carry AT LEAST a sleeping bag, mattress and warm clothing, not to mention the other crucial accessories such as a tent, food and water, utensils and the like. Even though it was not my problem, as Barak was to carry all that Maya could not press into her tiny back, it would have made his backpack not balanced and made his back suffer (even though the fella didn’t winch the whole walk, which I take the hat off for that), something which is unwise. At the end, Barak carried the sleeping bags, mattresses, his clothing and food while I carried the tent and the cooking gear. While my backpack was reasonable balanced, Barak´s was enormous with the two sleeping bags and mattress wrapped outside the backpack. I should have adviced against it but I didn’t think it would be such a big thing…Fortunately, as I said, Barak’s no wussy-pussy and carried it with grace all the way… We all took a good shower before the evening came - Even though we are not Christian, but also not that Jewish, we went to a restaurant to enjoy a good meal on what else than Christmas Eve.
In one good, but expensive restaurant (“Pangaea”) I suddenly met an Israeli girl, Moran, that I have met in Lima when I was going down south back to Arequipa. We talked a bit and heard her telling me about the Fitzroy trek and that she is going back home after visiting Ushuaia (which you will be hearing about in couple of entries). I joined Maya and Barak and we had a nice dinner while sitting if not close to the lady we had the argument the same day morning…Talking about small world (or small town at that!). We returned to the hostel tired enough to go to sleep before the awakening at 6:30 am…

Christmas morning, don’t ask!
The next morning, we woke up early and arranged the little we had before departure. We had to pickup the sleeping bags and mattresses before the taxi came, so joining me, Maya and me walked to the rental shop (which is by the way also a café). The streets were quiet, the Fitzroy beckoning from not far, the skies with feather-like clouds high above the peak, hinting to the amazing day we had before us.
Coming to the store front, we were amazed to see it closed and shut, the morning rays just starting to spread in the dark interior. WHAT THE HELL?! Like, were the hell is the guy?? We need the equipment NOW! (as usually, me becoming slightly furious and agitated while Maya kept her serenity and composure like a queen made of ice, looking around to see where is he hiding. Than she motioned to a little electronic door bell set at the door frame and she clicked it while wondering what would happen. And, surprisingly we heard a door slam quietly above us and from the side flight of steps came the guy, obviously awake, coming to open the door! HURRAY! I was calmer and after 5 minutes we walked back to the hostel where Barak waited for us and the taxi. It was 7:20 and no sign of no taxi. What no? I asked myself, getting agitated and furious to see that things not working as I planned (as usual, of course). I told the two to wait for me as I was going to fetch the taxi. As I was doing my way toward the Garage, I had already gripped that Christmas morning can be sometime worse than Sylvester’s morning, people get drunk and forget all kinds of agreements made only 12 hours before…And, coming to the Garage, I found what it look like a taxi, and the Garage door wide open. I peek inside but didn’t see anybody. I called several times but no answer came back accept for the bird’s singing (that fortunately for them, didn’t celebrated Christmas).
Now what am I suppose to do?? I don’t know even where this looser lives and time was running. I looked around, and found two houses close by so I knocked on them, but I didn’t get any reply there, and started to get REALLY FURIOUS! God damn locals, you just cant rely on NO ONE, NO ONE! I murmured in deep frustration, kicking what ever I crossed while I got back to the hostel, trying to calm my self and at the same time, try to think of an alternative. Who can take us now, Christmas morning, and drop us at El Pillar?! What a way to start a trip…I got into the hostel to find Maya and Barak waiting and lifting their head with a question mark on their faces. I told them fast and with bubbling fury what I found out and that I am gonna look for an alternative in town. Barak suggested he will accompany but I told him he better stay in the hostel, as I am so mad that it is better no to be in my proximity. It was not that I would do any harm to him, but I wanted to get pissed off alone and take it all out without any witnesses…While heading back to the quiet streets of El Chalten, I remembered that I saw a 4WD Galloper Jeep driving down the road when me and Maya went to fetch the sleeping bags, so I decided to see if we can hire it. I walked briskly, with bad temper and very foul thoughts about the whole town. Only when I entered the hostel the car was park in front of I managed to shake those thoughts and focus on the problems at hand.
A lady was sitting quietly in the hostel lobby looking at me with deep surprise (and I cant blame her) asking how can she help me, and while controlling my still burning fury, I told her that I need a car to take me to El Pillar, now. She nodded her hear and explained that the driver, which is quite tired, went to sleep after driving for 4 hours from El Calfate. I asked if she could drive us but she nodded again, taking it out of any sensible consideration. Just great, now what?! I thought bitterly, not knowing what to do. She was kind enough to see my frustration and despair, and asked me how did I plan to get there and I explained her that I made a deal with a taxi driver only he is not there. She nodded and went to the reception counter, only to hear heavy snores from above and smiling, she pointed to the overall directions and explaining to me where is the driver…I smiled back, hoping she might find a solution to my problem. She looked at the board behind the counter and wrote me the address of yet another taxi that might help me. I thanked her and went out of the door, more desperate than I got in…
a taxi, now? In damn bloody Christmas!? No way I would manage to find a taxi now, so early with half of town drunk as hell! While these thoughts were still running, I heard cries of laughter, talk and commotion with music plays loud in the background. My instincts told me to take a look, maybe someone will be able to make me a favor. I got in, half curious, half anticipating for anything. Immediately I recognized the place as a local bar, with four fellas, leaning on the counter drunk as they can be at such an hour in the morning, and couple of guys behind the counter. Seeing me, all hushed down and from behind the counter one guy told me that the bar was closed (no shit!). I continued my pace, explaining that I am not looking for a drink (actually for a bat, to smack that fool taxi driver!) but for a driver. Leaning on the counter, I saw the guy stop cleaning the glass he held, thinking while the commotion continued only now I was the star. One guy offered me that he will take me, with hand gestures that went from one side of his body to the next, his eyes hollow as a couple of drainage pipes. I thanked him, with half a smile, loosing patience with every word, but I told him I am looking for a car, not for death. The fellas roared with laughter and drank more for the heck of it, and I was about to turn my attention to the bartender just to hear this guy trying again, saying he will take me for 200 pesos. I smiled broadly, watching the bartender leaving his post and going for the door and walking after him. While doing so, I told the drunk guy that even for 1 peso I would not let him take me no where. his friends laugh accompany while I went outside.
Outside I walked after the guy, that how interesting, was walking straight for the garage. Surprised I saw him opening the car door, checking the key was in the ignition hole, and then went straight to the open garage. He opened a door that I didnt notice before, peeked for a moment and then returned his attention toward me, asking me if I want him to take me to El Pillar. I said of course, but under the same fare I was told the day before. He nodded with his head, and went back into the garage, switching the electric pump and going back outside to inflate the tires. While I was waiting for him to prepare the car, I saw the other guy I talked with yesterday, coming out of the little room all turned out with a shameful face, and with my icy gaze I didnt helped him too much, I must say. I saw him get dresses and started to worry a bit that he will be the one driving us (which I would doubt that as I would have strangled him the first moment I had, for what he had me go through because of his foolish irresponsibility...
We got into the car and less than a minute I already waved Maya and Barak to come out with the packs. Quickly afterwards, we were speeding along the dirt road, going north along the forested ridges on the left and the river flowing on the right. On the way I told Maya and Barak what have happened and they laughed about the situation and my short and easily inflammable temper. I could not agree with them anymore than I was...

