land of the lakes

Left Buenos Aires at 7pm on a 23 hour bus ride south to San Martin de los Andes. A rather curious fellow (one of six people on the bus, including myself) drank aproximately 35 cups of coffee during the journey, starting at 2am until we arrived at 4pm. He paced back and fourth from his seat to the coffee machince, which we were sitting next to, and filled himself a small cup of black coffee approximately every 20 minutes- sometimes he would leave his cup half full, go back to his seat, then return to finish it within 5-8 minutes. He would sit and sip the black coffee, then return to his assigned seat, and the process would start over again. It was one of the strangest things I've ever seen and felt the need to share this random encounter with you... 

Anyways, I ended up making the journey with a friend who we met two years ago at a hostel in Manizalles, Colombia on David's 21st birthday. His name is Marcos and he's from a town called Lujan, just outside Capital Federal Buenos Aires. It's crazy how people come back into your life after such a brief but memorable introduction. Marcos randomly had vacation time that coordinated with my plans and wanted to travel south so we set off together towards the land of lakes in the northern most point of the infamous Patagonia. 
la familia de Oso Andaluz

Arriving to San Martin de los Andes was a welcomed change of pace from the chaos of capital federal. The pueblo is nestled in a little valley backed by Lago Escondido, the first of many lakes on this journey. The rustic mountain lodge style brings a comforting feeling of being home in Colorado and the brisk air immediately clears the accumulated smog of Buenos Aires from my mind. We're still in low season so the town is empty and the skies are grey and rainy but I imagine this place to explode with life as soon as the snow comes. We spent five nights at El Oso Andaluz, a cozy little home turned hostel named after a close friend from Granada,Spain who died in an avalanche at Cerro Chapelco. We quickly created a little family with the other guests, drinking mate, cooking almuerzos, my first Argentina asado(!) and playing card games at night while watching the cold water fall from the sky.  And when the weather did clear we took to exploring the surrounding sites...

la islita, lago escondido

gato loco, hiking buddy

On June 14th, with glorious sunshine in the forecast, I set out on my first Argentine roadtrip!

From San Martin, follow 234 to 63, passing Confluencia and turning just before Bariloche on 231 to Villa la Angostura, then returning via el Camino de Siete Lagos (234), with a detour via 65 to Villa Traful and back
We rented a car and headed south towards Confluencia through la Valle Encantada (the Enchanted Valley). Crazy rock formations peaked like the tops of dribble castles, washed smooth by ancient waters, others jagged and razor like. The changing landscapes from dry and dusty to tree covered mountains sloping into the pristine waters easily made for one of the most spectacular drives of my life. The contrast between sky and lake and rock and tree were surreal, colors this vibrant can only be found in the mountains. 

wild alpaca crossing

We arrived to Villa la Angostura, another beautiful little resort town empty of tourists as they await snow to open Cerro Bayo. Strolling through the deserted streets we ducked into a little ceramics shop to fill our thermos with more hot water for mate. We invited the owner to join us in the social ritual of sharing mate and she gladly accepted.
Lago Nahuel Huapi
She told us that she came here 10 years ago to escape Buenos Aires and is now madly in love with the area. She recounted stories of life after the eruption of the Chilean Volcano Puyehue last June which showered the town in ash, in some areas up to three meters. Because of it's close proximity to the volcano (40 kilometros), Villa was one of the areas most affected by the eruption.  Many people had to flee the city, while a loyal few (and those who had no where else to go) stayed behind to aid in the relief efforts. Today the town is clean and renewed except in wooded areas where the ground is still covered in mounds of ash, now crystallized with tiny ice formations.  

Desastre por el volcán: Villa La Angostura continúa aislada y bajo cenizas           
                          Villa la Angostura on June 26, 2011

one year later, frozen ash in the forest

best picada ever, Bauhaus, Villa la Angostura:
smoked venison, house made sausage,
wild boar, queso fresco, pan casera, whole grain mustard,
 olives, washed down with cerveza artesenal

Splurged on accommodations for the night and enjoyed a bit of luxury at Hosteria El Establo. Had my own big fluffy bed, and a bathroom with heated floors. I was in heaven. The delight of the senses continued at the German Bauhaus, where we indulged in possibly the best meat and cheese plate ever, which included a tutorial on the process of brewing the house ales. Spent the next morning lounging by the fireplace with my book, then a late morning siesta in the sun room. By noon we were on the road again headed for the infamous Camino de Siete Lago (Road of the Seven Lakes). My sleepy head cleared with the cold air and my eyes widened with each curve, each view more beautiful than the last, a wonderland waiting around every turn. The road became frosty with snow and flakes glittered in the sunshine as the floated gently to the ground, blown from the surrounding pines. The color of the water is impossible; hues of sapphire, turquoise and emerald glow beneath the rippled surface of glass reflecting the looming peaks above.

