Dear loyal readers/ close friends & relations. I say loyal because the blog has not gone viral as I naturally expected, ergo the only remaining readers are those who will likely meet me in the forthcoming weeks and need to have read it of risk loosing my highly-valued adoration. A rare admission of defeat by the mighty CB: I keep failing to live-up to arbitrary ideals – how strange! The two ideals that I have fallen short of this week: travel with Spanish-speakers; never take a bus when you can take a plane. I shall address the second humanitarian failing now and allow the full week’s anecdote attempt to atone for this catastrophic indiscretion…
Argentina appears to have gone crazy with air-fares. Having taken a flight to very southern Patagonia (a few weeks ago) for roughly £250, I artfully dodged the second air-fare for the same amount for an hour and a half’s flight taking me from northern Patagonia back to Buenos Aires. How!? I hear you cry. Well… If you book the flight using latam.ar rather than latam.com its essentially half price! Apparently KLM is the same if you switch it to the Italian site (CB likes to reward his loyal followers with the occasional life-tip. Another: never eat grass… You’re welcome!). However, I write this upon a thirteen hour (night) bus because it was four times cheaper than a flight. A night bus for £40 vs. plane for £160 is hard to turn one’s nose up at! Part of the difference has been invested in Professor Plumb as company while I listen to a classic 70s playlist! I also intend to take a sleeping pill somewhere into writing this fabulous piece of literature. Fingers crossed I am not interrupted by a messenger for Porlock. Now where did I put those sacred rivers…
Rewind a week or so. Bus to Bariloche (Nothern Patagonia) from El Charten (Southern Patagonia) robbed a day an an hour of my life. I was fed complete crap and forced to move seats three times! Anyway… Arrived in Bariloche to the best view I have ever beheld from a hostel (maybe even any paid establishment):
Bariloche looks a great deal like prettier parts of Northern Europe. That is, beautiful, but in quiet, tranquil way. The issue is that when you have been in proper Patagonia, of the most beautiful parts of the world, it is hard to appreciate any other scenery.
all the time (or something to that effect). What makes something exceptional is quite that, it is an exception, it breaks the norm. If you are accustomed to only seeing the greatest sights of the world, they do not loose their objective magnitude, only that in your relative observation. If this means anything it is that I agree with my good friend Mac that short(er) trips are the best, they give you the opportunity to fully enjoy each experience.>
Having filled much of my precious words with ramble (I am aware that a 3000-word rant is not what anyone wants, even from CB), I turn to the interesting part of the week. It began with a the pretty (but somewhat forests-of-Northern-Europe-looking) trek with Dirk.
Upon my return I bumped-into one of the greatest humans ever – Lars the Swede. It was Lars who performed for the world the Swedish frog dance and sports a very excellent pedo mustache that, had he been around in the early 70s, would have landed him a prosperous career in the BBC. Lars, I would also like to add, did not name women in his top five list of “all things in life”, but did name butter.
Dirk and a collection of others, including Marv (who will receive his write-up later) and I decided that given the horrendous weather of the following day we may as well cultivate a hangover that night.
The following day came with one of the most horrendous hangovers and brought even the mighty CB to a level of humility he is not used to having to embrace (hubris so much more appealing). Yes, dear readers I drank, however this hangover was something more… It was a sign of yet another step in CB’s ageing: inability to recover from alcohol. Not only did he feel a low-level nausea all day, a moderate headache and some serious apathy, but an odd depression descended that was matched by the torrential downpour outside (ten points to your chosen Hogwarts house if you have the words “pathetic fallacy” floating around your head). A day inside means one should have achieved a great deal. I wrote one post card and could not be arsed to post it.
That evening, Dirk and I compared our catastrophic hangovers over our measly dinner (something on toast) and decided that this was the fault of Bariloche – obviously. Thus we resolved to hire a car the next day and drive to a volcano in Chile. I hope that everyone is following that obvious logic!