Among Forests, mountain ranges and Lagooms – Day 1
Standing there, in front of the hotel entrance, our backpacks on our backs and the taxi was already speeding down the road back to sleepy El Chalten, I was full of awe looking at beautiful Fitzroy at that early, cold morning. We started walking along the river bed and quickly cutting with the path straight into the forest that populated the left river bank, sloping toward the flowing river below. Most of the time we walked in a slow pace, taking a lot of pictures along the way, as it was a VERY BEAUTIFUL place, with such a good weather and clarity in the sky. Everything looked crisp and sparked, the monstrous granite rock towering above us with the deep lines of cracks running along its face, like a wrinkles of an old and experienced man sitting there and waiting for time to pass, for another sunrise to lift his face and for the following sunset to acknowledge his time for a night’s sleep. The quiet forest was just awakening and the many flowers along the way kept maya busy with both her digital and film camera, recording every flower and butterfly.lucky for us, the weight of the packs didnt disturb us too much, as the path was most of the time flat, with inclines and declines here and there. We walked some time, admiring the beauty and grand of nature, and eventually came to the split in the path. The signs at the location of the split were not straightforward enough, and after consulting with three Americans that arrived to the split at the same time, we chose one path and continued to walk for some time. I felt something is wrong with the direciton of our walk so I consulted with the map we were given in the park’s information. As I was saying that I think we made a mistake choice and we should return to the split, we heard a shout and lifting our head we saw one of the American, coming running toward us, puffing and saying that the camp is on the other side, and that he was sorry of making us choose the wrong path. We thanked warmly about him making the effort of coming back after us and ensure that we wont walk on the wrong direction...Less than 10 minutes we were already in the camp, surrounded by wood in the midst of the forest, many tents already erect and quite a lot of people making camp. While we erected the tent, we saw many day-visiters that came to see the Fitzroy from the scout point and then return the same day to El Chalten. We had time on our hands (we barely walked 3 hours before we came to camp!) so after pitching the tent, we spread the sleeping bags and mattresses and made ourselves some light lunch before departing ourselves for the scouting point, Laguna los Tres.
Already getting across the river that flowed nearby, I suddenly remembered that I left my money wallet at the camp, and pondered for a sec whether to go back and fetch it (10 minutes walk there and back) or to “risk” it...Maya and Barak told me that there is no problem, and that they will wait. SO with that, I rushed back down the slope, across the flowing river and into the forest where our camp was, finding the wallet as was. I ran back, by passing huge groups of trekkers walking in one line, all equipped with the all to familiar walking sticks. I met with Barak and Maya and continue with the not east ascent, a total of 300 meters. As there were SO many people walking up the hill, most of them older than us, the pace was quite slow and enabled us to breath easily and enjoy the view of the park, distant mountains, lakes and forests. The place just looks like a piece of paradise...
Reaching the top of the hill we found ourselves standing on the top of a dike that surrounds the beautiful and serene Laguna Los Tres, its water swimming pool-blueish colored, and the wind gentle rocking the water face...And above it, the mighty Fitzroy and its “siblings” towering all, its scared face enhanced in the mid day intense sun. Looking up to the granite rock, admiring the size, shape and contour, I remember Lee’s comment about the mountain, back when we were strolling Bariloche’s street and stopping by a postcard stand. “Its a monster,” she commented while looking for a postcard of the mountain to show me “it is just a granite monster, you gonna like it.” She concluded. And boy, she was right – IT IS a big and raw monster, being molded and shape by the Patagonian freezing wind and by the ice that winter clouds shed on its summit and face. After taking TONS of pictures, from almost every angle, we sat down and relaxed under the tower, with other people, in this quite place. We saw some people go up on a nearby hill, most probably to see another sight and to have a different angle, so we propped ourselves to our feet and made the way up to the hill, only to see another lagoon, tourquise colored, which was towered by the Saint-Exupery spike (yes, named after the famous french adventurer and writer). I walked to one of the edges, leaving Maya and Barak to have some privacy, and enabling me take advantage of a better angle. A waterfall spilled near the place and in that peaceful atmosphere I sat down and enjoyed the sun, the mountains and the feeling of freedom. After almost an hour, we made our move back down to camp. We quickly arranged a nice dinner (pasta, of course) and some tea before hitting the sack for a good night sleep...

Second candle near Laguna Torre – Day 2
Waking up and starting to fix a light breakfast, I understand that Maya and Barak didnt slept too well, but nontheless, they didnt complaine more than commenting about it, and after an hour we were already with all our equipment on our backs, walking in good pace southward, the weather is just excellent and the view of the Fitzroy range just stunning. We quickly came to yet another split (which also lamely marked) and after pondering and advising with some trekkers passing by, we continued on the path that climbed a low hill, full of bush and trees here and there, scouting a pair of lagoons interconected. At a certain point we came down to the lagoons beach and under the intense sun, absorbed this desolate beach atmosphere. At length we walked, waiting to see the split that leads north to the camp, but yet walk more and more.
Well, finally we came to the split, only for me to recognize a familiar figure launching its big pack on his back and starting to walk out of the forest clearing. I shouted at Aviran, but he was walking with his music, full volume probably, so I managed to pick a dry branch from the ground and throw it at a nearby tree that he passed by, making the sufficient sound and movement to catch his attention. Turning around, he suddenly saw me and grinned. We embrased awkwardly with the packs on our backs and after talking with him I understand that he is one day ahead of us, and now on his way back to El Chalten and planing on taking the next day’s bus back to El Calafate. We parted, knowing that we will catch one another on the other attractions that await us in the beautiful ranges of Patagonia. I joined Maya and Barak and continued on going north, with vistas of Cerro Torre (another granite spike jutting into the blue of the sky) and the dead forest that lay close to us. After another an hour and half of hike we came finally to the camp, nestelling 10 minutes walk from laguna Torre. It was getting all of a sudden heavily overcasted and the shine of the day went to other places, taking some of the joy away...damn! This camp was less cramped, and we easily found a good place to camp in, not far from the flowing river that merged with Rio Fitzroy that flowed all the way to El Chalten, some 10 km east of our camp. We already were quick in pitching the tent and spreading the sleeping gear before having a lunch and going to visit the Laguna.
Well, with an overcast above, grey colors dominated the view of Laguna Torre underneath the great spike. Combined with the chilling wind, Maya had enough after 10 minutes and went back to camp while me and Barak went ahead on the left dike that surrounded the laguna, pondering of maybe continuing walking across the river that drain the laguna. Only, we stopped short after five minutes, as we saw that there was no bridge that crossed the flowing river but a single zip-line strectch across to the other bank. Hmm... well, that setteles whether we cross or not cross the river to the other side....We noticed two trekkers going down the bank on the other side and sat down to watch them cross. A large tour group came also and everyone took out their cameras to capture this unusual crossing (I can only imagine the thoughts that passed through the trekkers mind, doing this zip-lining with not too much thinking...). It was a bit comic, to see the commotion of photographers on one side of the river bank, and on the other side, the professional serenity that surrounded the two trekkers, oblivious of the commotion and arrange their equipement for the crossing. And, without too much of a fuss, they crossed with their bags tied to one of the cables, zip line behind them...Once both of them landed on the other shore, the commotion dispersed and the group continued with their tour as well as me and Barak. Coming back to camp, Maya and Barak went to sleep while I sat and wrote my diary enjoying peace and tranquility.
While we prepared dinner, we noticed we ran out of salt and as Barak and Maya consumes salt like they consume drinking water, it was imperative to find some. Barak went to ask favor from other campers in the camping site, and indeed returned with a genorous amount of it. Turns out, that the man he asked the salt from is an Israeli guy name Mor, which later on offered us some of their left-over food and was counter offered to come and join us for a tea (which he accepted). He came with his girlfriend, Tania, both of them living currently in San Fransisco while doing their PhD in near Stanford university. They did us great honor when they came with candles so we could celebrate 2nd candle of Hanuka. After making a flat stone a HANUKIA, Barak said the prayers and lit the candles, a special moment for me, which I will cherish for a long time. I found this ceremony, over 10,000 km away from home and in the midst of nature to be a unique experience, something for life. We also ate cookies that were shaped as Jewish symbols (MENORA, SEVIVON, MAGEN-DAVID) all brought by Tania, which is Christian! Some good jews we are, Ha? We talked about life in the US in comparison to Israel (from Mor’s point of view) and we also got hooked with another attractive destination Mor and Tania told us about – Alaska! If there is a good place to be in nature, and feel you are all alone...We went to sleep quite early, 10 PM, as we were very tired!

