Finally I have a solid chunk of time to write and the only major distraction are the two playful puppies sharing my bean bag. The three of us sit on a porch overlooking the mountains and valley of El Bolsón. Sheep are grazing and blatting in the background. Cows are trying to find more food in the hills. Roosters crow now and again. The strong wind pushes rain clouds east providing short showers and intermittent sun.
For the first three weeks, Laura and I traveled non stop. From Santiago we took a bus over the Andes into Mendoza. We headed south to the Lakes District Region, which included more than 20 hours of busing. If there’s any way to get the complete opposite experience that backpacking in the woods provides, I highly suggest getting on a bus for at least 18 hours. There are violent American films dubbed in Spanish, less then appetizing meals wrapped in celophane, endless sweet sodas, and stinky toilets. However, the ‘semi cama’ (semi bed) is pretty comfortable and not so bad for sleeping the day away.
Junín de los Andes was our destination. When we arrived we had new friends to point us in the direction of camping and town. It happens to be Argentina’s trout capital, so we indulged in some of the best trout I have ever eaten. This was the first good meal I had since I left the States. We have been eating what, I believe, most Argentineans consume: meat, sugar, bread, and mate. Not exactly what I live on at home as you know, but it will have to do. Once I stepped off the bus and got to know some people, I realized that each ingredient can be prepared with thoughtfulness and taste excellent. The carbs and sugar bring me down, but then the mate brings me right back up. A balance, I suppose.
On our second day camping in Lanín National Park, our new propane stove caught on fire. We had to buy this one in Santiago because we could not find white fuel for the stove we brought from home. What I normally would have thought to be a very distressing situation, turned out to be an opportunity to learn how to cook on a fire. Two lovely women camping nearby taught us their technique and we successfully made dinner. The next night some other friends we made on our bus ride arrived and they shared asado (BBQ) with us. I am grateful for everyone’s generosity and willingness to help Laura and I when we are lost, confused, hungry, or tired.
For five days we camped under the clear star filled skies next to a giant lake located below Volcan Lanín. We hiked to the base of the volcano along a roaring glacial river stopping to drink and eat lunch. We did yoga on top of a rock above a waterfall. We meditated with the snow capped peak and wildflowers. The culmination of our stay in Lanín was diving into Lago Paimun from a black sand beach. Singing and swimming beneath a moon in the brilliant blue sky and mountains all around was what truly being alive in the moment feels like.
Patagonia was our next destination. After a strong dose of the outdoors, a long bus ride wouldn’t be so bad. It would give us a chance to get out of the hot sun and rest our legs. 48 hours later, we arrived in Río Gallegos, the last large town before the tip of the continent. There’s no real reason to go here unless to change buses or buy food at a very super supermercado.
While waiting around for our connection to Calafaté where we planned on accessing Torres del Paine NP, I asked some friendly guys with big backpacks where they were headed assuming they too were making the journey to Torres to hike the “W” or “Circuit” around one of the most incredible mountain ranges. They were from Buenos Aires, but like many Argentineans, were thrilled to speak English. “You are not going to Torres,” they informed us. “We just hitch hiked for two days from there because southern Chile is on strike over raising fuel prices and all the roads are closed.“ So much for that plan.
We took their advice and added on another 3 hours to our bus ride to get to El Chaltén, a small mountain town with access to trekking all over Glacier National Park. We happily strapped our backpacks on and took off into the mountains for another epic journey. This time, the elements were very different.
Patagonia is full of indescribable beauty only understandable by using all our senses. Photos cannot capture the crisp air filling my lungs, brilliant colors painted across the sky at dusk, strong wind challenging my stance, rugged terrain that scrapes my hands, and mineral rich water from the rivers. We witnessed Fitz Roy Peak clear from the clouds while laying on red rocks by a river. We witnessed part of the blue glacier crack off and roll down the steep icy slope into a sage green lake. We witnessed a rainbow in the valley below Cerro Torre when we walked out of our tent in the morning. After five nights in the inhospitable climate of Patagonia, we were ready to head back north where we could wear less than two layers of pants, four shirts, rain gear, hats, and gloves.
Laura and I lay in our sleeping bags in the tent reading about El Bolsón, the town where I am currently WWOOFing (Willing Workers on Organic Farms). The book described vegetarian fare, artisan markets, hiking, warm temperatures, and lots of small farms. We were sold! We packed up and caught the next bus north dreaming of wearing t-shirts and sandals.
We got what we wished for and more- our first real salad! We hiked up a steep trail to a campground along Río Azul and managed to get a mostly private site along a sandy beach by the river. We soaked up the afternoon sun, dunked in the frigid water, and slept outside under las estrellas, the stars. By the way, the sun doesn’t set until 10 p.m. here so by the time the stars are visible, I am ready to go to sleep. The days are very long and people don’t eat dinner until 9 or 10 p.m. The sun is back up by 6 a.m. so i always feel like I’ve overslept but it will only be 8 a.m. when I get out of bed. People here have very slow leisurely mornings. We took turns waking up one another having already heated water for, “Maté on the beach!”
We day hiked to Cajón de Azul, a Refugio one of our friends recommended where the river runs 50 feet below a narrow canyon only about 4 feet wide. Laura immediately picked up the guitar and played for an hour. We sipped more maté and ate salad from the nearby garden. The day ended with hiking, dipping in the river, drinking home brewed beer and homemade bread, and eventually star gazing. We said several wishes out loud. Then, fell asleep to the sound of rushing water, dreaming side by side.
I said goodbye to my dear travel partner as she boarded a bus back north to fly home. I wiped away my tears of sadness and also joy. Here I am. A strong woman now alone in Argentina. I have a light backpack with all my belongings including my tent. My muscular legs will transport me to my next destination, La Confluencia, a farm/eco lodge along the same river Laura and I camped along. The amount of freedom I felt when my friend left was incredibly exciting, but somewhat scary. There were so many unknowns, but somehow, I knew it would all work out.
The night before Laura left I asked for two things: 1) meet amazing people 2) eat real food, specifically kale. Both my prayers were answered. I arrived at the farm on foot around 7 p.m. greeted by vegetable gardens, Jersey cows, and two puppies Osa and Perdita. The cook, Chelsea was preparing a Mexican style BBQ of chicken, beef, salsas, quesadillas, peppers, onions, tomatoes, avocadoes, corn chips, beer, wine, cheese! “I have found heaven,” I thought to myself. Really good people sharing really good food together in one of the most beautiful places I’ve ever been, hallelujah!
For breakfast the next morning I had scrambled eggs, kale, sourdough toast, homemade raspberry jam, and of course, maté. Laura was supposed to eat a large bowl of kale for me when she got home, but I beat her to it because she was still in the air while I was chewing on the best vegetable on earth. I miss laughing with her and sometimes I say things in my head that I know would make us giggle until our tummies ached. We carried the love we share for the earth and its people everywhere during the trip. I still hang on to that energy wherever I am even without her here. I am so grateful for our time together scrambling the terrain of Argentina and making the best of every moment. I miss her company, but now we must celebrate and share all we have experienced in our separate lives. She will be doing good work at home, and I will be…hmm…picking raspberries, making lamb sausage, watering tomatoes, hanging garlic, feeding sough dough starter, building bridges, and cooking fabulous meals with my new farming friends.