Saturday, December 1, 2007

Catch-up Time

Ok, we finally are in a place with a relatively fast internet connection. Additionally, we can change the keyboard to an American English configuration, so I should be able to type at a normal speed. The downside is, I can't type accent marks, so Spanish language purists will have to suffer.

I think our last day that wasn't covered was our last day in El Bolson, the village in the Lake District in which we spent a few days before the whales/penguins on Argentina's east coast. So, I'll pick up there.

We spent our final day in El Bolson doing a relatively long day hike, to an area known as Cajon del Azul. The Azul River is a river that is fed by glaciers high up in the Andes and then comes down the mountains, eventually ending in nearby Lago Puelo, the subject of a previous blog, en route to the Pacific. As a result, the water is a gorgeous turquoise color. It is also quite cold and sediment-laden, and therefore carves out quite a scenic path as it winds its way south and west.

We took a pre-arranged taxi to the beginning of the hike and agreed on a time to meet back at the same spot, and then started off on our hike. The first bit of the hike was along a 4WD road to the level of the river, which was quite downhill, although we didn't really realize this until it was time to trudge up the hill at the end of the hike. Funny how it always seems to work out that way.

We then reached the river, trudged through some guy's yard (legally...it's part of the trail), and then found ourselves staring at a footbridge across the river that would have left Indiana Jones with a pair of wet underpants. This thing seriously seemed like something the Argentine Park Service put up about 30 years ago and hadn't maintained since. However, being the trusting souls we were, I ventured out over the icy water (we had to go one at a time, per the signs) and crossed successfully. Erin followed, and we were on our merry way for another 10 minutes or so.

Turns out, the first bridge was acutally a warm-up bridge for the second, even longer, even more rickety looking bridge. The designer of that bridge evidently had the Tacoma Narrows in mind, and we swayed quite a bit back and forth (again, one at a time) before kissing the ground on the other side.

The trail took a sharp turn uphill, much to our chagrin, but afforded fantastic views over the glacial valley and into an alpine meadow when we reached the top. Along the way, we were walking about the same pace as a guy our age who had a black lab in tow. I asked him if the dog could cross the bridge, because the footing was questionable even being able to hang on to the side, and he said that the dog can not only cross the bridges, but also cross the river when the water level was a bit lower. Pretty darn impressive.

The rest of the walk was scenic and relatively flat, to our liking. The last kilometer or so involved some minor scrambling over some rocks, and at last, 10 km later, we came to the natural highlight of the hike, the gorge formed by the river. At this point, the gorge is less than 2 meters wide, but over 40 meters deep, and is quite a sight. When you look down from the bridge, it's hard to even see the water at first.

After that came the real highlight, the refugio (shelter) at the end of the walk, which meant "cerveza casera" for only a few pesos. It turns out that this homemade beer was some combination of the Beast, Keystone Light, and Mickey's, but after a long hike, who's counting?

The refugio was fantastic by all other counts, and it served as a great place for us to talk to the few other hikers out there, as well as the people who live up there. They basically serve hikers and raise sheep for a living, and have accumulated a good number of other animals living with them as well. By our count, there were at least 7 cats, a dog, 2394723497 sheep, and probably a few other things we missed. We ate our lunch, chased the sheep around, watched a kitten try unsuccessfully to pounce on a sheep, and then headed back to meet our taxi.

About 2 km into our walk back, we heard a noise behind us. Turning around and expecting to see a hiker, we were surprised to see the dog from the refugio had evidently followed us down. Hopefully he could find his way home.

We made it back to the first bridge with quite a bit of time to spare, so we sat under the shade of a tree at a picnic table and read for a while to kill some time. When we started again, we realized quickly that we had erred in our judgment on the uphill nature of the remainder of our walk, and I actually had to jog at the end to make sure I got to the taxi driver in time to let him know we hadn't skipped town...oops.

All in all, a great hike. We headed back into town, got some ice cream and other food, and then caught our bus south and east.

Rob

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