Getting back to “civilization” – Day 3
The next morning we wraped everything quickly and already by 10 am we were on our way back to El Chalten, some 2 hours and half. The walk back was not difficult, most of the way flat, and we had some good weather that accompanied us, the skies deep blue and the sun shines brightly. At a certain point we saw town, beautiful under the intense sunshine and the path that lead of town. At that point I was happy to be in town and to take the pack off my back. Another great trek has ended!
Getting back into town, we first went to get rid of the rented equipment (which was easy coz it was on the way to the new hostel) and then headed to the hostel. The room we got was SO small, it was hard for all of us to arrange all our stuff in that room. We hurried to collect our other stuff from the previous hostel and to take it to the new one. As the room was small and eveyone were arranging their stuff, I decided to just move all my stuff to the hall and there I slowly arranged my backpack to the monster it was before taking most of the stuff out of it...Once I finished this (and also took a shower after three days of no shower...), me and Barak went to check emails in the very slow as well as expensive internet and later we passed the time reading books and talking...I remember a talk me and Barak had over beer on the steps that led to the hostel – we were pondering aloud about what are we gonna do when we gonna get back home, what are our options and sometimes just laughing about this and that...it was a nice talk and finish to a long day and good hiking in nature...the next day we had to wake up early so we moved to sleep quite quickly...

One anecdote: traveling with Maya and Barak in close quarters, especially when camping together, led me to see my two friends in new perspectives and different light, and also vice versa. It was interesting to see that after more than 5 years of aqcuiantance we didnt really know each other and only after traveling together we started to appreciate each other. Thanks to our sincirity and confidence, we were able to talk about almost anything that troubled us...

Saturday, January 21, 2006

Patagonia V: When the great white one creeps and thunders…


Visiting the great one, the grand Perito Francisco Moreno glacier was one of the highlights of my trip, when the three of us witnessed crashes and falls of huge ice chunks into the tranquil waters while the thunders still echoed in the whole park long time after…

Starting left, but fast going to the right…
We woke up early, around 8:30, and after doing check-out and having breakfast, we first drove to the near supermarket to buy some food for the up-coming day at the glacier. Barak navigated the car to one good supermarket and stopped at double parking near the entrance to the supermarket to drop us off and then to find another place to park the car. Only, no sooner than me and Maya were out of the car, a local bus came down the road behind us and without slowing down rubbed the side of it with the Gol’s left mirror, bending it to the other side and continuing even after the damage was done. In two seconds, the bus was already 200 meters from us and getting away while we all jumped to see what the sleazy bastard have done to our car. We saw that the mirror’s plastic casing was broken at one point, but other than that, the mirror was not broken. WE HAVE ONLY JUST STARTED TO USE THE CAR, YOU SLEAZY SOB, CANT YOU DRIVE CAREFULLY?!?!!
We all felt like shit and pissed off, but Barak felt even shittier, and we reassured him it was not his fault and because the mirror was not smashed it would not cost too much money to fix it. It didn’t make him feel any better so Maya bought him a pastry to cheer him up.
We drove off and quickly were outside of El Calafate and pushing west on the main road, while Lake Argentina shines in turquoise color on our right and little hills on our left roll with isolated ranches and houses dot here and there the landscape. It was a beautiful ride, and we stopped several times to capture this part of the ride. The weather was not the finest I saw in my life, but it was not raining so nobody was complaining. Most of the 80 km to the park are on paved road but once we got into the park, the road went to gravel, and Barak slowed down a bit so not to damage the car. Finally, after taking a curve we saw it, far, distant but big and white: The famous Perito Moreno glacier. Spilling between two peaks, it continued into the distance horizon beyond our sight. After taking some photos there, we continued on the curved road that bordered the forest on our right till we reached the parking lot. Taking warm clothing, food and of course, cameras, we went down fast, as time was pressing – it was already 12 PM and we decided to start our way back no later than 3:30.

A big one but what a miss!

