Monday, February 23, 2009


After Grafton went back to San Francisco we took a couple of days in Bariloche to catch up on email, blog, and get supplies for our next trek. We also got to hang out a bit with our hostel roommate Maxi, an Argentinian from Cordoba who works in the oilfields. Or did before a "difference of opinions" with his boss. He expects to come to some sort of an agreement and new employment after doing a bit of traveling. We made a good dinner with Maxi one night and then hung out playing poker with him and 2 girls from the States. It was not the cutthroat game the photo makes it out to be. In the hostel where we met Maxi there also lived the adorable and very small nameless puppy pictured below.

Before our trek in Puyehue, Chile we camped in the valley near a beautiful waterfall called the Salto del Indio. The next day we bought homemade cheese and bread from Señora Olivia, following the sign she had hung out on the highway. We also indulged in her excellent empanadas de queso, made and fried in front of us in her living room while Los Simpsons cavorted on TV.

Our trek started in a meadow of cows and then continued straight uphill through bamboo and lenga forest for about 4 hours to where a refugio sits just above the treeline. A refugio is a basic cabin with bunk beds and a woodburning stove. We opted to camp since the cabin already had plenty of raucous backpackers, and we stayed in our tent pretty much all the following day through a relentless rain.

Wonderfully, the rain stopped the next morning and we made our ascent of Volcán Puyehue, where the rain had been snow and formed beautiful ice crystals. Our view from the rim of the crater was a bit cloudy but remarkable, ringed with peaks, including Monte Trondador near which we had hiked the week before.

At the base of the volcano we picked up our packs and headed off across landscape like nothing we have seen before. Volcán Puyehue last erupted in 1960 and the land off to the north of the mountain is desertlike, covered in soft light pumice and much denser pieces of lava. The Río de Lava sits off to the west looking (as our guidebook said) like a black glacier. There is not much growing there.

About 5 hours across this moonscape we reached a beautiful small river with hot springs, one of the primary attractions on this hike. Mike took a hot soak as well as a bath in the crystalline river. I found the hot springs a bit too vegetable to be completely appealing. We camped on a beautiful little plot of grass at the edge of the river and the next morning hiked out to geysers about 2 hours on. These were blowing steam and the accretions on the rock surrounding the fumaroles was yellow, orange, and greenish blue.

We walked back out to the refugio that afternoon and realized along the way what a blessing the day of rain had been. We had that 24 hour buffer between us and the subsequent wave of hikers and had had the trail to ourselves. There were many people hiking in that day, as always down here many Israelis. We met one Israeli we had gotten to know a bit on a bus a couple weeks earlier. He was in a group of maybe 7 others and as we had just left a couple other groups of Israelis behind at the hot springs Mike had the presence of mind to quip, "We're starting to wonder where Moses is." Our friend said, "Yeah, and we're in the desert right!" The 3 Israelis we camped near at the hot springs gave us the best coffee we've had in South America -- direct from Israel.

A Few Thousand Words on Insects on the Trail -- not for the faint of heart, these really are as large as they appear!

Sunday, February 15, 2009

Emily & Cole!

My cousin Emily and her wonderful fiancé Cole just eloped and sent this photo. I thought a vision of such beautiful happy people should be circulated as widely as possible, irrelevance to South America notwithstanding.

Grafton the Sun King and El Sendero del Bastardo

We arrived in Bariloche, ARG over a week ago to cold and clouds, but the following day Mike Grafton arrived bringing sunshine and warmth that remains despite his departure yesterday. Before heading into the mountains we spent a day in this rather touristy town gathering supplies and enjoying a fine pasta dinner with a Montevidean named Fabian and his Argentinian girlfriend Laura. Between their impressive English and our less impressive Spanish we entertained each other well.

We are mighty lucky that Mike brought the sun because he also brought us on our most demanding and most rewarding trek so far. It might have been impossible in foul weather. Instead we had sun with just enough clouds to give the skies their usual Patagonian grandeur.

We named our trail el Sendero del Bastardo for several reasons. First the trail had only two modes, straight up or straight down. Apparently the designer had an animosity to switchbacks or pleasant jaunts through valleys. Most of our time was spent ascending with our knees closer to our chests than we generally care for or sunk halfway to our knees in scree and eroded earth in descent. Not to imply that El Bastardo didn´t have a whimsical side. For example, his design included such practical jokes as a giant arrow made of stones that led to a nonsensical traverse under a huge rock wall with periods of nearly impenetrable lenga scrub. His coup de grace was letting the trail vanish altogether, leaving us to our own devices on a vertigo-inducing slope of rock and scree that we later dubbed Grafton´s Folly.

The payoff was huge, however. El Bastardo Viejo may have had little concern for the comfort of the trekker, but definitely knew were to go for jaw dropping views and exquisitely beautiful lakes. He also provided us with wonderful campsites: along a crystal clear river in forest and bamboo, in a lovely mallín surrounded by impressive peaks, in a rock strewn valley on a lake, and on another lake across from which loomed Monte Tronador (The Thunderer), a giant volcano whose thunder emanated from periodic collapse of its hanging glaciers rather than from eruptions.

It was a spectacular adventure. Hilary again performed as if she has been backpacking all her life and as always it was wonderful to be in the backcountry with Mike. He is always well-prepared, calm, thoughtful, and entertaining, making him an ideal backpacking companion.

At the end of our hike we spent a last day together lying next to a river under El Tronador reading, talking, and playing with our new dog friend, Papas Fritas. Hilary said, "How sad, we have to leave this place. We are always leaving places." Mike said, "Well, thats the nature of travelling isn´t it? Always coming and going." They are right of course, and thinking about it I would add that it is full of hellos and goodbyes. As much as I love this life, the constant movement holds a taste of melancholy because it is impossible to ignore the constant change, the frequent beginnings and endings. But I suppose this is true whether one is moving or not and we can't let ourselves become terrified of the temporary because it is universal and unopposable.

OK. Enough nickel philosophy. On to the pictures. Goodbye Mike. We miss you. Thank you for being here with us.

Update: Moments after I posted this Hilary pointed outside and said, "It´s raining. Hard." And so it is. The Sun King has left the building.