The Wolf-pack assembled for the week ahead! Wolf-pack: CB (your humble narrator); Dirk (Dutch); Lars (Frog-dance); Marv (Dutch – hair too long). I should explain the “Wolf pack”. For the younger readers it need not be stated, for older readers, it is a reference to a group of guys who embark on an accidental adventure in a film/three that you will neither understand nor enjoy; I will not burden you with the forbidden fruit… The Hangover. Nobody said I had to play by my own rules (see paragraph one). This ties nicely with my Pablo Escobar malapropisms that pervade this trip. Escobar and his lackies (in Narcos – another television show) keep saying, almost as a chant of deviance, “we are wolves”. For the first four days of the trip, I kept saying “we are wolves” in Spanish. Only I had, once again, mistaken the accent of the Brazilian actor playing Escobar. Rather than “somos lobos”, as it should be, I was waltzing around chanting “somos lomos”. For the less lingual, carne de lomo is a particular excellent cut of steak. I was thus referring to us as the “beef pack”. Perhaps I should allow that to speak for itself. The majestic wolfpack were very fond of puppies and partial to games of chess also: if that is not progressive masculinity, I am not sure what is!
Day 1: Drive to Pucon.
Having figured I got us a “good deal” (a false assumption that may well run in the family), we waited for two hours for the car to be delivered to the arranged location. If one were to draw a graph plotting shittness of the car and photos taken of it, I think this car comes out top in history: knocking the Vayron out of the park. Lateness forced us to drive, somewhat expediently, straight to Pucon in Chile. The haste was due to having to confirm our booking for the Volcano ascent (on the only perfect day for the prior two weeks and, as it turns out, following week). Thus we arrived in the dark somewhere two miles outside the main town. Having taken a very dodgy mud track, I was forced to ask a toothless gentleman in a house in the middle of nowhere where we were. I have no idea if he knew or not, all I got from the three minute encounter was “mí casa”. Eventually, we arrived. Deeply lovely “hostel”, more like a hotel with communal eating. One planned night there became four!
Day 2: Volcano registration & Lake walk.
We register and choose our gear, accompanied by a German chap. It transpired that the nice lady I had spoken to at agonising length (for her) in Spanish the day before was Canadian – CB smashing it since 1990. German invited to accompany us to recommended lake and waterfall. He accepted. So the three tallest sat in the rear of the car as Lars performed map reading that may have absolved all women for map-related failures being exclusively gender associated; how can you cock-up google maps!? Perhaps the mustache got in the way. Walk followed by an impulsive swim in the lake. The below photos are highly pixilated because my camera has a mind of its own. That being said, I suspect that this could be a good thing!
One piece of advice for the night before our trek was “don’t drink too much”. CB had six beers… its not fair to other humans if he is in the peak of physical preparation before such an activity.
Day 3: The Volcano.
Like Torres del Paine (the trek I loved in Chile), it is hard to do it justice. Fortunately, there are more discernible statistics and remarks to be made about Villarrica volcano. The ascent required that we arrive at the office for 6.30am. Two options for ascent: 1) chairlift 2/5 of the way; 2) walk all the way. Naturally the beef pack walked. It was while we were performing the “chairlift” part of the trek that I saw perhaps the strangest sunrise I have ever seen – you could see the shadow of the volcano in the sky!
The ascent itself was 2,800m, but that was made somewhat easier by two things. One – every time you looked around there was a view that would inspire even Kant to poetry.
Two – we were informed that, due to the warm weather, ice and rocks were more likely to be falling, and that only the day before a lady had had her leg broken by a falling piece of ice…
No bragging now, but we (beef pack, German + Californian) overtook everyone (around 250 people that day, including everyone who took the chairlift) behind our guide, who it transpires was Chile’s champion climber for six years back-to-back.
To see lava exploding a mere 30m below you with no barrier nor thought for safety was quite simply a once-in-a-lifetime experience. The below photo features our group perhaps one meter from where you would slide to an inevitable immolation. When (not if, sadly) that happens, it will be curtains for this experience. So… do it before some idiot American ruins it for everyone! Oh, did I mention Mum that the volcano erupted two years ago? 🙂
Best lunch view ever..?
How do you descend? Naturally you place a plastic paddle between your legs and sit on it in order to side down the snowy slopes. No, it does not protect your testicles, but rather use them as an anchor to protect your arse… I know which I would have rather suffered the repeated slings and arrows of outrageous bumps. There was a technique to this descent, but I didn’t listen and opted for as much speed as I could muster, which resulted in me firstly adopting a turtle-esq position (all limbs in the air, rather than feet planted and arms forcing ice axe down as a break!) Guide not impressed until I collided with a group of, immediately prior, standing Chinese tourists, this appeared to placate him.
One of the greatest experiences of life followed, that evening, by more sushi than I have ever eaten.
Day 4: Small trek and a bath.