There are several ways to watch the glacier crashes; the most popular one is to go down the balconies that enable one to see the glacier from couple of hundreds of meters. Another one is to take a boat ride to one hundreds meter or even less and at last you can take a guide and walk down the balconies and see the glacier from ground level. At the end, we were satisfied in seeing the glacier crashes from the balconies as it offered the best view over a good part of the glacier.
Its enormous size (250 square km over 30 km length) and its dynamic life cycle make it one of the greatest attractions of Patagonia. The glacier spills from the South Patagonian Ice field and ends on the Argentinean lake, almost bridging the gap between one shore to the other (though it managed to cover that distance in previous years). At its end, it is 5 km wide and even from several hundreds meters, the white thing is enormous, rising to an average height of 60 meters (and is said to reach a depth of 170 meters in average). It grows 2 meters a day toward the other side of the lake (where everyone watch it) but looses the same growth due to the water pressure on it’s both side that breaks it. In one word: AMAZING!
We came down the balconies with our food, not sure exactly if we gonna take the boat ride later – we decided we gonna see how things develop…
We made our way down to the one of the lowest balconies (and which is close to the head of the glacier) and made ourselves comfortable (it was getting VERY cold there with the wind blowing and the sun playing hide-and-seek with the clouds). And we waited, while we heard the crashes of distant ice clumps and as the monster was creeping her life another day in December. The boat cruiser did her way lazily toward the white ice wall and all was tranquil, the birds singing now and again behind us in the near forested area.
And then, some two hundred meters from us, it happened.
A chunk the size of truck cracked from the top of the ice wall in a thunderous bang (which took a fraction of a second till we actually heard it) and it slid slowly and directly down toward the tranquil waters of lake Argentina, taking with a rubble of smaller ice lumps. While it went down, it also cracked the base of a neighboring huge chunk that hang for a split second before it went down with its successor, both crashing in a rocking thunder and splashes of gigantic waves went into the air, obscuring the sight of the crumbling of the ice chunks into the waters. The cruiser, which was quite close to the area, broke and head away from the waves that those chunks made and rocked a bit, while waves splashed on the rocky beach directly underneath us…It was SO amazing, that I can still remember a lady from our balcony crying while it happened “Oh, es Bonisimo!” (Oh, its beautiful!).
Well, even with such a detailed description of this 3-4 seconds crash, I was half busying my self with my camera. When it happened I started to rapidly snap-shot the event, only to realize that after two frames the camera stopped shooting. I took my eyes of the event just to see that the film rolled back to the start. THE FILM IS FINISHED! I was amazed and in a split second gripped that I won’t capture the rest of what was left of the crash. I was SO disappointed and angry about my un-professional work habits, not checking my camera setting and assuring that I have enough frames to shoot such an event! I kicked my ass for some time till I got over this tiny frustrating feeling of lose but more to shake the disappointment out of my soul.

Waiting and waiting
After that amazing crash we observed the glacier intently for another big one, but aside from small crumbling ice clumps, we didn’t see any similar crash as we saw at the start (though we could hear the rumble of distant crashes within the glacier itself).
At a certain point Barak pointed to a massive pillar of ice that stand apart from the main wall and was straight in front us, hoping aloud that it would crash as we stand there. It didn't of course, but it was nice to imagine that it would actually break and fall with all its massive weight and size...
It was getting quite cold and soon it was already 2:30 PM, with one hour left till we had to wrap everything and head back to El Calafate. We made ourselves some sandwiches and all the while were with one eye on the glacier and one on the sandwich preparation, but nothing serious happened that interrupt our modest meal. Finally, it was already 3:15 and we made our move up the balcony to the main level, stayed there for 5 minutes more and then decided to check the other side of the balconies. While going down the long wooden bridge among the trees that surrounded us we could hear suddenly an enormous and long rumble and crash. It was such a big crash that the bridge trembled and we hasted our pace while trying to find a gap in the forested mesh that blocked almost any sight of the white one. Finally, when we reached the lower balcony the only evident to the great crash was the waves that softly caressed the brown earth 20 meters below us. Oh, well, we decided to stay there for couple of minutes, hoping and wishing that we might notice another crash, which of course didn't come...
We made our way back to the main balcony, when we all heard the cracking and breaking of nearby rocks, and noticed some small lumps detach and fall in a small avalanche down to the ice-floating water. While we continued walking and looking indifferently, we suddenly saw a crack forms out of the blue (or white??) across a chunk of the wall, and to our astonished eyes the lump glided slowly with the thunder of the crack following not far behind.
“Get it, Get it!” I shouted at Barak and the two of us lounged at the close wooden fence, cameras drawn but not as ready as we would like it to be. It took time for both of us to manage the cameras but we at the end we captured something of this crash (my camera, for the first time, didn't responded only god knows why...). In any case, I was overwhelmed of the event, to see the formation of the crack and the falling giant ice lump that I didn't cared really if I captured the event or not. It was SO amazing, nothing really mattered...

Rushing to El Chalten
We rushed back to the parking lot, got into the car and started our way back to El Calafate. Barak was seated behind the wheel and although I urged him that I can take the wheel, he insisted he is fine and he will drive the way back. I was quite tired, to tell the truth, and soon I fell asleep while the scenery changes quickly and the wide landscape of Patagonia flashed on the back seat’s windows and soon than I have noticed, we were back at El Calafate. We decided to first talk with the agency and show them the damage. It was 5 PM and we had only hour and half to get to the bus after we repacked our packs and returned the car.
At first the manager smiled broadly welcoming us but when I explained him that we have a little problem, his smile disappeared and lines of concern stretch across his forehead. He joined us out of the office and we showed him the damage and explained him what happened, and he said no problem and went into the office to call several garages in the area, looking for a cheap one so the repairment cost will be minimized. Time was also running on us and eventually he found one garage which charge around 30 USD for the fix and we accepted it (like we had a choice in any case...). We told him that we need to take our packs and that we will return the car as soon as possible. We got into the car and headed to America del Sur hostel, taking our packs and repacking the needed. Shoving them into the car, we headed to the bus terminal dropping the packs and Maya at the terminal and then heading back to the main street and getting back to the rental office. In the meantime that we went to the hostel, the kind manager already filled the necessary forms and after 5 minutes we were out of the place walking fast back to the bus terminal. We reached the terminal around 6 PM and noticed the amount of Israelis that were also heading to El Chalten – almost half of the bus! Amazing...
The bus was actually a big minibus and quickly we left El Calafate and made our way east and then north on route 40 north to little El Chalten, while passing through wild and plain Patagonia, with the gravel road stretches ahead of us for km. Wild hills on our right sometime made the scene interesting, while on the left lakes sprinkled in the slowly setting sun. We made a stop at a little weird ranch in the middle of nowhere, hosting a domesticated guanaco that played with a local dog and later tried to get into the house and be fed from the astonished/amused tourists. We had some refreshments and coffee and then continued on, heading north and little by little the bus curved with the road toward the Andean range. From a far, as the golden sun pierced between the low clouds in the distance, I noticed the formidable Fitzroy, a 3375 meters ASL giant granite rock jutting among the other teeth of this Andean range. It was such an amazing sight, to see such a spike from maybe more than 100 km away...The sun went so slowly down and when darkness took hold of the bus we finally saw the tungsten lighted El Chalten, while the bus continued on jumping through the gravel. Crossing Rio Chalten and getting into the town we dropped at the bus company around 11:00 PM.
We made our way to the hostel we reserved prior to our departure (a HI affiliated hostel) and even though I was not too satisfied with it (it was cramped with 6 bunks) we stayed there as it was late and we were VERY tired. We went outside and had one good pizza in a little resto-bar on the main street. Quickly we gripped that as this is one of the end-of-the-world towns, prices rise to the heaven and a lot of things are truly expensive! But, we didn't care, we were SO hungry we ate it all and asked for more...
Getting back to the hostel, sleep came on us quickly...