 At Lago Correntoso we turned right, towards Villa Traful. Descending through the trees was like falling down the rabbit's hole in Alice in Wonderland. How is it possible to consume so much beauty? This land has absorbed every ounce of good and love in this world and has concentrated it all along the shores of Lago Traful. It is an experience not only of the eyes, but of the heart and soul. My body ached with the splendor of this place, my stomach full of butterflies as if about to fall off a cliff in a dream. There is something magical about this area, something life changing- inspiration in it's purest form. I wanted to cry and laugh and dance with the joy that saturated me as I stood at the edge of this freezing water. This is, without a doubt, the most beautiful tierra I have ever touched. (I look forward to finding a place that will challenge this statement.)

My mind went wild with thoughts of the commune...abundant water sources, land, trees...a greenhouse accommodate the cold seasons but the spring and summer would be bountiful! We could raise our livestock and trade with the small community of locals, and taking advantage of the tourist season with our wellness and outdoor adventure retreat! All of these things were swirling through my imagination as we sat in the only cafe that was open, enjoying a half bottle of Malbec and empanadas de carne. Upon first bite I happily declared that these were the best empanadas in all of Argentina. We learned a bit later, from Señora Susanna, that not only was the masa (dough) made in house, but they also raised the cow, killed it, butchered it, ground the meat, seasoned it, braised it, and filled those delightful little pockets of dough.. all right there, this one little lady and her husband. My statement could not have been more accurate.

Juanita, her granddaughter, told us about her school and after school activities. There are seventeen students total, they attend from 7am-12pm then Juanita spends her afternoons in extra curricular programs like musica, baile folklorica, arte, ingles, and circo (circus!!). She was a beautiful child, light hearted, polite, out going, intelligent. I am fascinated by these people who live such a unique existance. Simply to be able to call Villa Traful "home" is astounding to me. I asked Juanita if she liked living here and the biggest smile spread across her face. She enthusiastically replied that yes, she loved it! She loves being outside playing with her friends and helping in her family's restaurant. She said it is a beautiful place to be, but sometimes it gets really cold and then she comes inside to stand by the fireplace and her grandma makes her hot chocolate. Senora Susanna spoke of the resilience of the people of Traful. There are about 500 people who have been blessed to call his their land for generations now, and they have learned to survive on their own.

This interaction filled me with a familiar love, and for the first time in over a year, I relived a sensation of awe and wonder that was so comforting and inspiring on my last trip. It is a sensation that is hard to put into words and brings tears to the eyes. These human connections, these simple, honest conversations are what drive people to travel, what motivates us to explore, seek, discover. For me it is reassurance- in the world, in the spirit, in destiny, in the capacity of the human heart and soul. It is proof of the good that surrounds us and I choose to interpret it as a sign that I am where I am supposed to be at this very moment. This feeling of presence is something that I constantly struggle with- fighting to keep my mind focused on the here and now. Each day here is a journey of the heart over mind, of consciousness free from extraneous thoughts.

I spoke with the One and Only Yohan last week and he told me that this trip is going to be completely different from the last and that is perfectly okay- it should be different. We can never repeat the experiences and feelings and awakenings that consumed us in our first journey. Those times were magical and rare and the fact that they can never be reproduced makes them all the more special. Now that I have realized and accepted this fact I feel that I am facing this trip with a fresh outlook- free from expectations and presumptions, open to possibilities and opportunities wherever they arise. In the quiet of my mind I know that there is a reason why I'm here- there is something I must learn (there will always be something I must learn), and it is something that I must do alone this time around.

Marcos and I parted ways in Bariloche. He went further south to a little hippie village called El Bolson (which I indeed plan to visit as well) then over to Esquel and back to Buenos Aires. I have stayed behind in Bariloche to look for work and check out the ski mountain, Cerro Catedral. From what I have gathered and seen of the resorts around here, Catedral certainly has a more diverse and challenging terrain that attracts an international crowd of passionate snow deportistas. The city of San Carlos de Bariloche, however, is drab. It is painfully evident that the city grew too much too fast, and without any real planning or clear concept in mind. Against one of the most beautiful landscapes in the country, Bariloche centro is an eye sore. Why would I want to stay here?? Take the colectivo 6 kilimetros out of the centro and you can forget the mess that looms behind you. Make the 18 kilometro drive up to the base of Cerro Catedral and you hardly have to acknowledge that Bariloche exists.

And this is where I leave you for now, en la base del cerro, escuchando la lluvia, que debe ser nieve.

Buenas noches, jessica