What do you do the day after waking two miles UP? You go for another walk. Walk not much to speak of other than that I slightly fell-into some waterfalls (not yet bored of them at this point). Note the retired Picasso model draining his shoe.
Four independent Chilean recommendations to go to some Thermal Baths compelled us to go there. And my goodness it was a good choice. A maze of seventeen thermal baths nestled in a valley! These baths ranged from 35 to 45 degrees centigrade (do your own farenheight conversion if you have not caught up with the times!). One of the most romantic places on earth was utterly and unashamedly loved by a the beef pack. Made more romantic as we chose the transition from day to night (commonly known as sunset) to be there. Oh, there were two more waterfalls!
Never have I been somewhere where people so obviously had sex and partaken so little (except perhaps University…). Women or no, the baths worth every minute of the three-hour drive. I spent my time, all three hours and thirty minutes of it, demonstrating osmosis.
Day 5: Pack of three & Return to Argentina.
Swedish took his frog-dancing limbs to Santiago and left three wolves to drive from Chile across the boarder. Perhaps the most varied and sensational drive I have been on. We drove from luscious evergreen forests coated in clouds, to autumnal ones reflected in mirror-like lakes, passed three volcanoes and then drove through a monkey-puzzle forest.
And then well left the varied and beautiful landscape of Chile, taking with it tarmac roads and beauty, for the dust tracks and barron landscape of Argentina’s Route 40. This took us, with little in the way of aesthetic variation nor inspiration, to San Martin de Los Andes.
The thing to “Do”. It is not. It is a desert beside a set of very straight roads with little other than the occasional bird and cyclist for obstacles!. That day I think we passed four cars.>
Day 6: Not on the boat & Volcano with a hat.
Having arrived in San Martin de Los Andes to a methane-smelling hostel and a general over-rated, over-priced, dead town the night before, we decided to drive to the more beautiful lake and boat trip with view of volcano (can you sense the addiction?). The boat trip was rejected because there were too many old people on it. When CB beholds a flight of stairs and people bumbling two-abreast down them, he knows it is not an experience that is going to lend itself to his improvement as a moral being.
In lieu of this, we drove further on (after lunch and a good deal of faff) to be told that we had left it too late to do a proper hike, but could walk to some nearby waterfalls. FFS. At least we were joined by some proper wolves for the walk (they walked with us for about two hours). I was dangerously tripped twice and had to keep lifting them over rocks. “For the strength of the pack is the wolf, and the strength of the wolf is the pack!”
Track back afforded a great photos of the volcano seemingly wearing a cloud toupee. Photo of me taking the photo is better than the photo taken in the photo. How meta.
Day 7: Two wolves and seven lakes.
The pack became two when Dirk left for Santiago. Marv and I drove back to Bariloche via an indigenous community nestled at the base of a beautiful valley. Having wandered around the “town” we decided to embark on the (short) recommended walk. However, having paid a dizzying £5 entry to the park each (a very much reduced price due to haggling), we were entirely unwilling to pay the extortionate £1.50 to see the waterfall. “Thank you very much for the offer, but I have already seen eight of those; keep your £1.50!”
Now the others have their accounts, Marv may be summarised as the guy who went to Thailand aged seventeen. Alone! I was somewhat impressed. He is now older and wiser – nineteen.
Returned to Bariloche hostel with lovely view. It was indeed lovely minus two setbacks. 1) there were some Swedes there who had discovered the guitar and were proceeding to butcher the greatest songs ever written. Their rendition of Bohemian Rhapsody was even worse than Kanye West’s. 2) Some prick stole our breakfast avocados… I KNOW, the misfortune that some people have in this world is just baffling!
Day 8: Return of the Cheví.
The Wolfpack splits and the ugliest, most photographed photo in history was returned. All 1810.9km were performed adhering to the Dutch saying: “Don’t be gentle its a rental!”. What I will say for Chevrolet is that they know how to build a car! I put that thing through hell: driving off-road on horrendous tracks with four/five full-grown guys in it at 50mph; it was drifted round bends making full-use of the hand-break to complete tail flick; taken through deep puddles and up some very steep tracks. Other than a broken front light and a thorough coating of mud, it appeared unscathed. Very impressed!
Now on a bus bound for (not even joking) El Dorado! Oh and, just so we are clear, Chile wins again! Argentina, lets see if you win in the forthcoming Paraguay conflict!