Sunday, January 15, 2006

Patagonia IV: The El Bolson-Comodoro Rivadavia-El Calafate “circuit”

Probably the most ugliest Cathedral in the world (Comodoro Rivadavia) - Taken by Maya Gur


Getting back to Bariloche, Me and Lee finally shipped her Muchila back to Israel and after a nice day we parted, again, for the third time...Getting back to El Bolson and re-meeting with Maya and Barak we embarked on successive lengthy bus rides only to reach El Calafate, circling the whole triangular Patagonian plane...

Bureaucratic and yet another parting...
Waking up early (5:30 am!), me and Lee arranged our stuff and took off on foot to the bus station. Before departing to the cold street, Lee said goodbye to semi-sleepy Maya and Barak, that she might see only in Israel in some unknown futural date...
We briskly walked, to get warm and also to reach the station on time so we wont miss the bus, and eventually we came well before the time of departure. We slept a good deal of the ride back to Bariloche, only to reach the awakening resort town right before the clock chimed 9 times. We had a small coffee in the station waiting for the opening of office so we could already secure Lee`s next departure to Salta. Yep, last time we were there when we went to El Bolson Lee found out that some companies right it all the way to Salta, and once hearing this, decided she is gonna run the whole way there, and from there to the all to familiar, San Pedro de Atacama...
Well, the offices were open and quickly we found a good bus company and bought the first ticket we could get, around the 24th of December, Christmas time (not that Lee is to eager to celebrate Christmas, but she wanted to be there for Rafael in this family holiday...).
We then climbed a taxi and road to town and Lee checked-in in The Red Deer in the same room (this time they charged her 50 Peso a night!) even after she told them she stayed there several times and plans on returning to Bariloche...nothing helped and she bite on it and went up to here room. We took the Muchila and zoomed back to town to get to the post office. Monday morning, and the line already curved with the constrains of the building, passing through the entrance...Damn...We standed in line and after ten minutes we got to the cashier only to weigh the package and then go to customs so they will check the package and then back down, to stand in the long line of people AGAIN...SHIT! I remember that I was so pissed off that Lee was looking at me with a sad look (or maybe it wasnt so sad??) that I gripped my self and reminded me that shity bureaucratic should not make one so angry...I shook my self and when we entered the custom office (at least here there was no one in line...) I was already doing my best to get back on the sane track. The nice custom guy asked several questions, checked the package and sealed it with a tape, stamping it at the end. Finally! We went down, stood in line again and finally shipped the package. Hurray!
We strolled in the city, and as usually, talking our personal talks while stopping here and there and making little arrangements in touristy Bariloche. I bought a ticket for the 6:30 PM bus back to El Bolson and when lunch time came, we had another good meal in the vegetarian restaurant. Eventually, we parted hastily (as it almost does) as I caught a taxi to the bus station. While the taxi sped along the street, leaving Lee to climb the stairs to the hostel, I was pondering if, when and where we gonna meet again – would it be here in South America with her parents or it would be in ole Israel with the smell of the Red sea?

Checking out handwork in beautiful El Bolson
Getting back to El Bolson, I found the new hostel Maya and Barak found nearby and the two of them after a nice shower. While I was back in Bariloche the two went to visit the Israeli ranch on the shores of a little lake. They told me I didn’t miss anything special and after rearranging a bit we ventured out to eat something and eventually found ourselves eating in the Juaja restaurant a delicious meal we still remember even here in Ushuaia (were I am writing this entry), some three weeks after. After that we went back to the hostel for a good night sleep till the next morning.
It was Tuesday, Market day! We first went to buy tickets to Comodoro Rivadavia, a big town known for their fuel centers (YPF) but nothing touristy there. As I mentioned before, our plan was to try and rent a car there and travel the width of Patagonia to the southern part of the Caratera Austral. We found the most proximate departure around 6:30 PM and took it with planned time of arrival at 6 am...SSHHH, another 12 hours ride...
We then went back to the plaza and had a small breakfast while waiting for the market vendors to get their little stands for the days work. Finally, we started to walk along the different stalls, admiring the hand work and passing the time till lunch time where we ate at the food stalls (and met an Israeli couple me and Lee met in Brad`s place in Pucon...). Maya wanted the real thing so we went to jauja so she could buy the hamburger I had the previous evening. We finished with the delicious and famous Jauja ice cream, delighting on every bite and then we passed the time till we needed to take our stuff to the bus station (I went to the internet while Maya and Barak enjoyed the sunshine in the little Plaza).

Riding to the Atlantic side of Patagonia...
On our way to the bus, while I was trying not to swing with heavy weight of my Muchila, I heard a scream of joy and before I knew it somebody jumped on my muchila and almost toppled me on my side to the sidewalk! Guess what? It was no other than Sivan (!), full of joy, all jittery with Efrat and Ravid looking from the store they were buying stuff, amused as hell...The girls just came to El Bolson the same day we leave...It was a funny meeting and as it usually happen, Maya and Barak were in shock from Sivan's behavior...As we were hurrying to get to the bus station, I said goodbye after some talk and went along.
Getting to the bus station, we found Shaul and Hauvi waiting also for their bus south (I also met them before in the internet). We talked with them about our plans and theirs and we agreed that if we are lucky and find a good deal in Comodoro we will email them and might catch them on their way south toward Futalefu. The bus came into the station and after we dropped our stuff in the cargo bay and boarded the double floor bus, I was surprised to see Alon sitting there with his Minidisk and smiling, as usual. He was going direct from Bariloche to Rio Gallegos, a ghost town on the southern tip of Patagonia, and a must pass town on the way to El Calafate, the ports town of Chile and of course, Ushuaia. Checking the seats I found out that the location was wrong (instead of locating on the right side it was located on the left side) and coinciding I heard Barak talking something about the driver that saying this is not our bus. Going down we found out that indeed our bus gets a bit later. OK...so we dragged our stuff back to the bus station only to wait 20 minutes more before the right bus got (only one floor and not to cozy for a night ride...). The ride was long and tiring, even though I managed to squeeze a good sleep toward the lengthiest day in the year, the 21st of December. Sunset was only around 10:30 PM! And I could still see some rays of light at 11:30 PM! Amazing place!

