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...

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