Breakfast at YPF, helpful tourist information staff, the best ever steak (!) and the ugliest church I have ever seen...
We hit Comodoro Rivadavia a bit after sunrise, 6 am, to see the sun over the Atlantic as the bus rode passed the poor promenade into the center of town. We went down only to meet with Alon, waiting for his continuing ride around 8:30 am and which was helpful and suggested us to rest a bit in the YPF station that have a dinner. Good idea! We indeed got out of the station, crossed the street and found the gas station sitting close to the beach front with coffee, shit to eat and more importantly, place to sit and phone boots to make some calls. We planned on making some calls to some rental agencies and if we find appropriate one, rent the car the same day and ride hard and long toward Chile Chico on the Argentinean-Chilean front. It was the 21st of December, the longest day of the year and we were already south enough to have light all the way till 11 PM…
Finally, we managed to call several agencies but most of them didn’t had any high clearance car, not talking about a 4WD jeep and the little that had such a car, demanded enormous amount of money for it…So, as quickly as the crow flies we abandoned the idea of traveling in the Carratera Austral and returned to the bus station to buy the next bus we can find to El Calafate.
Without asking too much questions, we found the first bus we could take to El Calafate, which is situated on the southern part of the Argentinean Andes spine, some 1449 km south of Bariloche and “only” 863 km north of little southern Ushuaia. We found a bus that rides from 20:30 all the way to Rio Gallegos (pronounced “Gajegos”), a ghost town on the southern tip of the Patagonian triangle and from there we should take another 4 hour bus up north-west to El Calafate, circling the Patagonians land. A long-long ride! Barak offered we gonna check the near tourist information but we told him that most probably they will be telling us that those are the only options. Well, we quickly found that we were wrong…They told us about another option to leave with a different company a hour later but have a DIRECT bus that goes all the way to El Calafate instead of getting into Rio Gallegos and start looking for buses to El Calafate (which is a high destination on many tourists map…). So, me and Barak standed in the waiting line to Andesmar company while Maya waited in line for the Sportsman company that fare directly to El Calafate…Very funny, because we were not sure if we can get a free place in Sportsman and if we cancel the place ahead of plan in Andesmar we might find ourselves with nothing...At the end, they canceled our tickets and we managed to find place on the Sportsman`s bus to El Calafate not after we asked the helpful tourist information personal waited with us in line to verify that we get the right bus (!!). Time of reaching El Calafate was 12 PM the next day.
Now, what are we gonna do in Comodoro Rivadavia all this time?? So, the very friendly tourist information showed us the local attractions (mostly sea lions scouting outside of town) and with the Lonely Planet’s recommendation we went to the city. We mostly shopped (Maya bought a trekking pants), ate the best steak I had in this trip (Peperoni restaurant) and saw one ugly Cathedral, the most ugliest I have ever seen (with the Lonely Planet`s comment as this is the ugliest cathedral you’ll ever see in your life time). Looks like the pope didn’t have the time to visit Comodoro and to give the locals some Euros to erect something a bit more appealing…We wondered more, checked our emails and even walked close to the Argentinean Naval base, which we were not allowed to get in even after we explained them that we want to see sea lions (the guard didn’t really understand our hands gestures so we gave up before they will arrest us of being outside a mental institution…). At the end we got back to the bus terminal to re-arrange ourselves for the 14 hours bus ride to El Calafate.

El Calafate
We were a bit concerned about what kind of bus we gonna get for this long ride to El Calafate as last time we had a nightmarish ride due to lack of space for our legs (and none of us cross the 1.7 meter so I really don’t want to think how a 1.85 person would cramp into that seat for so many hours…). We were pleased, then, to see the double floor bus get into the station, all neat and sparking, like it was taken out of the factory that same day (listen, it is still the longest day of the year so who knows…). We scrambled to the upper floor and grabbed the four front seats, those that had a panoramic view as it was a “first-come, first served” seating agenda. We made ourselves comfortable as the bus started its way south on the famous route number 3, the route that starts north in Buenos Aires and heads down south along the Atlantic coast some 3200 km to Ushuaia, the southernmost city in the world.
At 9 PM it was already getting dark, and along the way we could see on our left side the Atlantic breaks on the shores while on our right the enormous wilderness of the Patagonian plain with the sun spreading here last rays of light across the plain and above hills. Even though it was a comfortable ride, I didn’t have a good sleep, as it usually happens to me on long bus rides. Nontheless, the ride passed quite good and we woke up to see sunrise already at 5:00 am at a small town on the way that the bus stopped over to pick up passengers on the way south to Rio Gallegos.
Patagonia, as I started to appreciate in this ride, was an almost endless stretch of flat wilderness, without almost any trees but to some overgrown bush that even they hang for their lives under the windy and cold conditions that characterize this piece of land. It is not that attractive, I must add, but still, the wide and distant horizon that stretched forever got my thoughts flying really far…
Finally, around 8 am we got to grey and wind-swept Rio Gallegos, half MASTULIM from a sleepless ride. We had some hour and half till the bus departs to El Calafate, so I went to fetch some coffee and tea from the nearest YPF station that housed a small food serving joint (this time they let me in – check out the future entry about getting back to Buenos Aires…). When I got back to the bus station, which is situated across the highway, I found to my surprise that the bus has gone (with three cups of hot drinks in my hands…)…WHAT THE HELL?! I started circling the whole god-damn bus station till I stumble into Maya. Well, turns out that the bus went to refuel and dropped all passengers in the terminal, only I didn’t knew it, and wandering around with hot drinks in the cold wind was not what I call a good idea…We sat happily in the wind-sheltered bus terminal with other hundreds of grimy Argentineans, tourists and workers, waiting for the minute we can get the hell out of this town (and we were only in the bus station).
The time has come, finally, and we made our way north by north-east along the southern tip of Patagonia and getting into the rough and famous route 40, the unpaved route that runs all the way from the tip of Patagonia all the way up to Salta region, near the border with Bolivia.
It was a scenic ride through the wilderness, seeing sheep jump and run at the cry of the bus engine’s at the side of the road with a marvelous backdrop of the distant spiny Andes, partial covered with snow. The grey hanging clouds just added to the drama of this ride and eventually, we came into little and touristy El Calafate, sitting on the shores of the enormous Lake Argentina.
Coming into the little bus station, we were quickly confronted with representatives of several hostels in town, and of course, we went to the cheapest we could. It was an HI affiliated hostel and it shuttled us in a minibus to the other side of the city only to see a clean but camp-like hostelling style and a cunning staff (the guy at the station said it was 20 pesos, and in the hostel it jumped to 23 pesos because we didn’t have the HI card…). The atmosphere was also not pleasant so we checked the other HI in town (which were connected together) and found them to be as equall unappealing and cunning, so we decided to go to America del Sur hostel, which was on the other side. It was not a great walk, I can tell you that, but at least we got to a VERY friendly and appealing hostel. Floor-heating system, a vast open space serving as a lobby, chilling out corners and dinning area, this place attracted us from the start, not to mention the friendly and helpful staff. We gladly put our shoes outside the entrance as it is not allowed to walk with shoes in the hostel to keep it clean (don’t forget it is all heated up underneath the floor so it is not cold…). It was more expensive, but we felt we get what we paid for, and that was fine with us…
We got rearranged quickly (got a hot shower after two days without one!) and went to see the city. On the way Barak suggested we gonna rent a car (?!) to see the Perito Moreno famous glaciar instead of taking a tour. Doing the calculation we figured out that we can save a bit money there but we might miss the “trekking” part underneath the glaciar. The pro side was that we could stop whenever we wanted to take pictures and also we can decide when we gonna leave to the park and when we gonna cut back to El Calafate. We went to search for rental car agencies and found one that offered a fiat for 140 pesos a day, including 200 km. We went to the tourist information (which is in the bus station) to see if it is possible to hike without a guide in the park (it is not) and on the way out we met no other than Aviran and Shiri! Well, they were waiting for the bus to El Chalten after they saw the glaciar and returned the car the same day. Shiri was very excited and showed some videos from her camera captured only several hours before – it was impressive in that little screen, I just guessed it is even more impressive to be there and see the giant thing crumble in front of your eyes…Talking with them more (and also with Alon), they recommended the small Hertz office that gave them a good car for 150 pesos. We told them we gonna check it out and before departing Aviran and Shiri told me they are planning on hiring a car in Bariloche to do the Carratera Austral, and if I want I can join them after Ushuaia (our plans were more or less the same). This suggestion caught me by surprise, as I already abandoned the idea of actually touring the Carratera but I also was not sure I want to squeeze the amount of money needed for it, so I told them I will think about it.
We went quickly to check the Hertz agency, and gladly found a friendly staff and the car ready for rental as of 8 PM for the same price (they wanted more, but we told them about Aviran and Shiri and they accepted to lower the price back to 153 pesos per day). We rushed back to buy tickets for the next’s day bus to El Chalten that leaves around 6:30 PM. Barak and Maya didn’t have too much time and after I sat with them in El Bolson and charted their deadline we all agreed that time is rushing and they have to touch-n-go in most places in order to see most highlights they wanted. I didn’t mind to run with them, I actually felt better to start touring faster, and stopping getting stuck in places.
Following buying the tickets we rushed back to the agency (15 minutes walk), took the shiny and new Gol and when Barak behind the wheel, we started back to the hostel to park it and look for some food (just to think we wanted badly to eat and only after 3 hours we could squeez the time for). When we were back in the hostel, the owner joint us for the short walk to town and we asked him if he can recommend any good restaurant. He offered we go to “La Tablita”, “the best restaurant in El Calafate” he praised, so we went there. It looked very serious, very big with lots of people savoring over thick steaks and other yami-looking dishes. We sat down and ordered the regular dish, a “Bife de Chorizo”, which is an Antricot slice of meat, and we found it to be good. The price was not cheap in Argentinean standards but we decided to go for it. Well, lets say that we waited patiently for more than an hour and a half (!) till we got our orderes (like many other people in our row too) and that only happened after we asked the waitress if our dishes our ready (and she went to the BBQ man that suddenly flipped through the many leafs of orders till he found ours…great!).
Two bites out of it and I was deeply disappointed – It was overly cooked on the outside and tasted like shit. At that point I was getting pissed off, and I called the waitress, and explained her the problem. She went back to check if they can change my order (which they agreed but I should still pay half of the order) and I ordered another two Chorizos (spicy hot dogs) which they didn’t fuck up. Maya and Barak were not over the roof enjoying their meal and at the end we got out with bad taste (maybe because I was so disappointed and it affected them). We finished up with ice cream before we went to bed, waiting for the next day tour.

Tuesday, January 10, 2006

Patagonia III: Wood and Mountains of El Bolson


After recovering from the last experience, the four of us took the bus to little El Bolson, a town situated in a prosperous valley between mountain ranges, lakes and forest ranges. Wood statues, mountains vistas and Jauja’s Ice cream were part of this area menu…

Shipping (Again…) and one hot debate
The following morning, Saturday the 17th, me and Lee woke up with several issues on the Agenda: aside from returning the car to the rent agency, Lee had to ship some stuff back to Israel (among them the old backpack). Getting back to the agency with the car, the unsymphatic representative checked the car and blabbered something about the tank that is not totally full (which is absurd because we filled it 5 minutes ride from center of Bariloche) and eventually gave me the Visa voucher. Thank you!
We hurried back to the hostel to take all the stuff and then back to the post office before more people will fill in the lines. Indeed the post office was partially empty but apparently due to the fact that it was a Saturday, there is no Custom service, thus only packages that do not exceed 2 Kg can be shipped. Wonderful! Weighing it all, we found out that only the backpack alone weigh 2 Kg and the rest of the stuff around 1.5 Kg, and that’s without the packaging box weight. After I ran to a close supermarket to find a big enough carton box for the backpack we found out that the carton itself had a self weight of 1 Kg and that was the smallest I could find…So, we decided that we gonna postpone that shipping to Monday and for the time being we gonna get rid of the little stuff. This was also a little issue because it took some time till somebody managed to get the right size of box that fitted the amount of stuff we had to ship (big box meant more and unnecessary weight, of course).
After we finally finished our post office agenda (for the time being…) we split – Lee went to talk with her parents while I went to meet with Maya and Barak. Meeting with the two we all decided that we might want to go for the Kangoo option to do the Carratera with. We went to the rent agency (the same agency that we rented the private car for the 7 lakes tour) and we told them to reserve the car for us on the 21st of the month. The same unsympathic female representative took our reservation details and demanded a 250 pesos in advance for the reservation (hmm…). We explained her, according to what we heard the last time we talked about the rent agreement, that we want to drop the car in Comodoro Rivadavia (which you will hear about later on), a major city on the Atlantic shore, south-eastern of Bariloche. She said fine, gave us the price for 8 days rent and not 7 (another day just in case) and after filling everything, she “suddenly” remembered that there is another fee that we need to pay if we return the car in Comodoro – we have to pay an additional 800 pesos (!!) for the return of the car back to Bariloche…Now, WHERE THE HELL THIS NUMBER CAME FROM?!
We looked at each other and re-calculated how much it will cost each of us now that we got a new agenda on the line. Well, instead that the car will cost us 70 dollars a day, it jumped to 100 and something dollars a day, not including anything else (fuel, accommodation/tent rental, food…) Well, as we added the figures we assessed the whole gig as a bit too expensive for us, something around 50 dollars a day for each of us…So, after checking all the different possibilities, we decided to we cancel the order. I told the representative that we want to cancel and want our money back. She made a sour face and started blabbering in fast Spanish with the other representative something I could not decipher, but it was most likely nothing too kind. She started explaining to me in Spanish something about that it is not right to make a reservation and cancel it after 10 minutes when the manager of the office, and the one that first told us about “The Comodoro option” and the low price, just popped into the office. Of course, the three of us were quite surprise of the representative stand, as the reservation was viable for only 10 minutes and in that time NO ONE came to claim the car. The manager managed to pop out a “Que Paos??” (What happened) only to get a machine gun rumble of Spanish about our flip-flop with the car reservation. I told her, with the best Spanish I could squeeze out of my mind, that she cant just bump up the price by 50% after we signed the agreement and expect us to sit down and agree. It seems that the problem laid in the receipt they issued for the reservation, as this was the heart of the two Argentineans hot debate and finally, the manager asked us in English how much he told us and we told him the low price. He didn’t look to happy with the answer, and I guess he didn’t even remember telling us this two days ago, but finally with a sour face of his own, he discharged us and told her to give us our money back. And with that, she grabbed the money box in an anger move and almost threw the money back at my face…Well, you know me, and how can I get pissed off when people are acting badly, especially after they are doing the mistake and expect me to clean up the mess they left…but, I managed to squeeze a couple of “Disculpe!” before the three of us took off from that agency, vowing not to get in again.

El Bolson and The Carved Garden
Back in the awakening streets of Bariloche, we pondered what can we do to arrange a car because we wanted to see the Carratera. So, we went to Yaankale and sat down with a nice guy that works there, Yakov, and he gave us the idea to see only the Southern Part of the Carratera, the one that runs from Chile Chico (Border crossing) up to Cerro Castillo, a leg you can do in a day or two, depend on the amount of Kilometers you want to cover in one day. Where we can hire a car to do the southern leg? In Comodoro of course! Now, why we didn’t thought about that! We can do a mini carratera, see the essentials and then managed to get back fast and even to save some money and time!
With those thoughts we went to meet with Lee and while we went to buy tickets for the next day’s bus to El Bolson we told her the tales of the day.
The next day we took the 9:30 bus to El Bolson, a little town situated two hours bus ride south of Bariloche in a prosperous valley with an amazing backdrop of snowy mountain ridges and forests on both sides of the river. The ride was a very scenic one, while we passed on the way blueish lakes, yellow-as-the-sun-shine bushes, rivers and forested mountain peaks towering some 1000 meters above the head. Coming into town, we moved to the spacious center of El Bolson where the tourist information is situated. They told us about several hikes that are possible in the area and also about the “Art market” that is held twice a week in the nearby semi-circular plaza (and we missed it). We also checked out hostels and found one not too far from there and made our way to it. The price was low, the room was OK but the girls didn't like the unattractive and unclean bathrooms and we all agreed to move the next day to another hostel.
(Actually, the next day plan was that I would accompany Lee back to Bariloche as she needed to ship her Muchila and then I will go back the same day to El Bolson and continue on from there with Maya and Barak.)
While we were back at the tourist information pondering of maybe doing a little hike in the mountains, Maya accidentally met with her cousin she knew of traveling in this part of the world. While the two talked, the three of us checked the option of visiting ”The Statues Garden” or Bosque Tallado (The Carved Forest), a nicely carved logs of wood that were situated up under the formidable mountain peak of Cerro Pilfriquitron. The tourist information advised us to take a taxi up and down as it is quite a climb up there. Maya`s cousin and her friends asked us if we want to join in but as they were quite a loudy bunch, we decided to hire a cab by our own going only one way (hoping that the down leg will be not to hard). After ten minutes the cab arrived and we were on our way.
First the cab drove south of El Bolson some 5 minutes and then it took a left turn into a dirt road and from there we bumped our way up the zig-zagging road up to the mountain. As time went by and we were keeping on riding up, I started to appreciate what a sensible decision it was to take a cab instead of walking all the way (not to mention of walking on the paved road till the dirt road...). Finally, after another 20 minutes we came to a little dirt “plaza” were the caby stopped and we disembarked only to start a moderate side path that soon became a demandfull steep climb. The view on the way was absolutely awesome with the valley spreads under us from right to left and above it, the andes range with its whitish snow covered mountain peaks. On the way, almost from the start till finish, some 40 minutes walking uphill, some pesky and irritating flies buzzed beside us and made us really pissed some time (at the start we were not sure they are not bees, but after looking closely the two Biologists finally managed to agree that it is only a pesky, stingy fly...).
Coming into the end of the path (or what we thought was the end), we saw the nicely curved figures of humanoid shapes. It was a beautiful place to walk around and take pictures and the weather was nice. After looking around we found the path that lead up to two little cabins nesteled on the shoulder of the mountain slope, with a vista I can only dream of for my future home (the same view we saw from below, only higher and more panoramic). Two swings were also evident beside the cabin with two mighty and sleepy dogs wandering around and looking for some attention...
The refugee cabin we went into was a typical mountain cabin, with posters of famous mountain ranges of the world plastered on the walls (yes, also Everest was there to be seen...) and also maps with the appropriate route to conquer the 1000 meter above towering Pilfriquitron. We had a lovely coffee/tea while talking and relaxing for some hour, enjoying the moments and special atmosphere of a high mountain intimic wood cabin with a fire stove heating the few people that took shelter from the outside blowing wind.
Finally, we took our backpacks and started our way down the path to the garden, and from there down to the dirt plaza. On the way down we met Maya`s cousin with some of the Israelis (some of the gang decided to take the cheap way and to hitchhike to the dirt road leading up...) and we assured them the view is well worth the ascent effort.
From the dirt plaza we done our way slowly down, while zig-zagging with the road and meeting the all to familiar, 4WD dirty and bumpy pick-ups full of israelis coming from the Bariloche to visit the garden on their way south to Futalefu, Chile. On one occasion I noticed the familiar yellowish-orange sunglasses of Nir, the guy me and Lee met in Pucon, behind the wheel of a Nissan pickup, stopping short in front of us with a huge grin on his face, and 4 young Israelis in the back seats. We talked with him shortly and moved on down the dirty path. We slowly noticed that we are not going down to fast but time does run...Finally, noticing a three Gaucho company going up-road with heavily breathing and sweating enormous horses, I stopped them and conversed with them about the length and time needed to pass till we hit the paved road to El Bolson. “Oh, its very far! You should take the shortcut path, cutting through the wood” and he showed me the one of them. Suddenly, Machu Picchu and the 3000 Inca steps came into memory and similarly, here was also a path that cut hard and steep through the thick of the forest all the way up. Me and Lee waited for Maya and Barak and together we got into the thicked of the forest, going down the overly trotten thin path with enormous trees cutting down ray of lights and making everything dark instantly. It took us only an additional hour to reach the bottom of the path, crossing several times the main dirt path, and then returning to the thicket of the forest.
Going down the path we tried to stop several vehicles but with no too much success. On one occasion we saw Maya`s cousin and a bunch of other Israelis (around 6-8 people) standing on the back of the pickup laughing and enjoying the ride down the path. As they went pass us, I told them that this is the first time I see an Israeli version of Bolivians way to ride from one place to another...Finally, we were lucky enough to stop a little 4WD jeep that barely had place for the four of us, but we were not complaining (only silently in any case). Well, after passing some of the bumpy dirt road sitting directly on the steel casing of the rear-left wheel (and trying not to bump my into the upper framing), we finally got to the paved road and less than five minutes later we were back in little El Bolson! We walked the little we had to the hostel, planning already on the shower that awaited us...An hour later we had also a nice pizza in a local joint before the night came. We had some wine and we drank quite a few cups (especially me) and I still remember me telling funny tales of sick people (including me!) with a half drunken grin, half plastered in my bed as Maya, Barak and Lee laughing till they could not more...It was even hard for me to tell all those tales in one shot, and most of the time I was laughing to tears...Man, I will not forget all those tales for many years, people and I wish I could write them all here...And half laughing, half drunken, we went to sleep for the next`s day occourings...